From the first time shepherds began knotting wool into heavy woven cloth rugs have been keeping people sheltered from the environment. These days their functions are a little different, they protect the floors from us. It’s time to take a look at the history of rugs, from the very first rugs knitted in Siberia to the rugs you can buy in any Rugs A Million rugs of today.

Origin and Function

Rugs began as a simple functional material to keep the elements out by shepherds in Siberia but evolved faster than most crafts into an art form. Artisans quickly began patterning and colouring for the sake of elegance and beauty. These early artisans produced patterns in new and interesting new ways that were prized by the rich. Inevitably established trade routes carried this throughout the world, with a little help from religion.

Expansion

The Islamic religion established the use of personal prayer rugs as a tradition around the time it started to spread, which took the religion to Spain and Eastern Europe and took rug making with it. Throughout the years many different regions have become famous from different kinds of rugs, as they were often weaved in particular ways due to its city or area of origin. Expanding to Persia was a turning point as Persian rugs soon became prized around the world.

Industrial Production

Like everything made by hand eventually someone finds a way to do it with a machine. Erastus B Bigelow invented the power loom in 1848. This could make carpets at great speeds but could only make them to a 27 inch width. The carpet strips were sewn together with a subtlety that was comparatively invisible. These woven carpets dominated carpet production until the 1940s. At that time the manufacturing process transfered to the tufted carpets we use now. These days 95% of rugs are made this way, leaving handmade rugs only to the incredibly rich.

The Current Working Method

The curent and most popular method for making rugs uses a 3 layer system with the top layer made of nylon, wool, polyester, acrylic or cotton. It is stitched to the second layer by high speed machines. The second layer or primary backing is stuck to the third layer with latex glue and made of polypropylene. From wool knotted into heavy woven cloth by shepherds to a polypropylene backed machine made mass produced all around the world.

Modern Day Rug Industry

These days the majority of carpets are made to the 3 layered tufted pattern and most handmade rugs are antique Oriental and Persian rugs are highly prized by collectors. There are rugs in almost every home and they can be made to order for any person of reasonable wealth. How far we have come.

Rugs have existed since the beginning of culture and will continue to exist long into the future. They’re protection from elements, convenience, and art in a single product. From shepherds to machines. Next time you pick up an area rug think for a second about the culture it came from.

Mary Jennings is a graphic designer who loves fashion and decor.

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