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Machine-woven carpets like Axminster and Wilton are made by massive looms that weave together ‘bobbins’ of carpet yarn and backing. The finished result, which can be intricately patterned, creates a floor that provides supreme underfoot luxury with high performance. Tufted carpets are also popular in the home.
They are relatively speedy to make – a pre-woven backing has yarns tufted into it. Needles push the yarn through the backing and which is then held in place with underlying “loopers”. Tufted carpets can be twist pile, velvet, or loop pile. Twist pile carpets are produced when one or more fibres are twisted in the tufting process, so that in the finished carpet they appear to be bound together.
Velvet pile carpets tend to have a shorter pile and a tighter construction, giving the finished article a smooth, velvety appearance. Loop pile carpets are renowned for being hard wearing and lend carpets great texture. The traditional domain of rugs from far away continents, hand knotted squares and rugs use the expertise of weavers to produce work of the finest quality. Traditional rugs often feature a deliberate ‘mistake’ on behalf of the weaver to guarantee their authenticity.
Six of Axminster carpets are known as the “Lansdowne” group. These have a tripartite design with reeded circles and baskets of flowers in the central panel flanked by diamond lozenges in the side panels. Axminster Rococo designs often have a brown ground and include birds copied from popular, contemporary engravings. Even now a large percentage of the 55,000 population town still seek employment in this industry. The town of Wilton, Wiltshire is also known for its carpet weaving, which dates back to the 18th century.
The Brussels Loom was introduced into England towards the middle of the eighteenth century marked the beginning of a new era in carpet-weaving. It was the first loom on which a pile carpet could be woven mechanically, the pile consisting of rows of loops, formed over wires inserted weftwise during weaving and subsequently withdrawn. Brussels was the first type of carpet to be woven in a loom incorporating the jacquard pattern selecting mechanism and in 1849 power was applied to the loom by Biglow in the U.S.A.
Later when bladed wires were developed the pile loops were severed on withdrawal of the blade wires to produce a carpet known as Wilton, after this development the loom became known as the Wilton loom, and in modern usage the designation Wilton applies to both cut-pile and loop-pile carpets made in this loom. The latter now variously described as Brussels-Wilton, round wire Wilton, loop-pile Wilton, and round wired jacquard. The methods of manufacture, including the principles of designing, preparatory processes, and weaving, are the same in most respects for both Brussels and Wilton qualities. The chief difference between them is that whereas Brussels loop-pile is secured satisfactorily by the insertion of two picks of weft to each wire (2-shot), the Wilton cut-pile is woven more often with three picks of weft to each wire (3-shot) to ensure that the tufts are firmly secured in the carpet backing.
Brussels carpets have a smooth slightly ribbed surface and their patterning is well defined, a characteristic feature of the carpet. Closeness of pile rather than height contributes to their neat appearance and hard wearing properties, although they do not simulate the luxury of cut-pile carpets. Brussels Wilton Carpets were initially produced on 27-inch (3/4) looms and were sewn together by hand. The looms could incorporate up to 5 frames all with different colours thus enabling figured or pattern carpets to be manufactured. With judicial and very skilful planting of colours in the frames the number of colours could be increased to about twenty, thus enabling very complex designs to be produced. Due to the additional costs in labour these carpets were normally only produced for the bespoke market.
After the first World War the carpets started to be produced for the general market using popular designs and colourways but they always remained at the luxury end of the general market. The growing middle class of the twentieth century aspired to acquire a Wilton carpet for their ‘best’ room. Despite the impact of industrialization, the areas where Brussels Wilton carpets were produced remained centred mainly in the Midlands around the towns of Wilton and Kidderminster and in West Yorkshire where the firm of John Crossley and Sons in Halifax became synonymous with carpet manufacture.
There were smaller areas of manufacture in Scotland and Durham. With the development of different manufacturing methods and looms capable of the mass production of carpets, the public began change their décor, including carpets, on a regular basis, which increased the demand for carpets. The last quarter of the 20th century saw the rapid decline of the labour-intensive Brussels Wilton carpets. Very few of the original ¾ Wilton looms still exist and the few that do are either in museums or used by small manufacturers that continue to produce bespoke (custom-made) luxury carpets for the elite and to replace carpets in historic buildings in the UK and abroad