Rugs cost more than dollars

Rugs are a marvel when it comes to interior design. Rugs don't just add color and pattern to a room, they create a sense of warmth and comfort. Yet rugs cost more than just dollars.

Typically there have been two basic types of rugs: machine made and hand knotted. (Within the carpet industry, loose rugs are often called "carpets.")

A third type of rug, the hand-tufted rug (sometimes called "handmade" rugs) can be confused with hand-knotted rugs. In hand-tufted rugs, the strands of fiber are manually punched with a "gun" through a canvas. Then, the strands are cut to create a pile that mimics the look of the more expensive hand-knotted rug. On a hand-tufted rug, the rug has to be glued to a backing to hold the fibers in place, making them less durable than hand-knotted rugs.

The fibers in a hand-knotted rug are manually woven horizontally through the vertical fibers (called the weft) on a traditional loom. The fibers are then manually knotted and cut to create the pile. Hand-knotted rugs are typically made of wool and/or silk. Most hand-knotted rugs, in both traditional and modern designs, are produced in South Asia where child labor still exists. The International Labour Organization estimates that 215 million children ages 5-17 are engaged in child labor. Some of the children are slaves who are forced to work up to 18 hours a day. Some girls who are trafficked into carpet factories are later trafficked into the sex industry.

At last, these horrific practices are being changed in the carpet industry so that children can go to school instead of being forced to weave rugs, and GoodWeave is leading those efforts. GoodWeave is an international organization that is working against child labor in the rug industry. According to GoodWeave, experts estimate that child labor on South Asia’s carpet looms has dropped from 1 million to 250,000 since the launch of GoodWeave in 1995.

GoodWeave, which previously was called Rugmark, initially addressed only child-labor practices. This summer the GoodWeave label was expanded to protect adults from abusive labor conditions and to promote environmental criteria like managing run-off from dyeing and washing.

The GoodWeave label is issued to rug manufacturers (in factories, cottage industries and home work situations) who voluntarily adhere to GoodWeave’s standards and agree to independent verification of their practices. The label addresses the entire rug-making process from the receipt of raw material until the finished product. Manufacturers agree not to hire children under the age of 15 for their rug production.

Currently, there are over 75 rug manufacturers that carry the GoodWeave label. If rugs that carry the GoodWeave label are not available at local retailers, they can be purchased through interior designers or online.

Machine-made rugs have their problems, too. Some machine-made rugs are made of wool although they frequently are made of nylon, polyester, olefin and other petroleum-based products. While they are less expensive than hand-knotted and hand-tufted rugs, machine-made rugs also are less durable and don’t have the soft feel of cut pile.

Rugs made of petroleum-based products are a hazard both to people and the environment. As petroleum products, the fibers, backing and pads can all off gas volatile organic compounds. VOCs are chemicals that evaporate at room temperature and can cause respiratory and other serious health problems, including cancer.

Greener, machine-made rugs and carpeting are now available. Rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting with the Green Label Plus certification have lower levels of VOC off gassing. Some carpets, more so than rugs, are made of recycled plastics like soda bottles or of SmartStrand, a new, more eco-friendly fiber made of corn sugar. Some manufacturers also accept returns of old carpeting for recycling.

Considering all of those factors, why would anyone buy rugs? If you see the same room with and without a rug, the reasons are clear. Rugs do add color, pattern and a sense of warmth to a room. The texture of rugs placed on hard surfaces softens the entire space.

A rug in a living room pulls the furniture together and unifies the individual pieces into a cohesive group. In small rooms, this design creates a sense of coziness while it keeps big rooms from feeling too open and empty. A rug can separate and divide areas with different functions in great rooms.

For those who want soft floor coverings, using a hard floor surface with a rug is the best way to deal with the allergens that collect in and under wall-to-wall carpet.

A beautiful rug is a marvel both for design and utility. The important thing is to buy the right rug – for your home, the environment and the rug weavers.

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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly Tucson Green Times).


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