A History of Carpet

Most people think of carpet as being a fairly modern innovation, something that became popular post-World War II. While it’s true that wall-to-wall carpet has only been accessible to the general public since the mid-twentieth century, rugs have been prized possessions for thousands of years, and wall-to-wall carpeting goes back to Victorian England.

First, there were hand-woven rugs

It’s not hard to imagine a Roman villa or a European castle with rugs on the floor. People have always wanted to have a warm, soft surface to walk on in their homes. In past centuries and millennia, you might think that carpet would have been very impractical. After all, city streets were filthy and horses were the main form of transport. But, think about human nature a little bit. Fine rugs, and later, wall to wall carpets, were status symbols precisely because they were hard to keep clean.

This was especially true in sixteenth through nineteenth century England and France. With their chilly weather and their stone buildings, northern European countries were the perfect places for soft, warm floor coverings. What a luxury! If you were rich, you didn’t have to walk in the mud and the servants kept the rugs clean. Large rugs were produced by companies in the UK and France and you had to be pretty well off to afford them.

Then, mechanical looms were invented

By the seventeenth century, mechanical looms were being used to weave rugs. These looms were not powered; the operators provided the muscle. However, they could be set up to weave in complex patterns with a fair degree of efficiency. In the late eighteenth century, England began weaving rugs in earnest, and ornate patterns from the ancient world and Asia were prized.

Power looms made carpet more accessible than ever

During the nineteenth century, the power loom was invented and perfected. Rather than being operated by hand, this type of loom was fully automatic, powered by steam or by waterwheel. At the same time, a series of advances in the weaving industry made large rugs easier to produce, and soon they were being sewn together to create wall to wall carpets. By the early twentieth century, large rugs and wall-to-wall carpets were beginning to appear in middle class houses and flats, in pubs and in hotels. The invention of the powered mechanical broadloom had made them accessible to a much broader swath of society.

Since large rugs and carpets had been accessible only to the elite for so long, they became very popular as they went down in price through the twentieth century. New manufacturing techniques were developed and cheap, high performance fibres came into use. Before long, anyone who wanted carpet could have carpet. This is still true, and it’s especially true when you shop for carpet bargains at Fowles retail store and auctions.