The Dark Age of Carpet Design

Dark Age of Design

260 Years of Machine Made Carpets

Two hundred and sixty years on from the invention of machine made carpets the carpet industry has largely forgotten how to construct textile floor coverings from renewable materials.

For 192 years machine made carpets were made from wool. These carpets were made to last for decades, and they did.

In the middle of last century nylon was invented which meant that cheaper carpets could be created that used lower quality materials. In the worst examples carpets lost their ability to biodegrade, to absorb moisture and create healthy breathing zones and even became flammable.

Several generations of carpet designers and carpet sellers have been operating under the belief that wool carpets are improved by substituting 20% of the pile content with synthetic fibre. This is not correct, we have entered the Dark Age, and the wisdom of the past has almost been lost.

Nylon is added to wool carpet to meet a price point. The addition of cheap oil-based fibre allows yarn strength to be maintained with lower quality, cheaper fibre.   The nylon adds no benefit to the product, it only increases the visual appearance of wear as nylon is shiny and wool is dull.

A carpet correctly made from 100% good quality wool is going to keep looking good for years and years.  A carpet that is a blend of materials is not a smart or responsible thing to design, sell or buy.

The challenge for carpet designers is to think about the user experience, and the full life cycle of the products they bring to life. Carrying on with poor information is lazy design.

Good design considers form and function. The experience of a product should not just be about price point and a quick sale but it should consider the total experience a consumer will have.

 The ultimate carpet would be:

Visually attractive.

Constructed from rapidly renewable resources.

Be either fully biological or fully mechanical (either 100% natural or 100% synthetic)

Enhance the habitat of people in the home and office by filtering noise and pollution, insulating against heat, absorbing volatile chemicals, trapping dust from the breathing zone and reducing the rick of fire.

Long lasting in looks and performance.

Have a pre-determined plan for the end of its life as a carpet.

Consider both the environmental and social benefits of its supply chain

The world keeps pumping out 80/20 carpets under the impression that this is the best way to make a carpet and that is simply not true. 80/20 is better than plastic carpet and it still going to perform well and look good. But it is not as good as a 100% wool carpet and it is certainly ignoring the fact that nylon requires oil to manufacture and it takes 40 times longer to biodegrade than wool.

We should not keep making lazy design choices based on the fact that its always been done that way, especially as for more almost 200 years of the 260 years of machine made carpets it wasn’t done that way.

Below is a 100% natural carpet the way it is supposed to be done.

100% Natural Carpet

A 100% Natural Carpet in Buckingham Palace.

9 thoughts on “The Dark Age of Carpet Design

  1. Really liked your post! Thought I would share my perspective … 50/50 blends of wool and synthetics are usually done strictly for price point. Most 80/20 blends are done by adding 20% solution-dyed fibers for styling and blending in additional color(s), not necessarily for price point.

    • Thanks Bill, The 20% nylon is usually white staple fibre that is vat dyed to match the wool, which in itself is an exrtra process and therefore extra energy consumption. Sometimes solution dyed polypropylene is added as this can not be vat dyed. Either way the inclusion of synthetic fibres for whatever reason destroys the integrity of a natural product, in my opinion. 🙂

  2. Found your post really interesting – thank you. We use 100% wool yarns ( weaving on 150 year old looms). We have occasional problems with sourcing great quality worsted yarns. We usually find out when we dye them (hank dying) that they are contaminated. The more awareness is raised, the more people look for sustainable enviromental solutions and see the investment’ in a wool carpet as just that. From every perspective – enviromental, design etc etc. This in turn will strengthen the supply chain.

    • Thanks Rachel, Transparency is the only way you and your customers can know they are getting an authentic product. We (Wools of NZ) are getting a lot of requests for verified provenance after people have been let down on quality.

  3. We have over the last 6 months been involved in many historic reproductions and installations all of which are 100% wool. The problem is lack of education, we have been fortunate to be dealing with several carpet consultants who as well as ourselves can specify the product through our knowledge of wool and so can sell the virtues and advantages of wool, the issues lay with commercial interiors and poorly trained designers, not just carpet designers (who do not normally get the chance to be involved in the specification). The interior market is convinced 80-20 is better but I think you as a wool board should do more to educate.
    You put in what you get out, if you put poor wool in it will not perform so it is not just a case of 100% wool it is the quality you use. The many discussions I have had trying to convince designers and architects are too many to mention, perhaps better communication to specific markets and working more with carpet manufacturers to give them the knowledge and confidence would reap its rewards.

    • Thanks Gary, we have begun educating Interior designers through our CPD programme with the Society of British Interior Design, and I will give a seminar about this topic at the Carpet Recycling conference in Birmingham this month. Be great to have you involved!

      We are not a “wool board” so we do this stuff as a commercial fibre company as opposed to for generic industry good. Running seminars is expensive so we need the whole industry to get on board.

      • Hi Steven, agree it is an industry challenge if some of us are to differentiate from others and use wool to its full potential and life cycle. Feel free to get in touch to discuss more.

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