A hand made wool needlepoint rug has a flat texture resembling an antique rug in which the pile has worn down. Decorators prefer needlepoint rugs to new oriental rugs when they are decorating with antique furniture. But people unfamiliar with needlepoints can mistakenly assume they are fragile. This is untrue as proved by the experience of thousands of customers and interior designers who have used them in their own homes and say they are very durable and easy to clean. Room images at the end of this post show how decorators add glamour to living rooms, dining rooms, libraries, bedrooms and bathrooms with needlepoint rugs.
A runner made from the borders of the Canterbury Needlepoint Rug 2818B adds verve to a bathroom designed by Markham Roberts.
History of Needlepoint Rugs
The history of needlepoint goes back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians who used small diagonal stitches to sew together the canvas for their tents. The same diagonal stitch is now known as the “tent stitch” and is one of the most popular needlepoint stitches today.
A 19th-century Berlin needlepoint pattern was the inspiration for the Garden Trellis Needlepoint Rug 1601BK. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
Howard Carter, the British Egyptologist famed for discovering the tomb of Tutankhamen, found needlepoint embroidery in the cave of a Pharaoh who lived around 1500 BCE.
Fast forward 3,300 years to early 19th century England and America and you find that needlepoint embroidery has become a fashionable pastime for affluent women who are not only more numerous thanks to the industrial revolution but also have more leisure time than at any time before in history.
Fueling the popularity of needlepoint was the wide availability of beautiful and easy to follow needlepoint patterns exported from Berlin, Germany to England and America. The Berlin patterns came with dyed wool yarn and stitch by stitch instructions that made it easy for even a novice to create beautiful embroideries. At the same time progress in the manufacture of chemical dyes made it possible to dye many more subtle color shades than were possible before.
Fast forward another two hundred years to the 1972 opening to China by President Richard Nixon. China with its thousands of years long has a history of fine embroidery was suddenly open for business and in 1989 Asmara was the first U.S. company to open its own needlepoint workshop in China to make rugs based on original designs painted by American artists.
How to Tell if a Needlepoint Rug is Durable
Here are five things to look for:
1. Are the stitches neatly done when viewed both from the front and back of the needlepoint rug?
A genuine hand made needlepoint rug is made by using a sewing needle and wool yarn to create sitches on an open grid cotton fabric called a "canvas". Eventually the entire canvas is covered by millions of individually made wool stitches which becomes the needlepoint rug.
This closeup of a circa 1750-1800 needlepoint used to upholster a chair back shows no signs of wear after 200 years of use, a testament to the durability of well made needlepoint. Notice how even the stitches are when seen from the front, pictured above and the back, pictured below. Image courtesy Morgaine-le-fay.co.uk.
The reverse side of a well made needlepoint rug should not have long loose yarns. Loose ends of yarn can trap dirt and sand which creates abrasion when the rug is walked on. Image courtesy Morgaine-le-fay.co.uk.
The reverse side of another needlepoint chair back from 1750 to 1850 shows long ends of yarn that have been secured. While this better than yarns hanging loose, it is still preferable to clip off the excess yarn and secure it as in the previous image. Image courtesy Morgaine-le-fay.co.uk.
A 9'x12' Branches Needlepoint Rug contains more than 1.55 million hand made needlepoint stitches. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
2. Is the wool of high quality?
High quality wool yarn has long fibers. Long and strong fibers gives wool yarn its strength. Cheaper wool yarn contains shorter and brittle fibers which tend to break more easily. Needlepoint rugs made with high quality wool are more resistant to abrasion and pulling which occurs when you walk on a rug. Good quality wool yarn also contains more lanolin which keeps spilled liquids bead up into droplets on the surface instead of sinking into the rug. You have more time to lift up the spilled liquid with a dry paper towel or a clean cloth towel. If you spill something, lift as much of the liquid as you can, and make sure the rug is air dried to prevent mildew.
3. Has the needlepoint rug been chemically washed?
Some years back some manufacturers began treating rugs with chemicals such as bleach to create the appearance of antique rugs. The chemicals strip the protective outer layer of wool fibers and aslo change the colors. This compromises durability and makes the colors look yellowish and dull. Luckily chemical washing has not been as pervasive with needlepoint rugs and Aubusson rugs as it has been with oriental rug, but you should still ask to be sure that the needlepoint rug has not been chemically washed.
4. Has the rug passed durability and color fastness tests done by an independent lab?
The Independent Textile Testing Service in Dalton, Georgia performs wear and color fastness tests on all types of rugs and carpets. Ask if the needlepoint rug was tested by a reputable lab.
5. Be sure to choose the right rug pad for the surface.
A good rug pad will give additional cushioning under a needlepoint rug and may even prolong the life of the rug because it allows dirt to fall through the rug and onto the pad from where it can be removed by vacuuming between the rug and the pad. A pad also helps a needlepoint adhere to the floor better. A pad is essential if you are going to install a needlepoint rug wall to wall.
How Needlepoint Rugs are Made by Hand
An artist consults a picture of a Jacobean embroidery and draws the pattern on translucent paper. Image courtesy The Royal School of Needlework, London.
Once the pattern has been drawn on paper it will be transferred on to the cotton canvas and painted in color. Image courtesy The Royal School of Needlework, London.
The artist mixes up paint and selects wool yarn in colors that match the paint. Image courtesy The Royal School of Needlework, London.
The artist first looks for pre-dyed yarns and then custom dyes the colors that are not available pre-dyed. The artist is painting the pattern directly on the cotton canvas. The embroiderer will closely follow the painting while stitching the needlepoint. Image courtesy The Royal School of Needlework, London.
The small hand iron in the background is used to keep the canvas flat as wrinkles can distort the pattern. Image courtesy The Royal School of Needlework, London.
Once the pattern has painted on the cotton "canvas" it becomes easier for the embroiderer to follow the intricate details of the pattern. Millions of stitches made with high quality wool yarn on a sturdy cotton canvas makes a highly durable needlepoint rug. Image courtesy The Royal School of Needlework, London.
The pattern is stitched first and the background filled in last. Note how fine the needles are. Image courtesy The Royal School of Needlework, London.
Many shades of red from deep burgundy to pinkish-beige are stored neatly in the in the Asmara Design Studio in China. Despite this color range many new shades have to be dyed every day to make new patterns. Image © Asmara, Inc.
A first sample of the Bergamo needlepoint rug being made at the Asmara Design Studio
Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
Several embroiderers work as a team on a large needlepoint rug in the Asmara Needlepoint Studio. The beige colored canvas has been rolled on two long poles and stretched tightly to create a flat working surface. The completed sections are rolled up and covered with white linen to keep them clean. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
Inspiration for Decorating with Needlepoint Rugs
Design inspiration from several gorgeous living rooms, a dining room, hallway, bedroom and library with needlepoint rugs.
Needlepoint rugs make it easy to mix contemporary and traditional styles and make a unique statement as fashion designer Kate Spade did in her Manhattan living room.
Iris Apfel co-founder of the fabric house Old World Weavers is a famed decorator and fashion muse. She stands on an antique English needlepoint rug wearing Chado Ralph Rucci and jewelry of her own design. Image courtesy Architectural Digest.
The Garden Trellis Needlepoint Rug 1601BK resembles Iris Apfel's living room rug but in a black background. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
The Madeira Needlepoint Rug 2817T is inspired by Pontremoli needlepoint rugs, Jacobean embroidery and the colors of James Whistler's 1865 painting Sea and Rain. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
James McNeil Whistler – Sea and Rain (1865)
The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor. Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker
A blue and white floral needlepoint rug completes a blue and white living room by Charlotte Moss.
Asmara's Kirov 8104 003 cut and loop oriental rug is available in custom sizes.
Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
A cream, red and green floral needlepoint rug adds warmth to a garden themed suite in the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze.
An artistically designed needlepoint rug is a great source for developing the color palette for a room. The selection of the yellow, blue and green fabrics in this Marc-Michaels designed Palm Beach living room was guided by the colors in the Gradella Needlepoint Rug 1201Y. Image courtesy Florida Design. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
Choose fabrics that resonate with both the color and the pattern of the rug, as illustrated in this Palm Beach living room with Gradella Needlepoint Rug. Image courtesy Florida Design. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
The Gradella Needlepoint Rug is stocked in sizes ranging from 3'x5' to 14'x20'.
When choosing a needlepoint rug for a dining room make sure the rug is large enough to keep all four legs of the chair on the rug when the chair is fully pulled out as in designer Janet Simon's dining room in her New Jersey estate. Image courtesy Traditional Home.
Asmara's Directoire Needlepoint Rug 2014G is the centerpiece of a handsome Federal dining room designed by Bunny Williams. Image courtesy House & Garden. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
A floral needlepoint rug graces the yellow living room of Rynair mogul Tony Ryan's Lexington, Kentucky horse farm designed by Tiggy Butler to evoke an Irish stately home. Image courtesy Architectural Digest.
The Summer Needlepoint Rug 2148C is stocked in a wide range of sizes from 6'x9' to 14'x20'. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
A yellow and red needlepoint rug compliments yellow-ochre bookcases in the library of the Paris residence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor designed by Stéphane Boudin of Maison Jansen.
A cream and red needlepoint rug graces a yellow living room by Mario Buatta, a designer famed for popularizing the English country-house style in America. Image courtesy Architectural Digest.
A Portuguese needlepoint rug harmonizes English and French furniture in a living room designed by Charles Faudree.