The quality of luxury rugs is determined by two main factors- its construction and its materials. There are hundreds of different fibres that can potentially be used to create rugs, but few get close to the excellence of wool. Even with the development of synthetic rug materials over recent years, this natural material is still widely considered the ultimate rug making material due to its durability, softness and beauty. However, hand knotted wool rugs are not all equal in quality. This can be due to the origins of the wool itself or the treatment process it undergoes before being used to create a rug.
Different Types of Wool used for Wool Rugs
The natural properties of wool make it stain resistant and hard wearing as well as luxurious to the touch, so it's no surprise this has been the favored rug material for hundreds of years.
There are many different types of wool, and each is unique as the sheep it originates from. Many factors go into determining the quality of wool used in each rug, from the sheep’s breed, age and diet, to the way its wool has been taken care of and sheared. There are many types of wool suitable for making rugs from Ghazni wool from the Middle East to the famous mass-produced New Zealand wool. At Bazaar Velvet, we use luxurious Himalayan wool in our designer wool rugs, which is naturally rich in lanolin giving a silky luxurious finish to the rug and repelling moisture. Interestingly, cashmere comes from the same region, where mountain goats survive the freezing environment by growing an incredibly soft inner coat: six times finer than human hair.
Copyright – U. Roberto Romano, image courtesy of GoodWeave USA
Himalayan (Tibetan) Wool
The Himalayan Mountains are home to a breed of sheep which has adapted to the harsh environment. To protect them from the cold, wind and rain, they have thick soft fleeces which are rich in a natural oil called lanolin. This substance gives their wool a soft, slightly greasy texture. These are great properties for rug making, as the grease acts as a natural barrier against stains. This type of wool is also very strong and elastic which gives the rug a great resistance to wear, even in high traffic areas. For this reason, Himalayan Wool is favoured among the producers of high quality luxury rugs, including us at Bazaar Velvet.
The Bikaner District is an area in the state of Rajasthan on the western side of India. This area is well renowned for producing carpet grade wool. The most pure-bred Bikaneri sheep (also known as Magra Bikaneri or Chakri sheep) are found only in a few villages in the southern parts of the Bikaner District. However they are suffering from a decline in numbers due to cross breeding and use for meat. They produce a soft lustrous wool suitable for creating high quality wool rugs. This type of wool was once known for its bright white colour, but recent changes to the sheeps diet and changes in weather mean this is no longer the case.
New Zealand Wool
New Zealand has had a long history of wool production and is currently the worlds largest exporters of wool. Breeding sheep specifically for their wool has lead to an excellent quality consistent product which is famed for its bright white colour- perfect for dying. The environment is also a factor, as the countries rich grasslands are uninterrupted by weeds which can be bad for the sheeps health and get caught in their fleece. The expert care of the sheep and the environment means the wool doesn't have to go through any chemical processes, leaving a pure natural product.
Ghazni (Afghan) Wool
‘Wool from Ghazni, Afghanistan, is well known internationally as good quality wool for its silk-like softness characteristic of the ‘Ghazni Rug’. says Zia Uddin of Uddin Wool. This type of wool is also very strong as it is very dense, has high elasticity and a long staple length. It also has a natural undulating texture, which when hand spun and hand knotted, will give the surface of the rug a beautiful irregular texture. Ghazni wool comes in grey, brown and white colours, with the whiter tones being sold at a higher price. This colour variation adds extra character to the finished rug as the natural colours combine with the dye giving a range of complimentary colour tones within each area. This effect is known as abrash.
Wool Treatment Processes
Before a fleece can be used to weave a rug, it must undergo a stage of treatments. Any one of these treatments can be completed either by hand or by machine which has a surprisingly large effect on the finished product. Generally machine process give a finish that is too perfect and mechanical, which looses the charm of a the hand knotted rug. The most prestigious producers of luxury rugs still use traditional methods which have gone largely unchanged for hundreds of years.
Image courtesy of GoodWeave USA
Step 1- Sheering
The sheep are sheered using a traditional knife or an electric razor. The less frequently the sheep are sheared, the longer the staple length will be and the more robust the fibre. Depending on the type of sheep, it is usually recommended this only takes place once a year.
Step 2- Sorting
The fleeces are then sorted according to colour. Generally the whiter colours are more desirable as when dyed the results will be more vivid. However, sometimes a slight mix of wool colour tones is intentionally allowed to remain as this will give the rug an 'abrash' effect of slightly varying colour tones.
Step 3- Carding
The purpose of this process is to untangle and clean the wool, leaving the fibres organised and ready to spin. This can be carried out by hand by dragging the wool between two paddles with metal bristles, a little like hairbrushes. However, this job can also be carried out by a carding machine, which uses automated rollers to similar effect.
Step 4- Spinning
In the best high quality wool rugs, this process will be carried out on a traditional spinning wheel. Fibers are threaded through the spindle by hand and they are twisted together through the movement of the wheel which is operated by a foot pedal. This traditional method gives far superior results to machine spinning as it is less likely to break the fibres and keeps them more densely packed together, making them stronger. It also gives the yarn irregular thicknesses, which adds character to the finished rug.
Step 5- Dying
Again this process can be carried out either by hand or by machine. The traditional method involves placing the yarn on a large wheel and turning it by hand to submerge the yarns in a large vat of diluted dye which sits over a primitive fire. This process may make up to a week to complete. After this, the wool may be re spun to ensure it's in the best possible condition before knotting.
Image courtesy of GoodWeave USA
Just as a strong house needs strong foundations and careful construction, a durable rug needs the best quality wool as well as care and attention going into the material. Thanks to this, our Bazaar Velvet wool rugs will last you a lifetime.
Find out more about how wool compares to other rug materials in our Definitive Guide to Rug Quality
For more information please do not hesitate to contact us