So recently I’ve become obsessed with rugs. I think I’ve always had a bit of a thing for area rugs, but now it’s becoming a full blown crush. I’ve saved pretty rugs as my desktop background, I’ve been caught petting them in local stores. Is that the bell ringing? Because I’m gushing like a pre-teen in middle school. They say love’s a disease, so how did this recent affliction start? Well, a few months ago I designed a stair runner at work, a beautiful, custom, wool and silk stair runner. And that was it. I was in love. I designed another custom rug and fell a little harder. I started looking for inspiration for rugs for other projects and that’s when I knew I wasn’t going to recover any time soon.
I bought the rug for the bonus room that then moved into the living room. Boy do I love that rug. It’s this one from West Elm and it’s very popular. I bought it on sale and it looks like they’re continuing to mark it down, so perhaps it’s being phased out. Why did I pick this rug though? What should people look for in a rug? What types of rugs hold up the longest? Well, you can hire a designer to help you with that or I can give you a few of my own thoughts. Rugs aren’t complicated to understand and well made ones can last many lifetimes. Good area rugs are heirloom pieces. Not that every rug needs to be an heirloom piece, but in a world where so much of our everyday items end up in the landfill for centuries after only a few minutes of use, I like the idea of something that will last multiple lifetimes in our homes.
First, why I picked the particular rug I have in my living room. Aesthetically I liked the way this rug looked. I thought the simple two tone color palette would easily transition from this home to my next one. In fact, I bought this rug with the thought that it would eventually end up in my bedroom down the line! A rug paired with my colorful bedding needs to be neutral and take on the role of second fiddle, which this calm rug does. Not only that, but this particular rug is a shag! The extra long fibers make it oh so soft and cozy underfoot. I love it in the living room, but I can’t wait to sink my feet into this when I first get out of bed. This is the kind of rug you just want to lay down on and rub your face on it. But seriously, multiple people have come over and done that. It’s just so plush you want to feel it with something other than your feet!
The rug I bought is a 100% wool rug and that was important to me. Silk rugs are way out of my budget and I wanted a natural fiber rug. Natural fibers tend to hold up longer over time and they decompose more easily after their usefulness runs out. Natural fibers also have inherent anti-stain properties. Wool doesn’t stain unless something is worked into its fibers or sits on it for a long period of time. Which means I only minorly panic when anyone is near my rug with red wine!
This rug is also a Fair Trade Certified product which means I know those who worked hard to create it were paid a living wage in a decent work environment and that matters. I feel better knowing that’s the case. West Elm lists this rug only as “handmade” but having it in my home I can look and feel and touch it. Upon examination it’s not only handmade, but hand-tufted with a cotton backing. In terms of manufacture, there are lot’s of terms associated with rugs: handwoven, hand-tufted, machine made, etc etc. What does that even mean and what are the differences?
Types of Rug Manufacture
Hand-knotted rugs are the highest in quality. Each fiber of a hand-knotted rug is – quite literally – hand knotted. Thousands and thousands of filaments are knotted by the maker forming the design of the rug. This leaves room for one of the delights of high quality rugs: small variations, or mistakes, in the pattern. These unique differences are one of my favorite things about rugs. After the knots of the rug are all tied, hand-knotted must be cut down to the particular pile height as the knotted fibers are all in different lengths. Hand-knotted rugs have a pattern that you can easily see from the back, in fact the backs look nearly as good as the fronts and feel nice too! On rugs with fringe, the fringe is integrated into the fibers of the rest of the hand-knotted rug and not a separate made piece. Hand-knotted rugs take months to complete and are made of thousands to millions of knotted fibers! That is why they can last for several life times.
Hand-tufted rugs are still of good quality, but less so than hand-knotted. These rugs are formed on a backing – frequently latex covered with cotton – and the fibers are attached with a type of gun. Although there is a person attaching individual fibers, they’re able to work more quickly using the tool and the design of the rug is usually printed on the backing so there is less “user error.” You can easily tell if a rug is hand-tufted because cotton backings will frequently be a different color (the one on my living room rug is a dark grey-black). They still have a pile and have varying degrees of plushness. Because the fibers are attached more loosely to the backing, the rug cannot be washed as thoroughly as a hand-knotted rug can be and thus they shed. A higher quality hand-tufted rug will shed for only a few months, a lower quality one may shed throughout its lifetime. The fringe on hand tufted rugs is usually an entirely separate entity from the rest of the rug and is sewn on. Liquids can severely damage hand-tufted rugs as it destroys the latex and results in a dusting of powder on the floor. These rugs can last between 3-15 years.
Hand-Woven rugs are of great quality, but are difficult to compare to the two above, as they are mostly flat weave rugs with no pile. These rugs are made on looms by individuals using long fibers. Many hand-woven rugs are made of plant fibers such as sisal and or jute, but there are also wool and cotton hand-woven rugs. Some handwoven rugs have a pile, but the flat-woven rugs are common too. Flat-woven rugs – like kilims – are reversible!
Machine-made rugs range wildly in quality and are the most common today. They are frequently made with synthetic fibers. They are mass produced all over the world. Most machine-made rugs have a harsh, hard, plastic-like backing which can damage your floors if a proper rug pad is not protecting them. These rugs always have an edge binding as well. There are many high quality machine made rugs (some made in the USA), but the vast majority are cheaply made and last only a few years at best.
Types of Rug Fibers
The manufacture of your rug is not the only factor in quality. The type of fiber is also important!
Wool is the most durable, long lasting fiber. It can be very very soft or more scratchy depending on the way it is processed. Wool is naturally stain resistant and can be cleaned. It holds up well over time and in high traffic areas.
Silk is also very durable, but less so than wool. It can be stain resistant as well. Silk is shiny and also slippery! Silk is durable, but probably not best suited for high traffic areas.
Viscose, Bamboo Fiber, and Faux Silk
Viscose, Bamboo Fiber, and Faux Silk are all synonym for the same or very similar product. They are man made fibers designed to look and feel like silk, but they tend to be less durable than silk or wool and shouldn’t be used in high traffic areas.
Synthetic Fibers are man made fibers and this term covers a whole manner of them. They range in durability, but generally are less durable than wool. They are frequently treated with a special coating to keep them stain resistant and this coating often off-gases.
Jute, Sisal, and Seagrass
Jute, Sisal, and Seagrass are natural fibers with a very different feel from wool or cotton or silk. They tend to be a bit rougher and less “cozy,” but are inexpensive fibers. Although they will wear down with time, these fibers are made from rapidly renewable resources. They have a beachy, coastal flair, but can totally work in more in-land settings as well.
There are ten million more things to be said about rugs, but it’s getting late and I need to get to bed. Hopefully, something in this post helps you pick out your next rug! I leave you with my latest inspiration picture: this amazing pictorial Khotan rug featured in Traditional Home Magazine. I AM OBSESSED.
Don’t mind me, since I’ll never be able to afford an antique version, I’ll just be saving up over the next few years to custom make a rug like this (but in green of course) through one of my favorite local rug companies, Kush Handmade Rugs. Now until I can get around to that, I’ll simply have to keep daydreaming about my latest love interest: rugs.
2 thoughts on “Rug Terminology 101:Uncovering What’s Underfoot”
I simply love your staircase. Our new house is a craftsman style house but I do want the staircase something like yours. Your house looks like one of the Inner Portland houses.
It does doesn’t it? I’m always so inspired by the things I see in magazines!