DURING the past few years, carpets and carpeting that cover the whole of the floor have been treated with open abuse or silent contempt by nearly all writers on interior decoration and furnishing. Oriental rugs have been honored with numerous magazine articles and many books containing sumptuous illustrations in color. Even domestic rugs, especially those produced by the arts-and-crafters, have received their quota of kind words. But for carpets and carpeting there was nothing but knocks.
Many are the sins committed in the name of sanitation and fireproofing. Lace curtains and other draperies are banished, carpets and carpeting give way to rugs or even tiles and linoleum, wall papers are eliminated, and we are urged by some architects to make our houses resemble hospitals as closely as possible. Mr. Edison looks hopefully forward to the time when concrete dwellings equipped with concrete furniture can be flushed clean every morning with the hose that will no longer be needed for protection against fire.
Nevertheless, carpets and carpeting continue to be used in immense quantity and the industry continues to be one of enormous importance; this despite the fact that, owing to the long campaign of vilification, many persons undoubtedly use rugs where carpeting would be much more attractive decoratively as well as much more comfortable.
Forty years ago carpets were the most important part of the furnishings of an American home. It was considered hardly respectable to leave any part of the floor bare. Even if it was sometimes necessary to go without draperies and economize on mirrors and chairs and tables, carpeting was imperative, and the selection of it made large and important demands upon the artistic taste of the whole family.
Illustrated on another page are patterns of ingrain carpet that date from before the Civil War, and that for more than half a century have delighted the eyes and comforted the feet of patriotic Americans. The patterns are still popular in the rural districts and with those who like what their grandmothers loved. The names of the patterns are Henry Clay, Eagle Head, and Martha Washington.
1. Eagle Head.
2. Henry Clay.
3. Martha Washington.
Henry Clay shows a huge floral conventionalized to the limit, and evidently draws its original distantly from some ancient Roman floor of marble tiles with metal inlay. Eagle Head not only shows the two-headed bird that crowns the arms of Russia, of Austria, and of the old Holy Roman Empire which Napoleon superseded in 1806, but also two lyres of Classic shape and suggestion. Martha Washington is more modest and appeals to a simpler and less learned taste.
Red and green are the two colors that form these patterns, and the price is 75 cents a yard, all wool (except the cotton warp) and a yard wide.
The principal types of carpeting on sale in the shops of the United States are ingrain at from 75 to 85 cents a yard, spool axminster at from $ 1.50 to $3, Scotch chenille axminster at $4.50, brussels at from $ 1.25 to $ 1.75, wilton at from $2.75 to $3.50, warp-printed tapestry at 90 cents, warp-printed velvet at from $ 1 to $ 1.75, piece-printed tapestry at from 60 to 80 cents, and piece-printed velvet at from 85 cents to $1.10. There is also a half-wool plain ingrain or filling at 50 cents a yard.
Ingrain is in flat weave without pile, with slender warp threads, and body formed by two or three sets of heavy weft threads in pairs. When there are two wefts the red one appears on the face at the points where the green appears on the back. When there are three, one of them is always buried.
Plain ingrain or filling is particularly useful in refurnishing old houses that have rough and leaky floors. Laid upon a fairly heavy carpet lining, it is soft and comfortable to the foot and absolutely shuts off those drafts of wind through the floor that make many homes cold and dangerous to the health in winter. Plain ingrain also furnishes a good color background for any kind of decorative scheme, and if supplemented with two or three small Oriental rugs in the reception-rooms, seems even luxurious. It is vastly to be preferred to many of the tapestries and velvets that cost twice as much. The most serviceable color is tan.
Brussels and tapestry carpets have a pile formed in the loom by looping over a wire, but left uncut and suggesting the rep surface of the ancient and famous Brussels tapestries, but of course much more open and less solid in structure. Wilton, velvet and (spool) axminster carpets have a pile also formed by looping over a wire but cut when the wire is withdrawn so that the surface is like that of fur or of an Oriental hand-knotted rug. All of these five types of carpet are built on the same principle - with face of wool or worsted and back of jute and cotton. Thus weight and body are secured at minimum expense.
Of these types, wilton is by far the best. Not only the design but also the materials average better, although much (spool) axminster comes in excellent patterns and' has a looser pile and softer texture that is very agreeable.
Tapestries and velvets are in their origin merely cheap imitations of brussels and wilton. They are of two types - warp-printed and piece-printed. (The corresponding trade terms are drum-printed and machine-printed.) The piece-printed goods are a comparatively recent development and are, as the name implies, woven plain or "in the natural" and then printed in the piece after weaving. The warp prints have the pattern printed on the warp before it is woven, the change of shape in the designs due to looping up over wires having been calculated beforehand.
The unfortunate fact about tapestry and velvet is not that they are by origin imitations, or that they are made out of less expensive materials in designs that are not so good. Indeed, some of the finer grades of velvet are decidedly to be preferred to cheap wiltons. Also, for the thin purse that is limited to tapestry-velvet prices, but wants the brussels-wilton effect, tapestry and velvet are the goods to buy. In both warp-printed and piece-printed tapestry and velvet, there are many excellent patterns, and the defi-niteness of impression in the piece prints is noteworthy.
The unfortunate and damning fact about them is that they are very widely advertised and sold as brussels and wilton. The cheaper stores that have tapestry-velvet customers with brussels-wilton longings very generally deceive them. The evil has become so pronounced that I advise my readers to cut from their lists any dealer who advertises as brussels and wilton, goods that on examination turn out to be tapestry or velvet. If in doubt, get a sample and send it to me with the advertisement. I would also suggest to dealers that they discontinue the use of the misleading terms, tapestry brussels, velvet brussels, and wilton velvet, the first two of which have even found their way into the dictionary. To call tapestry a tapestry brussels, or a velvet a wilton velvet, doesn't improve the quality any, but it does deceive the public, especially the very poor, who can least afford to be deceived.
Even the term body brussels, that was invented to distinguish the real from the tapestry brussels, is sometimes used by unscrupulous dealers to advertise tapestry. The instalment houses are particularly given to frauds of this character.
Scotch chenille axminster at $ 4.50 a yard is a floor covering of the finest. The regular width, like that of all other carpeting except ingrain, is three-quarters of a yard (three-quarter goods they call them in the trade), but special width in special designs and colorings cost not much more per square yard. "Old axminsters," a beautiful loose weave with deep pile texture like that of Chinese rugs, comes in fascinating Chinese patterns, one in blue and gold, and one in blue and salmon. There are borders and fillings to match and the price as $ 4.50 a yard.
The more I think about carpets and carpeting, the less defense they seem to need. The vacuum cleaner removed any objection that could be made against them as dust collectors. And the fact they do collect and hold the dust instead of leaving it to float loose in the air every time a door or a window is opened, is a strong argument in their favor as well as in favor of textiles generally. Against fire they are not proof, but they are slow burning - unlike paint - and not particularly inflammable. I know of no instance where they have been an element of added danger in case of fire.
Certainly, in halls and on stairways and especially in dining-rooms, they not only are more comfortable but they are often more decorative. Rugs break a room up and make it look smaller, carpets pull it together and give the maximum appearance of size. A long, narrow hall looks much better proportioned with full carpeting than with a runner.
Carpets are not only comfortable; they are also safe. This is more than can be said of polished floors which not only look slippery but which are slippery and a source of actual bodily peril, especially to the aged. I could never find it in my heart to blame the old Chicago merchant whose wife persuaded him to install parquet floors in all the main rooms of his new residence. The first week after they moved in he slipped and fell in a most undignified manner and in the presence of guests. That was enough for him. Immediately he ordered carpeting to cover every foot of the parquet.
The principal argument against carpeting is that we Americans are too nomadic; we change our abodes so often that all our goods and chattels must be easily removable and adaptable. Carpets are a luxury for persons who have permanent homes.