History of Carpet

Carpets are part of our history.

The oldest carpet ever found was produced 2,500 years ago. Only with the opening of trade routes in the 17th century there were significant numbers of Persian rugs introduced to Western Europe. Today a modern carpet is a masterpiece of industrial manufacturing and still history is ongoing.

+ One of the Oldest Rugs

A sensational find at Pazyryk provides evidence for 2,500 years of carpet history.

One of the oldest hand-woven rugs known in the world today was found in southern Siberia in 1949. The elaborate carpet, discovered during the excavation of the burial mound of a Scythian chief in the Altai Mountains near the border to Mongolia, was in an excellent state of preservation because it was protected by a layer of ice. The "Pazyryk carpet" – named after the valley where it was found – dates to the Achaemenid period (559-330 BC), that is, it was made in the Persian Empire in the fourth or fifth century BC. Woven with 36 knots per square centimetre, it measures 1.83 x 2 metres and is decorated with geometric patterns and depictions of elks and riders. The fineness of its weave (by comparison, today 25 knots per square centimetre is considered very fine) and the intricacy of its design suggest that the art of carpet-weaving must have already had a long tradition even at this early date, although no older surviving specimens have yet been found. Today the carpet is housed in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Photo: www.wikipedia.de | www.pazyryk.org

+ Ardabil Carpets

The Ardabil carpets: Separated twins

Perhaps the most famous of all old Persian rugs are the Ardabil carpets. They are of the so-called Kashan type, named after the province in northwestern Persia. Commissioned as a pair by Shah Tahmasp I in the mid-16th century, the carpets were placed in a mosque in Ardabil and bought by an Englishman, who restored one of the carpets using the other and then resold it to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1892. The "Holy Carpet of Ardabil" measures about 10.5 by 5.3 metres and is extremely fine, with about 5,300 knots per ten centimetres square. Its warp and weft are in silk, while the pile is made of wool. The surface is covered by a single integrated design featuring a central medallion, two lamps hanging from the centrepiece and a complex pattern of scrollwork set with fantastic flowers or leaves on a deep blue background. The decorative border contains the Islamic date AH 947—which corresponds to the year 1540 AD in our calendar—and the name of the craftsman who made it, Maksud al Kashani. The incomplete remainder of the other Ardabil carpet is now in the Los Angeles County Museum.

Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London | www.vam.ac.uk

+ Red Carpet

Power, wealth, adulation: Why is the red carpet red?

There's glamour in the air, luxury limousines drive up and stars and starlets in designer dresses step out onto the red carpet in a blaze of flashbulbs—a familiar Hollywood scene. But even in the Middle Ages, it was considered a welcoming gesture to lay a carpet for important guests so they did not have to tread on the cold, dirty ground. After battles, it was common for the vanquished to spread out a red cloak for the victor as a sign of respect. The red cloak was particularly precious; the glands of 12,000 murex sea snails yield only 1.5 grams of the pure dye, enough to dye just 7.5 grams of wool. Eventually the red cloak became the red carpet, which is still used today to honour important visitors.

Photo: Martin Diebel, Berlin | www.shift-pictures.com

+ Bauhaus Textiles

The high art of Bauhaus textiles

In the 1920s and early 30s, at the time of the Weimar Republic in Germany, no architect’s studio was complete without a selection of exquisite textiles. Walter Gropius chose two Bauhaus-designed carpets for his study in 1923, while Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich selected hand-knotted wool carpets by Lübeck weaver Alen Müller-Hellwig for the German pavilion at the Barcelona International Exposition 1929 and for Villa Tugendhat in Brno. However, it was not only male architects who found carpets an exciting field to work in; weaving and textile techniques were also considered a suitable artistic field for women, who were entering the labour market in increasing numbers at that time. The weaving workshop that Walter Gropius planned for Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919 became increasingly popular in the years that followed its opening. From its inception, the workshop focused on two areas: functional fabrics for domestic purposes and artistically ambitious single pieces. An amazing number of carpets, wall hangings, piano covers, jacquard textiles and two-ply fabrics from this period have survived intact. The outstanding works include floor coverings by Anni Albers, Hedwig Jannis and Benita Koch-Otte; those by Margaretha Reichardt and Gunda Stölzl, later to become the only Bauhaus Master Craftswoman, are particularly outstanding. The Foundation of Weimar Classics claims to hold the largest Bauhaus carpet collection in the world.

© Angermuseum Erfurt – Margaretha-Reichardt-Haus / Photo: Dirk Urban

+ A Carpet Can Cover Anything

Floors, walls, furniture—A carpet can cover anything.

Today we usually think of carpets as floor coverings. But if we look at the German word for "carpet"—Teppich—and its etymology, we see that carpets were actually also used to cover walls and items of furniture. The roots of the word Teppich and its English cousin "tapestry" can be traced to South Asia, to a term that entered Indo-European as tapeh, via tapes, tapete, tap(p)etum in Vulgar Latin and tápes in Ancient Greek—both of which meant "blanket" or "rug". The modern word Teppich developed from the Old German word Tep(p)ih and came into wider use in the 18th century, primarily designating—though (Gobelin and other) tapestries existed—woven "foot carpets".

Photo: Claudia Neuhaus / Design: Hannes Grebin, Berlin | www.hannesgrebin.com

+ The Power Loom

The invention of the power loom: A milestone

Weaving is one of the oldest crafts known to humankind. Archaeologists have found numerous loom weights of clay proving that the first so-called vertical looms, which were used until the late Middle Ages, date back to the Neolithic era. The first mechanical looms appeared in the 16th century, and early automated looms using punch cards were pioneered by Jacques de Vaucanson in France in the middle of the 18th century. But it was the Industrial Revolution that ushered in the mass production of carpets with the invention of the first power loom, which Edmund Cartwright registered for a patent in 1785. The machine was initially powered by oxen and later by steam engines. Joseph-Marie Jacquard optimized Cartwright's power loom by combining it with the control mechanism pioneered by de Vaucanson. Mechanically controlled by cards with rows of punched holes corresponding to the rows of the design, the so-called Jacquard loom allowed carpets to be produced industrially in large quantities. The invention of the Jacquard loom was groundbreaking in two respects: Soft, warm floor coverings were no longer a luxury only the wealthy could afford – and it laid the foundation for control theory, which eventually led to modern computers.

Photo: Dennis Gerbeckx, Berlin | www.dennis-grafix.com

+ Tufting

Tufting: a revolution in carpet-making

The origins of tufting lie in the traditional European craft of carpet embroidery, a process in which symmetrical patterns were woven into a base fabric using a needle and coloured thread. In the US, bedspreads made using the tufting process were being produced as far back as 1900, after European emigrants first brought the technique to Pennsylvania. Back then only a single needle was used, but it was not long before multi-needle machines were introduced. In 1943 this American process was patented, which laid the foundations for industrial tufting manufacture. By the end of the 1950s, the technology was in use all over the US, and in the early 1960s it was adopted by European manufacturers. The revolutionary production process and the use of synthetic fibres, which were much easier to work, made it possible to manufacture large quantities of carpet cheaply and quickly. The carpet strips made in this way were then sown together to produce "wall-to-wall" carpeting—and the fitted carpet was born.

+ Tufting Process

Tufting: one process, endless possibilities

The principle of tufting is basically that of a sewing machine: several thousand needles arranged in rows insert the yarn (sometimes called poly yarn) into a base material (woven or nonwoven) known as the primary backing. Hooks, called loopers, hold the yarn in place before the needles withdraw, forming loops (pile tufts) on the upper side of the backing material. In loop-pile carpet, the loops are retained, but they can also be cut by blades to form cut-pile carpet, sometimes called velour carpet. The blades are usually fixed to the loopers, so holding and cutting take place in one step. A combination of these two techniques results in cut-loop carpet. Secondary textile backings or latex layers are then applied to hold the yarn in place. Unlike woven carpet, patterns on tufted carpet can be individually designed and do not need to be produced horizontally, weft yarn by weft yarn. Modern tufting machines can produce carpet up to five metres wide. All currently available types of yarn can be used, such as polyamide, polyester, polypropylene, cotton or wool. As a result, these carpets are very popular in high-traffic areas such as public buildings, shops, department stores and offices.