A reputation for heavyweight, lasting quality
By Wilton Carpets.
HOW broadloom carpet is constructed and what it’s made from dictates performance and appearance, so understanding the difference is important to ensure correct specification.
Choose the wrong carpet for the task and it’ll certainly cost more than it needs to, whether through premature-wear or over-specification.
Since the introduction of tufted carpet in the ‘50s, there have been two principle types of broadloom carpet available, although there exist derivatives of both. While tufted and woven carpets may share a similar appearance at first glance, their manufacture is quite different and so too are performance and design capabilities.
Weaving is the most traditional way to make carpet and to this day, remains the best way to make carpet for commercial use. To make a woven carpet, a loom interlaces face yarns – generally wool or wool blend – and a backing yarn of jute or a synthetic alternative.
Once the carpet is removed from the loom, a thin coating of latex is applied to the back to fix the tufts in place. The principle is roughly the same for the two types of woven carpet readily available; axminster and wilton.
With the axminster method, the most ubiquitous of the two in commercial environments, each individually coloured yarn is selected by the loom, cut and inserted as a ‘U’ shaped tuft wherever needed, often to create intricate patterns. Axminster weaving leaves most of the yarn on the surface, giving axminster’s famed quality and comfort.
Wilton weaving generally involves fewer colours with the yarn running continuously, either at the surface or in the back. Wilton is less flexible in design but can be used to bring varying texture.
A reputation for heavyweight, lasting quality means axminster weaving is favoured in commercial interiors, where it can provide a carpet with the ability to withstand high-levels of footfall on a daily basis.
Often highly patterned, it also has excellent soil-hiding properties, making it popular in busy hospitality and leisure environments. It’s not unknown for a high-quality axminster carpet to last 20 years or more before needing replacement.
Ideal for use in areas such as receptions, staircases and function rooms, axminster quality is dictated primarily by the number of rows, generally ranging from six through to 10 or higher. The latter reserved for the most demanding areas and when exceptional design definition is required.
It’s not uncommon for axminster carpet to be used throughout high-end projects, altering the number of rows to provide tailored wear performance in different areas. For example, in a high-end hotel a seven-row axminster may be used in bedrooms, a nine-row in corridors and a 10-row in function areas and reception.
The construction method is also popular in hospitality locations because of its ability to produce complex designs, involving up to 12 colours and with an unlimited pattern repeat size.
In contrast, wilton carpet can be created in varying textures and so is the preferred weaving method where a loop pile – known as ‘Brussels weave’ – or cut-and-loop texture is preferred.
Using fewer colours and with restrictions on pattern repeat size, designs tend to be less opulent, more geometric and just like axminster carpet, quality is altered through row count, a higher number indicating better wear-resistance.
Primarily a residential style, tufted carpet can be appropriate in low-wear commercial environments. It is made on a machine that can be likened to a giant sewing machine, but with more than 1,200 needles rather than just one. Each of these needles is threaded with an individual colour and stitched into a pre-made primary backing. The ‘face’ loops of each tuft can be left un-cut to create a loop-pile carpet or sheared to create cut-pile carpet.
Patterning is achieved by shifting the needles side-to-side in sequence. A secondary backing is applied to prevent tuft-loss.
A great choice in lower wear areas where durability is less of a concern, such as hotel bedrooms, tufted carpet provides excellent value.
High quality wool-rich varieties can also be used in corridors of boutique style establishments, or in public areas of residential developments and with simple designs possible, such as stripes or basic geometrics, tufted carpets can also help to disguise soil.
Tufting is a much quicker carpet production method compared to weaving and this is why it is default carpet type in the residential sector, where limited pattern capability and the ability to hide dirt is less of a concern.
In commercial environments where pattern is used not only to enhance interior design, but also improve dirt hiding and appearance between cleans, it’s less favoured. However, it’s used in commercial environments where there is less need for lasting-quality, or in breakout zones and boardrooms where luxurious textures, such as high-lustre polyamide deep cutpile styles, are in demand.
Other than a tufted or woven construction, one of the biggest factors to impact carpet is the choice of fibre. For tufted carpets, fibres will be polypropylene, nylon or wool. In woven carpet, fibres are generally wool or wool-rich.
Polypropylene is a man-made fibre that is cost-effective to manufacture, and which comes with inherent stain-resistance. This makes it a popular choice in value-orientated tufted carpets. Polypropylene fibres are coarse and stiff and don’t recover as well as other carpet fibres, and so are prone to flattening in areas subject to constant traffic.
Another man-made fibre, nylon is a more durable than polypropylene and so is used in high-end tufted commercial carpets. Soft and durable, it’s also available in different lustres and deniers, making it a versatile fibre that can be used to create interesting textural effects.
Nylon is also available in solution-dyed qualities, where colour is part of the make-up of the fibre, for permanent stain and fade-resistance.
As a carpet fibre, wool has a reputation for durability and quality, and unquestionably so. Though, like anything, there are good and bad wool carpets and a lot of this is down to the quality inherent in the fibre itself.
Some breeds of sheep make for a more resilient fibre with better dye-take, in-turn leading to a carpet that’s lasting and rich in colour.
British wool is one such fibre, with over 60 breeds and the UK climate contributing to a carpet fibre that is resilient to footfall and with excellent recovery. Completely natural and renewable, British wool also has more bulk than other readily available sources, helping the carpet’s pile to perform well against wear in busy spaces.
With these natural properties, it’s easy to see why wool has long been favoured in woven commercial carpet. Traditionally, woven carpets would have been made from 100% wool, but in recent times wool-blend woven carpets have become the norm.
Again, quality here is dependent on the ratio and the fibres used. In order to retain the properties of wool and not to compromise performance, a blend of minimum 80% wool is desirable, preferably mixed with nylon’s excellent longevity.
When it comes to carpet design, there’s no doubt woven axminster is king and it’s the best option when lasting pattern in high-wear areas is demanded. As another benefit, highly-patterned axminster is also great at hiding soil between cleans, making it ideal for busy venues. That said, it’s also possible to print designs directly onto the face of tufted carpet, which can bring custom pattern to short-run bespoke work in commercial spaces.
This direct-to-cloth printing is commonly known as the Chromojet process, where a machine akin to a large-format inkjet printer forces dye into the yarn of the carpet, making it possible to create complex designs and images in a broad range of colours. However, it’s most common on un-dyed tufted carpets which ultimately lack the durability of axminster woven carpets.
There have been significant advances in woven carpet manufacturing too, with modern high-speed axminster looms. Computer controlled and automatically fed, these looms mean it’s now possible to quickly switch between designs.
Carrying 12 colours, which can be changed quickly, they carpet manufacturers to provide bespoke pattern and colour without the lengthy and costly downtime faced on traditional looms.
For many projects, the cost of a completely bespoke design can be prohibitive, so some carpet manufacturers offer a semi-bespoke service, where a library- or custom-pattern can be made in any combination of colours from a defined palette. These colours are permanently loomed, so no downtime is required to change colours.
Generally woven on traditional looms, these defined palettes of 12 colours are a huge advantage, as on these older machines changing bobbins is a process that takes several days’ worth of man hours. For this reason, Ready to Weave carpet is an affordable an increasingly popular design option being enjoyed across a broad spectrum of projects.
The right performance
Much of whether a project needs a tufted or woven carpet depends on the footfall requirements of the space. In fact, in any project there can be a demand for both constructions.
A natural hunting ground for broadloom carpet, hotels are a prime example of this: bedrooms and upper level corridors will be adequately catered for with tufted carpets, while areas such as bars, receptions and stairways will need the durability of woven carpet.
Again, in these areas woven carpet can be adapted in quality – an eight-row in libraries and lounges versus a 10-row in function rooms or reception – to ensure affordability is maximised wherever possible.
Any good carpet manufacturer will be able to advise you on the best way to ensure the carpet you choose is right for the task at hand. Once an industry dominated by manufacturers only weaving carpets or only tufting carpets, most contemporary manufacturers can now supply tufted and woven carpet.
However, it’s worth noting that only a few continue to produce all carpet in the UK and even fewer that offer both constructions in the same wool-rich blend.