Nowadays, bath mats are considered an essential part of any bathroom. They’re kind of like towels – everyone needs them, everyone has them.
But it hasn’t always been the case.
Humanity had to evolve for a long time to grow to appreciate both the functional as well as utilitarian value of a bath mat.
Interestingly, the invention of a bath mat as we know it today is not attributed to any particular era or person. The most likely hypothesis is that they simply derived from their older siblings – floor mats and rugs.
It was a natural evolution, apparently.
At first, we didn’t even recognise a distinction between a rug and a mat. And it’s not particularly surprising, given that the first known account of some sort of a floor covering goes all the way back to the Palaeolithic period. That’s 25,000 years ago.
Of course, it wasn’t exactly fancy at the time; they were probably just some pieces of felt-like material scattered on the floor.
Over time, we’d learned and grown, finding new techniques and methods. That’s how woven mats and rugs came about, with various types of grass being the go-to material.
These kinds of rugs or floor mats were actually found in Ancient Mesopotamian settlements, as it turned out during excavation works conducted in that area.
Unfortunately, not many of these were preserved since the materials were mostly organic back then – and not particularly durable.
When something requires skill, often a component of artistic value is quick to follow.
This is probably how (and why) the designs and patterns started to get a bit more elaborate. And it’s a trend visible in many different cultures across the world.
One of the best-known and distinctive inventions of that particular culture is the tatami mat.
It’s actually hard (or impossible) to tell who invented them, with so many different influences. Whether they drew inspiration from Korea or China – it doesn’t matter. They’ve made it their own.
Initially, this mat was nothing like the natural bath mat we know today. Those were luxury items meant for the noble, mostly for sleeping and sitting. The word tatami most likely derives from the verb “to pile” or “to fold”.
Known for their artisanal craftsmanship and attention to detail, the Japanese used an intricate technique to weave these floor mats, combining the core of soft rush grass and a wrap of hemp or cotton.
Time passed, and tatami mats quickly became a staple in households in Japan – in many different forms, with some rooms covered in them from A to Z. At one point, they were even used as bedrolls.
Of course, the basic function was not enough anymore – new techniques and more ornamental takes kept on emerging. Eventually, the craftsmen started introducing bamboo pieces, making them sturdier and more durable.
A tatami mat is a perfect example of how the world of utilitarian household items gets intertwined and repurposed to the point where it’s impossible to tell when one object became something else. This evolution is most likely what happened with bath mats as well.
All Around the World
Most cultures had their own version of a mat. No wonder. They’re very useful – no doubt about that.
In these early stages, whether we call it a rug, a carpet or a mat… It doesn’t really matter – we’re talking about the same thing.
China, Mongolia, India, Egypt… All of these cultures have left a mark and had their own unique take on a mat, with their own techniques and methods, adjusted to the specific needs of their climate, environment – and available materials.
Carpets, for example, are believed to have originated in the Middle East, but the exact location remains unknown. Back then, they were made with whatever was available.
It was all about functionality and purpose. Grass, reeds, and sometimes animal skin. Anything to keep the cold away. Hand-knitted flat rugs are most likely the invention of travelling tribes.
The oldest known example is the Pazyryk carpet (also known as pile carpet) from 500 BC, discovered in 1949 in the Altai Mountains of Kazakhstan. It’s actually a real work of art with intricate ribbon patterns and ornamental finish – a true testament to the skill and advanced technology of…
Well, that remains a mystery to this day. Talented craftsmen, that’s for sure.
Fun fact – it was completely frozen when they found it, but still all the colours were very sharp and the scene depicted on the rug was also well-preserved.
Modern-Day Era... Kind of
We’re not quite in the 2000s yet; we have to make a quick stop first in 18th-century England. That’s when something resembling a modern-day floor mat was actually invented.
They were made through the complex process of rug hooking with the use of discarded yarn pieces.
Rug hooking had such a big influence that even contemporary woven mats and rugs still look like they were made with this very method.
It doesn’t mean England was new to weaving and rug making – even back then. In fact, in the 16th century, a small group of Persian weavers first came to its shores and that’s how the whole industry started. Not too long after that, England became a European centre of rug making.
Invention of Many Faces
The 20th century marked another invention – synthetic materials. They were much cheaper, and quickly gained a lot of attention and popularity.
With wool slowly out of the picture, these once luxury items available to a chosen few, have suddenly become quite common and over time – essential in every household.
But history has come full circle. With new methods and cutting-edge technologies, natural materials are once again taking reign and their rightful place. The production is no longer as expensive, and plenty of manufacturers are trying to improve the process and make it more sustainable.
This is where we are today – all the knowledge we’ve gathered throughout the ages gave us the chance to make this simple invention even better.
The combination of weaving patterns, materials and functionality, as well as the needs of the moment change the form and purpose of mats, rugs and carpets.
Finally, bathrooms got their own version as well – a bath mat. A small piece of absorbent cloth to keep our feet dry and prevent accidents. At first, we used thick cloths like cotton terry or microfibre.
It may seem like this simple design could not be improved any further, but here it is – a stone bath mat.
It dries on its own in 60 seconds and requires little to no maintenance. It’s light, stylish, durable and there's no need to waste water and energy by putting it in for a machine wash. Checks all the boxes.