Floor Coverings

( Originally Published 1931 )

HERE is a field which has seen great changes during the past twenty-five years. At the turn of the century Brussels and tapestry rugs were the vogue for the formal rooms, matting assured a musty smell for the bed-rooms of country homes, and the bare boards of the kitchen floor acquired dirt as rapidly and miraculously as a creeping infant. Now, cut pile gives a soft tread and a pleasing texture to many of our rugs and carpetings; rag rugs and hooked rugs serve the bedrooms, with the matting idea transformed into grass rugs and relegated to the porch; and linoleum, having solved the problem of kitchen and bath, is successfully invading other rooms. At the same time the production of Oriental rugs for the American market has greatly increased.

There remain specially prepared floor surfaces of cork, gypsum, and other vegetable or mineral substances. These will not be discussed, as they are permanent surfaces which are introduced only as a part of a contractor's specifications in building or remodeling a home and, as such, are never found on the shop-per's list.


Rugs and carpets are made of the same materials and in the same way; they differ only in that a rug is a complete unit finished on all four sides, whereas a carpet is bound (in the form of a selvage) only on the sides, leaving the ends free to be cut to the desired length. Some rugs, particularly the smaller scatter rugs, are circular or oval, but the usual shape is oblong.

Rug sizes range from 1.5 x 3 feet to 24 x 36 feet or even larger in rare cases, but 12 x 15 feet is the largest that any retail store regularly stocks. The most popular sizes are 27 x 54 inches for scatter rugs and 9 x 12 feet for room-size rugs.

Carpets range in width from 22.5 inches, adapted to stairs and to hall-runners, to 15 feet; although chenille and velvet carpets as wide as 24 feet, or even 30 feet, are occasionally found in retail stores. The usual width, however, is 27 inches, and in this width carpeting comes from the manufacturers in rolls of 50 yards. In the broad-loom widths the rolls are 25 yards long. Like wallpaper, carpeting may have a repetitive design which can be matched in laying.

Wool, cotton, silk, grass, and fibers are the materials used, with wool predominant. Silk is restricted to the Orientals and to rag rugs. Even in the finest all-wool rugs, cotton is used for the all-important warp threads, as those strands must be particularly strong, stiff, and tough. In the cheaper grades jute may be used in the backing of a rug to provide stiffening; and in some cases the backs of the cheaper rugs are sized with glue to set the weave and keep the rugs stiff while they are being handled in the stores.


Rugs and carpets are made either by hand or by machine or, in the case of some hooked rugs, by a machine guided by the operator in working in the de-sign. All true Orientals are handmade.

Quite aside from the fact that the handmade creation of the individual craftsman is always more prized than the machine product, it is of sturdier construction; for each tuft of yarn which goes to make up the pile, or surface, of the rug is separately knotted into the structure. This means that there never can be any raveling of a handmade rug. Machines have been successfully developed in Europe, which will do this knotting; and those who have seen these machines in operation say that they are most ingenious and that their products are splendid examples of rug-making. The machines are still so expensive to build and operate, however, that their product approaches the cost of the handmade Orientals; but improvements in this machinery will eventually reduce the production cost.

Good rugs and carpetings, whether made by hand or by machine, are manufactured from colored yarns. The cheaper products are made by using uncolored yarn, grass, or fiber and then stamping the design by processes similar to those used by printers in making colored pictures. The disadvantage of the stamping method is that the design is merely a surface one which dulls and wears off with use.


Taking a wool rug as standard, let us see what factors make for value to the purchaser. In the first place it is obvious that a rug must be of the right size and shape to meet the special need, and that design and color must please the purchaser and harmonize with the surroundings. This is very trite but it is also very true. Many a misfit which we see in a friend's home and charge to bad taste, is really due to the fact that the purchaser did not remember all these factors until she was definitely saddled with the purchase. Rugs and carpets are too costly to be bought lightly and as lightly tossed aside.

When these elementary factors have been duly considered, there remain the vital questions of material and workmanship. In the well-made rug, a fine quality of worsted yarn will be used, the weave will be close, and neither jute nor sizing will be needed to make good deficiencies in material or workmanship. This means that the yarn will be made of long, stiff fibers combed until they lie parallel and •then well twisted; and that the weave will make a firm, compact fabric. If the yarn is too loosely twisted and too loosely woven the individual tufts which make up the surface pile will not stand up as they should and will pull out too easily.

At the same time there is one weakness which derives directly from the structural superiority of such a rug or carpet. It has to do with the fact that all floor coverings are subject to harder wear in certain spots than in others. Even the stiffest pile will break down somewhat in those spots and will catch the light differently from the rest of the pile. If the carpet is a solid color these patches will be obvious and will give the impression of a mottled surface. If the rug carries any extensive design the patches of differently reflected light will be broken up and perhaps completely lost in the pattern. But if a plain or solid color carpet is nevertheless desired, the shopper may well consider the advisability of buying a woolen rather than a worsted carpeting for the reason that the pile of the woolen product is not so fine and stiff as that of the worsted, and therefore will not produce so distinct a line of demarcation around the places of hardest wear.

With these general ideas in mind let us examine some of the more usual types of rugs and carpetings.

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