Rugs and Carpets: A Brief History

Even though rugs and carpets have a rich history, only a few is known. The earliest rugs were made of organic fibers so that they are very rare. Since organic fibers disintegrate speedily over time, preservation over thousands of years is extremely rare. The art of weaving dates back thousands of years and is very old, as we know.

Rough, simple mats and baskets made of grasses; reeds, leaves, and other natural materials are how weaving began. Rough cured skins used as floor coverings in the homes of early hunters were probably the first true ‘rugs’. These rugs served to keep the home more warm and insulated with tough, flexible backing and generally soft material (called ‘pile’).

In ancient Mesopotamia and Turkey as far back as 7000 and 8000 B.C.E., and in Egypt (wool and cotton) as early as the third millennium B.C.E, there is evidence for weaving and the existence of rugs. In textile industry, Mongolia and China were also main players. Among the first to develop and weave wool rugs were nomadic herders and Chinese weavers.

In many other parts of the world, including parts of the Americas as far back as 5500 B.C.E, weaving is developed. Weavers are gradually transitioned to using vegetable, flower, and insect materials although in the beginning, they used natural colors.

Rug-making are lifted to art form by Silk development in China, the ornate, intricate embroidery and designs of Turkey and Mongolia, and the development of more sophisticated looms and weaving techniques throughout the world.

In Europe, oriental rugs were used as wall hangings and coverings and brought by Italian merchants. France had developed a dominant weaver’s guild, and England wasn’t far behind by 1600s. England’s emergence into the weaving industry in 1700s and a good portion of the wool produced in England was used for carpets in about 1830.

In order to aid the process of weaving, and looms which have become so sophisticated today that they run off of computer algorithms, various machines were created. In the US and Europe, rugs were not widely available until the onset of mass production and the invention of industrial grade machines.

In 1787, the first steam-powered loom appeared, and the invention of the Axminster loom which is a machine that permitted unlimited use of color and design by 1876, boosted the production of carpets. Tufted carpet, carpet manufactured by the insertion of tufts of yarn through a carpet-backing fabric, and the advent of synthetic fibers made mass production and purchase of carpets easier, faster, and less expensive.