Wool Rugs and Fibers in Carpet Weaving
How is Wool Harvested and Woven into Rugs and Carpets?
Wool Rugs – Wool is the most common material used in making area rugs, at least in regard to the pile or the flat-woven facing of the rug. It comes primarily from sheep, although goat hair can be used as well. The quality of these fibers can and does vary enormously.
Some sheep produce wool that is soft and lustrous, with a silky sheen that is enlivened by proper illumination. Others may have wool that is more dull and un-reflective… but those that are more lustrous are generally moist or lanolin-rich. They are far healthier and more durable than those that are dry.
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One of the most important choices that weavers make is the quality of the wool they use. It affects the cost and value of a rug, as well as its ability to stand up to use. Some, however, were chosen for their fineness, softness and textural delicacy.
Some of the wool comes from the neck and belly of the sheep, like Angora, or, in the case of Indian Pashmina, from the downy layer close to the skin of the animal. Wool may also be used for the foundation of the rug as well as for the pile or facing.
The rug weavers who used wool fibers to construct the carpet’s foundations were mostly tribal, nomadic or tribes people. Therefore, their rugs are more typical of the village rug weaving where the designs are more primitive and the construction would not be as fine.
Learning about wool and rugs
As you may already know, there are different qualities of wool available for purchase. Even though there are various others, two are the main factors that are taken into account when assessing the quality of a certain wool. The first one is the length of the average individual strand of hair (where longer strands have a higher level of quality). The second important factor for assessing the quality of wool is the part of the animal where the hair grew. When it comes to wool, the finer and thinner strands of hair are the most desirable due to being softer and having a longer staple. In addition to these, there are external factors that may affect the quality of wool. Some of the most important ones are the type of habitat, climate, altitude and vegetation.
It’s important to mention that there are various sub types and byproducts of wool. Often, sellers make false claims regarding these types of material.
In order to help you avoid confusion, below are the accurate meanings of the terms that are used to describe wool for rugs:
For Starters, what is wool?
Simply put, wool is hair that is harvested from certain animals. Most commonly, wool is taken from sheep. However, it may also be harvested from other animals such as goats and camels. A quick and easy way to determine whether something is made of wool is by removing a small knot and burning it. If it is real wool, the burnt knot will produce a smell that is very similar to that of burnt human hair.
What are The Different Types of wool in the rug weaving industry?
- New Zealand Wool: This is a type of wool that is generally recognized for its long staple and amazing softness. Its high quality has a lot to do with the low altitude and abundant vegetation of the country. Often, New Zealand Wool is mixed with wool of less quality to lower costs.
- Gazni Wool: Coming from high-grazing sheep that live in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, Gazni Wool is a high-quality type of wool that is normally used in Peshawar weavings. It stands out due to its soft and yet firm texture. When treated correctly, it has a very slippery feel that turns into a crisp and solid feel when it is clipped.
- Semi-Worsted Wool: This byproduct is the result of combing unprocessed wool in order to extract the strands that have more length and better quality. After being isolated, the high-quality wool strands are mixed with medium-grade strands, resulting in semi-worsted wool.
- Worsted Wool: Similarly to semi-worsted wool, worsted wool results from the process of combing the wool in order to extract the strands that have excellent quality. Unlike semi-worsted wool, however, worsted wool is not combined with any other wool in order to maintain the excellence of its quality.
- Qurk / Kork Wool: Qurk is the term that is used to refer to the wool that is taken from the neck, belly and underarms of sheep. It is considered to be the best type of wool to be taken from a sheep. Typically, this wool is used for the finest and more expensive weavings. Kork is usually found in high-quality oriental rugs such as Kpsi Isfahan and Nain. Untreated Qurk wool is characterized by its compact, firm and dull texture.
- Pashmina Wool: Taken from the coat of Himalayan goats, Pashmina is one of the rarest and most expensive types of wool in the world. Silky, soft and long, Pashmina wool is cherished for its quality.
- Manchester Wool: This is a highly-appreciated type of wool that is mostly used to make a type of run known as the “Manchester Kashan”. This is a type of rug that is known for its luster and long-staple fiber. Manchester wool is extracted from a particular type of sheep known as the Merino sheep. Even though the Merino sheep originates in Australia, this type of wool got its name because it was first processed in Manchester, England.
- Mohair: Harvested from the Angora Goat, Mohair is a fine, long-stapled, soft and silky type of wool. Because Mohair wool is rare and very expensive, rugs made with it are difficult to come across.
- Camel Hair Wool: Normally used for traditional weaving such as the Serab, camel hair wool is very appreciated in some parts of the world. However, camel hair rugs are no longer as popular in the United States as they were near the turn of the 19th century.
- *Chemically Washed Wool Rugs: In order to give it a softer feel and a more lustrous finish, wool can be treated using different chemical substances. If done correctly, these chemical washes can be done without damaging the fibers of the wool. However, when overdone, the process can damage the rug. This result is even more likely when chemical washing is used on low-quality rugs to give them the appearance of having a higher quality. The level of damage can be assessed by the amount of shedding that occurs when the rug is agitated.
How to Know if Wool is Healthy?
Dead Wool: This is the term that is used to refer to coarse, brittle and generally low-quality wool. Normally, it’s used to produce cheap rugs in high volume. Because it sheds easily and profusely, this type of wool has a short lifespan.
Judging the quality and health of wool is not an easy thing to do. As a matter of fact, it takes many years of trial and error to become an expert. However, there are ways in which a novice can tell if a rug is of sub-standard quality. Perhaps the most noticeable sign of sub-par quality in a rug is shedding. Even though it’s normal for a new Oriental rug to shed a small amount during the first few months, this shedding should be a cause for concern if it’s too extensive. A quick and easy way to detect low-quality wool is by using the agitation test. First, thoroughly vacuum the face of the rug. Next, agitate the wool several times by combing it back and forth with your hand.
You may notice that a small amount of loose wool has surfaced. If the surfaced wool can be rolled up into a ball that is bigger than the actual height of the pile, it’s very likely that the rug is made of low-quality wool. At the same time, it may be helpful to simply feel the texture of the wool. If it’s too coarse, hard or brittle to the touch, it’s very likely that the rug is made with low-quality wool as well. Apart from being less pleasurable to the touch, a rug that is made with low-quality wool has a shorter lifespan than one made with high-quality wool.
Why Wool Rugs?
There are many reasons why wool rugs have stood the test of time while being stood on for decades.
If we look at the history, the concept of using a wool rug appears to have origins from the area of Northern Iran. According to scientific research, knotted pile carpets made from the shearing of sheep and goats for their wool and hair was present there around the 7th millennium.
In addition, the oldest carpet in the world was found in Syberia and dates back to approximately the 5th century B.C and is knowen as the “Pazyryk Carpet”. This ancient piece of history was woven using wool pile.
Sheep grow back their woolly coats season after season which is why wool is a resource that can easily be replenished. Some sheep are bred specifically for their wool which makes cultivating that material relatively easy and accessible.
Wool is a very versatile and soft material that can easily be dyed in so many different colors. Basically, wool is to carpet weavers as paint colors are to painters.
Another lovely feature about a wool rug is its long lasting durability. Wool is seen as (and had been proven to be) one of the most durable natural fibers. Wool rugs are also easy to clean and maintain.
A wool rug has always been kind to the environment or considered planet-friendly. The fiber is a natural and sustainable material which leaves a much smaller carbon foot print compared to a rug made from synthetic fibers.
Wool rugs, what’s not to love – right?
This article about wool rugs and weaving carpets using wool fibers was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in Manhattan, NYC.
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