In the Spring 2018 issue of Rug Insider Magazine I authored an article titled: ‘Proper Care and Cleaning.’ The premise was and remains simple; to explore what it means when a rug dealer says a good quality handmade rug will last a lifetime with proper care and cleaning. As a former dealer of rugs myself I know I have said this phrase, just as I know far too often no further detail is provided. To push further, what is one to do when one is told to have a rug or carpet cleaned by a reputable or trusted rug cleaner? What does it mean ‘a trusted rug cleaner’ and moreover, how does one even go about finding a trustworthy cleaner? To answer these questions and to provide a bit of detail as to what happens when a rug is cleaned I took the opportunity to document – with the assistance of my cleaner Weaver & Loom – the cleaning of one of my own rugs. This is what happened.
The subject carpet is a ‘Tile’ by Odegard Carpets sized at 7’3″ x 10’1″ (2.21m x 3.07m) crafted of 100% Himalayan highland sheep’s wool in the firm’s signature Tibetan 100knot quality, ‘Youngtse’. To be frank, I believe – through year’s of examining modern carpets – this to be in the upper echelon of carpets made in Nepal today and since 1987 when the quality was first introduced here in the West. I acquired it several years ago and owing to its cream coloured background it shows soiling rather quickly. Please note that it does not get dirty any more quickly than a darker coloured rug, rather it is that the dirt is simply more visible. Do not allow yourself to be lulled into thinking a rug is sparkly, and fresh, and clean of soil merely because it is not immediately visible. Regardless, the carpet currently graces the floor of my bedroom whereupon in the early autumn of 2017 my senior Greyhound ‘Pebbles’ had a bout of incontinence. As an aside, Pebbles is quite discerning and will only vomit or defecate on fine handmade carpets, not solid surfaces, nor the cheap machine-made beige shag rug at my door. No, no! I raised her better than that and only the finest of things will do. Thank goodness she is cute, but I digress.
I spot cleaned the euphemistic ‘dog mess’ from the carpet but residual discolouration persisted and seeing as the carpet was already in need of a thorough cleaning I decided it was time to get it done, though it would have to wait until warmer weather in the spring.
For those reading this who live in larger cities and more densely populated areas with an affinity for handmade rugs and carpets, a reputable and trusted cleaner is likely located nearby. For others like myself who live in places describable by none of those adjectives, the proper cleaning of rug or carpet will require not only finding the closest trusted cleaner, but also likely shipping the rug to them for cleaning. Yes it is somewhat of an annoyance (Hello first world problem!!) and more costly to ship a rug out for cleaning, but as I concluded in my Rug Insider article: Rugs require a bit of work, just like most of the finer things in life. When considering purchasing a good, better, or best quality handmade rug do consider that the logistics of proper care and cleaning may – depending upon individual circumstances – require expenditures in addition to the cost of cleaning. In major cities such as Toronto (where ‘Tile’ was cleaned) the cost of cleaning a handmade carpet can range anywhere from $1.50 (CAD) per sqft for an all wool rug to $4.00 (CAD) per sqft depending on the material content and mix as well as the foundation fibres. Please note pricing may vary geographically.
So it was then that as the spring of 2018 arrived and I was already planning travel to visit Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the opening of Jan Kath Toronto run by Finlay and Kath, I contacted my colleague Ali Ghassemi of Weaver & Loom in Toronto to inquire of cleaning. But why Weaver & Loom you may ask? This question is at the core of what it means to use a reputable or trusted rug cleaner. In short I chose him for three (3) reasons: 1) Location. 2) Reputation by way of several colleagues. 3) Having chatted with him on several occasions at trade shows, I know him to be very opinionated, knowledgable, and outspoken; characteristics I find endearing. Based on these three (3) things alone I opted to trust him to clean one of my favourite things. When selecting a cleaner for your own rugs or carpets, definitely consider the first two (2) criteria, and if number three happens to resonate with you as well, then so much the better. For those without a network of industry insiders to consult, ask around to find out which cleaner or cleaners do the best work.
As Weaver & Loom is not local nor would I be there for delivery of the carpet to them for cleaning, I opted to mark with green cardboard tags the areas of discolouration requiring extra attention. ‘This was great by the way.’ said Ghassemi as he and I were inspecting the then cleaned rug when I visited his showroom on Thursday, 10 May 2018. The entire process of arrival and cleaning was documented via photography and video by Ghassemi and his staff at the request of The Ruggist and as Ghassemi and I reviewed the carpet and the images we discussed the process, highlights of which are featured herein. Foremost of concern is an attentional to detail and documentation of the cleaning process, regardless of the exact process used – of which there are many, but more on this later. Documentation is done to provide evidence of what the carpet was like just prior to cleaning and includes noting pre-existing marks, damage, wear, stains (as is the case with ‘Tile’), and the like as well as measuring the carpet in case of shrinkage.
While most contemporaneously produced handmade carpets are made using techniques and materials which minimize or abate shrinkage of a finished carpet, if the carpet in question is made with natural materials, shrinkage is a possibility, though it should be noted that the percentage change – if it occurs – is generally minimal. Similarly, manufacturing techniques and materials which minimize or abate other problems such as bleeding (colour/dye transfer while wet) or crocking (colour/dye transfer while dry) are typically employed by better handmade carpet makers. However it is likely impossible for a consumer or for that matter even a retailer or even often an importer to know if inferior methods have been used. As a consequence, it is often the trusted cleaner who will discover inferior workmanship in a finished handmade carpet.
After I had shipped ‘Tile’ to Weaver & Loom I resisted the urge to email or call to inquire about the cleaning. On one hand I wanted to get an idea of what was going on for this article, on the other I was a worried customer fearful something was amiss. In the end I neither emailed nor called opting instead to actually trust the cleaner whom I claimed to trust. I was confident he would make the right decisions and in the end, I’m entirely pleased with the results. This is an overlooked part of trusting qualified professionals, either you choose to trust them or you don’t.
Weaver & Loom chooses to clean carpets the way they do based on the experience of owner Ali Ghassemi whose family has been in involved in the trade and manufacture of rugs for generations. It combines modern technology as well as time honoured and tested methods. For example, the pressure washer may seem a bit harsh, yet when adjusted to the proper pressure, is no more aggressive on the pile as the paddle method of washing often seen in videos showcasing manufacturing. As noted in the image above showing the rinsing of ‘Tile’, machines exist which automatically scrub the pile free of soil. While this may be acceptable for certain classes of machine-made rugs, Ghassemi (and I) feel a bit more attention is required when cleaning a handmade rug. Simply having a technician doing the work by hand, watching what he is doing is often enough to catch problems while they are minor and easily arrested.
Each step of the process can be done a variety of ways, and experienced cleaners tend to develop techniques which work well for them and which balance cost and efficacy. While the broad steps involved in cleaning a rug may be relatively regimented, for the consumer, average, erudite, or otherwise, the details and specifics can be of little concern. However never hesitate to ask questions of your rug cleaner, but do hesitate, no, do walk away and find a different cleaner if they hesitate or refuse to answer.
My visit with Ghassemi at his Weaver & Loom showroom was to fulfil a promise I had made to hear him out on his approach to manufacturing handmade rugs and carpets in a world quickly turning toward less labour intensive means. To say I got an earful would be an understatement but it was time exceptionally well spent. While I don’t agree fully with Ghassemi, he is far more in tune with problems – and solutions – than many, and I look forward to writing about that portion of the visit in the near future. Regardless, at the conclusion of his presentation, the conversation turned to ‘Tile’ and what came of the cleaning thereof.
‘This is a very high-quality handknotted Tibetan weave rug.’ he began… . I’ll admit to feeling a bit like Quentin Tarantino’s character Jimmie in Pulp Fiction when he is complimented on his coffee. To paraphrase: ‘Of course I know it’s high-quality. Do you think I don’t know that? I bought it.’ All levity aside, it is my experience that rug cleaners – rather than dealers – are the true judge of the quality of a carpet. This is not to say dealers are disingenuous, but cleaners get down and dirty if you will with rugs and as such have a more intimate and accurate assessment of the quality of an individual piece. Thus, to be told ‘Tile’ is of superior quality was a nice reassurance, my sassy internal dialog notwithstanding. And that’s a good thing, I was having lunch with the actual manufacturer from Kathmandu, Nepal the very next day.
Ghassemi continued his assessment of the carpet specifically noting the aforementioned discoloured areas of the carpet. They did not come fully clean. In Ghassemi’s assessment the stains to the cream coloured sections – while now visibly lighter – could likely be removed but suggested the considerable expense and risk involved were not worth it. The adjacent coloured areas are dyed using both natural and synthetic dyes and his concern was stripping colour from the natural dyed areas in the process of removing the stain from the cream. In my head I wondered if I myself had caused the discolouration while cleaning – perhaps improperly – the ‘dog mess’ from the carpet. While that remains unknowable (there was also visible blood in the ‘dog mess’) it is also of little concern to me. And let me tell you why… .
Not to put to fine of a point on it and please excuse the vernacular, but shit happens – literally, idiomatically or otherwise.
Recent research and reading I’ve done re-inforce my belief in the impermanent nature of our material world. Yes, a fine or superior quality handmade rug or carpet is a thing of beauty, capital ‘A’ Art for the floor as some may profess though of this I am dubious at best. It is also a rug, meant and intended to be walked upon. Subject to wear, to life, to use and enjoyment, to the joys and challenges of pets and children (Ever notice how they are most often grouped together… ?). Sure I am disappointed there is now a discolouration on my carpet but henceforth it shall serve as a happy reminder of a specific time, place, and memory; and it shall keep the carpet in subordination to reality, including enjoying and living with the beauty of this physical world, imperfect as it may be.
Statement of Potential Conflicts:
Ali Ghassemi of Weaver & Loom provided cleaning services and documented the process at the request and solicitation of The Ruggist. Ghassemi proposed cleaning the carpet in exchange for ‘several Instagram posts’, a rate rejected by The Ruggist in lieu of this more lengthy story. Shipping costs were paid by The Ruggist.