REPAIRING Oriental rugs begins with proper cleaning, according to rug-restorer Melissa Wood. Wood recently gave a two-day rug repair workshop at the Textile Museum.
Rug repair is nothing you learn overnight. Wood still thinks of herself as an apprentice, though she repairs rugs full-time for Mark Keshishian and Sons, rug dealers. She began her studies of the craft seven years ago in Richmond with "an ancient Armenian rug dealer."
"I swear by the old artisans," said Wood. "Their techniques may be primitive but they do the job."
Cleaning a rug: "When cleaning your rug yourself, beware of dyes running," Wood said. "Also, in spot-cleaning -- particularly animal urine or wine stains -- test the area first. Take a white Turkish towel, dipped in a solution of three cups water and one cup white vinegar. Rub the stain. If any of the rug's colors come out on the towel, don't try to clean it yourself. Send it to a pro." Vinegar, according to Wood, can sometimes stop the chemical reaction between the stain and the carpet.
"Sometimes with a coarse rug you'll want to retain some of the dirt to prevent the foundation from showing through," Wood said.
When a rug is crisp or brittle, this is usually an indication that dry rot has occurred, said Wood. Cleaning the rug won't help if the rug falls apart. hSometimes the only thing to do is to leave the rug in one place. Dry rot occurs mostly in silk and cotton rugs.
Moth eggs can be vacuumed out -- but you never get all the eggs, according to Wood. "The best thing I can tell you with moths is preventive: Move the rug often, even if it's in storage. Moths don't like to be disturbed."
When buying a rug many people suggest smelling it first -- a strange odor might indicate mildew or dry rot. "If you see damage on the rug, holes that might be from moths, for instance, don't buy the rug. Even if it's valuable, you risk damaging your other carpets if you bring a moth-infested or mildewed rug into your home," said Wood.
"Be careful where you store your rug," Wood continued. "Do not store it in the basement or anywhere that tends to be humid. Any moisture will trap mildew. Try to store it in a cool and dry place. Avoid metal boxes and plastic wrappers -- they trap moisture. I store my rugs in an acid-free paper wrapping."
Check your stored rugs every three months for mildew and moths.
Wood is not an advocate of dry cleaning, although many people do have their rugs cleaned this way. "I don't believe it gets the rug really clean. A rug needs many rinses to get clean, although you have to be careful of colors running."
"If you are going to dry clean your rug, let professional cleaners handle it," advised Wood.
"And please never put your rug in a washing machine. The knots can fall out and when the wool is heated, wetted down and beaten in a wash, its molecular chemistry changes. It doesn't feel the same anymore."
Wood soaks her rugs in soap and water in the rub -- one student suggested a $10 children's collapsible swimming pool for large rugs. Any detergent will do, said Wood, as long it contains no bleach. Then, on a low-humidity day, she dries the rug on a concrete driveway or hangs it over a fence or draped on suspended poles. "Be sure you have a few friends around if you're cleaning a rug larger than 3 by 5 feet. The big ones can weigh from 300 top 400 pounds when wet and can't be lifted alone.
"Don't put flowerpots on rugs," she said. "The moisture from the pot will rot a hole through the rug, causing mildew."
Wood stresses vacumming both sides. "By just cleaning one side you're pushing the grit farther down into the rug. If left there too long, the grit will break down the rug fibers. Beating your rug is excellent, too."
Wood prefers not to use padding underneath a rug. "If you have a smooth, firm floor, I don't see any reason for a pad. Those thick, squooshy pads are the worst. They may feel nice to walk on, but if any sharp objects touch your rug -- the leg of a table, for instance -- the object will press down to the floor, making an indentation in your rug. If you do use pads, get the hair and jute pads for your larger carpets and the thin, rubber ones for the smaller rugs.
"Pads can be a help for rugs in pivotal locations, such as a runner in the hall or a doormat. I would hope, however, that you wouldn't use your good rugs in such high traffic areas," she added.
If you hang your rug on the wall, Wood suggested cleaning it with only the brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner.
Wood recommended tacking a strip of plastic window-type screen over worn spots while vacuuming to prevent further wear.
Hanging an Oriental rug: Melissa Wood's instructions for hanging rugs are the same methods used by the Smithsonian.
"An important consideration when rug hanging is not just how large your rug is," observed Wood, "but what kind of wall you want to hang it on. Can it support the carpet? If you're not sure, check with a carpenter -- particularly if you have drywall.
"Deciding how you want to see your rug is also important. If the rug is to be hung with the fringe on top and bottom, the proper direction is to have the pile running down -- it should feel smooth to the hand from top to bottom. The rug will appear darker in this direction. This is the way the rug was woven," said Wood. Hung in the opposite direction the rug will be lighter in color and may have a shine.
"Next take a strip of Velcro (available at most sewing and yarn shops), and cut it in half lengthwise. Sew the Velcro to a strip of unbleached muslin, cut slightly smaller than the length of the carpet. You can use a sewing machine. Then sew the muslin and Velcro onto the top of the rug's back side. Sew all four sides of the strip with a hemstitch to the rug's weft [horizontal] threads.
"If you have trouble passing the needle through the rug, try passing the needle through beeswax first. You might also try a pair of tiny pliers to pull the needle through.
"Then staple the other half of the Velcro strip to a strip of wood. The wood can be any thickness or weight, depending on what you're hanging. Put screw eyes into the top side of the wood strip and string with wire, as you would in preparing a painting to hang. Once the wood strip is strung to the wall, you're ready to attach your rug. The Velcro strips will attach to each other.
"If your carpet is particularly heavy you may want to use more than one strip of Velcro. I've seen as many as 10 for very large tapestries," noted Wood.
Air passes behind a rug hung this way. "Washngton is a humid city and the less contact your carpet has with humidity, the better condition it will be in," said Wood. Velcro is also easy to adjust -- just pull it off and restick.
To prevent sagging in the weft or warp (vertical) threads caused by too much tension from the Velcro strip, Wood suggested running varying strips of carpet tape on the back side of the rug to distribute the tension. Attach the top of the strips to the Velcro and hand-sew them down the length of the rug, advised Wood.
"It's very important to remember to change the direction you've hung your pieces every so often. Don't leave them hanging too long," cautioned Wood. "The threads need a rest from being hung, as well as from the light.
"Sunlight is very damaging to rugs: Close your curtains and draw your shades when you're not home to enjoy the light."
To mount a textile fragment, Wood suggested stretching a canvas on a wood frame and stapling it in place with a staple gun. Next stretch a piece of silk over the canvas and staple it down. Then with a couching (embroidery) stitch, carefully sew the fragment to the silk.
Wood prefers not to put textiles behind glass -- "It ruins the textile's beauty." If you must, Wood suggested Plexiglas instead of glass, and a non-acidic back. It should have some air circulation.