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Floor Coverings - Domestic Rugs

( Originally Published 1931 )

Following the usual classification we shall group as "domestics" all machine-made rugs, wherever manufactured; rag and hooked rugs, and the fiber products.

Several types of looms have been developed for the manufacture of rugs by machine. In two cases, Axminster and Wilton, the names come from the English towns in which the looms and processes of manufacture were first perfected; the chenille, on the other hand, is of French origin. The Wilton is generally considered to be the best process and a worsted Wilton is a fine example of rug-making. Let us see how such a rug is made.

The Manufacture of a Worsted Wilton: A frame of the desired size is set up with cotton strands running lengthwise. These are the all-important warp threads and they are cotton because that fiber can be twisted into a stiffer and stronger yarn than can be obtained from any other suitable material of the same diameter of strand. In the best grade of Wilton these strands are so spaced as to have 256 of them in series across the standard unit width of 27 inches, or approximately 19 strands in every two inches. This count, which may run as low as 120 in the poorer grades, is called the pitch.

Above this warp frame are placed other frames on which the surface yarns to be used are arranged parallel with the cotton warp strands below. These yarns are of a good worsted of long, stiff fiber; if the rug is to have a design, the yarns are of various colors and are so placed as to have the proper color available where needed in the design.

Then a wire is laid across the cotton warp and a shuttle is pushed across, automatically picking out the yarns wanted, bending them over the wire and anchoring them to the warp strands by means of a strong cotton thread. Once across, the shuttle carries the thread back over the same yarns, and then takes a third trip. This makes a three-shot rug in which the loop, made by tying each strand into the cotton warp on both sides of the wire, is securely fastened. Many rugs are made by the two-shot method, where the shuttle takes a double trip instead of the triple action described above; but the three-shot is the best grade because of its sturdier construction.

As soon as the shuttle has finished a multiple trip, an iron bar crossing the frame is dropped against the series of loops to pack them close to the wire. This is called beating, and a well-beaten rug is one which is closely woven; but this feature of a rug's manufacture is not to be confused with the very bad practice of beating rugs to clean them.

Another wire is laid, again the shuttle makes its multiple journey, and again the bar drops and packs in this next row of loops. The number of wires laid in an inch of the rug (measured lengthwise) determines the number of series of loops and hence their closeness to each other. This count is called the wire of the rug. A 13-wire is the highest grade and the count decreases to eight in the poorest grade.

Wilton vs. Brussels: Now as to the wires which are withdrawn after an inch of the rug has been made and are reinserted above until the rug is built up to its desired length. If they are smooth, round wires, the loops are left intact and provide a smooth rug surface. This is the Brussels or tapestry rug. When trod on, the loops bend this way and that; if the rug has a design its outline will soon become irregular. But if the wires are made with a sharp hook at one end, the pulling of the wires will cut the tops of the loops. Each loop thus becomes two ends of yarn and if the yarn is of good fiber, these ends will stand up stiffly in a double tuft. This result is called cut pile and is a characteristic of Wiltons and certain other types. It provides a softer tread and a finer surface texture for patterns than the uncut loops, and it is these advantages which have practically driven Brussels rugs from the market in the last quarter-century.

Once the wires of a cut-pile rug are withdrawn the surface is sheared by a special machine to make the pile of uniform height. Then the rug or carpet is put through a blowing machine to clean it of all loose and broken fibers, and it is then steamed as the final process before it is ready for the market.

Wilton vs. Chenille: Many shoppers are induced by salesmen or by advertising to believe that a chenille is superior to a Wilton. In many cases the chenille brings the higher price. Both are of the cut-pile type which is valued especially for surface texture and the softness of its tread. We have seen how a Wilton is made; the chief features of a chenille's manufacture are that the tufts which produce the pile are made in strips, and that these strips are then bound into a woolen back. A Wilton and a chenille of the same thickness may feel equally soft underfoot, but examine them and note the difference. The Wilton will have a deep pile and a thin back while the chenille will have less pile and a thicker back. A poorer grade of wool can be, and is, used in a backing than in a pile. Thus a chenille by the very nature of its construction, has less surface texture and contains less high-grade wool than a Wilton of the same thickness. Likewise the chenille has the structural weakness that the breaking of a binder thread is apt to loosen an entire strip of the pile.

Drum-Printed Rugs : The cheapest method of manufacturing rugs with patterns is the drum-printing process. Here enough strands of uncolored yarn for the desired width of the rug are laid on a cylinder, the circumference of which equals the desired length. With a sketch of the pattern before him, the operator manipulates little carts of dyes on a track which brings the dyes in contact with the yarn. When he has dyed one strip across, he revolves the drum and does the next strip until the yarns have been dyed in their full length. They can then be woven as though they were yarns of a single color. This method is cheap and produces inexact and cheap-looking patterns which soon wear off.

Rag Rugs and Hooked Rugs : These have long been made in the homes of country people in various parts of the United States, but mostly in New England. Because of their vogue as scatter-rugs in bedrooms and bathrooms, factories have been established for their production in quantity. It is no longer possible, therefore, to picture some dear old New England mother as the maker of the rag or hooked rugs that you see in the stores.

Rag rugs are made of cords of twisted rags bound together by cotton thread. The rags are of cotton or silk. The most common size now on the market is 27 x 54 inches, although they can be had 9 feet wide and any length.

Hooked rugs were originally made of rags but now they are also made of heavy woolen yarns. Where they are made of rags, they are either cotton or wool. The process of manufacture is to hook the material into a coarse burlap base. The old hooked rugs vary greatly in size and shape, but the most common size in the present output is 27 x 54 inches.

Scotch Art Rugs : These are of wool in a simple weave with uncut pile surface. They are reversible, have no fluff, are easily cleaned, and are becoming popular for nurseries. The usual size range is from 27 x 54 inches to 9 x 15 feet.

Wool Fiber Rugs: These are a combination of wool yarn and paper fiber in simple weave and are suitable for use in summer homes and on sun porches. The weave is such that where the yarn shows on the surface the fiber appears on the back, and vice versa. The paper fiber is a comparatively tough product, and a rug of this type is useful and efficient if bought at a fair price. Its life depends to a considerable degree on the pattern ; if the design is prominent the fiber will be correspondingly prominent in the surface, and fiber cannot be expected to outlive more than a few seasons of normal use. The standard size for rugs of this type is 27 x 54 inches for the small and 9 x 12 feet for the room-sized rugs.

Fiber Rugs: The so-called Fiber Rugs are made of paper strips which have been twisted into what amounts to a yarn. Those yarns can be colored, but the weave used is too simple to permit of weaving any but the simplest patterns. When more complex de-signs are wanted they are successfully stenciled on the surface. A fiber rug provides a pleasant looking surface which is easily cleaned with a moist cloth but cannot be washed. It cannot be expected to last for more than a few seasons of good usage, however. The standard size is the same as above.

Grass Rugs : Grass rugs are made of a light straw which is far too brittle to be twisted. The straws are piled lengthwise until a cable of the proper thickness is made; these cables are then bound together by cot-ton binder thread which runs both vertically to the matting and diagonally. The straws commonly used are either light yellow or slightly greenish, but the binder threads are sufficiently close to each other to control the color tone of the matting. In addition patterns can be stenciled on the finished rug. A rug of this type depends entirely on the binder thread for its strength. There are on the American market rugs of so-called Japanese grass, which are really nothing but rice straw. They are expensive at any price. American cured grass provides a more serviceable product, but grass rugs face real competition from the paper fiber products on the one hand and the coco fiber mats on the other.

Coco Fiber Rugs : This is a type especially well adapted to outdoor service, as the base material is the toughest used in any floor covering and does not rot easily. On the other hand, the fiber produces a rug texture which is not suitable for indoor use. These rugs are made of twisted coconut fiber which is first dyed and then woven by hand. The colors are bright and many of the designs are modernistic. Belgium is the principal center of production and the sizes range from 27 x 54 inches to 9 x 15 feet.

Rush Rugs : These are made from a tough reed grown in sluggish water both in Europe and in the Far East. Three-fourths of the production is in Japan (the labor cost being the controlling factor), with Germany, Belgium, and Holland supplying the rest. These rugs are made to compete with the other fiber products for porch use and come in the same-size range.

Grading Domestics : Although price is never more than a rough indication as to merit, an approximation of the relative merits of the various types of rugs discussed above may be drawn from the following table. The prices given are the fair retail prices current in the winter of 1928. They are given not as an index of what you should pay for any specific type of rug, for these prices fluctuate with various economic conditions; but as a basis for comparison between types.

It will be readily understood, after a study of the above table, that an excellent example of, let us say, an Axminster is a better rug than a poor Wilton and may command a higher price. Two other points should also be remembered in using this table. One is that hooked and rag rugs which are real antiques command special prices. The other is that the present movement for better design has stimulated certain rug manufacturers to turn to well-known artists for special pat-terns; for rugs made from these patterns the manufacturers generally demand a premium of a few dollars over their standard price, and this increase is naturally reflected in the price fixed by the retailer. Should this practice become general among rug manufacturers, you will be able to buy at small extra cost the satisfaction of knowing the identity of the designer of your rugs.

Testing Quality in Standard Rugs: There are so many factors in the manufacture of a good rug that it is difficult to devise tests which can be easily remembered and applied by the layman. However, there are certain simple things which will be helpful in making a selection.

1. Examine the back of the rug. If it is covered with a sizing of glue, giving the back a smooth, glossy finish, you have the manufacturer's frank admission that the weave is too loose to withstand without this protective sizing the handling to which the rug will be subjected in the store. Also look for jute, which can be readily distinguished from the cotton and woolen strands by the stiffness of its fiber. Presence of jute is likewise an admission that the weave is not of the best. Rugs with sized backs or jute stiffening are not necessarily bad; but they should not command the prices of the better grades of weave.

2. If the back shows signs of neither sizing nor jute, hold it at reading distance. If you can easily count the horizontal and vertical strands which form the wire and pitch, the rug is too loosely woven to be of the best grade.

3. Have the rug laid face up on the floor, and then walk on it to get some idea of the softness of the tread. At the same time look down at the surface. If you can detect thin white lines showing through the surface it is a grinning rug and therefore a poor buy.

4. Fold an edge of the rug back to back and inspect the pile. The rows of tufts should stand up stiffly like the bristles in a hair brush, and the length of the tufts will show you the depth of the pile. If the rug is a chenille, compare the depth of the pile with the thickness of the backing. Remember that what you want in a rug is surface texture, and that is measured in pile, not in backing.

5. While the rug is in this position look between the rows of pile for white threads. If you can see two even lines of thread to each row of tufts, it is a three-shot and therefore very well made.

6. Roll a part of the rug over one finger and inspect the face. The pile should stand up stiffly but the rug should not grin even in this position. This is a more careful check on grinning than No. 3.

7. Keep well in mind the characteristics of the pile. It will show definitely whether the rug is made of colored yarns or is of printed designs. Upon the depth and stiffness of the pile depend the texture and tread of the rug; further, the stiffness (which implies strong fibers) controls the amount of fluffing (loosening of short and broken fibers) and the most important check on the closeness of the weave.

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