Broadloom Carpeting from Hand Looms to Machines

Carpeting, that beautiful art made to walk on, was the inspiration of nomadic people who needed a packable, portable covering for the sand floors of their temporary dwellings. Their looms were also easy to transport: two forked branches, a crosspiece to hold the suspended warp, and a bar to flatten the binding weft threads. Easy to load on a camel–or a back–and move around the desert. But carpets were years of work in the making. The earliest known carpet made on a handloom is the Pazyrky carpet dated back to 500 B.C. and found in a tomb in Central Asia.

Carpet weaving rose to an art form in Turkey, Iran, India, and China. Only the wealthy could afford them considering the months if not years of labor. Early carpet artisans used cotton or hemp as the foundation and wool or silk as the pile. Using handlooms, weavers would knot the pile thread, then make a row of knots that was beaten down tightly. Some of the finest handmade carpets have 2,400 knots per square inch. The colors were made of natural dyes. The most valuable carpets contained gold threads and even precious stones.

Europeans imported their carpets until about 1300 A.D. when Moorish weavers were recruited to bring their skills to the continent and England recruited Persian artisans. By 1600, carpet guilds held European carpet weavers to high standards, and their work was greatly valued. Carpets were not for the middle class.

Carpet making grew more varied and sophisticated. Carpet making in Europe started with the "Brussels weave" in France and Flanders and was created by carpet guild members. This weave is formed by putting the yarn over rods to create uncut loops. In 1801, Joseph M. Jacquard created a device for handlooms that used punch cards to weave up to six colors in textiles. By 1825, the Jacquard technique was used in carpet looms to create more variety for a company to offer its clients.

Efficiencies increased so that by 1800 six to eight yards of carpet could be made in a day. These runners were sewn together to make room-size carpets. Prices decreased, but carpets remained luxury items. Then, Erastus Bigelow, an American, invented the power loom in 1839, doubling carpet production time. He invented the first broadloom in 1877. Soon one power loom could turn out 75 yards of quality carpet per day. And today, 43 percent of all flooring is carpet.

Carpet manufacturing companies look to their long history for inspiration and to today's advances to provide the highest quality carpeting to their clients. For example, in 1755, Thomas Whitty began making carpets in Axminster, England. His clients included King George III and Queen Charlotte. Whitty's early work can still be seen in several of England's stately homes including Chatsworth House. The factory burned down and was deserted until 1937 when the company was revived by the visionary carpet maker Harry Dutfield.

The company continues the tradition of making the finest carpets in the world. In 2012, Axminster was awarded a Royal Warrant to supply carpets to England's royal households. A fine example is in Clarence House, the official residence of HRH Charles, Prince of Wales. Axminster carpets are in other royal residences, luxury hotels, country estate homes, and even airplanes and railroad passenger cars.

What's under your feet? More than 2,500 years of history from the time man decided he did not need to walk on sand when he returned home from hunting and foraging. Now that synthetic materials make carpet more affordable, carpet experts and scientists agree that the original carpet fabric, wool, is still the best choice. Wool is flame retardant, a good insulator, and purifies indoor air up to thirty years. Although ancient nomads did not "think green," today's consumers are pleased that wool is 100 percent renewable, biodegradable, and sustainable.

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