All About Oriental Rugs

What is an oriental rug?

An oriental rug is hand woven in the Near, Middle or Far East and the pile is inserted one row at a time by tying it to the vertical warp threads. Each row of pile is separated by horizontal weft threads which are woven through the warp after each row of pile is tied. While strictly speaking, only pile rugs are defined as oriental rugs, flat weaves such as tapestries, kilims, sumacs, and needlepoints, are generally included in literature and discussions.

When did rug weaving begin?

It is not known exactly when rug weaving began. In 1949, a team of Russian archaeologist, lead by S. I. Redinko were excavating in the Altai Mountain Valley of Siberia. Here, they uncovered the tomb of a Pazyryk prince who had been buried in the Fifth Century B.C. In burrow number three they uncovered the Pazyryk carpet. It measures about six feet square and has about 225 hand tied Ghordies knots to the square inch. Historians believe, in the beginning rugs were imitation pelts and were created for the purpose of warmth, used either on the bed or wrapped directly around a person, now they are mainly used for floor covering.

Who weaves rugs?

Thousands of towns, villages and tribes weave rugs. Some of the areas where rug weaving takes place are: Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Caucasian Mountains, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan (Belouchistan), Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Tibet and China. In the past, hand knotted rugs also came from England, Greece, Spain, France and Japan.

What materials are used to make rugs?

Wool is the main material used for knotting an oriental rug. Hair, silk, and precious metals are other acceptable materials for piling. Foundation threads are typically either cotton, wool, or silk. Cotton provides a more stable foundation during construction and, therefore, is the primary fiber used. However, wool is sometimes used for foundation when cotton is not available or to create a desired texture. Kambourian Rugs recommends against carpets that contain jute, mercerized cotton, artificial silk (art. silk), or synthetic fibers.

How is an oriental rug produced?

The creation of an oriental rug begins with wool production. After the sheep is sheared, the wool is carded and spun into its desired coarseness. Next the weaver must decide on the design and colors he wants to weave. This is usually done in detail using graph paper to lay out each tuft to be tied, defining which colors are needed to properly build the design. The wool yarn is then dyed into the various colors found in the resulting carpet.

After this process the foundation must be place upon the loom. This is done by wrapping one continuous piece of string, in a figure eight fashion, around the top and bottom beam of a loom. These strings are called warp threads. The pile fiber, usually wool, is then tied in, one row at a time around every two adjacent warp threads. The technique used in inserting the pile is known as knotting, and each tuft is known as a knot. There are two types of knots used in rug weaving - the Ghordies, or Turkish knot, and the Senneh, or Persian knot. If one carefully breaks the pile open from the face, the knot can easily be seen. After each row of pile is completed, another thread is woven into the warps to tie each row of knots together horizontally. These strings are called weft threads.

Once the inserting of the tufts and weft threads is complete the carpet will need some final finishing. This finishing includes its final shear, candling, penciling, side wrapping, fringe treatment and any special washing that is desired.

Where do the names of rugs come from?

Most carpet names come from the Persian town that made the design famous. Designs originate in almost every country that weaves oriental rugs; but, with few exceptions, they are influenced by Persian carpets. While many towns weave more than one design, all the designs from that town will be called by the town’s name. For example, Isfahan, Tabriz, Heriz, Nain, Bidjar, Kerman, Sarouk, Afshar, and Kashan are some of the most famous rug weaving towns. Further, when the design is borrowed and woven in another town, the name is prefixed with the country or town of origin such as Indian Kerman or Chinese Tabriz.

How can I determine the quality of an oriental rug?

The main factors involved in determining the quality of an oriental rug are: visual appeal, fineness of weave, execution of design, and quality of wool. Visual appeal has to do with the aesthetic value, which starts with the design. Rugs woven in urban centers usually have more formal floral designs. Master artisans have designed rugs for centuries using complicated, mathematical formulas to work out the best proportions. Rugs woven in small villages and by tribal weavers are sometimes memorized and not designed on paper.

The fineness of the weave has a direct relation to the amount of labor used to produce the rug and the amount of design that can be fit into a small space. A good weaver can tie approximately 3,000 knots in a single day. The fastest weavers from Tabriz are capable of tying 5,000 knots a day. Like all characteristics when taken alone, fineness of weave is not a good measure of quality. Some less complicated designs can be executed with a relatively low knot count and still result in a good quality carpet.

Talented weavers are needed to insure that the well laid plans of designing result in a quality carpet. Each knot must be tied with consistent tension so that the medallion will end up centered and the carpet will lay flat and straight. Further, the weavers must closely follow the design laid out or the symmetry of carpet will be disturbed.

The most overlooked factor in determining the quality of an oriental rug is the quality of the wool. Wool is a staple yarn, which means that it is made of individual hairs called staples, which are twisted together to make the fiber. If one of these staples is magnified, one can see that they have sharp protrusions called scales which look like thorns on a rose bush. When these staples are twisted together, the scales catch on each other and give the yarn tremendous strength. Thus, the quality of the wool is what determines the durability of the carpet.

What factors determines the value of an oriental rug?

Attractiveness, availability, and quality are the main factors that influence the value of an oriental rug. Attractiveness is based on demand, visual appeal, condition, and provenance. Availability factors include: current market conditions, current foreign policy, age, and the sheer numbers produced. Quality is dependent on the materials used and how well the weaver executes the intended design. Any of these characteristics alone is enough to make a rug particularly valuable; however, the most valuable rugs will have many or all of them.

Rug Knots
Dyes Used In Oriental Rugs