Machine-Woven Carpet in Europe

Last time, we touched on machine-woven carpet in the United States. The story is incomplete, however, if we ignore how woven carpet developed in Europe. 

In the first half of the 17th century France, with the support of kings Henry IV and Louis XIII, became the center of carpet weaving in Europe with the introduction of Savonnerie carpets (see “French Rugs” in the June 2009 issue). French weaving continued to flourish under the patronage of Louis XIV in the second half of the 17th century. Ironically, an unexpected consequence of Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 was the partial collapse of the French carpet industry that he had supported with numerous commissioned projects. A large number of French Protestant (Huguenot) weavers fled France and settled in England, Germany and Belgium. 

An edict was issued in 1598 by Henry IV granting significant rights to the Protestant Huguenots. The French population was essentially Catholic, and the edict ended eight years of religious wars, restoring peace and unity to France. 

The edict was revoked in 1685 by Louis XIV, the grandson of Henry IV. The religious wars did not return, but many Protestants fled France, depriving the country of many of its most skilled and industrious citizens. The weaving industry, among others, was largely in the hands of Protestants who fled to Holland, Germany, and England, where they resumed their trade. With the expertise of the French weavers, a new type of woven carpet was developed in the Brussels region.

Image 2Brussels carpet takes its name from the capital of Belgium. Invented around 1710, Brussels carpets were the first to use a mechanical system for weaving. In 1720, the Earl of Pembroke, who resided in Wilton, England, took a great interest in carpet manufacturing in France and Belgium, and arranged to have two French weavers smuggled out of France and brought to Wilton to teach the locals the new Brussels carpet weaving technique. 

In 1749, John Broom brought the new Brussels loom to Kidderminster, which remains the center of English carpet weaving. 

Brussels carpet is a Wilton-constructed carpet with a loop pile. The Brussels carpet has a woven foundation, with the majority of the wool face yarns buried in the foundation, which is why it is sometimes called “body Brussels.” The wool yarns are brought to the surface and carried over thin metal rods called “wires” (Image 1). 

After a certain number of rows are woven, the wires are pulled out to form the loop pile. Traditionally, the carpet was woven on a narrow loom, 27 inches wide, with a cotton or linen warp, linen weft and wool pile. Today, different materials may be used in the foundation. 

The decision to make Brussels and Wilton weave carpet in 27-inch widths derived from the length of the Flemish “ell.” The Flemish ell was the approximate distance of an average sized adult male from the shoulder to the fingertips, and was generally used to measure cloth. 

The colors are referred to as “frames” because each is mounted on a separate frame on the loom. Therefore, a five-frame carpet means it is made with five colors. During weaving, only one color appears at a time on a given surface area of the carpet, while the other four-fifths of the wool is carried through the foundation. This consumes a tremendous amount of wool, resulting in an expensive and durable product. 

In 1749, Anthony Duffosy, one of the weavers smuggled out of France and brought to Wilton, developed the method to cut the loops of the Brussels carpet. This became known as the “Wilton weave.” 

Wilton carpet is very similar to Brussels, except in that it has a cut pile (Image 2). The wool yarns are brought to the surface and carried over the wires. These metal wires are knife-like blades that, when removed, produce a cut-pile. The height of the wire determines the height of the pile. Today, the term Wilton describes any carpet, cut or uncut pile, woven on a Wilton loom. 

Image 3In conventional Wilton wire looms, it is the wire insertion and withdrawal mechanism that limits the output. An alternative solution is to use wires mounted warp wise. The most successful warp-wire loom is the Kara-loc loom. In its simpler form, the Kara-loc loom produces plain loop pile carpet, but the machine can be creeled with an array of different colors of yarn. These carpets have a back coating of latex to improve tuft-bind and stability of the finished carpet (Image 3). 

2010-08-03-4Modern face-to-face weaving of rugs was developed in the 1940s and is considered a form of Wilton weave. This method produces two rugs simultaneously on the same loom. However, the face yarns are not carried through the length of the foundation as in traditional Wilton weave, creating a less durable, less rigid and less expensive product. Face-to-face weaving represents the most productive method currently available for the manufacture of woven floor coverings. There are two methods of producing this type of carpet:

  1. On machinery with one shed and single-weft insertion and
  2. On machinery with two sheds, one above the other, and double-weft insertion.

The backing fabrics are woven one above the other under strong tension and connected by face yarns. The face yarns are cut by a reciprocating knife mechanism, which separates the two fabrics to create two carpets (Image 4). This method is only for the production of cut-pile carpets. 

The most widespread use of face-to-face weaving is in the production of “oriental design” rugs, usually in five-color designs. The weaves produced on double-shed machinery are denser than those produced on single-shuttle machines where a tuft is woven on every weft shot. Rugs that resemble hand-knotted rugs with the design visible on the back are produced by double-shed weaving. 

Next time, we’ll take a look at the contribution of Axminster to woven carpet and rugs.


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