How Carpet Is Made
You walk on it every day. You lay on it. You play on it. But where does it come from? Do patient old women in exotic countries spend months sewing each strand of those little fibers together until they have enough to fill a whole room?
That would be a no.
There are two primary ways to make carpet today. The first is called tufting. The second is called weaving.
Tufting is a technique in which computers direct machines to construct specific densities, patterns and styles of carpet using synthetic yarn materials.
Step one is to weave the fibers into the backing material, which is there to keep the fibers in place. The tufting machine is like a giant sewing machine where 800 to 2,000 needles work together to pull the yarn through. Most tufting machines are about 12 feet wide. As its needles penetrate the backing, a small hook called a looper grabs the yarn and holds it in place. This process results in what is called loop pile construction. For some styles, the looper rocks back against a knife, allowing the small loops of yarn to be cut, creating a cut pile carpet.
Step two is to dye the carpet. Sometimes this is done before the final few processes — and sometimes it’s done afterwards. Carpets dyed prior are usually a single color without a pattern or style. Carpets dyed after typically go through one or more silk screens to obtain the pattern or style that the computer had in mind.
In step three, a coating of latex is applied to both the tufted, dyed carpet’s primary backing, and also to secondary backing. The secondary backing is often made of a woven synthetic polypropylene material. The two parts are squeezed together in a large heated press, where they are held firmly to preserve their shape. Some manufacturers also apply stain protection during this step — a good idea now that red wine has become a new food group.
The final steps are shearing (to remove all the little loose ends) and inspection (to ensure both quality and accuracy to the digital design).
Weaving, on the other hand, can be done by machine on massive looms or by hand. In either case, fibers (called “warps”) are placed vertically on a frame and pulled tight enough to maintain tension while yarn is being woven over, under or around them.
After the weaving is complete, new fibers (called “wefts”) are laid horizontally across the yarn, locking the warps into place.
Woven carpets tend to be more luxurious and higher quality than tufted carpets — a fact reflected in their price.
Ninety percent of today’s carpets are made of synthetic fiber, comprised of one of three materials: nylon, polypropylene or polyester. All three are created by a chemical process that uses oil and natural gas.
The rest is natural fiber — most commonly wool, which is the most durable (and expensive), as well as silk and bamboo.
Which manufacturing process is right for you? That depends on your desired look, the level of expected foot traffic and your budget. A good quality carpet can last a long time — so consider amortizing the cost across the many years that you and your family will enjoy this both timeless and timely choice of floor covering.