(This is an update to our original blog on natural fiber carpets and rugs.)
Carpets and rugs made from seagrass, sisal and jute are referred to as natural fiber carpets and rugs.
They fill important roles in interior design. They are wonderful neutrals. They impart a textural quality to carpeting and rugs that wools and synthetics can't. They translate well into area rugs, stair runners 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.
Insider Natural Fiber Knowledge
P.J. Arthur is president and CEO of NFIC, a national carpet installation training and consulting company.
His advice to buyers of natural fiber carpet: "Know this product."
"It works great in the right environment," he said. "But if it's in a place where it risks getting wet or stained, get knowledgeable about the possible outcomes in your house and make sure you can live with the consequences."
What to Do with Spills
For wetness and possible stains, the experts recommend that you extract the liquids immediately. Have a wet/dry vacuum handy so that you can do this as quickly as possible.
Experts advise vacuum suction only. No beaters.
Not a Cheap Substitute
Don't think of natural fiber as a cheap substitute for more expensive carpet and rug making fibers. It's used in every sort of decor and often included in elegant and posh designs.
A great contrast is to layer a handmade rug over a natural fiber carpet like seagrass. The neutral natural fiber rug and its rough texture causes the overlaying rug to pop.
Hand-knotted rug on natural fiber sisal.
Install it Right!
"Even though natural fiber is inexpensive," said Addison/Dicus & Bailey's carpet installer, "don't skimp on the installation or the adhesive materials. If you do, you might be in for an expensive repair job that will wipe out your original savings and a lot more."
Ford said that there is nothing more durable than seagrass for the money, but "...water and stains are its kryptonite." A good installation can limit bad outcomes.
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.
Seagrass is the least expensive of the three.
It's also the most durable and most popular.
Because of its relatively tight weave, seagrass is often seamed. A skilled installer can fill a huge space with seagrass and no one will ever see where strips are joined.
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 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, dried and spun into yarn.
Sisal has a broader color palette than seagrass as well as a broader design palette in general.
It's softer on the feet.
Seaming depends on the weave. Certain weaves cannot be seamed, so if you are designing a super large room, you may be restricted as to what you can pick.
As with seagrass, it has poor stain resistance.
Jute 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.
Jute stair-runner with close to the wall jute carpet.
Jute is the softest of the naturals to walk on.
Jute is said to be a natural insect repellent.
Photo by Sweet Happenings
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.
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. More on troubleshooting below.
Bonus Natural - Wool/Sisal Blend
Blending wool with sisal multiplies the design potential.
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.
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.
Troubleshooting and Other Practical Things that You Should Know
Edges and Seams
All three natural fiber carpets can be seamed to accommodate virtually any large room size. First the installer has to even the edges that will be seamed.
The warp yarns in the piece on our left have been removed.
He turns the pieces over and removes the appropriate warp threads from the edges. Then he folds the loose weft lines back against the bottom of the carpet and glues them down.
If it's a rug, the two pieces are sewn together.
The pieces are then turned turned right side up, the edges aligned. He then glues them down. Properly done, this technique will make most seams totally invisible.
If the two pieces are a part of a carpet installation, the installer lines them up together and glues them down. Sewing is not necessary.
Even though all three natural fibers can be seamed, in fact some brands can't. Before you commit to buying product that you know must be seamed, check with a good installer before you place the order.
You can see a more detailed explanation of natural fiber rug and carpet seaming here.
The right and properly applied glue are critical to a good natural fiber carpet installation. Two bad outcomes can result from bad glue choices.
The first is shrinkage. If your natural fiber carpet gets wet and is not attended to, it will shrink. If the spill is near a wall, the shrinkage can be strong enough to pull the carpet loose from the glue along the wall. This is all but impossible to fix. You might be able to be patch it satisfactorily. If not, you may need to replace the entire installation.
Well-applied, properly formulated glue can hold down shrinkage. The fiber cannot pull away.
Secondly, poor glue will eventually dry up and turn to dust.
According to Sonny Callaham whose company Divergent Adhesives, makes glue for the carpet installation industry, "The glue must contain 65-68% latex. Otherwise it will eventually turn to powder."
He said the latex makes the carpet pliable enough to accommodate constant traffic. It's well worth the trouble to ask the installer about the latex content of the adhesive. It may be more expensive, but it's a great long term investment.
"Save money on the natural fiber," Callaham said. "Don't skimp on glue."
A skilled rug fabricator can cut any of the three natural fiber carpets to make an area rug. How the edges are handled is an important design consideration.
Seagrass can be bound only for custom fabricated rugs. This leads to another problem: the binding gets dirty and is hard and occasionally impossible to clean. For this reason, the designers and homeowners often choose black for the color. If that works with your design, it can look great.
Seagrass stair runner with dark binding. View of landing.
Because of dirty binding we get requests to rebind rugs. Sadly this is almost always impossible, Removing the old binding tends to fray the fiber badly and the time and effort makes it impractical.
On a happier note, seagrass and sisal are so inexpensive it's usually less costly to replace the rug than it is to try to remove and replace the binding.
Some mills can both serge sisal and seagrass for rugs in popular sizes.
Sisal can be bound or serged. With surging you can avoid the dirty binding problem.
As shown below fabricated jute rugs can be edged with a technique similar to the weft folding technique described above. This is usually the best way to make a rug from jute. Binding or surging are not necessary.
Know the Product. Know the Environment
Designers who are well acquainted with natural fiber carpets and rugs have been very successful using the product. They produce enduring designs that others imitate and avoid moisture-prone and stain-prone environments.
Add this to your arsenal of design features. Avoid putting it places where it's at risk and have it installed by installation craftsmen. You and your clients will love the outcome.
# 1108980058 PAKISTAN
4'9"X6'4" OR 30.08SF
Designer net $752
Close out $200
TUFENKIAN #2-0116195 CIRCUMSTANCE STRAW TUFTED
(SMALL STAIN FROM ROOF LEAK. PROFESSIONALLY CLEANED)
Designer net. $2430
Close out $900
8’2 x 10
8’9 x 11’6
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