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Carpet textures

The texture of your carpet affects not only how it looks and feels underfoot, but also how durable and long-lasting it will be.

The following guide covers the different types of carpet available and some of the key terms associated with texture and construction.

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Explanation of terms:

  • Fibres. The fine hair-like strands that are twisted together to make yarn.
  • Yarn. Made from twisted or spun fibres in a similar fashion to wool. When one piece of yarn is loosely twisted together with another piece, this is known as 2-ply yarn. A similar process creates 3-ply yarn.
  • Pile. This is the upper layer of yarn. It is the part of the carpet that we see and feel as we walk on it. Depth of pile refers to the length of this yarn, with deep pile signifying long pieces of yarn.
  • Backing. The base material to which the yarn is attached. With woven carpets such as Axminster, the backing yarn is woven together with the pile. Tufted carpets are made by pushing each individual piece of yarn through a premade backing. A secondary backing is then bonded to the first to secure the yarn.
  • Pitch or gauge. The number of tufts in a row 1-inch long. The word ‘gauge’ is used for tufted carpets, while ‘pitch’ is used for woven carpets. An 8-pitch woven carpet would have 8 tufts for every inch of row. Gauge is often referred to in fractions, so a 1/10 gauge (1 tenth gauge) means the tufts are 1/10 of an inch apart, fitting 10 tufts into a row 1-inch long.

How do carpets differ?

The two main factors that affect carpet quality are:

  • The fibres it is made from
  • The thickness of its pile

Fibres

Carpet pile is made from:

  • Natural fibres. These can be derived from the hair of an animal, such as wool; produced by an animal, such as silk; or created from the stems and fibres of plants, such as seagrass. Wool is by far the most common natural fibre used to make carpet. Silk is only ever used in high quality handmade rugs, the most famous of which are Persian rugs. Plant fibres are increasingly popular for both pile and backing.
  • Synthetic fibres. These man-made fibres were initially created in a laboratory from fossil fuel by-products. Due to growing popularity over the years, they are now mass produced on an industrial scale, using different formulas to create fibres that meet a range of requirements. Characteristics of synthetic fibres include: softness, stain resistance, durability, fade resistance.
  • Wool blend. This type of fibre is produced by blending wool with a synthetic fibre. Proportions can vary, but a standard mix is 4:1 wool to synthetic. Such fibres benefit from the durability of synthetic material and the quality feel of natural wool.

Thickness

This relates to a number of factors, such as:

Pile thickness. Calculated by measuring the length of the pile (minus the backing) while under slight pressure.

Pitch/gauge. The more tightly packed the yarn, the thicker and more luxurious it will feel. Tightly packed yarn is also longer lasting as the strands have less room to rub against each other and produce wear.

Yarn count. The thickness of each strand of yarn. A carpet may have a low pitch while still having tightly packed yarn, as each strand may be of a large diameter.

How carpets are constructed

Carpets are made using one of two methods:

Tufting. This method uses industrial-sized machines containing hundreds of needles that push the yarn on to a backing, creating a loop. A second backing is then added to secure the stitching.

Weaving. Large looms are used to produce woven carpet. The yarn that creates the top of the carpet (face yarn) is woven together with the backing yarn to create an expensive looking finish.

Cut or Loop

Tufted carpets are also further broken down into ‘cut’ carpets and ‘loop’ carpets.

Cut. The previously mentioned loop is cut at the top during the production process, creating a soft fibrous pile.

Loop. The loop is left intact, adding strength and durability to the pile.

Loop pile carpets come in two forms:

Level Loop Pile: In this type of carpet all tufts are the same height, hence the term “level loop”.

Multi-Level Loop: A “sculptured” effect can be created in a loop pile carpet by using varying pile heights.

Types of cut pile carpet

The cut pile effect is used to produce a range of carpet types. The following table outlines what’s available and describe some of the benefits:

Type of carpet

Pile cross section

Description

Considerations

Velvet/Velour

A relatively short pile, which is often fairly dense. The tufts have a limited degree of “twist” incorporated during the spinning process. This allows the tufts to “burst” open and create the “velvety” appearance.

A velvet carpet is very soft, but more expensive. It can develop patches of “shaded” areas, where the tufts have been crushed, and these patches can eventually become worn if in high traffic areas or under furniture. To combat this, brush the carpet regularly so the tufts go back to their original upright position; however, this is quite a lot of work.

Soft feel

Best in low traffic areas

High cost

Requires some maintenance

Twist Pile

Yarns used will have a higher degree of twist than the velvet.  As a result, tufts retain a more individual appearance. A very common style of carpet and, when of good quality, very durable. Choose a relatively low pile height to ensure better resistance to crushing in high traffic areas. The quality of a good twist pile really comes down to the material used.

Durable

Relatively soft

Affordable

Easy to maintain

Frieze

A form of twist pile carpet. The yarn used is produced by folding two or more individual yarns together. By giving each component yarn a different degree of twist, the resultant yarn does not stand upright and instead takes on an irregular or random appearance. Frieze is a “trackless” carpet, i.e - you won’t see any marks from a vacuum cleaner. It also hides footprints well, making it one of the most popular carpets.

Soft

Offers a unique texture

Does not show tracks

Best in mid to low-level traffic areas

Saxony

Popular with those looking for something durable, but somewhat softer than a shorter twist pile carpet. Tuft height normally around 8-12mm (above the backing). Tufts are tightly twisted and “heat set” to retain that configuration. Heat setting allows the tufts to remain well defined as the amount of “burst” is restricted. This protects the carpet from suffering as many shaded patches.

Soft

Durable

Easy to maintain (especially stain-resistant and  bleachable types)

Mid-range price

Plush

Considered luxurious. Similar to velvet/velour carpets but with a longer pile. Offer unrivalled softness but need a lot of care as pile can be easily crushed. Twisted in a similar way to a Saxony carpet but without the same degree of heat setting. Best in homes where there isn’t too much traffic or in rooms that aren’t frequently used.

Luxurious and soft

Best in low traffic areas

Requires frequent maintenance

Shag

Twisted but with very long pile of around 25-50mm. Very soft to touch and a different texture to most carpets. However, often preferred as a rug, rather than wall-to-wall carpet as susceptible to uneven wear. Can become hard to clean as easy for dirt to get tangled in the long tufts.

Unique texture

Most suited to low traffic areas

Requires frequent maintenance

Cut and Loop (tip sheared pile)

There is a type of carpet that is produced by combining both cut and loop pile. Tip sheared pile is used for decorative effect to create a patterned effect consisting of shaded areas. The style produces a textured surface that can obscure both dirt and footprints.

Considering some of these points will help you choose the right carpet for your room. For further information, read our pages:

Carpet, Vinyl, Laminate and Hardwood: Which Flooring Is Best for You?

A Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing, Buying and Fitting a New Carpet

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