What Can Be Done with Old Carpets

This is the second article in November of the School for Housewives 1906 series published on November 11, 1906, and is a discussion on how to bring new life into old carpets.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of Boston Sunday Post.

What Can Be Done with Old Carpets

WHEN in tolerable preservation and passable in appearance, carpets are a discouraging feature in the autumnal domestic upheaval. They have gathered dust during the absence of the family—no matter how carefully the sun has been excluded by closed shutters and lowered shades, the colors have suffered from heated light, producing a general effect of dinginess peculiarly dispiriting to the frugal housewife.

For, as none of us needs to be told, floors and windows are the most serious items in computing the probable cost of housefurnishing. Your notable manager will tell you that, when hangings are up and carpets (or rugs) are down, the rooms are “more than half furnished.” What follows is mere child’s play by comparison. Tables, beds, chairs, sofas, and sideboards are optional with the mistress. It there are few, ingenuity to brought into exercise to place them to the best advantage, and no conventional decree in this our day obliges us to buy parlor and chamber, or even dining-room “sets.” Carpets and curtains are obligatory and immutable. Nor is it worth our while to pretend to ourselves that the wholesome fashion of hardwood or painted floors emancipates us from the bondage of expensive floor coverings.

We need not buy carpeting by the hundred yards, but we do not sit and stand on naked boards. The rich mask parquet and mosaic with costly rugs; the day laborer’s wife spreads rag carpeting in her kitchen, and scrimps her family bill-of-fare all winter to get what she shows as “a genuwine Brussel” (singular number, accent on last syllable) for the parlor. We must have carpets. As axiomatic is the assertion that carpets will wear out, and the cheaper they are the sooner they give way. Furthermore, a worn or ragged carpet imparts a poverty-stricken look to a room and house. No smartness of furniture can banish or conceal the squalor of a dingy floor covering.

A Dismaying Survey.

Appreciating the fell truth, our housewife of narrow means surveys with dismay the threadbare breadths in the middle of the dining room, defining where restless feet have stirred or beaten the pattern to death; the lines of gray blank spaces, stretching from doors to hearth in the family parlor; the holes worn in the 75-cents-a-yard ingrain, promoted only last year from “mother’s room” to the nursery. The hand-made rag carpet in the kitchen, a present from John’s mother, three Christmases back, was turned last winter—but, bless your soul! you can’t expect anything but wear and tear in a house where there are three boys, all under fifteen. The home-made carpet holds its own, so far as that own is represented, by warp and wool. But it is dirty—vulgarly and unequivocally dirty!

Our housemother is not easily approached while she ponders these things in her heart, and couples them with a gloomy talk she held with John last night upon the increased cost of living and the upward tendency of everything except wages. She is sore of heart—poor woman—and, although she may never have heard the word, a pessimist of a pronounced type.

Nevertheless, it is she, and at this season, with whom I would hold converse today.

You may not be able to make money. You and every other woman—even a busy editor—can make time to do what must be done. And, since your carpets are pastworthy, it follows that they must be renovated.

Begin we with the dining room. It not escaped your housewifely eye that the breadths next the walls are comparatively unworn.

“Of course!” you interrupt, sarcastically; “just where they are least seen!”

Take that as your starting point. Have the carpet beaten free of dust; take it to the least frequented room in your house; rip the seams and shift the breadths. Put the breadths together again, piecing ingeniously, so as to bring the best bits into the light and thrusting disreputable portions into dark corners, or where they be shaded by the heavier articles of furniture. A window bench may cover an atrocious two-yard strip. A sideboard is a friend in need, and hearthrug a boon. You will find real pleasure in the task when you discover to yourself a talent or matching figures and discerning possible fits.

When the carpet is a harmonious whole and on the floor, imitate the example of a happy-go-lucky housewife whom I have quoted here before—and more than once—who set the table “so as to humor the spots” on the cloth. Dispose your furniture charitably, with an eye to the weak points in your handiwork.

The parlor carpet, if good at heart, may be manipulated successfully in like manner. The task is easier, since the widest license prevails in the disposition of rugs in a drawing room. One expects to see a tag under the piano, where the feet of the performer must rest. A smaller, cast carelessly down diagonally, here and there, excites no suspicion of the bare space beneath. You may not have an open fireplace, but the sham chimney and mantel demand the corresponding sham of a hearthrug—the bigger, the better.

Now for the nursery ingrain, too good to be thrown aside, even if you could afford to do it, yet unpresentable in its present dishevelment. Take it up and bundle it up—never mind about shaking it—and send to one of a dozen factories, where it will be cleaned, torn into shreds, woven into rugs of the size designated in your letter of instructions and returned to you in such guise as reminds you of the spring resurrection of leaf, bud and flower from the unsightly root burled in soil. Meanwhile, have the nursery floor painted—or stained and oiled—letting the children sleep elsewhere for three nights to allow paint or stain to dry so thoroughly that the smart new rugs will not suffer from contact with it.

For smart they will be, and new to all intents and purposes, with a world of honest wear in them.

I have omitted in the inventory of pastworthy floor covering the grievous disappointment of the “filling” you laid down in own bedroom four winters agone, in the fond hope that it would be as serviceable as it was cheap. You bought it for 15 cents a yard off at an auction—a bankrupt sale. It was soft green in color—“Nile green,” said the auctioneer—and rested the eyes with its modest uniformity of hue. You mentioned to John, one unseasonably warm spring day, that it reminded you of mosses and young grasses.

It began to fade by the first of April, and has been at the evil work ever since. It has faded in spots—“greenery yallow” and “yallowy green,” saffron and sage color—each vying in hideousness with its neighbor. A more depressing, hopeless carpet it would be hard to imagine, and impossible to manufacture.

Banishing a Nightmare.

Why not rid your eyes and spirits of the nightmare by dyeing it? I am assured by six incorruptible witnesses that this is practicable.

Make up your mind what scheme of color you will adopt, and purchase patent dyes with this end in view. Mix with boiling water in as saucepans as have colors or shades, and keep them hot while you work. Use a broad painter’s brush—four inches in width is not too large—and apply with long, straight sweeps. Paint toward you, as you kneel on the carpet, receding as the painted area broadens. If you paint in strips, or patterns, let each dry before you begin another, that the colors will not run into each other. If you would have a border running around the main carpet cut out a conventional design in stiff pasteboard, tack or pin it to the carpet, and apply dye within the openwork of the design, shifting as you go. This is known, by fresco painters as “stenciling.”

Do not step upon the dyed carpet until it is perfectly dry.

Our descending scale has brought us to the home-made and vulgarly dirty kitchen carpet. Were it mine, I should wash it on the floor. Choose a fine, windy day, when John and the boys are safely off to work and to school, for the operation. Shave a bar of old white soap into a pail or hot water; churn it to suds and stir it in a cup of gosolene. (Have no fire in the room.)

In another pail, close at hand, have plenty of clean hot water for rinsing. You should be provided with a new, strong scrubbing brush and abundance of clean, soft cloths. When everything is in order, scrub that carpet as you would a floor, but with less slopping. Wash a space the width of a breadth and a foot wide, rinse quickly and wipe as dry as you can get it before taking the brush in hand for another scrub. Proceed in this way until you have been over the whole carpet. Rub the badly soiled parts hard, applying suds several times before rinsing.

The floor will be dry in an astonishing short time, if you have not been too lavish with the water.

Leave windows and doors open, and let the air and sunshine do the rest.

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