New Zealand has become the largest producer of wool in the world and is second only to Australia in wool exports, so it is not at all surprising that a lot of wool area rugs are made with New Zealand wool. Much of the wool found in exotic carpets, even Persian rugs, Chinese rugs and carpets from many other countries, get their wool from New Zealand due to it’s renowned high quality.
Many contemporary wool area rugs manufacturers, and Persian rug dealers, advertise this fact because people are aware of the rigorous inspection and grading system used in New Zealand as well as the high standard of how sheep are cared for, the climate, the abundant vegetation, the manner sheered, the length of the hair and many other factors that wool associations like New Zealand Wool monitor.
However, since this wool is of such high quality and so well tested and controlled, it is naturally the most expensive and therefore commercial wool area rug and carpet companies, as well as the small hand knotted area rug makers and weavers will often use a blend of their own local wool and give it strength and softness and added quality with a percentage of the better New Zealand wool yarn.
Note: If you are searching online for 100 % wool, you may see a lot of companies advertise 100 wool area rugs. This simply means 100 % and does not refer to the knot count, the quality of the wool or it’s price. Blends of wool from different places are still wool, and may be accurately labeled 100 % even if only a portion is from New Zealand.
It’s hard to imagine when you look at large wool carpets, but individual sheep’s hair is assessed, measured, selected or rejected based on the length of the hair and the place on the sheep’s body from where it is cut before it has been selected for use in a rug.
For example, sheep have fine, long and very soft hair on their necks, bellies and underarms and shorter or coarser hair in other areas. This hair is called qurk or kork Wool and is considered to be the finest wool which is used for weaving and also found in Isfahan and Nain Persian rugs. However, wool, when used to label clothing, weaving, tapestries, rugs and carpets may be labeled WOOL and you might naturally think of sheep, but it can also mean goat (like the Mohair from the Angora Goat) or camel hair (most commonly used in Serab rugs).
It is still wool, however New Zealand wool will be exclusively sheared sheep wool unless otherwise stated. If you are buying your accent rug from a modern area rug distributor that is well known in your region or if you are purchasing products through a reputable online dealer you can ask about what wool and what quality was used and where it came from and expect an honest answer. However if you are buying in a market or from an independent trader or importer who has select pieces that interest you, you may need to perform some simple tests to check quality before buying.
Testing Wool and Things to Check for when Buying Wool Area Rugs
- Just to make sure wool is wool and not a synthetic imitation, burn a little piece. If it smells like burnt hair it’s natural, if it smells like an acrid chemical it’s not.
- When testing your oriental carpets, give mohair rugs an extra look because sometimes the dyes used on this wool will de uneven or may have run one color into another. Small area wool rugs will look cheap if the dyes have run, especially after they have been walked on a while and begin to show their imperfections. They may also present a problem at the time of cleaning.
- When looking for the exclusive handmade Gabbeh rugs, check that there are not white cotton fringes that will be a clue to their being copies and not true gabbeh from the women of the Zagros region.
Beware of Dead Wool Rugs
Not all pure wool is good wool. For instance in cheap or discount wool area rugs, and many wholesale oriental area rugs distributors that deal in bulk, know it is common for the makers to use the hair that is left over after the long stapled hair is selected.
They may be made into hand tufted wool area rugs in unique designs, yet the second rate hair (that is short and of poor quality) used in making such inexpensive carpets and area rugs will not last.
They may look as nice in a showroom as other more expensive pieces, but in fact will shed quickly and wear poorly. In the industry, wool that remains after the long hair has been removed, is termed Dead Wool.
Gazni and New Zealand Wool
The wool that is often blended or used in Persian or Oriental rugs is sometimes called Gazni wool and is also of high quality because it comes from Afghanistan high mountain sheep who graze naturally on the slopes.
This wool has a sheen, is strong and of high quality. If you see a label on an area rug that says it is a blend of gazni and New Zealand wool you know you have a rug of excellent quality.
Worsted and Semi-Worsted Wool Accent Rugs
To get the long strands and separate it from short hairs, wool is combed and this process is called worsting. You may see rugs that say things like: made from worsted or semi-worsted wool. Semi-worsted will be a blend of high grade long worsted wool and shorter hair.
The top grade would be worsted wool since this means only the longest, strongest hairs have been selected in the combing process and all the rest has been discarded. Modern rugs of high quality should be labeled as to their quality, be they worsted or semi-worsted, and if a carpet doesn’t say, it’s probably of inferior quality.
The wool that is very fine and delicate that is derived from Himalayan goats is called Pashmina and is well known in Pashmina scarves. It is an excellent quality wool, soft and fine and long, but is very rarely used in carpet making or area rugs because it so expensive. It is primarily reserved for high end clothing and very fine scarves and perhaps tapestries. There are some very exclusive designer rugs made from this wool, and they are often used to double as bedspreads or throws and not just floor coverings. In any case, you will be hard pressed to find very large rugs in this wool.
Some companies are mixing New Zealand wool with viscose, or simply using 100 % cotton, and creating what many call a soft Pashmina Shag rug, but this is not really Pashmina – it’s become just a word used to indicate SOFT when it comes to shag area rug collections.
Another wool term that is thrown around in the carpet and rug world is Manchester Wool, which despite it’s name is used primarily in Iranian rug weaving. The main use is for a rug called the Manchester Kashan and comes exclusively from Merino sheep which are native of Australia. The use of the word Manchester is because the yarn was at one time processed in Manchester from the wool of Australian Merino sheep and later exported to Iran for use in rug making. Despite this wool having to travel a great deal around the world it is in fact of very high quality, with luster, long staple fibers, and found in excellent quality Iranian or Persian hand knotted rugs.
Testing for Shedding and Quality
Some things to watch for when selecting a wool area rug are poor quality wool rugs that have been later chemically washed to appear to have a better sheen. This will cause the rugs to shed very quickly. The way to test the quality of wool to see if it has been artificially enhanced is to agitate the rug and see if hairs come lose easily. Good quality wool area rugs that have long sheep hair and have not been overly washed will not shed into your hand. Poor quality ones will lose some hairs and this is never a good sign.
Although you may not be able to perform an extensive test of quality in a showroom (especially if selecting a large area rug), you may be able to request that a dealer do a test for you, or you may do so at home immediately after buying, when you can still return the rug should it not be up to standard.
Here is what to do: Vacuum the rug and hen immediately agitate the pile with your hand, back and forth, about a dozen times, then see if there are loosened fibers. Roll this material into a ball and see if the dimension of the ball is larger or smaller than the height of the actual pile. If it is larger than the pile of the carpet it is likely poor quality wool.
Also when you touch a rug, really feel it. Is it course and wiry? Does it feel dry and brittle? If so it is not high quality. Good wool area rugs will feel soft, have a sheen and almost give an oily impression to the touch. This will indicate that the sheep were healthy and it has not been overly chemically treated.
Don’t be deceived by cheap imitations and poor quality because it’s not just about how lovely the rug will look and what patterns and colors have been used, but about how well the rug will wear. Will the shedding cause the knots to loosen? Will the loosened knots weaken the carpet overall? Will vacuuming cause it to shed leaving bare patches, rendering your carpet or area rug unusable for high traffic areas.
So choose high quality new Zealand worsted wool or Merino wool or a blend of Gazni and New Zealand wool (even in oriental rugs styles) and enjoy your traditional or contemporary wool area rugs for a very long time to come.
If you are looking for: Round area rugs, Oval area rugs, Rectangular or Square area rug choices, or if you hope to find exotic Chinese rugs, Tibetan rugs or unique southwestern rugs, please continue reading the articles you’ll find within this site.