Shopping for rugs brings a minefield of jargon. Technical terms are tossed around indiscriminately and people rarely stop to think about what they actually mean. If you’ve ever come against a raft of technical terms when shopping for rugs on the High Street or online, then you might be interested in our little jargon buster which aims to clarify all things rug-related.

Commentary on the colour, texture, design and manufacture of any given rug is likely to be delivered in the vernacular of the rug trade, so we’ve focused on these areas in particular in a bid to enlighten and inform.

Tints, tones, shades and hues

You might think you’ve got colour jargon pretty much tied up, but how often do you think about what the terms tint, tone, shade and hue actually mean? Most people imagine they’re interchangeable – just nice ways of referring to the same thing – but that’s not true.

The differences are subtle but they are important when it comes to interior design. Let’s start with the word hue. This one is very simple. It just refers to the colours you find on the colour wheel – red, blue, green, yellow etc. The hue is the starting point in the science of colour.

Now this basic colour wheel can be altered in three ways. It can be tinted, which means white is added to hue to de-saturate and lighten it. We see tints as pastel colours.

Conversely, adding black to the hue creates a shade. Shades are darker and more intense than the original.

The third option is to add both black and white to the hue to create a tone – these can be darker or lighter depending on the volumes of black and white introduced. This means tones are complex and interesting, but often more versatile than hues, tints and shades for that very reason.

Pile and manufacture

You won’t be shopping long before you encounter the word pile, usually accompanied by a qualifier like deep, high, low or shallow. You can have a good guess at what this means from how each rug is then described – whether it is luxurious, soft, neat and tidy or anything else.

A word you can use almost interchangeably with pile is depth. It’s all to do with how the rug is woven and this determines whether the fibres that makes up the surface of the rug are deep enough to sink your fingers and toes into (a deep or high pile) or whether they aren’t (a low or shallow pile).

The pile is determined by the manufacturing technique used to make the rug, so you can expect flat-woven, handmade kilims to be very different in texture to, say, a machine woven rug made from synthetic materials.

Patterns and styles

It’s pretty common to search for a rug by style and to be drawn to those with a nice pattern, but it’s very important to understand that there is a difference between these two properties.

What is meant by the term style is the contextual category each rug fits into. For instance, it may be a traditional rug (because it fits into the contextual category of rugs featuring motifs consistent with the earliest examples of carpet-making in the Middle East) or it may be a modern rug (because it features colouring and patterning more consistent with modern artistic movements and techniques).

Notice that we introduced the term patterning into that definition of modern style. This is because patterning is simply the graphic design that gives the rug its final look – the way the motifs and symbols and illustrations work together; the use of lines and curves, gradients, shades and all the other pictorial elements.

Not all rugs can be pigeonholed. Many modern rugs use traditional symbols and patterns but update them and re-imagine them. This represents a kind of style fusion that often works very well and demonstrates the creative flair of designers.

Now you know what some of the more confusing terms related to rugs mean, you should be in a better position to find the perfect pieces to complement the rooms in your house.