Wool is perhaps the most commonly used material in most kinds of oriental rugs and carpets. When we say oriental rugs, we mean Persian rugs, Indian rugs, kilims, Kashmiri rugs and so on.
In this post we understand how wool carpets are made, and what advantages and disadvantages they have over other kinds of carpets.
How Are Wool Carpets Made
Wool carpets are carpets made from the natural fibers of sheep’s wool. Less commonly, camel’s wool is also used, but these carpets are in limited production, coming either from the Thar desert region of India, or from Mongolia. Sheep’s wool remains the standard material for making wool rugs and carpets.
The process of making wool carpets involves several steps, from shearing the sheep to the final carpet product. We’ve divided the process into two parts. The first part involves getting the wool ready, and the second is actually weaving the carpet.
Getting the Wool Ready
The process begins with shearing the wool from sheep. Skilled shearers carefully remove the fleece from the sheep’s body in one piece. This is typically done annually, and the wool is collected in large bundles.
Sorting and Grading
The harvested wool is sorted and graded based on various factors such as fiber length, diameter, color, and overall quality. This step helps ensure that the wool used for carpets meets specific standards.
The raw wool contains natural oils, dirt, and impurities. Washing is a crucial step to remove these contaminants. The wool is thoroughly cleaned using water and mild detergents to maintain its natural properties.
After washing, the wool fibers are carded to align them in the same direction. Carding involves passing the fibers through a series of rollers with wire brushes. This process helps remove any remaining impurities and ensures a more uniform texture.
Weaving the Wool Carpet
Our raw material, which is wool in this case, is now ready. The next stage is actually weaving the carpet. Since we’re only concerned about oriental carpets, we describe the process used in the making of Indian carpets, including Kashmiri carpets, and Persian carpets.
The process begins with the creation of a design, which is usually passed down through generations or developed by skilled artisans. These designs often feature intricate floral patterns, paisleys, and other traditional motifs.
High-quality wool or silk is commonly used for Kashmiri carpets. The yarn is carefully washed, dyed, and sun-dried to achieve the desired colors.
Silk is often used for finer details. The carded wool is spun into yarn. Spinning involves twisting the fibers together to create a continuous strand of yarn. The thickness of the yarn can be adjusted based on the desired carpet characteristics.
Map Making (Naqsha Bandi)
A master craftsman draws a detailed map or pattern (naqsha) of the design on a graph paper. This serves as a guide for the weavers.
The actual carpet weaving begins on a loom. The weaver follows the naqsha, tying knots in the yarn around the warp threads to create the pattern.
There are two main types of knots used in Kashmiri carpets: the Persian knot (single knot) and the Turkish knot (double knot). The fineness of hand-knotted Indian and Persian carpets is measured by knot density, or knots per square inch (kpsi). The greater the number of knots per square inch, finer the carpet, and the more expensive it is.
Carpets and rugs with a knot density greater than 330 knots per square inch are usually considered very high-quality.
The exceptions to this rule are nomadic, village, and tribal carpets, whose makers usually do not have access to high quality equipment that workshop artisans possess. Such carpets are valued using different yardsticks.
The knots are tied row by row to form the carpet. The weaver pays close attention to the color pattern and design, ensuring precision and accuracy.
In India, Persia (Iran), and Turkey, a roller beam loom is the most common type of loom used for hand weaving carpets. Since Indian and Persian carpets are mostly handwoven, it takes a long time to get a carpet ready. A hand-knotted Persian rug can sometimes take years to get ready.
Tufting and Backing
Tufting is a process where the yarn is threaded through a backing material to create loops. The backing material is often a woven fabric or a synthetic material. The loops are then cut to create a pile or left uncut for loop-pile carpets.
A secondary backing is added to reinforce the carpet. This backing can be made from materials like jute, polyester, or other synthetic materials. It provides stability and support to the carpet. However, in a handmade Indian rug, natural materials are used for the secondary backing.
Once a section of the carpet is completed, it is washed to remove any excess dye and impurities. This also helps in setting the vibrant colors that oriental carpets are known for.
After the carpet is woven, it undergoes a finishing process. The edges are reinforced, and the entire carpet is sheared to an even length. This enhances the clarity of the design and gives the carpet a smooth, uniform surface.
Washing and Blocking
The finished carpet is washed again to remove any remaining impurities and to enhance its softness. It is then stretched and blocked to achieve the desired shape and dimensions.
Trimming and Carving
Skilled craftsmen may trim the pile to create different levels of texture, enhancing the visual appeal. Some carpets also undergo carving to add depth and dimension to the design.
The completed carpet undergoes a thorough inspection for quality. Any imperfections are corrected, and the carpet is prepared for sale or export.
The entire process is time-consuming, and the production of a single Kashmiri carpet can take several months, depending on the size, complexity of the design, and the skill of the artisans involved. These carpets are highly valued for their beauty, durability, and cultural significance.
What Are the Advantages of Wool Carpets?
Here are some characteristics of wool carpets:
They’re All Natural
Wool is a natural fiber derived from the fleece of sheep. It is renewable and biodegradable, making it an environmentally friendly choice. So unlike carpets and rugs made from synthetic materials, you’ve got a natural fibre in your living room.
Wool is a durable material that can withstand heavy foot traffic and maintain its appearance over time. This is because wool is naturally springy, giving it an innate resistance to crushing and matting. Synthetic materials on the other hand, need to be processed and put through machines to impart them with an artificial springiness, which wears out over time.
Ever seen sheep catch fire? Neither have we. Wool is naturally flame-resistant — It will smolder instead of burn, and it self-extinguishes when the flame source is removed.
Wool has a natural resistance to stains due to its water-repellent outer layer. This makes it easier to clean and maintain compared to some synthetic fibers.
Wool carpets are known for their soft and luxurious feel underfoot. The natural elasticity of wool fibers provides a comfortable and cushioned surface. Your feet and skin will thank you every time you walk, sit, or even roll with the kids on your wool carpet. Can’t say the same for synthetic fibers, unfortunately.
Insulation and Dehumidification
Wool has excellent insulating properties, helping to regulate temperature. It can keep a room warm in the winter and cool in the summer, providing energy efficiency.
Also, wool can absorb excess moisture from the air when it’s too humid, and even release some excess moisture when it gets too dry in the winter.
This is because wool is natural, and it performs these same functions in nature while it is still attached to a sheep. Synthetic fibers are incapable of doing any of this.
Wool is often hypoallergenic, as it doesn’t promote the growth of dust mites and other allergens. It can be a good choice for individuals with allergies or asthma.
Wool is a sustainable, natural material. Sheep produce wool continuously, and when managed properly, sheep farming can have positive effects on the environment, such as promoting healthy grasslands and soil.
Given their many advantages, it is natural wool carpets tend to be more expensive than carpets made from synthetic materials.
There’s also the fact that woolen carpets are either often hand made, or made in handlooms as part of small cottage industries. By comparison synthetic carpets and rugs are made in large factories with assembly line production. No prizes for guessing then, which of the two has more inherent value.
What Are the Downsides of a Wool Carpet?
Like all things, woolen carpets have a few disadvantages too. These include:
Vulnerable to Moths
Like all natural fibers, wool is food for moths and other pests such as carpet beetle. To prevent this, wool carpets are often pre-treated with mild insecticide such as Permethrin.
These insecticides are deemed completely safe by the World Health Organization (WHO) and pose no risk to human health.
If you’ve owned any wool clothing, you’d know that the fiber tends to shed itself, most commonly in the form of lint. It’s the same with wool rugs.
While this isn’t a major problem, unless you’re regularly rolling on the carpet. Even in this case, the shed fiber can be removed using a lint roller. This does not lead to any major or noticeable loss of carpet pile.
Is Wool Carpet High Maintenance?
No, not at all. Wool carpets do not need any special maintenance, apart from regular vacuuming. In addition to this, you might want to keep it away from sharp or abrasive edges, and oily substances. Apart from these, wool carpets do not require any special maintenance. This is why wool is the most commonly used material for handmade rugs.
How Long Does a Wool Carpet Last?
Wool carpets are incredibly durable. With proper care, a good wool carpet can easily last 25-30 years. Several handmade wool carpets made using traditional techniques last even longer. It should come as no surprise that many antique rugs sold as part of collections or displayed in museums are made of wool. A good quality wool rug is a piece of timeless elegance.
What Is the Average Cost of a Wool Carpet?
Some of the factors that go into determining the cost of a wool carpet are:
Larger the carpet, more it will cost
Its Knot Density
Greater the number of knots a carpet has per square inch, greater will be its cost.
Carpets that originate from different geographical regions have different prices For instance, Kashan is a city in Iran famed for its handmade carpets. Kashan rugs, therefore, usually fetch higher prices than, say, carpets made in Bhadohi, India.
Its Age and Condition
Antique rugs are priced by their age and condition.
The Intricacy of Its Design
Woolen rugs come in all sorts of designs and patterns, from geometric patterns to abstract designs. More intricate designs mean greater labor and a longer time to prepare the rug. This in turn translates to higher prices.
Notice the intricate patterns, and how they became smaller as one approaches the circle placed at the centre of the carpet.