One of the more common questions we receive is do the wool rugs artisans list on The Anou Cooperative's (we support the Anou Cooperative and have reposted this post with permission from them) marketplace shed? If so, how much? And lastly, is there anything that can be done to minimize shedding? Since we’ve launched the Atlas Wool Supply Co, we’ve invested an immense amount of time researching and testing various wool samples from across Morocco to find actual answers to these questions.
The first thing to know is that most natural fiber rugs will shed and all wool based rugs will shed to some extent. This is normal. Wool is a great fiber because it has a natural crimp, which the enables the wool fibers to interlock with each other and limits the rate in which individual fibers to be pulled from the yarn. The crimp and spinning technique with other natural fibers may increase or decrease the shedding of a rug, but wool is always a great option.
When it comes to a wool rug, the most important factor to consider is how the rug was made. Most cheap rugs are often mass produced using machine tufted techniques where wool is punched through a latex base. Initially these rugs may not shed but as these rugs get older (starting at about a year or so), the latex begins to crack and the shedding will increase over time until every thread of wool falls out. In incredibly rare cases a company that produces machine made rugs, like Stitch in Casablanca, will use quality tufted bases made from natural materials that will extend the life of the rug immensely and minimize shedding. Again, such companies are few and far between.
All of the rugs artisans list on Anou’s marketplace are woven by hand which ensures that wool yarns are integrated into the very structure of the rug itself and not just tufted. This substantially reduces the rate of shedding and outright eliminates shedding over time. Moreover, the wool yarn Anou artisans use is also spun by artisans from the Anou community. This ensures that each thread is inspected and the integrity of each thread is considered and spun just right to limit shedding.
What You Need To Know About Moroccan Wool
When considering a handmade Moroccan rug, there are important things to think about when it comes to shedding. The first is that you must absolutely know where the wool that was used to make the rug came from. If you’re buying from middlemen in Fez or Marrakech or from a reseller on Etsy, this is critically important because the sheep breed and the location where the sheep live all have an effect of the quality of wool in Morocco. For example, sheep in lower altitude areas (like Marrakech) have minimal crimp, have a higher likelihood of containing kemp (hairs that can’t be threaded into wool), and feature a very short fiber length. This is important because if the wool has minimal crimp and or fiber length, it will shed incessantly. And if kemp is present, the amount of shedding will push you to throw away the rug.
All rugs made and sold in the Moroccan medinas (old cities) or by middlemen on Etsy, use wool from local markets. And unfortunately, local market wool comes from one of two places. The first place is from tanneries. This is more of an issue if buying a rug in Morocco in a medina, but it is not uncommon to have rugs made with wool chemically stripped from the hides of dead sheep. Why? Because it is widely available in the cities and is often free. If you bought a rug while in Morocco and seemed fine initially, but several months later it is shedding to a point where the rug is falling apart, you probably have dead sheep wool. We get an email about this about once a month from someone who bought a rug on their vacation and it’s so sad to break the news to them.
The second place, which fortunately deals with live animals, are sheep from the plains of Marrakech, known as Sardi sheep. Sardi sheep have high proportions of kemp, super short fibre length and don’t take dyes very well. Often times Sardi wool quality is so poor that it can’t be mechanically spun so mills in Marrakech/Casablanca will mix in cotton, synthetics and actual plastics to make the wool thread functional. Because of all the these impurities and improper cleaning (and dye chemicals used in local dye markets), local wool is more likely to attract moths and larvae.
The reason why this wool is so frequently used in Morocco is because it’s cheap, accessible and is the only wool that exists on the market. When the only incentive is price (and not even paying artisans an actual wage) there is no incentive to change anything. It’s so prevalent that even middlemen like Illuminate unknowingly advertise it as the best quality wool they source. Most middlemen in Morocco and resellers on Etsy can’t verify where their materials actually come from.
Wool Types: Middle and High Atlas Wools
Fortunately, there are sheep in Morocco that produce high quality wool that is equal or exceeds the quality of internationally known gold standard of New Zealand wool. These sheep live throughout the Atlas Mountains in higher altitude areas. Prior to starting Atlas Wool Supply Co, many of groups within the Anou community used their own flock of sheep, but this didn’t guarantee quality and we began to notice infrequent inconsistencies with rugs that they produced and we started these removing them from the site years ago. This is because it is becoming more common that villagers in the mountains will keep a Sardi sheep or two in their personal flock and just mix in Sardi wool into their materials. Most cooperatives that work with middlemen simply buy market wool spun with poor quality Sardi wool and explains why you can find dirt cheap rugs on Etsy, Ebay and in Marrakech. This is why we’ve had to build out the entire supply chain ourselves as it’s the only way to ensure the best quality wool for rugs that the Anou community produces.
Currently, we’ve tested and built two supply chains of wool from the High Atlas and the Middle Atlas, and you’ll see these listed on Atlas Wool Supply Co. High Atlas wool generally comes from sheep in higher altitudes, which creates a longer fiber length to the wool, and decreases the amount and duration of shedding. Further, cooperatives in the High Atlas Mountains traditionally use 2 ply, or double spun wool for their rugs. Pile knot rugs (or Beni Ourain rugs) with double spun High Atlas wools actually yield minimal to minor shedding that clears up after around a month after purchase. Moreover, these types of rugs tend to hold form and their look does not change over decades and can tolerate heavy foot traffic.
Groups that make 2 ply yarn rugs with High Atlas Wool are:
The alternative is Middle Atlas wool. With Middle Atlas wool, the fibre length is slightly shorter than High Atlas wool. Further, weavers in the Middle Atlas tend to use 1 ply, single threaded wool. With these two factors combined, rugs from the Middle Atlas tend to shed a little more than rugs produced with High Atlas wools. Why then continue using Middle Atlas wool and not encourage groups to always use 2 ply High Atlas wool? First, because it is traditional and artisan leaders from this area felt that this was worth preserving. Second, and more important to customers, is that single threaded, Middle Atlas wools tend to age into those classic vintage, shaggy rugs over time. The moderate shedding is a part of that process and can take at least 3 months for shedding to clear. This look is very important to a lot of supporters of our community as well and is why we’ve prioritized such wool.
Groups that weave 1 ply yarn rugs with Middle Atlas Wool are:
We understand the importance of having a rug with minimal shipping immediately after a rug arrives. As such we’ve begun importing rug rakes and have made them available for artisans within the Anou community to purchase. We encourage artisan groups to use the rug rake to remove any excess wool and accelerate the shedding process before we send it out. If a group does not do so, the artisan team will rake the rug at our HQ as part of our quality control process so the rug arrives with minimal shedding. This won’t prevent shedding out right, but will make having a Moroccan wool rug a great experience from day one.
After your rug arrives, there are more things you can do. First, is to ensure that you clean it often as we described on a previous post about how to clean your rug. Cleaned rugs mean less damage to the wool fibers and in turn results in less shedding. Second, we’d recommend purchasing a rug pad. This will help reduce any damage to the fiber so broken fibers don’t fall out over the course of the rugs life. This is in addition to how a rug pad makes a rug feel even more soft. Lastly, we recommend getting a rug rake of your own and brush the rug once a week until the shedding stops. Even after the rug stops shedding, an occasional comb over with a rug rake can keep the rug plush and prevent it from matting.
Picking the right rug with authentic materials from your preferred region, combined with these proper cleaning as described above, will minimize unwanted shedding and ensure that your rug outlives your great great grandchildren.
This is admittedly a lot of information so if it feels a bit overwhelming just give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you make a great decision based on your needs. We’ll look forward to hearing from you!