French Cap carpet is a method of laying a carpet on stairs that involves cutting the carpet for each step individually and folding the carpet over the end of the stair to create a ridge or ledge. This is in contrast to the more modern "waterfall" technique of simply cutting a length of carpet that will cover all the stairs and rolling it out down the staircase, tacking it in place as you go.
The French Cap technique is used by many professional carpet installers because it allows greater control over the layout of the carpet and gives the staircase a more traditional appearance. The edges of the carpet pieces are bound individually and the carpet is tacked in place on the stair, with the ends folded over to create a ridge at the edge of the stair.
French Cap carpets can be replaced in sections as and when required. This allows those sections of carpet that are wearing thin to be replaced without the need to replace the entire carpet in one go; which makes carpeting much less expensive. Many professionals also believe French Cap carpets look more "finished" than waterfall method installations.
For carpets with large, obvious patterns, the French Cap carpet-laying method produces better results. This is because the ability to lay each piece of carpet on each step individually allows for greater control over where the threads lie and therefore how the pattern falls on the stairs. You can therefore more effectively lay out the carpet using French Cap to display your patterns than using the waterfall or single-piece layout method.
The French Cap method is one of several names for this technique of installing a carpet. Other common names are cap and band, Hollywood style and New York stairs. As with many colloquial terms, the exact name used for this technique depends on both the area you are in and the terms used by the person who trained the carpet installer you are speaking to.