Friday, 12 December 2014

From Farm, to Factory, to Floor: 'The Journey of the Rug'

The wool rugs and carpets under our feet are the end product of a very long and skilful process. From summer shearing to cleaning, spinning and weaving, wool goes a through many stages on its way from fleece to floor. We look at the whole process and speak to some experts as they teach us about ‘the journey of the rug’.

On the farm…

The wool industry has been a big part of the British economy for hundreds of years. In recent decades, the British wool industry has been overtaken by larger countries but still maintains a healthy market. Over 45,000 farmers still produce wool in the UK and last year alone they (along with their sheep) helped produce a staggering 28 million kilograms of wool. To put that into perspective, that’s about the same weight as 3,700 double decker buses.


Joanne Briggs from the National Sheep Association explained more about British Wool and how it is used.

“There is a use for every type of wool from the very finest to the very coarsest and traditional UK breeds are renowned for excellent fabrics and carpets, and of course felting. Merinos are always traditionally associated with super-fine wool that is used for clothing.”
She went on to explain that, when making wool, there is very little wastage.

“The whole fleece is used for wool production but farmers are encouraged to remove dirty parts (near the tail) and keep less quality bits (under the belly) separate. This is known as skirting.”

The journey of the wool rug starts with the traditional art of sheep shearing. Gareth Jones from the British Wool Marketing Board explains why this is still a thriving skill.

“Good shearing is important to producers as it is to the welfare of animals. Traditionally, the majority of sheep are shorn during the summer months.”
Having a quality shear benefits the farmers as well as the sheep. 


“Not only does it help maintain an animal’s health but having the quantity and quality of shearers available ensures farmers can present the wool to the BWMB in the best condition possible in order to maximise the value of their wool.
“We help to maintain a strong shearing industry in the UK with approximately 1,100 BWMB shearing qualifications awarded in 2013.”
He goes on to explain why promoting the use of wool in the textiles industry is important.

“Analysis and studies have proven the environmental benefits of wool are better than the manmade fibres. There is nothing more natural than wool shorn from sheep grazing in the valleys of Wales or the hills of Cumbria. We work closely with industry partners as part of the Campaign for Wool to raise awareness about the benefits of wool as a quality fibre and to help stimulate growth.”

Carding

The raw wool is now ‘carded’. As well as removing any excess materials, this is the process of detangling and then realigning fibres to be ready for spinning. As carpets use many different shades this also helps create a uniform mix of different colours. It can be either hand processed small pads with small metal teeth (right) or more commonly today by large machines inside processing plants.
“Not only does it help maintain an animal’s health but having the quantity and quality of shearers available ensures farmers can present the wool to the BWMB in the best condition possible in order to maximise the value of their wool.

“We help to maintain a strong shearing industry in the UK with approximately 1,100 BWMB shearing qualifications awarded in 2013.”
He goes on to explain why promoting the use of wool in the textiles industry is important.

“Analysis and studies have proven the environmental benefits of wool are better than the manmade fibres. There is nothing more natural than wool shorn from sheep grazing in the valleys of Wales or the hills of Cumbria. We work closely with industry partners as part of the Campaign for Wool to raise awareness about the benefits of wool as a quality fibre and to help stimulate growth.”

 
Spinning
Spinning is the process of turning the carded fibre in to the strips of yarn that we recognise. This used to be achieved by hand, when a worker would use a spindle to twist the material into lines of yarn. Factories today use the same method, but mechanised and on a much larger scale. Now we have yarn!
 
Making the rug…

Traditional
There are a variety of different methods to making rugs and carpets. Up until the 1960s, rag-rug making was particularly popular. This involved ‘hooking’, the process of pushing lengths of yarn through a mesh and hooking or tying them on to the mesh so that they stay in place. This is now generally seen as part of the arts and crafts movement.


There are still traditionalists who hand craft rugs using old methods though. We spoke to Sue Clow who runs Rag Art Studios, a company that specialises in rag-rugs, using yarn and discarded wool material to make rugs.
“The basic principle with rag rug making is to push or pull strips of rag or yarn through a base fabric which is flexible enough to take the extra fabric. Prodding, pegging or bodging are just some of the names for the technique for pushing 3 to 5 inch strips of fabric through a hessian base, traditionally an old sack to make a shaggy rug. Thick fabrics such as woollen work clothes and blankets were often used for this.

 This way of making rugs is now more popular than ever. John Corey from Makings Hadicraft, makers of rag rug tools, explains that; "the craft first started as a make-do-and-mend solution however, with the recent populairty in "upcycling" it has seen a big revival."

 Modern

In the modern day, machines make the rug making process much more quick and efficient. Tufting is perhaps the most widely used method of rug and carpet making in the domestic market. It is the process of pushing through, or ‘tufting’ lengths of yarn through ready made base fabrics using a needle. The pieces are then held in place by a bonded piece of extra material on the bottom. The yarn on top can then be cut to the desired length to produce different textures.
Once the rug has been cut and finished, it’s ready to take its place in our home. The journey from sheep to rug is complete.
Although the processes that we use to produce wool rugs may have changed – the painstaking process of hand-crafting unique individual rugs has been replaced by the assembly line – the method and material have largely stayed the same.  Wool’s popularity as a material today can be attributed to its natural properties as an insulating but breathable material. In a society where we are intrinsically more aware of our environment and looking to use sustainable materials for our needs, wool is a natural resource we can rely on.





Sourced from: http://www.modern-rugs.co.uk


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Rug Cleaning, (We are proud to be the only Master Rug Cleaners in Cambridge!)
Hardwood Floor Cleaning, 

Working for domestic or commercial clients throughout Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk and Hertfordshire.

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