Introduction to Carpets

Despite the fact that some people use the words carpet and rug interchangeably, preserving a distinction makes floor covering easier to talk about. For most manufacturers of such products, carpet refers to floor covering that is installed wall-to-wall, unlike rugs, which have a finished edge and simply laid or placed on the floor. Although it is possible for pieces of carpet to be edged and laid on the floor like a rug without any installation, and although some rugs are made to be installed over the entire surface of the floor (sometimes called a wall-to-wall rug), it is easier to use the terms consistently.

Some of the basic features that create a typology for carpets are the fiber, the technique used to make it, and the pattern.


Fiber is used in the face of the carpet—the visible side—as well as in the backing, and depending on the attributes may be preferred for one or the other. Carpets may be made of natural fiber or synthetic fibers.

Natural fibers include:

  • Coir or Coconut fiber—Two names for the rough, durable fiber reaped from the outer husk of coconuts.

  • Cotton—Fiber harvested from a tropical plant, used to wrap yarn for woven carpet, but not typically used for the face of carpets (sometimes used for rugs).

    architect and interior designer

  • Jute—Used to make fabrics such as burlap and twine, jute is softer than sisal and is used in the backing of woven and tufted carpet.

  • Seagrass (also spelled sea grass)—reedy material from several different plants, it should be kept dry.

  • Sisal—A rough material, made from the agave and related plants, and easily damaged by stains and moisture.

  • Wool—a durable, soft and expensive fiber, often used in fine carpets.

Synthetic fibers used in carpets include these:

  • Metallic fiber—combined with other synthetic fibers to help dissipate static electricity.

  • Polymers—A group of synthetic fibers, also known as plastics or resins. Different kinds have different qualities, for example water- and stain-resistance, an appearance similar to wool, durability, etc. They include nylon, polyester, polypropylene (also known as Olefin), and polyacrylonitriles (also known as acrylics)


Carpet manufacture takes place in several ways. The main types are tufted and woven carpets, though there are also flocked and knitted carpets.

  • Woven Carpet—Woven carpets are created on a loom. If the loom used is particularly wide, they may be referred to as broadloom. The Wilton carpet, one type of woven carpet, is used to create carpets with up to five colors, including carpets with jacquard patterns.

  • Tufted Carpets—Tufted carpets are manufactured by inserting tufts of yarn through a fabric backing. Axminster is one type of tufted carpet, used primarily for patterned carpets in multiple colors.

    The loops that result from the tufting method are either left in place or cut. This is called the pile, and there are many words to describe it.

    • Cut pile—all the loops on the face have been cut. An example is a Saxony carpet.

    • Cut/loop pile—some of the pile has been cut, with other parts left as loops.

    • Loop pile—all the loops on the face remain uncut (this approach is called round wire in a woven carpet).

    • Multi-level—the height of the pile is varied, whether it consists of cut pile, loops, or both.

    • Shag—characterized by long pile tufts which flop over so that the side of the yarn forms the face.

    • Sculptured—carpet pattern formed by a combination of different heights and/or different piles, such as both high and low loops or cut/loop pile that also has height variations.

      Less common are flocked and knitted carpets.


Carpets come in many patterns and prints. Carpet patterns are characterized by how the units repeat and match up. The two main distinctions are Set match and Drop match.

With a Set match the pattern is arranged in parallel rows, straight across the entire width of the carpet. With a Drop match, each subsequent iteration of the pattern is farther down the length of the carpet, so that the pattern runs at a downward sloping angle. The drop may be Half Drop or Quarter Drop, for example.

Carpets can also be printed, usually using flatbed screen printing.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

Related Home Institute Articles

  • Introduction to Carpet Cleaners
  • Carpet Cleaner Buying Guide
  • Wall-to-Wall Carpeting Buying Guide
  • Oriental Rug Buying Guide
  • Types of Flooring
  • Introduction to Rugs