The term carpet or rug was used originally to describe coverings for tables, beds, and other furniture, and only from the early 18th century was it associated with the floor. The history of area antique rugs and carpets is divided into two major traditions: Asian antique rugs and Western antique rugs. The older and opulent antique rugs are the Asian tradition, which includes Central Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, Indian, and Chinese artisans.
The Western tradition of antique rugs, derived from the Asian, was established much later. It had a brief period of individuality in France, but succumbed to imitation and to mechanical weaving in the 19th century. The origins of the technique of pile-woven carpets in Europe are obscure, although Asian rugs were imported from early times.
The earliest European pile rugs were produced in 12th- and 13th-century Spain, which had familiar ties with the Islamic world. All rugs were woven with a single warp knot peculiar to the Spanish. France was the most important center of pile-woven rug manufacture in 17th- and 18th-century Europe. Two major weaving centers were Savonnerie in 1627 and Aubusson in 1742. These centers were established for the production of rugs based on Eastern techniques; today the name Savonnerie is equivalent for luxurious French pile antique rugs. It was not until the second half of the 16th century and the early part of the 17th century that antique rugs were produced in England. The three main centers of production were Kidderminster, Wilton, and Axminster. These first machine-made carpets were inexpensive, coarse, reversible floor coverings woven for utility.
Tapestry is probably the oldest of the flat-surfaced patterned carpet weaves. Wefts, or horizontal threads, that do not run the full width of the fabric, characterize it. Instead, discontinuous wefts of different colors form the design patterns. Soumak, another technique for making flat-woven rugs, originated in the Middle East as early as the 7th century BC. With this method wefts are wrapped onto the warps in a lateral direction. Frequently, rows of soumak are alternated with rows of plain weave. Other flat-woven rug techniques include brocading and embroidery. In some cases, two or more techniques may be used in the production of a single rug. Ingrain carpet, popular in middle-class homes in 18th and 19th century America, was a flat, woven, reversible wool carpet. This coarse area antique rug was woven on a jacquard loom accommodating up to six colored weft threads. In many middle class homes of the 1800s at least one room had ingrain carpet.