Image features the ‘Mineral Textures’ rug from Ruthie L. designs’ Secrets of Nature Collection.

Not all rugs are created equal! As a consumer there are several factors to consider when purchasing a rug, and most of the time it simply comes down to making ethical and socially responsible choices. Ruth Lazerson, founder of ruthie L. designs, shares some need-to-know tips consumers should note before making their next rug purchase.

Know who has made the rug

For me, the most significant of these is actually to question who has made that rug. A beautifully hand-knotted carpet, made with fine materials, designed and crafted with integrity by highly skilled and experienced artists and artisans who are paid fairly for their skills is the finest rug you can buy.

Unfortunately however child labour in the carpet industry is very prevalent, particularly in South Asia in countries like India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan although China is also to blame.

The process of making a rug goes through many different stages which all require the skills of experienced artisans.  At the earliest stages, the wool is carded, it is then spun, dyed and woven to make the rug. It is then washed and finished. Children might be “employed” at any stage in this process. Here they might be subjected to dangerous tools and chemical dyes.  They often sit for extremely long hours which results in stunted growth and there is also a good chance that from sitting for long hours at the looms, they will have developed respiratory problems from being exposed to wool fibres.

The best assurance that no child labour has been used at any stage to make a rug can be determined by the presence of a GOODWEAVE label with a certified number which is sewn on at the back of the rug. GOODWEAVE is a global non-profit initiative working to end illegal child labour in the carpet industry in India, Nepal and Afghanistan. It rescues and frees children from their work at the looms and offers viable alternative opportunities to these children and their families through education and vocational training. Buying a rug with this label ensures that your rug was not made by children.

Find out what materials have been used

Another significant factor to consider is the materials used to create a rug. Not all wool is equal either! Simply put, high quality materials will produce a high quality rug. To produce the rug more cheaply, wools are often blended with artificial (and sometimes even ecologically unfriendly materials) that make them brittle, coarse and hard. Pure Tibetan and New Zealand wool both have a beautiful lustre although they are also quite different to each other due to the environments they come from. Hand spun pure wool is probably the most desirable and most durable wool to use. I personally prefer to use hand spun wool to machine spun wool when producing my rugs as it creates more texture and pattern within the rugs and I believe it preserves the integrity of the wool fibres.

The back of the rug often tells you more about the rug than the front!

When you are buying a rug have a good look at the back of it. The pattern at the back should look the same as the front. The surface of the back should also be visually smooth as well as smooth to touch with no bumps and bulges. You can also tell the knot count of the rug by looking at the back of the rug. The smaller the individual knots, the higher the knot count. A rug with a higher knot count will be more refined and will have required a lot more skill to make.

Naturally dyed yarn is the ultimate colour choice – but it’s not the norm

The dyeing of the materials is also an important factor to consider. Vegetable dyed materials are more desirable and ethically preferable but once again they are more costly and require a very high level of skill as they are very difficult and time consuming to work with. For these reasons, not many rugs are made using natural dyes. We are working hard to ensure that all our dyeing is done naturally – it is much better for the dyers as well as for the environment.

So, no, all rugs are definitely not created equal! When you buy a rug ask lots of questions, look carefully at the back of the rug, feel the rug and most importantly, look for the GOODWEAVE label.

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