This sounds like a school class – but this is the one you don’t want to miss. An educated buying decision translates into a buying success, and that is your goal. Certainly, understanding carpet and rug terminology is something you need for enjoyable, successful shopping. And it is not as simple as it may seem at first.
Criteria for dividing rugs into certain groups are fairly arbitrary, and so is term interpretation. More often than not, area rug is a mixed bag of attributes relating to different color/pattern styles, construction types, materials, and so on. Going from one retailer to another, you can expect a bit of puzzle every now and then – where does the rug you’re interested in actually belong to?
The very definition of a rug vs. carpet is fairly lose. In general, area rug is larger than a rug and neither, unlike carpet, covers the entire floor. Since carpets need to fit variable floor shapes, their pattern/theme content is much more limited. Good side of it is that it saves carpets from fairly confusing design-related terminology of area rugs. That leaves only construction method and materials to focus on.
Rug/carpet construction is a complex technique of putting it together, from securing the yarn, to dyeing and chemical treatments. Usually, it is a particular technic of structuring/securing the yarn that determines construction type. According to it, most rugs and carpets come as tufted or woven. Within each of these two basic construction types, there are more or less numerous variations in particular techniques used.
Things get more complicated when it comes to area rug design, which is based on its color/pattern attributes. Multiple interpretations possible are potentially confusing in trying to figure out what some of the basic rug properties are. For instance, rug attributes like “Oriental“, “Persian” or “European” most often have nothing to do with where the rug comes from, or how it’s been made. Rather, it is an attempt to classify it according to its dominant pattern characteristic. Or, plainly, according to what it looks like.
Likewise, “Traditional” area rugs should feature some traditional pattern form, although it may be – and most often will be – machine-made. And vice versa, “Contemporary“, or “Modern” area rugs may be very traditionally hand-made.
For instance, kilims were originally small hand-made flat-weave wool rugs with traditional tribal motifs. Nowadays, they can as well come as synthetic machine-tufted rugs of any size. There are many similar examples and, realistically, most of this kind of confusion with area rugs can’t be avoided.
If the retailer can’t figure out whether a rug is traditional or contemporary, it will likely be tossed into “Transitional” category.
In general, regardless of what a rug is called like, chances are, it is based primarily on rug’s appearance, with other important aspects, such as construction type, or origin, varying widely. This gives one more reason to go beyond the formal rug attribute and focus on its actual physical properties: construction type – pile form, dyeing method, applied treatments – and materials it is made of.
Following rug and carpet glossary you may find helpful.
Abrash – small variations in color uniformity of handmade rugs; generally desirable
Acrylic – inexpensive synthetic fiber, inferior to nylon and olefin
Antimicrobial – chemically treated to reduce growth of bacteria and fungi
Antistatic – dissipating electrostatic charge bellow the level of human sensitivity
Appearance retention rating (APR) – wear resistance rating based on simulated foot traffic test; scales from 1 (most visible change) to 5 (no visible change), with rugs/carpets suitable for moderate traffic are rated 2-3, for heavy traffic 3-3.5 and for severe traffic 3.5-4.
Aubusson – originally flat-weave rugs from the 15th century France; nowadays often made as a pile rug
Axminster – machine-made rug or carpet with individually inserted pile tufts; this allows complex color patterns and designs, including Oriental
Backing – fabric or yarns serving as a foundation for the face fiber
Berber – naturally (undyed) looking rug or carpet; originally made by North African Berber tribes from undyed wool
Bleeding – dissolving of fiber dyes in a liquid
Bonded – or “fusion bonded” carpet, with tufts planted into a vinyl backing; has impermeable backing with better tuft lock than any other construction type
Braided – usually circular/oval rugs made of braided yarns
Broadloom – carpet wider than 6 feet
Brocade – flat-weave rug variation, in which additional colored weft strands are added over existing warp and weft structure
Chenille – luxurious pile fabric
Color fastness – color retention ability, usually with reference to specific color threats (light fastness, wash fastness)
Construction – production method
Cotton – soft natural plant fiber, inferior to wool and sisal or hemp
Crocking – excessive dye rubbing-off, due to improper application
Curvilinear – with smooth curved patterns
Cushion – also “pad” or “underlay”, shock-absorbing material placed underneath a rug, or carpet
Delamination – separation of the secondary and primary backing
Density – individual fiber count per unit of rug/carpet area indicator; obtained from the pile yarn weight, or “face weight” (in ounces per sq. yard) divided by pile height (in inches)
Dry rot – fiber deterioration caused by microorganisms; untreated natural fiber is especially susceptible
Dyeing – adding colors to rug/carpet fiber, yarn or fabric; face fiber dyeing can be done before yarn is spun (solution or stock dyeing), after it (skein, package or space dyeing) and after rug/carpet is put together (piece and continuous dyeing, printing)
Fading – loss of color due to the effects of light, gases (ozone, nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide) or chemicals (cleaners, bleach, chlorine)
Faux silk – artificial silk
Flatwoven – rugs with the yarn woven through and along the warps
Flokati – traditional hand-woven Greek rugs
Frisé (free-zay) – carpet with very tightly twisted pile, giving to it a nubby/curled appearance
Gauge – separation between two neighboring tufting needles in inches; the smaller the gauge, the more dense the rug/carpet; quality units need to have 1/8 gauge of or smaller
Heat setting – strengthening of (usually carpet) yarn by exposure to heat
Hooked – made by pulling yarns through a backing
Jute – natural fiber often used for rug/carpet backing material
Kilim – originally small flat woven tribal or village rugs from east-central Asia
Knitted – machine woven hooked carpet
Knot count – number of knots per square inch
Knotted – usually high-quality handmade woven rug made by tying each individual yarn tuft to the warp strand
Latex – synthetic emulsion used in rug/carpet adhesives
Matting – apparent rug/carpet pile crush caused by foot traffic
Medallion – large central ornament often featured on traditional oriental and European rugs
Nylon –strong, resilient synthetic fiber; the two types used for most commercial carpets are 6 and 6.6; branded nylons have their properties specified by the manufacturer, unlike unbranded varieties
Olefin (polypropylene) – strong synthetic fiber with very good chemical properties and low resilience
Pad – also “cushion” or “underlay”, shock-absorbing material placed underneath a rug, or carpet
Pile – also, “face”; top surface of a carpet or rug
Pilling – formation of small lumps of entangled fibers on the rug/carpet surface, as a result of use
Pitch – length between two neighboring stitches in woven rugs/carpets; expressed as a number of yarn ends in a 27-inch width
Plush – cut pile with yarn ends blending together
Polyester – synthetic fiber similar to olefin
Polypropylene – olefin
Resilience – the ability of the face fiber to regain the original thickness after being subjected to compression force
Runner – long narrow rug up to 3 feet wide
Saxony – cut pile rug/carpet with heat set pile yarn, forming vertical tufts with well defined tuft tip
Sculptured – with a pattern created by uneven pile height
Shag – long pile rugs with lose end pile tufts
Sisal – strong natural plant fiber used as rug face fiber
Soil resistant – chemically treated to minimize soiling of the face fiber
Soumak – flat weave rug variety with knot-free weaving technique
Sprouting – protrusion of individual tuft yarns above the pile surface
Stain resistant – fiber (usually nylon for residential purposes) chemically treated to minimize adhering of food colors
Static – build up of electrostatic charge in a rug/carpet exposed to traffic
Tapestry – flat weave rug with intricate color/pattern details
Tuft bind – force required to pull a tuft out of backing, with the minimum from 10 to 3 pounds of single pull force for loop and cut pile, respectively
Tufted – made on machine with needles inserting pile yarn into a backing; most economical serial rug/carpet production method
Twist – number of yarn twists per inch of pile yarn length; usually in the 3-5 range
Underlay – also “cushion” or “pad”, shock-absorbing material placed underneath a rug, or carpet
Velvet carpet – woven on velvet loom, typically in solid colors
Warp – length-wise running yarn in woven rug/carpets, interlacing with weft yarns
Wool – strong natural fiber of animal origin; the oldest , most luxurious after silk rug face fiber material
Watermark – irreversible shading of large rug/carpet pile areas, due to different yarn fiber orientations; not a manufacturing defect
Weft – width-wise running yarn in woven rug/carpets, interlacing with warp yarns
Wilton – produced on Wilton loom, with limited color palette, but often with intricately textured or sculptured pile; complex color patterns are possible in Wilton cross-weave
Woven – rug or carpet created by interlacing wefts and warps into a unified backing/pile structure
Yarn – strand of fibers used for rug/carpet production