The time honored tradition of crafting hand tufted rugs include several steps that are quite intensive to complete correctly. The end product is a wool area rug that will hold up for several years. But just how do the rugs you select end up being so durable?
Well, I am glad you asked! It all has to do with the way the item is put together. I am going to break it down into bite sized steps, much like what was done for me when I was new to the world of rugs.
Now please note, this may seem like a lot of text. That said, be mindful that each step involves a whole lot of work. So if you think reading this is a lot of work, just imagine yourself actually doing each task. Rugs are a wonderful artform, but they literally do not get to that point overnight but over several weeks or months. Here goes...
1) Sheep are bred so that their wool can be used in certain applications. The wool used in area rugs is usually a longer staple length and clearer in coloring. In the most well made area rugs, the fiber is New Zealand Wool. The wool is sheared once the coat is well grown, then put into bales.
2) The bales of wool are then hand sorted, where items such as burrs or other organic matter such as leaves are removed. At this point the wool is in it's very raw state and is actually oily to the touch. This oil is the natural lanolin that the sheep gives off.
3) Once larger organic matter is removed, the wool is machine scoured. The scouring process is done to ensure the wool is oil free and has no debris remaining in it. The appearance of the wool at this point is more likely what one would envision when thinking of wool. In short it is pretty, it is clean, and has very little aroma to it at all.
4) Once the wool is scoured, it is placed on a drying table. In very arid climates, the drying tables are left outdoors.
5) If the rugs are going to be "natural" or undyed, the wool skips this step. If the yarn has any color added to it whatsoever, it is more often than not done now. The wool is placed into a bath of dye much like how we dye easter eggs, but on a massive scale. The yarn is left to rest in the dye. The amount of time the yarn is left in the dye depends on the intensity of color that the rug craftsperson is looking to achieve.
6) The yarn is then removed from the dye bath and left out on a new set of drying tables.
7) Once dry, the yarn is taken to a spinner. Rugs yarns in modern days are usually spun by a machine. With this in mind, some spinners still use the manual method, where the mechanism being used to spin the yarn looks much like the front end of a bicycle.
8) Rugs that are being made with multiple colors would go through the yarn process in steps 1 through 7 for each color that is being used in the rug. Once all of the yarns are spun and on a spool, the frame work for the rug is set up.
9) The framework for a rug is built at this point. The framework is traditionally made of pine. A mesh like material is stretched over the wooden frame and is used as what one may relate to a paint by color. The mesh material has an outline of the pattern to be created.
10) The spooled yarn is pushed through a handheld piece of machinery that looks like a glue gun.
11) The gun is held up against the mesh material and is used to push the yarn through the mesh. This process is repeated for each color of the rug until the mesh is entirely filled with densely packed wool.
12) The mesh is untacked from the frame and placed face down on a clean floor.
13) The backside of the rug is covered in a latex material that resembles Elmer's glue. It is smeared uniformly across the entire backside if the rug.
14) The latex adhesive is then covered over with a secondary backing. This portion is called secondary because the mesh discussed in previous steps is considered the primary backing.
15) The rug is left on the floor face down for several days to allow time for the latex to adhere to the primary backing, yarns, and secondary backing.
16) The rug is turned over so the pile is facing up. A machine that resembles a lawn mower is used to trim off the random yarns on the face of the rug. The machine is used in multiple directions on the rug to ensure a clean and velvety feel to the rug.
17) If the rug is carved, a beveler is used. The beveler look much like the barber clippers that are used to trim a man's neck. This step is truly an artform. One quick slip and the entire rug would be ruined and scrapped. A delicate bevel carve is achieved after several years of training. The beveler is so high powered that it literally shakes the hand, arm and side of the body that is nearest the beveler.
18) Once carved, the rug is vacuumed.
19) After vacuuming, the rug is raked. The raking processed is done to remove much of the "dead yarns" that are in the rug. Dead yarns are pieces of wool that were not long enough to make it into and out of the backing repeatedly. Bundle encapsulation refers to the way that rugs hold in fibers. The bundle encapsulation rate is lower in wools than synthetics since a wool yarn is traditionally shorter than a synthetic.
20) The rug is again vacuumed.
21) The rug is inspected for defects, and staged for packaging. This is when the rug gets a UPS label slapped on it and arrives to my doorstep.
Rugs are a truly incredible value. There are 21 distinctive steps that go into making each and every one. Something to keep in mind is that even though the rug is raked, there will still be some dead yarns. Rugs that are walked on frequently will have a bit of fuzz on their surface. This should not cause alarm. It is simply the dead yarns making their way to the surface where they can be easily vacuumed off.
Please wander our rug assortment, but with a renewed sense of understanding. Making an area rug is truly a craft. The process is passed on from generation to generation and yields a good deal of pride among the families that call such a trade their own.