Carpets complicated? It’s no yarn…!
Making carpets is a far more complicated operation than many think. Phil Jones reports in from a trip to the Yorkshire mills – and finds out what a ‘slub’ is!
The bringing together of fibres, tufts or yarns, which are then needle-punched into a netting (often referred to as the primary scrim) and the gluing process of attaching the primary to a secondary backing which gives the carpet stability, is easy to explain.
But we don’t always appreciate all the work that goes on prior to this nor how in-depth it actually is.
Prochem’s sales and training team joined other cleaning product manufacturers, floor care specialists, contract and carpet cleaners to find out more by visiting Yorkshire carpet makers on Woolsafe’s ‘Fleece to Floor Tour’.
An early start at the British Wool Marketing Board reveals how dirty, smelly fleeces from farms around the UK and as far away as New Zealand are sorted according to quality of feel, depth of colour and other factors.
The sorting staff employed at BWMB, have their own hierarchy. A master-sorter requires a minimum of 8 years training to be able to sort and judge the fleece. They merely rub the fleece between their fingers and then decide in a matter of seconds, which market that individual fleece of wool is suitable for – carpets, clothing, etc.
On next to where fleeces are bundled and then sold to the wool buyers at the Wool Marketing Board’s saleroom (like the Stock Exchange in many ways) where we visitors had the chance to “bid” for container-loads of wool (luckily not with our own money!)
We were then able to follow our newly–purchased container load of wool to the next location, Haworth Scouring, where fleeces are washed on an industrial scale.
This process passes the fleeces along a conveyor-belt system consistently being washed with extremely hot water that cleans the wool of all natural debris, such as soil, leaves, twigs, and infestations.
The humidity level and even more, the smell, was quite something and we were happy to get to the far end of the factory and reach the great outdoors. I have the greatest respect for the staff who work in that part of the operation!
Once clean, dry and devoid of waste particles, the wool is re-bundled and sent on to the yarn dyeing facility, on this occasion Lawton Yarns, where my investment was turned into more recognisable fibres from the original fleece.
It starts off by going through a machine that blends either pre-dyed yarn, such as heathers (mixed colour) or stock dyed (plain colour) in with the new wool. At this stage, other ingredients are added if required, such as synthetic fibres – nylon, polyester, acrylic or polypropylene, giving the wool extra strength as bulking fibres.
The carding machine next pulls the fibres to pieces, further blending the added mixture, removing any missed foreign matter, straightening the fibres and producing, out of the far end, a soft, twistless ‘slub’ (what a great word) of mixed fibres.
Spinning takes the slub and helps give the fibres further strength and cohesion. Various amounts of fibres can be added to increase performance – hence 2-ply, 3-ply all the way up to quality 5-ply. It’s like twisting or plating 3 pieces of, say, fuse wire together and finishing up with stronger piece.
The fibres are then made into “hanks” which are large loops of fibres ready for dyeing or colouring. These are immersed into baths of hot water and an acid dye is introduced and the naturally absorbent wool fibre, adopts the new colour.
Once dry, the hanks are back-wound onto huge cones or bobbins, ready for despatch to the carpet manufacturers.
Off we went, across a wet and windy Yorkshire, to GTuft, a tufted carpet manufacturer where we saw how all those processes came together to create what we know and love, a carpet.
The conveyor-belt like machine, fed those fibres from their cones, through thin plastic tubes, to a huge bank of computer controlled needles that punched them through the primary scrim.
The scrim, complete with the fibres then has an adhesive spread over its backside and the secondary backing, such a just/hessian, felt, a synthetic backing etc is added, dried and rolled out. Finally, the carpet is inspected for colour match, any sprouting tufts are trimmed and it is finally rolled onto a huge roll, ready to go to the warehouse and any carpet shop in the country.
In all this was a real education; you get to see the complete process. “Fleece to Floor” lives up to its name.
If you want to learn more about wool fibres, their benefits, how to care for them and more importantly, how to clean them correctly, don’t forget that Prochem is now holding Woolsafe Fibre Care Specialist courses.
Find out more here