Inspections: You Never Know What the Day Will Bring

November 8, 2010
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I’ve been in and around the fabric care industry for more than 25 years now, and believe me when I tell you that you really don’t know a subject until you have to teach it.

My specialties include textile inspection, rugs, fine fabrics and color correction. I’ve enjoyed many unique experiences throughout the years, and my experience, training and accumulated knowledge have led to some great opportunities.

In the past two years I’ve been contracted to inspect and correct several carpet installations quite out of the ordinary. Interestingly, the corrections I performed only required a few simple tools from my inspection kit: a high intensity light, a lighted magnifying glass, duck bill sheers, a carpet groomer and vacuum cleaner.

Amazing, huh?

The common denominators about these corrections are that they all involve very expensive ($100-$200 per square foot) hand-tufted wool (or wool and silk) carpet installed in very luxurious facilities. They needed the correction to be performed on-location ASAP, and they had to be “handled with kid gloves” if you know what I mean.

Hand-tufted carpet (like hand or gun-tufted rugs) is created by inserting wool or silk yarn through a cotton primary backing fabric, creating a loop. Once the carpet is completely tufted, latex adhesive is applied to the backside to hold the tufts in place. Like a machine-tufted carpet, a secondary backing or scrim is attached to increase dimensional stability.

The next step involves shearing or cutting the tops of the looped tufts to create a cut-pile or cut–loop-pile effect, and the final step is vacuuming to remove lint or loose fiber.

The height or pattern of the pile is determined by how much yarn is cut or sheared off, and how far the initial loop is pushed up. Hand-tufted rug or carpet crafters use a tool called a “tufting gun,” which holds the yarn in a large needle and pushes or pulls the yarn through the primary backing that is stretched in place on a frame.

Hand-tufting requires a high level of craftsmanship. Many hand-tufted carpet and rugs are made in the Far East (e.g., China, Taiwan) and imported to Europe and North America.

The first carpet I’ll discuss was a custom-made job installed in the high-rise headquarters of a large financial institution. Following the installation, the interior designers who specified the carpet noticed what appeared to be light-colored yarns (lint?) in the wool pile, and sprouted tufts above the pile throughout the entire three-room, $90,000 installation. They also complained that the carpet was shedding, and they could see footprints where people had walked across the carpet.

I was called by a representative of the importer to attempt to solve the problem. My access to the offices was gained by elevators serving the 30th floor, and I was only permitted to work on the correction after hours, between 6 and 9 p.m. It was a high-security area with armed guards, and all contractors were required to wear security badges and booties when working in the area. So much for my honest face!

Because of the time constraints and size of the installation, I called in the assistance of my colleague Jeff Bishop. I told him that it would be a challenge, and I was right.

Basically, the problem was that some of the tufts were folded or tucked under, and the reflected light made them look much lighter, although, when compared side-by-side they were exactly the same color as the rest of the tufts.

After determining the main cause of the problem, Jeff and I spent a total of 36 hours over the course of three days un-tucking (if that’s a term) and hand-clipping individual tufts trapped in the pile and not subject to hand-shearing or cutting during construction.

Our primary tools? Two pair of duckbill napping shears and a vacuum. Pretty sophisticated, huh?

To demonstrate that shedding of staple wool fibers was normal and considered a correctable maintenance-related issue, we completed the correction with a thorough vacuuming. A final grooming corrected the “shading” issue, at least temporarily.

Other inspection/corrections have involved hand-tufted carpet installed in private aircraft. I have traveled to numerous cities in the U.S. to inspect jets in hangars, and to perform correction services. My most recent experience, however, took me out of the country to where the jets themselves are made.

Once again, the carpet was hand-tufted. However, unlike the bank installation, this carpet was made of cut-pile wool with silk loop accent yarns, which created a beautiful abstract pattern in the carpet. After the carpet was custom-cut to fit the jet interior and installed (and reinstalled) several times, several ends of the silk yarns began to “sprout.”

Of course, the sprouting was relegated to the silk yarns only. That’s because wool yarns have scales that enable fibers to lock or bind together, whereas silk yarns are smooth and more prone to slippage.

The light-colored silk yarns rising to the carpet’s surface created an unsightly appearance that needed correction. In addition, the aircraft manufacturer was concerned that the carpet was defective. As an independent inspector, I was contracted to correct the condition and write an official, unbiased report on the issue.

In this case, there were actually two sets of carpet to correct: one uninstalled and laid out on the floor of the hangar, the other installed in the jet with a total area of less than 1,000 square feet. I had two days (a Friday and Saturday) to perform my work, as the $60-million aircraft was scheduled for delivery to the owner the following week.

When I arrived at the hangar, “my” jet was actually out for a test flight, so I began working on the uninstalled carpet, thinking to myself that this correction should be a piece of cake.

Boy, was I wrong.

After seven long hours, working on my hands, knees and other body parts, grooming, gripping and pulling the silk yarns out of the pile with my thumb and index finger, and then clipping them off with the duck bill shears, I had completed…half of the challenge.

Saturday morning I arrived bright and early to work on the carpet inside the corporate jet. After a few moments admiring the beautiful, lavish interior of the plane, I crawled into the back lavatory near the cargo area, took a self portrait in the bathroom mirror for a memento and began the arduous task of grooming, gripping and clipping.

Obviously, one of the most difficult elements of performing the correction inside the jet was working around the seats and other installed components. I realized very quickly that I should have taken yoga classes long before then!

The conditions and lighting inside the jet were less than ideal. One of the mechanics loaned me his high-intensity flashlight, which combined with my hand held groomer and duckbill shears, I used to identify and clip all the unsecured, sprouted tufts I could locate. By 4 p.m., I reached the front of the jet and decided to call it quits. My fingers and knees were numb, my back ached and I thought I’ve never be able to stand up straight again, but I felt great knowing I had accomplished the task I was hired to perform.

From both pieces of carpet I had accumulated only two handfuls of clipped yarns. I had already determined that the remaining silk yarns, which created the carpet pattern, were securely and completely anchored in the carpet’s backing.

The sensitive nature of these inspection/corrections means I can’t share pricing or other information, but I will tell you that I was well compensated for the time and effort it took to perform them. The tools I used were very simple and unsophisticated; however, it’s the knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated over the years that allowed me to confidently perform the correction and write the follow-up inspection report.

So the moral of this story is, never under estimate the importance of your experiences; they may be your most valuable tools. They sure are mine.

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