A history of rug making
There is evidence of rugs being made at the time of the New Stone Age, using fleece from sheep and goats. In 1949 a rug, which has been dated at 2500 years old, was found by Russian archaeologists in the Siberian wastelands of Southern Russia. The rug is a Pazyryck rug and is the oldest in the world.
Rugs were first created with the flat weaving method. This is by using simple vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) weaving. This method is still in use to make flat surfaced, ethnic-style rugs. Another method involves the knotting of strands of wool on to a skeleton of warp and weft to create a thicker pile on the surface, making these intricate hand-knotted rugs an art-form.
Samples of Oriental carpets were brought to Europe by Marco Polo in the 11th Century. By the end of the 16th Century carpet weaving had expanded in Europe and one of the earliest carpet factories opened in Wilton, England. In the 1750s Thomas Whitty created Axminster Carpets which was based in his hometown of Axminster and is still in operation today.
Another type of a rug is a rag rug, which as its name suggests, it is made of rags. The earliest rag rug has been dated back to 1863. Unfortunately, not many have survived over the years. This was due to a new rug being made each year and the oldest one in the household being thrown away. Also they were associated with poverty and were not kept longer than they needed to be and unlike quilting and patchwork the craft was not taken up by the Victorians. Today rag rugs are still being made and have become more popular as a craft with the emphasis on the use of recycled materials.
Whichever method is used to create rugs, whether it is flat weaving, rag rugs or the intricate hand knotted rugs, this is certainly one of the great ancient crafts which continues to thrive today.
Tools of the rug making trade
Here is a list of the most important tools for rug making:
Loom: A frame used to hold the warp threads in place while the rug is being woven.
Shuttle: A tool used to carry the weft threads back and forth across the loom.
Warping board or reel: A device used to wind the warp threads in preparation for weaving.
Scissors: Used to cut the yarn or fabric to the desired length.
Needles: Used to stitch the tufts in place in a tufted rug or repair any holes or tears.
Ruler or measuring tape: Used to measure the size of the rug and the spacing between the warp threads.
Weaving comb: A tool used to pack down the weft threads and tighten the rug after each row of weaving.
Hand-knotting tools: For hand-knotting techniques, a needle and a special tool called a bodkin are used to tie the knots.
Tufting gun: A power tool used for making tufted rugs, typically used in commercial rug making.
Having these tools on hand will help ensure a smooth and efficient rug-making process. However, different rug-making techniques may require additional specialised tools.
Materials used in rug making
Wool: At the heart of British rug making, wool stands tall. Hailing from the sheep-rich landscapes of the UK, it provides warmth, durability, and a soft touch. For instance, traditional Shetland wool can be employed to craft thick-pile rugs, echoing the rustic charm of the Scottish islands.
Cotton: A lightweight and versatile material, cotton often finds its use in flat-weave or dhurrie rugs. The versatility of cotton allows for intricate patterns, such as geometric motifs reminiscent of Tudor floor tiles.
Jute: Known for its coarse, natural texture, jute is typically used for hard-wearing, rustic rugs. A rug crafted solely from jute can be perfect for a conservatory or a kitchen, adding a touch of country elegance.
Seagrass: Tightly woven and sturdy, seagrass rugs are often favoured for their natural resistance to stains and durability. Ideal for hallways or dining rooms, a seagrass rug can bring to mind the coastal landscapes of Cornwall.
Sisal: Derived from the Agave plants long spiky leaves, sisal is a resilient and highly durable material. Rugs made from sisal might find their place in high-traffic areas, with their natural hues evoking the serene beaches of the British coastline.
Coir: Made from the husks of coconuts, coir rugs are known for their rugged texture and durability. Perfect for entrance areas, a coir rug can act as a barrier, recalling the tropical origins of its material while serving a practical purpose in British homes.
Silk: Though used less commonly due to its delicate nature and higher cost, silk brings unparalleled softness and sheen. A silk rug might feature intricate patterns or historical scenes, making it more of a decorative piece, perhaps for a quiet study or a formal sitting room.
Nettle: An innovative and sustainable choice, nettle fibres, especially from the Himalayan variety, are being explored in rug making. A nettle fibre rug might be suited for an eco-conscious consumer, evoking Britains long-standing affair with botany and natural materials.
Hemp: This plant fibre is known for its strength and environmental sustainability. Rugs made from hemp can be durable, making them suitable for areas like home offices or childrens rooms, subtly echoing the green fields of the British countryside.
Linen: Often blended with other materials for added strength, linen offers a smooth texture and subtle sheen. A rug crafted from a linen-wool blend might be apt for a bedroom, combining the rustic feel of British wool with the delicate elegance of linen.
Techniques of rug making
Here are the main techniques used in hand making rugs:
Hand-knotting: This is a traditional method of making rugs by tying knots onto the warp threads. The knots create the pile of the rug and can be trimmed to a uniform height.
Hand-tufting: In this technique, tufts of yarn or fabric are pushed through the base fabric of the rug with a needle and then secured in place with a backing.
Hand-weaving: This method involves interlacing the weft threads with the warp threads on a loom to create the body of the rug.
Hand-hooking: This technique involves pulling strips of fabric or yarn through a base fabric to create the pile of the rug.
Hand-braiding: In this technique, strips of fabric or yarn are braided together to create the body of the rug, which is then coiled and stitched in place to secure it.
Each of these techniques has its own unique look and feel, and the choice of technique often depends on the materials being used, the desired end result, and the skill level of the rug maker. Hand-making a rug is a time-consuming process, but it allows for creative expression and results in a unique, one-of-a-kind piece.
Tips and tricks of rug making
Here are some tips for rug makers selling their work:
Know your audience: Understand the market you are selling to, their needs, and preferences. This will help you determine the right designs, colours, and materials to use in your rugs.
Highlight the uniqueness: Emphasise the handmade quality of your rugs and what sets them apart from mass-produced rugs.
Quality is key: Focus on producing high-quality rugs with consistent stitch patterns and tight weaving.
Showcase your rugs: Create a portfolio or website to showcase your work and share it with potential buyers. You can also participate in trade shows and events to showcase your rugs in person.
Offer custom orders: Allow customers to request specific sizes, colours, and designs. This will make your rugs more appealing to a wider range of customers.
Provide excellent customer service: Respond promptly to customer inquiries, be transparent about shipping times, and handle any issues that arise in a professional and timely manner.
Offer a fair price: Research the market to determine a fair price for your rugs, taking into account the materials used, the time and effort invested in their creation, and the demand for similar products.
By following these tips, you can increase your chances of success in selling your handmade rugs and build a reputation as a reliable and skilled rug maker.
Ideas and inspiration for rug making
Heritage Patterns: Drawing inspiration from the rich British history, makers can design rugs with patterns from the Tudor, Victorian, or Art Nouveau eras. For instance, a wool rug showcasing Victorian tile patterns can be a blend of comfort and historical elegance.
Landscape Imagery: The picturesque British countryside offers ample inspiration. A rug woven to depict the rolling Cotswolds hills or the serene Lake District can evoke a sense of nostalgia and pride.
Wildlife Motifs: Craft a rug featuring British wildlife such as badgers, foxes, or red kites. A jute rug showcasing a playful fox amidst autumn leaves can appeal to nature enthusiasts.
Nautical Themes: Given the UKs extensive coastline, maritime themes are evergreen. A rug illustrating the iconic white cliffs of Dover or lighthouses, using materials like sisal or seagrass, can bring a coastal touch to any home.
Botanical Illustrations: Using materials like linen or nettle, design rugs that display classic British flora like roses, lavender, or bluebells. A circular rug portraying a vibrant rose surrounded by green foliage can be a showstopper.
Celtic and Pictish Designs: Drawing from ancient art, rugs featuring Celtic knots or Pictish symbols can resonate with those who cherish the mystique of ancient Britain. A coir rug with intricate Celtic knotwork can exude rustic charm.
Famous Landmarks: Depicting iconic British landmarks, from Stonehenge to Edinburgh Castle, can offer both a cultural touch and a talking point. A silk-blend rug illustrating the majestic Tower Bridge can serve as a piece of art.
Traditional Patchwork: Rugs crafted from patchworks of different natural fabrics, each segment carrying a unique British motif, can be conversation starters. For instance, a patchwork rug might incorporate fabrics showcasing classic British teapots, umbrellas, and double-decker buses.
Union Jack Interpretation: A modern or abstract take on the Union Jack, using vibrant colours or unique materials, can appeal to both the young and the old. A hemp rug with a distressed or vintage interpretation of the flag can be both edgy and traditional.
Literary Themes: Given the UKs literary heritage, rugs inspired by works of Shakespeare, Austen, or Rowling can attract book lovers. Picture a rug illustrating the magical world of Harry Potter, crafted with vibrant wools and silks.