The Basics of Natural Fiber Carpet

Carpets made from seagrass, sisal and jute are referred to as natural fiber carpets.

They fill important roles in interior design. They are wonderful neutrals. They impart a textural quality to carpeting that wools and synthetics can't. They translate well into area rugs, stair and hallway runners. 

The naturals are relatively inexpensive.

Here is a quick and easy guide to the most popular naturals, their strengths and their weaknesses.

Seagrass

Seagrass is literally grass grown in seawater, mainly in China. Farmers flood rice-patty-like fields of seagrass with seawater. The grass is harvested, dried and spun into yarn. 

It won't hold dye so the small variation in colors is due to the species of seagrass that the farmer planted.

Advantages

 
 

Seagrass is the least expensive of the three.

It's also the most durable.

Because of its relatively tight weave, seagrass is often seamed. You can fill a huge space with seagrass and no one will ever see where strips are joined.

Disadvantages

Seagrass is the least stylish of the three natural fibers. It doesn't have have a large decorative vocabulary. 

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is that it's roughest under feet. 

Finally, like all the natural fibers, it is stain prone. Lifestyle considerations are important, like the presence of pets and exuberant red wine drinkers.

Sisal

Sisal is cultivated in southern hemisphere farms in South America and Africa. 
According to Wikipedia, it is native to Mexico and was used by Aztecs and Mayans to make crude fabric and paper.

Today Brazil is the world's leading producer.

The sisal fibers come from an agave plant which produces very long, saber-like leaves. The fiber is extracted from the leaves and spun into yarn.

Advantages

Sisal has a broader color palette than seagrass as well as a broader design palette in general. 

It's softer on the feet.
 

Disadvantages

Seaming depends on the weave. Certain weaves cannot be seamed, so if you designing a super large room, you may be restricted as to what you can pick.

As with seagrass, it has poor stain resistance.
 

Jute

Jute carpet in room settingJute cultivation thrived in East India and Bangladesh for centuries. People traditionally used if for ropes and twines. Later on the British built an industry weaving jute into a fabric that was used for sacks. We know it as burlap.

Advantages

Jute is the softest of the naturals to walk on.
Sample of jute carpet

Although it can't take dye, a few techniques like bleaching can offer different shades of jute carpet. It’s typically sold as a neutral although color alternatives have been appearing in the market.

As a fabricated rug, some jutes can be self-bound which gives it a natural hand-crafted look.

Disadvantages

Jute is prone to popups, little strands of fiber that pop up from the body of the rug. These must be trimmed from time to time.

Consequently, jute requires the most maintenance of the three naturals.

And of course there's the staining.



Photo by Sweet Happenings
 

Bonus Natural - Wool/Sisal Blend

Blending wool with sisal multiplies the design potential.

Advantages

Softer under the feet.

Many more styling possibilities with weaving patterns and dyed wool.

The blend also presents many more textural opportunities.

Like all the naturals, the blend can be layered under an area rug.

Disadvantages

Limited stain resistance. 

Abacca and Nettle

These are not as in great of demand as the others. They are typically more expensive and often have to be custom produced .

This can lead to extended lead times usually not found with the other three.