Monday, April 13, 2009

Santa Fe Rug & Textile Society

Santa Fe dealer John Hill teaches the finer points of Bolivian accessorizing

Still in its first year, meetings follow a basic show-and-tell format, and double as a rug & textile identification clinic. Chuck Paterson and Kate Whealen host the event the second Saturday of every month at their home in Santa Fe; call for info 505 984 9887. Our hope is to grow to support guest speakers, field trips, museum and private collection tours, and perhaps curated exhibits. Whether you're an experienced collector, academic, or just an enthusiast, please come, bring items of interest and hear what experts and onlookers have to say. Thanks to Kate and Chuck for opening their home to us and sharing their expertise.

A Turkmen(?) embroidered collar(?) gets some attention

Peter's natural un-dyed Guatemalan blanket

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lanolin in rugs?

Many people become enchanted with the idea that lanolin enriches the wool in their rugs, that washing a rug removes its lanolin, and that lanolin can be put back into the wool.

Do wool rugs contain lanolin? Is lanolin a reason not to clean a rug? Does it make sense to add lanolin to a rug after washing? The answer to all three is “no”.

Lanolin is among a group of naturally excreted oils & waxes that occur in a sheep’s fleece. Finer-diameter wool fiber fleeces contain more lanolin per pound than coarse fibers, but there is not necessarily a correlation between lanolin content and quality of wool, especially for rug production. Washing/scouring of the wool removes 99.7% of the lanolin, and while it is possible to work with wool with varying amounts of lanolin still in it, any dying of the fibers requires very clean wool. Sometimes wool is spun “in the grease”, unwashed (which may have occured in the Navajo “pound blanket” period) but again this precludes both carding and dying. If there is residual lanolin in wool, it breaks down very quickly on its own and is basically gone within 10 years.

So what accounts for the extra shine, luster, and soil-resistance found in some rugs? Why do over-washed rugs seem dry and brittle, while well-cared-for rugs from Tibet, historic Kurdistan, Turkmenistan and other areas seem rich and supple? This has everything to do with the structure of the fiber itself, and nothing to do with the presence of oils on the fibers. Some wool from nomadic sources has a Mohair-like sheen due to the structure of the outer scales on the wool fiber. On some older rugs, the outer scales have been worn or ‘polished’ off, revealing an even shinier inner core fiber. And many new production rugs are chemically washed to remove the outer scaly layer of the fiber, revealing the inner core, which is much glossier and smooth. Further over-use and over-washing will eventually damage this inner core fiber, which gives the wool a “dry” feel.

Adding waxy, greasy lanolin to a rug, usually via aerosol, looks fantastic for a short period of time. It will quickly break down however, and in the meantime will attract soil and dust. Well cleaned wool will look and perform just fine without the lanolin that was removed from its fibers before it was even woven.