Flat weave rugs are very lightweight, thin, portable rugs; they are a variation of fabric weaving, but at a heavier weight. Long strands of fiber, the warp, are attached to a loom or wooden frame, and then shorter weft fibers are woven through the warp to create a pattern. Thus, flat weaves are made without using knots, unlike the finest Middle Eastern or Tibetan rugs.
This type of rug has been made by virtually all civilizations, including the ancient Egyptians and Native American tribes. Distinctive designs are passed down from generation to generation, allowing us to identify these rugs by their particular patterns. Sometimes there are variations in the way in which the warp and weft are spaced, leading to different surface appearances of the rugs. If the warp and weft are evenly spaced, then the warp is visible on the face of the finished rug; if the warp is more widely spaced, then the weft yarns predominate on the rug face.
Flat weaves can be made out of cotton, wool, or synthetic fibers. Wool flat weaves tend to be extremely durable, as the yarn is tightly packed across the rug’s surface, and the wool itself is a strong, durable fiber; however, wool flat weaves must be professionally cleaned; they cannot be put into a washer. Cotton flat weaves are extremely practical, as they can be put into a washer, but not a dryer; however, cotton flat weaves are not as durable as the wool ones. Synthetic flat weaves may be easier to clean, but these are the least durable, and least valuable, rugs of all.
Flat weave rugs are popular because they have a variety of uses, and they tend to be much more reasonable than hand-knotted or hand-tufted rugs. Flat weaves are ideal for layering on top of another rug because they are so thin and flat. If you are going to use a flat weave in this way, be sure to use a double-stick pad (one that is tacky on both sides) so that the flat weave will stay in place.
Flat weaves are also useful in creating a mood or setting off a small area of a room with color. This Frank Lloyd Wright “Pettit” flat weave creates a little nook in the daybed area of this room. The squares of the rug coordinate beautifully with the small squares in the coverlet, and the blue introduces a new tone for the homeowner to use in the draperies or artwork.
Frank Lloyd Wright Collection “Pettit” Flat Weave Rug
You can use a flat weave to introduce a color scheme, or to help tie together an existing color scheme. In the photo of the nursery, the flat weave ties in with the color of the walls, and the Cherokee Red, a color that was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite, adds a bit of liveliness to the room. Cotton flat weaves are ideal for children’s rooms, as the low, flat rugs do not collect dust, and the cotton permits the rug to be put into the washer, making for easy maintenance.
Frank Lloyd Wright “Community” Flat Weave Rug
The flat weave rug can be the anchor that establishes the color story and the tone of a room. In this room, the Gee’s Bend Quilt Collection custom flat weave establishes the mood and tone of the room. In this casual living room, the “Housetop” patterned rug establishes the atmosphere, lending punch and life to the space. The red pillows and the red Mao print help to carry the color story throughout the space. Best of all, since this is a cotton flat weave, rather than a precious rug, everyone can feel relaxed and at ease in the room. There are no worries about having an expensive rug on the floor!
Gee’s Bend Quilt Collection Custom Flat Weave Rug
Flat weaves can also have a folkloric value; they tell a story about the people who created them. Our Gee’s Bend Quilt Collection flat weaves are a translation of the original quilts made by Black women in the small community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. You can learn about these amazing artists at https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/gees-bend-quiltmakers . These women gained fame when their quilts were shown at the Whitney Museum in New York City https://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/29/arts/art-review-jazzy-geometry-cool-quilters.html. The quilts were hailed as modern art masterpieces, and soon they were exhibited in major museums across the United States; they have even appeared on U.S. postage stamps! https://about.usps.com/postal-bulletin/2006/html/pb22186/pb9e-s_004.html At the museum shows, visitors who might not have been able to purchase a Gee’s Bend Quilt for tens of thousands of dollars could take home an authorized souvenir, one that pays royalties to the original artists.
Loretta Pettway’s “Bars & Blocks” Flat Weave Rug, Based on the Original Quilt
In 2018, I designed two rugs for the Metropolitan Museum’s Seljuk Turk exhibit: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Court_and_Cosmos . One was a wool flat weave that we called the “Mina’i Good Wishes” rug. This was the first time that the Met Museum had commissioned an artist to use artifacts from their collection to produce limited-edition rugs. The flat weave that I created was based on a piece of pottery from the 10th Century.
The Pottery Bowl
The Mina’i Rugs Being Finished by Weavers in India
For “Szalon,” an Austro-Hungarian antiques store in Beverly Hills, I referenced two designs from the Bahaus era, using them to create alpaca flat weave rugs.
“Intermezzo” Alpaca Flat Weave Rug
This graphic “Intermezzo” rug established a sophisticated background for a pair of important Art Deco arm chairs. The flat weave method of making rugs is highly adaptable to all sorts of designs. The look can be modern or folk art or tribal. Because of the gentle curves on the edges of the design elements, the “Landhaus Primivesi” rug has a softer, less graphic effect. Here, it serves as a beautiful foil for a table and chairs. This is an effect that works better in a showroom than in a home. Since flat weave rugs are so light and thin, they move more readily than tufted or knotted rugs, so I don’t advise using them under dining tables or in any area where there will be the constant movement of furniture across the surface of the rug.
“Landhaus Primavesi” Flat Weave Rug in Alpaca
You can use flat weave rugs as inexpensive, colorful artwork in your own home.
Frank Lloyd Wright Collection “Coonley Blocks” Flat Weave Rug
In this photo, the homeowner has mounted a Frank Lloyd Wright flat weave onto the wall of a dining area, creating a bit of color that doesn’t compete with the lovely tree-filled setting. The easiest way to mount a flat weave rug is to use heavy-duty Velcro tape on the back of the rug. For a more decorative look, you can also mount a small, brass rod with attached hooks, and then clip the flat weave to the hooks.
So whether you want a tribal look, or mid-century modern, or geometric, think of a flat weave rug to add color and charm inexpensively to your home!