Carpet, a sort of thick cloth, used principally for covering the floors of apartments. In its place, at a very early period, straw, rushes, and other coarse materials were used. Improving upon this, the rushes were plaited into matting, which, though homely enough in appearance, served to promote warmth and comfort. In England, where wool was obtained in abundance, a kind of coarse woollen cloth was often seen upon the floors of the gentry. As late as the time of Queen Mary rushes were strewn on the floor of her presence chamber, though carpets had long before been introduced from the East. In Egypt their manufacture is traced back to a very remote period; and in Persia and other Asiatic countries the art, practised by the hand, had attained a high degree of excellence long before it was known in Europe. Purple carpets of great beauty were used at the banquets of the ancient Greeks, spread beneath their couches. The Babylonians, still earlier, ornamented their fabrics with figures of men and strange devices of fabulous creatures.
These were imported by the Greeks and Romans; and from what we know of the fabric, it appears to have been rather of the nature of tapestry than of what we now call carpets - made by introducing tufts of woollen yarn into a warp stretched in a frame, which are held down by a woof passed over each tuft. Such is the method of carpet weaving now practised by the Asiatics, the stitches being made one by one by the slow and tedious operation of the lingers. Young girls acquire great skill in this work, and their hands and eyes are soon trained to do it with ease and rapidity; but by one of the modern machines 1,000 stitches are sooner made than one by the hand process. In Persia whole families, and even tribes, are employed in carpet weaving. These carpets are, however, of so small a size that they are little used. They are purchased by travelling merchants, who dispose of them to Europeans in Smyrna and Constantinople. These carpets are also woven by families, and no large manufactory for them exists. They are in one piece; the patterns are peculiar, and no two are ever made exactly alike. Their chief beauty consists in the harmonious blending of the colors, and in the softness of their texture, rendering them agreeable both to the eye and to the foot.
In the process of manufacturing the weaver sits in front of the loom, and fastens to each thread of the warp a bunch of colored yarn, varying the color according to the pattern. The row being completed, he passes a linen weft through the web, and drives it well up, so that all the bunches may be securely fastened. In this way narrow breadths of carpet are made, which are afterward laid side by side and united, so as to form one large piece. The tufts are then pared of equal length, and being beaten down, the whole presents a smooth, even surface. Rugs are made in the same manner. In British India the manufacture of carpets is carried on to a great extent. In Benares and Moorshedabad costly carpets of velvet with gold embroidery are made. Silk-embroidered carpets are manufactured in various places; the woollen ones principally at Masulipatam. - For many years Europe received all her supplies of carpets from the East. The manufacture is said to have been introduced into Europe by the French in the reign of Henry IV. The manufactory now belonging to the French government, and still producing excellent fabrics, was established at Beauvais in 1064 by Colbert, minister of Louis XIV. Another large factory was at Chaillot, a league from Paris, where the carpets were worked in the manner of the modern Wilton carpet.
The first successful operations in England were at Mortlake, in Surrey, to which enterprise James I. contributed £2,676. In the middle of the 18th century the business was much extended in different localities, and in 1757 a premium was awarded by the society of arts to Mr. Moore for the best imitation Turkey carpets. This kind of carpet was afterward largely produced at Axminster, in Devonshire, made even more expensive than the real Turkey by the substitution of worsted for woollen yarn; but the manufacture ceased here, and in Yorkshire also, many years ago. The other varieties of carpets in use, as the Kidderminster or two-ply, called in this country the ingrain, the three-ply, the Venetian, Brussels, and Wilton, are all made by machinery. The ingrain, made with two sets of worsted warp and two of woollen weft, consists of two distinct webs incorporated into each other at one operation, the warp threads passing from one to the other to bring the required colors to the surface. Each web, however, is a cloth of itself, which, if separated by cutting it from the other, would present a coarse surface like baize. Two colors only are used to best advantage in this kind of carpet, the introduction of more tending to give a striped appearance.
The three-ply is also ingrained, the threads being interlaced to produce three webs, thus making a fabric of greater thickness and durability, with the advantage of greater variety of color. The pattern, however, does not appear in opposite colors on the two sides in this, as it does in the two-ply. Great difficulty was experienced in applying the power loom to weaving this fabric; in Europe the idea was wholly abandoned; and in 1839 two-ply ingrains were woven at Lowell, Mass., only by the hand loom, at the rate of eight yards a day. At this time Mr. E. B. Bigelow of Boston improved the power loom so that he obtained with it from 10 to 12 yards a day, and afterward by still further improvements so perfected the machinery that the power loom is now wholly used, and with such economy of labor as to have greatly reduced the cost of carpets, and extended their manufacture to meet the increased demand. The inventions of Mr. Bigelow have been so important in this branch of manufacture as to have given it an entirely new character; and though their full description would be too technical and detailed, a general account of those immediately connected with this subject may properly be introduced.
The object sought for was a loom which should make carpet fast enough to be economical, one which should make the figures match, and produce a good regular selvage, and a smooth, even face. The hand weaver can at any moment tighten the weft thread, if too loose after the shuttle has been thrown, and so make the selvage regular; if he finds by measurement that, by reason of the irregularity of the weft threads or the ingrain-ing, the figure is being produced too long or too short, he gives more or less force to the lathe in beating up; and if he finds that the surface of the cloth is getting rough, he regulates the tension of the warps. In this way, by observation and the exercise of skill and judgment, he can approximate, and only approximate, to the production of a good and regular fabric. In the first loom Mr. Bigelow produced, he approximated more nearly than the hand weaver to a perfect match in the figure; and this he effected by taking up the woven cloth by a regular and positive motion which was unerring, the same amount for every throw of the shuttle and beat of the lathe.
As the weft threads are not spun regularly, and the weaving in of the warp threads and passing the different colors from the upper to the lower ply or cloth to produce the figures require sometimes more and sometimes less to make a given length, he determined to regulate the delivery of the warps as required by their tension, thereby throwing the irregularities into the thickness, where they cannot be noticed, instead of into the length, where they would destroy the match of the figures. He accomplished this by suspending a roller on the woven cloth, between the lathe and the rollers that take up this cloth, so that when the cloth was being woven too short, which indicates a deficient supply of warps, the roller would be elevated, and by its connection increase the delivery motion to give out more warps, and vice versa. Still this served only to prevent the further extension of a fault already incurred. The roller, to perfectly accomplish its purpose, should have been applied to the unwoven warps, which seemed then impracticable; for when the lathe beats up the weft, these must be rigid to resist the beat, and no way was apparent to make the roller sensitive to detect and indicate the amount taken up.
The warps, moreover, are necessarily all rolled up on the warp beam with equal tension, and so can only be given out equally. The improvement was afterward perfected by Mr. Bigelow in the following manner: Each warp thread in the usual way passes through a loop called a mail, attached to a card suspended from the jacquard, and each card has suspended to it a weight, all the weights being equal. The two trap boards of the jacquard move simultaneously, one up and the other down, and in these movements they catch or trap such of the cards (determined by the combination of cards) as are required to bring up the proper warp threads at each operation to produce the figure, leaving down such of them as are not required at that particular operation; and when the two trap boards are on a level, and all the warp threads connected with them are in a horizontal line, and those not connected with them hang down with the suspended weights, the lathe beats up the weft thread, which lies between the warps that are in a horizontal line, at the same time exerting a force on the weft threads previously thrown, and beating them up more closely.
Now, as the warp threads are all connected at one end with woven cloth, and at the other with the beam, it follows that those which are hanging down in a bent line will receive a greater proportion of the force of the beat of the lathe than the others; and as all the warp threads in succession take this position, and all have an equal weight, it follows that each successively receives the same pull at the time the lathe beats up; thus the tendency to irregularity of surface from the varying lengths of warp threads taken up in ingraining is counteracted. The selvage was made smooth and even by a contrivance which regularly gave a pull to the weft thread after the shuttle was thrown. Mr. Bigelow at last, by these improvements and others which he introduced, brought the loom to average from 25 to 27 yards a day of two-ply, and from 17 to 18 yards of three-ply carpet. His improved method of producing figures that will match was afterward introduced, and patented in 1845. The same machinery was found to be applicable to the manufacture of Brussels and tapestry carpets, the weaving of which otherwise than by hand was before generally considered a mechanical impossibility.
With the hand loom they were made at the rate of three or four yards per day; but with the improved loom the production was increased to 18 or 20 yards per day. The carpets, too, were made more exact in their figures, so that these perfectly matched, and their surface was smooth and regular. They surpassed, indeed, in their quality the best carpets of the kind manufactured in any other part of the world. The looms of Mr. Bigelow were introduced into factories built at Lowell, Mass., and Thompson-ville and Tariffville, Conn., for their use, and others were established at Clinton, in Worcester co., Mass., where carpets are now made to the annual value of about $1,000,000. - Brussels carpet is so named from Brussels in Belgium, whence the style was introduced into England in the last century. It is made upon a ground of linen weft, which is concealed by the worsted threads that are interlaced with and cover it. The threads are commonly of five different colors. In the weaving these run the length of the web, and are so managed that all those required by the pattern are brought up together across the line of the carpet; before they are let down, a wooden instrument called a sword is passed through to hold up the threads; this is replaced by a round wire, which, being at last removed, leaves a row of loops across the carpet.
In a yard length the number of successive lifts of the sets of colors required is sometimes as many as 320, each of which forms a row of loops. Four colors must always lie beneath the fifth, which appears on the surface, and thus the carpet, with its linen weft too, is thick and heavy. The Wilton carpet, the moquette of the French, differs from the Brussels in the loops being cut before the wire is removed, a groove in the fiat upper surface of the wire admitting of their being cut by passing a knife along the surface. The soft ends give the carpet a rich velvety appearance. In the imperial Brussels carpet the figure is raised above the ground of the pattern, and the loops of this are cut, but not those of the ground. Various methods have been devised of simplifying the processes of making Brussels carpet. Richard Whytock of Edinburgh introduced an ingenious plan of using threads dyed of the colors in the succession they would be required; this was done before they were made into the warp, and by a systematic arrangement, and thus a considerable proportion of the threads was dispensed with. His looms produce what are known as "patent tapestry and velvet pile" carpets.
Another device is to weave the carpet in plain colors, and then print it with rollers or with blocks, after the method of calico printing. On account of the thickness of the fabric, difficulty is experienced in introducing sufficient color without going over the work many times. In doing this, the difficulty is of course increased of retaining each color within its own exact limits. Rollers were first used; but a cheap kind of carpet is now produced at Manchester, England, by block printing. Felt carpets are also printed in colors in this country. - Venetian carpets (which, by the way, were never a production of Venice) are made with a heavy body of worsted warp, which completely hides the woof; this should be an alternate shoot of worsted and linen yarn. The fabric admits of little variety of design. It is made in narrow widths for stairways and passages. - The patent wool mosaic carpet is a novel manufacture carried on by Messrs. John Crossley and Sons, of Halifax, England- A strong, plain cloth is used as a ground; upon this a pile of warp threads, first arranged over and under parallel strips of metal, which are cut out, leaving the ends like those of a Wilton carpet, is placed and cemented with caoutchouc.
If the threads were of different colors, stripes are produced, or the yarns may have been colored by Why-tock's plan, or colored patterns may be obtained by another process in use. This method is principally applied to the production of small articles. - Great Britain is the principal seat of the carpet manufacture of the world. The following table shows the exports of carpets from Great Britain to other countries in 1871; and from this it will be observed that, notwithstanding there are several million yards of carpets made yearly in the United States - one company, at Lowell, Mass., producing 37,000 yards per week - more than 65 per cent. of the exports of British carpets come to this country: