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The art of fair-trade carpet knotting

Handmade rugs take the world of interior design by storm

Can a modern business model incorporate traditional knotting techniques? A growing number of women in the interior design sector are showing how it can be done. By producing handmade carpets, they’re not only satisfying the desire for individuality and sustainability felt by many consumers, but, as entrepreneurs, they’re also increasingly taking the lead in an industry that tends to be dominated by men. We shed light on the history of this skilled craft and explore the carpet trends of 2022 from every angle.

Handmade rug by Bradford Zak on Unsplash

With handmade carpets, female entrepreneurs are increasingly taking the lead in a somewhat male-dominated industry. (Photo: Bradford Zak on Unsplash)

Rug making: a brief history

Sheepskin rugs have been popular for years – and are among the very first carpets ever made. As far back as 10,000 years ago, they were made using a felting technique by nomadic peoples in what is now Mongolia. Knotted oriental carpets such as kilims also have a long history, throughout which they have been far more than just a source of comfort. The knotting technique, which was widespread in Turkey and what was then Persia, is intricate. Particularly beautiful examples were a sign of wealth and very valuable.

Carpets were brought to Europe by travellers like Alexander the Great and Marco Polo. In Spain, the oriental knotting technique prevailed, while in France it was mainly woven carpets that were produced – a technique that probably had its roots in basketry. Other common methods include felting, weaving and tufting. To this day, carpets signify a certain stylishness, cosiness and warmth. For example, the IVAR woven rug from Linie Design with its earthy colours radiates a natural feeling of comfort. The Béla rug from myfelt is composed of balls of felt, giving it a playful character, while the hand-tufted SATOMI rug from Linie Design is an abstract work of art.

Woven carpet "IVAR" from Linie Design

The IVAR woven rug from Linie Design with its earthy colours radiates a natural feeling of comfort and tranquillity. (Photo: Linie Design)

Rug making as a women-owned business

Although women were not prevented from practising the skilled craft of carpet weaving and knotting, they traditionally stayed in the background while men ran the business. Today, more and more women are designing and selling their rugs themselves. One prominent example of this trend is Nani Marquina , who founded her own company back in 1987. She is known around the world for her unique rugs and draws inspiration from traditional carpets for designs like the Medina kilim

And Nani Marquina is far from being the only female entrepreneur and designer shaking up the industry. Others include Maryam Ebrahimi from Edelgrund , Mareike Lienau of Lyk Carpet , the designers Lila Valadan , Mariantonia Urru and Kristiina Lassus or Franziska Reuber and Birgit Krah from Reuber Henning . Their handmade carpets are not only testaments to creativity and genuine artisanship – they are also perfectly in tune with our times, as unique pieces are currently highly sought after. Furthermore, the designers are experimenting with sustainable materials, such as hemp fibres or recycled bicycle inner tubes , and are committed to fair production conditions .

Custom-made carpets with individuality in mind

Unique, handmade rugs aren’t just popular within the interior design industry. The craft is also a major DIY trend. More and more people want their home decor to be unique, which is leading them to make their own DIY furniture . Accessories like decorative rugs are no exception. Any number of instruction guides to various weaving, tufting and knotting techniques can be found online. Some people hone their skills to the point where they’re actually able to sell their work on marketplaces like Etsy or on Instagram.

Customised rugs merit special mention here. With options ranging from your own name or a pattern you’ve designed yourself to the logo of your favourite football team, a wide variety of designs can be realised using the punch needling tufting technique. The personalisation trend is also being embraced by the furnishings industry, with suppliers like The Rug Company and Moooi Carpets giving customers the opportunity to customise the colours, sizes and designs of their rugs via online configuration tools. It seems that producing limited numbers pays off as, on the one hand, digital tools make the ordering process easier and, on the other hand, people are willing to spend more money on custom-made rugs.

Handmade carpet "Medina" from Nani Marquina

The handcrafted Medina kilim from Nani Marquina can be relied upon to brighten any room with its colourful and irregular stripes. (Photo: Nani Marquina)

Fairly produced and sustainable rugs

Sustainability is an important issue in the interior design industry – and another reason for the huge popularity of handmade carpets, as most of them are made from renewable raw materials like virgin wool, cotton, sisal, jute, linen, hemp, coconut fibre or bamboo. Unlike other materials, natural fabrics are biodegradable. The fact that they have been sustainably produced and are free from harmful substances is usually certified with quality labels. One such mark of quality is the OEKO-TEX Standard 100, which has been awarded to benuta’s sustainable carpets, among others.

Furthermore, high-quality, handmade carpets are produced in small numbers – a model that’s entirely in line with the concept of producing less and using products for longer. Since rugs are often made by hand abroad – in countries like Pakistan, Nepal and India – in a process that can take many weeks, the focus is not only on sustainability but also on fair trade. The aims of fair-trade labels like Care & Fair – an initiative organised by the European carpet trade – are to prevent child labour and improve the living conditions of women and families.

Carpet trends for 2022 – and much more besides

Whether knotting, felting or weaving, the traditional skill of carpet making has a long history and is hugely significant. Today, handcrafted and custom-made carpets are becoming increasingly popular, as they respond to the desire for individuality as well as values such as fairness, quality and sustainability. Women have played a major role in this trend, with many female entrepreneurs and designers reinterpreting the craft and selling their rugs themselves.

Carpets and rugs therefore not only signify comfort and style but can also be statements in support of a sustainable lifestyle and social change. Would you like to find out more about the latest trends and the future of the interior design industry? Subscribe to the imm cologne magazine newsletter here !