Important Considerations When Looking for Persian and Oriental Rugs – Part One

This post is the first part of a two-part article, which explains what to consider and look for when buying a Persian or Oriental Rug – and how to care for and use a rug optimally. You’ll find a link to the second part of the article at the end of this post.

A very fine Persian Isfahan rug showing the classic central medallion, corner spandrels and three borders- one main and two guard.

What do you consider when buying a house, car, sound system or garden furniture? The considerations are mainly practicality and the best performance for your budget, how long the purchase is meant to last you, but also, they are a reflection of how you see yourself and the image you like to project. Of course, a rug has to speak to you as well as complement the other room furnishings.

There are 1,000’s of permutations of rugs covering design, materials, colours, quality of weave and colours, so whilst it is a daunting prospect to navigate through the market, it also means that you can find your perfect rug. However, it does take a bit of an effort on your part to do some research online – there are specialist rug books available, but they are written more for the collector and purist and from these alone, it is difficult to gain a full picture.

Find a Trusted Dealer

The best way of moving forward is to find a rug dealer who you can trust – harder than it sounds – and always try to ask friends or family for a recommended retailer. Give him or her a clear idea of the age and style of your home, the maximum and minimum sizes, the type of use the rug will have; busy family room, formal sitting room, snug, dining room, playroom or bedroom – and give them images, colour swatches, and fabric samples. Lastly, it is useful to avoid wasting time, to offer a ballpark budget but never give your actual top end amount, as unfortunately you may be taken up to that amount for a lesser quality rug so as to maximise the sale.

A superb new Persian Sultanabad village rug. The extra wide border makes it ideal for a dining room to frame the table properly.

 

Budget

The most common rug requirement is for a normal family living room, with the options in size being of most importance. Always try to spend a bit more than you envisaged – it enlarges the options available and pays dividends in the long run -and remember that the better the rug the longer it will look good. They are one of the most practical and sustainable products and are both restorable and cleanable. The rug is usually the last item to be placed in a room – rug retailers inwardly groan when they hear you have overspent so the budget is tight. Actually, the best way to furnish a room, if you have the luxury of starting with a blank canvas, is to source a rug that you love, rather than leaving it until later when the rug must fit into the paint and fabric colours as well as the fabric motifs. This mostly leads to a rug that simply suits the room rather than an art form that you love and cherish.

Remember!  You can bring unlimited fabrics and paint charts to place by a rug, but the opposite is impossible.

Try not to make the mistake of going for the cheapest rug that ‘will do’. Chances are that it will not reflect the quality of your other furnishings and this will disappoint or annoy you over time. Cheaper rugs do not clean well and seem to look grubbier more quickly and, of course, they are never as durable. However, if you like to change your room often and do not mind replacing your rug after 5 to 10 years, then cheaper is more sensible.

Remember! Do your research thoroughly online to find what is on the market and make a note of the guide prices. This is highly important but unfortunately, you cannot ascertain the quality of the rugs you see images of, and almost all rug provenances have multiple grades. The Persian Meshed from one retailer may be half the quality of weave and materials as another that has exactly the same design, size, and colours as from another. You might even be looking at a machine-made copy compared with the genuine article. Find a retailer you feel you trust and pin them down on the questions outlined in this article. If he or she is genuine they will guarantee to find you the very best rug within your budget and show you multiple options across the price points.

 To the layperson, rugs can seem expensive but a large hand-knotted Persian or Oriental rug may have taken from 6 to 12 months to weave and has passed from the weaver to the middleman to the wholesaler to the retailer. At each level, a profit margin has been added which still makes the final price remarkably cheap for a handmade artisan practical art-form. Rug weaving is generally a sustainable industry and provides an income for millions of farmers, spinners, washing plants, weavers, dyers, merchants, and transport companies across Central Asia and the Far East. Buying a rug is often a better way of helping other less fortunate countries than donating to a charity! If you have concerns over the treatment of the weavers, then look for a Fair Trade label- the Good Weave organisation is a reliable one, but unfortunately, there are a million looms across the weaving countries and only a small percentage are under constant checking routines.

Remember! Prices offered online are generally cheaper than from your local rug retailer or department store. However, you cannot feel the rug or try it at home first and you are paying for the expertise and furnishing advice, as well as the physical premises which are convenient for you to browse at. PLEASE DO NOT USE YOUR LOCAL RETAILER TO GAIN KNOWLEDGE AND TO TRY RUGS BEFORE BUYING A SIMILAR RUG THROUGH AN E-COMMERCE CHANNEL. It’s really bad karma and very cynical – and will result in us losing the specialty shops from our High Streets.

Usage

Rugs are made for every requirement- from ultra-fine silk examples down to flimsy dhurries and kilims. Your room may have to accommodate a family with small children and pets and be used all day long, or it may be a ‘grown up’ room that is more formal and used on high days and holidays. Get advice from a specialist dealer or interior designer as to the type of rug that will suit you. A genuine hand-knotted Persian or Oriental rug should ideally have a 100% wool pile and this will be either hand or machine-spun yarn. The former is generally used in Village and Tribal rugs, which generally have a lower knot count (knots per square inch or square metre) than the finer, more formal and intricate City/Workshop rugs. However, fineness of weave is not necessarily an indication of quality, as many rugs, especially those woven in Turkey, India, Pakistan, Romania, Egypt and China have over processed dry wool which is brittle and shears easily under footfall.

Remember! Do not buy simply on the number of knots per square inch or metre. The quality and durability of a rug is mostly gained from the wool type and the dyes. Most fine Persian rugs have excellent wool also, but this does not apply to fine reproductions from other weaving countries. A fine wool piled Persian rug, such as Isfahan, Qom, Tabriz, Nain or Kashan will have both excellent wool, dyes and weaving, which is why they are sold at a premium.  Village rugs, which often have a heavy construction, longer pile and lustrous colours are generally the best rugs for a highly trafficked room as they are a middle price point whilst giving wonderful designs, colours and durability.

The best wool should have a natural lustre and be soft to the touch- the wool used in many Iranian (Persian) rugs is first rate and is taken from flocks that carry a mixed fleece of satiny, but weather resistant wool, which makes for a comfortable, hard wearing rug. The pure Merino wool used elsewhere is perfect for clothes but is generally too weak to be durable for the floor. Some finer Persian rugs have cotton or silk highlights which make the designs ‘pop’ but these additions, whilst highly attractive, make the cleaning process more complicated.  If the rug needs cleaning more often – 3 rather than every 5 years – then this should be a consideration.

 Remember! Wine, tea, coffee, children’s’ drinks and pet stains are often well-hidden within a highly decorated rug with rich reds and blues. The current trend for washed out colours and minimal design does not work well from a practical point of view.

If your taste and room dictate a pale, washed out rug then keep a specialist stain remover close by, as the quicker you nullify the effects of accidents the more chance you have of completely remedying the situation. Keep your specialist rug cleaner’s number for more serious, larger stains and have it promptly seen to. Watch out for the aftermaths of parties when you discover the morning after that a glass of red wine has been kicked over and the stain is under your sofa.

A first-rate Moroccan Berber wool rug which is extremely comfortable and contemporary, but difficult to keep clean in a busy room.

Most rugs have a markedly different colour and sheen when you look ‘down’ the pile i.e. when the pile is lying in the smooth to the touch direction. An animal’s fur lies in one direction so it like stroking your pet- the fur is smooth when you stroke away from the head. From this end, the light is reflected from the tips of the pile material and there are few dark gaps that don’t bounce back light. From the ‘up’ direction, which is where the rug was started, you will see darker colours and less sheen. It is rarely done, as the rug is chosen to suit the room from one direction, but if you can, turn the rug by 180 degrees every year. This will help avoid foot traffic wear along the usual routes in and out of the room, as well as balance out the fading from the sun.

Remember! Turn your rug every year to help keep the wear and dye intensity as even as possible. The part of the rug under furniture will be given an airing, be cleaned more often and, if you have any moth or carpet beetles, will bring them into the light, which they do not like.

Silk rugs are beautiful creations, which change 360 times as you walk around them, but are not recommended for busy rooms. They attract household dirt, external oils and tar from shoes plus the colours can quickly be dulled. The pile of a silk rug will be crushed by heavy footfall so use in a quiet area of the home, such as a bedroom, study or window area. The best way to use a silk rug as an art form is to hang it on the wall and softly lit with a flood light.

A glorious ultra-fine Persian silk Qom rug, hand-knotted in Iran.

Remember! The best rugs for all-round practicality and look have a 100% wool pile and are hand-knotted. Hand-tufted rugs and those with man-made fibres, such as viscose, are generally cheaper but the difference in appearance will soon become apparent.

 A lighter, thinner rug should have a suitable underlay to help prevent movement and rucking as well give a deeper, more comfortable feel underfoot. This should be a high-grade non-slip ‘candy floss’ type like ‘Foxi’ (other cheaper options are available). Alternatively, use a regular rubber or thin mesh pad to give more comfort on hard floors. An underlay will protect the knots from being crushed by footfall and allow dirt to fall through the rug, which reduces the sandpaper friction effect of dirt granules at the base of the knot, which leads to increased wear.

Remember! Always use an underlay underneath lighter, finer rugs with a short pile but if you want a heavy, sturdy rug that will not move – much! – then try Persian Gabbeh, Heriz, Bijar or Tabriz. An underlay is not generally needed in these cases. There are some very heavy Indian copies of Persian rugs and many Chinese reproductions have a longer pile combined with a good regular stiff weave also. 

A classic Persian Tribal Qashqai rug made entirely from wool with a funky checkerboard border. Beautiful, soft rugs but not suitable for very busy footfall.

Durability

Persian and Oriental rugs have gained a reputation for being remarkably practical, long-lasting home furnishings. When used with love and respect, and regularly immersion washed, a good hand knotted rug will provide decades of use and will grow old gracefully. Lovers of rugs use leather soled slippers, socks or bare feet in the home and this polishes the wool whilst allowing the soles to slide over the tips of the fibres. Modern synthetic rubber soles take the pile with them when the foot is turned, and this action gradually reduces the fibre tips until you are left with a flat piled rug. Natural oils and grease from humans and animals are a form of protection and act as a natural polish. However, do not let areas of high residue build up, particularly where a dog might lie. This is why in the Middle East and further west rugs last a very long time- people remove their shoes when entering a home.

Remember! Try to get into the habit of using leather soled slippers, socks or bare feet on your rug. Removing shoes at your front door also reduces the amount of external oils and tar that is tracked in. This practice makes for a much more hygienic house too.

The most durable rugs are those made with both a tight, regular weave as well as the best wools and dyes. However, for durability, you can also buy a very heavy Village rug, which has large chunky and well tied knots as well as a longer pile. It stands to reason that the longer the pile to start with the more tip shearing can be accommodated over time. A rug with a loose large knot and a long pile will wear quickly and there are many quickly woven poorer quality rugs on the market. You don’t always get what you pay for, so ‘caveat emptor’.

The durability of a rug is affected by how it is cared for on a daily and weekly basis. Vacuums are the enemy of longevity so do not overuse yours. A once a week vacuum is fine but do not use the revolving brush head as this tears at the pile and shortens it. It is very satisfying to see your machine filling up with dirt and dust but much of that is your rug gradually disappearing! Always use a medium power and remember to get under the furniture to disturb moths and carpet beetles. Do not vacuum the fringes – these are integral to the rug and protect the ends – so go width wise across the rug at each end.

Remember! Just as you service your car and boiler so you must have your rug professionally cleaned every 5 years. When done properly it is not a cheap process, as the rug will be immersion soaked in a tank before being surface cleaned and slowly dried.

Flatwoven handmade woollen Kilims and cotton Dhurries, which no pile as the design is the widthwise weft thread, are not durable floor coverings and should be used in low traffic areas. They are highly versatile though and can be used as loose coverings on sofas, chairs, and beds – hung on a wall they can have a huge impact as an alternative to prints or paintings. To look their best, install a soft floodlight to make them glow.

Flatweave kilim rug in a bedroom

Vintage or new Aubusson rugs, which have no pile, are the most European looking of rugs but are not as durable or practical as hand knotted piled wool Persian or Oriental rugs. They are highly elegant, and when used with a good underlay, are fine for a more formal living room or bedroom.

 

An example of a classic French Aubusson tapestry weave rug which has no pile so suitable for more formal quiet rooms and bedrooms.

Please click here to read part two of this article.