Niche Cleaning: Rug Repair-Part 1: Define Your Goals, and Get Going

November 6, 2001
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In the past, learning to repair rugs required becoming an apprentice to the craft. The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Association of Specialist in Cleaning and Restoration (ASCR) are the only places I am aware of where a person can go to take classes to learn the craft.

Two good books on the subject, Oriental Rug Repair by Peter Stone and Care and Repair of Rugs and Carpets by David Benardout, are both unfortunately out of print.

Define what we are trying to accomplish
Restoration of a rug is an attempt to return it to its original condition. Conservation is preserving an object with as little change to the object as possible. Repair is a compromise between conservation and true restoration.

Repair conserves a rug because it minimizes further deterioration through normal use and is restored to the extent it copies the original materials and construction used, allowing the rug to become functional again.

A repaired rug can be worth less than the same rug in a damaged state if the rug should have been conserved rather that repaired, such as a rare rug where adding or removing of any material lowers the value.

Repair can also lower the value of a rug if it's not skillfully done or is not consistent in quality with the rug. To determine if a repair makes sense three things must be decided:

* The market value of the damaged rug;
* The cost of repairs; and
* The market value of the repaired rug.

You should not attempt repairs beyond your skill level as poorly executed repairs adversely affect the value of a rug. Rug repair is a craft requiring knowledge and skill. The knowledge is easier to acquire than the skill. For the beginner, there is a tendency to under estimate the time and work needed to perform a repair of acceptable quality. Begin your practice with worn rugs not of great value.

Knowledge of rug structure is the beginning of successful repairs. Refer to my past ICS Cleaning Specialist Rug Specialists article from July 1997 for this information (archives, www.icsmag.com)

Tools, equipment
Tools and equipment required for rug restoration can be found in a household needlework box or around the house. Keep your tools clean and sharp. A blunt blade, besides causing damage by tearing at the fibers, is dangerous. The blade's sharpness should do the work, not force.

The materials used must be pure, natural fiber only. Do not use synthetic substitutes regardless of color match; this will devalue your rug.

The following are basic materials and tools you will need:

* Linen sewing thread, size 18 for coarse rugs, size 35-60 for finer pieces.
* Beeswax, which may be purchased in blocks.
* Sewing needles all have names and size numbers. You will find the following types and sizes the most useful: Tapestry - sizes 20 and 22 Straws - sizes 2, 6 and 8; Sharps - sizes 6 and 8.
* Metal thimbles, a must for repairs, are sold in all sizes.
* Tweezers with square ends.
* Pliers, which must be small, of good quality and able to grip a fine needle without slipping.
* Scissors, either dressmaking 8 inch straight, curved pile or nail scissors.
* Wire brush of fine brass.
* Knife, a sharp craft knife or one with a safety blade.
* Cotton for warp and weft threads. You will need various sizes and colors.
* Wool, tapestry and crewel.
* Steel pins, 1 inch.
* Wooden Pole to place under certain work to open the pile.
* Rubber Mallet.

Two supply houses in Manhattan can provide all of theses materials and more. They are Nabavian & Sons (800 352-7510) and Chatalbash Rug Co. (212 532-5260).

When starting your work, focus on the easiest - and most profitable - repairs. These repairs are worn fringes and sides.

The first repair we will look at is side cords. Like fringes and kelim ends, side cords are designed to protect the rug. Binding one or more warp yarns with weft yarns forms side cords. Most rugs also have additional wool binding, or overcasting, as well as the weft yarns.

For simple rewooling where the edges are worn but unbroken, use a tapestry needle and color-matching wool with a single or double strand, depending on the fineness of the rug.

Lay the rug pile side up. With the edge facing toward you, work from left to right, securing the end of the wool. Then work from the front, simple overcast the cord, keeping the stitches close together to avoid gaps (See photos 1 and 2).

If the warp yarns are broken or worn off, use a piece of warp material the same diameter and fiber as the original side cord (See photo 3). Then overcast with matching wool closely following the stitching of the original work.

This type of repair is simple to do and only needs a little patience and a good eye to match the color of the original wool.

In the next article we will look at repair of fringes, which is the most common area of rug damage.

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