Traditional Persian rugs are beautiful although much-underrated works of art, which additionally offer tremendous practical benefits. A Persian rug is an authentic artisan product made using the same materials and weaving procedures for centuries. A fine Persian rug has the signature of the living spirit instilled within. You can find rugs today with the same patterns and colours, woven with wool, cotton, silk goat, and camel hair, that provided warmth, comfort, and visual pleasure to rug owners hundreds of years ago.
Historians are not sure when rugs were first woven by hand. So far, no one has discovered written records, and because of the nature of the materials used, the oldest examples will have long since disintegrated into dust. The earliest known wool weaving was discovered in 1949 in an ice-clad Siberian burial mound in the Pazyryk Valley of the Altai Mountains. This weaving is now housed in the Hermitage museum in Russia. It is thought to be from the 5th century BC. In later years, ‘Turkey’ carpets were represented in Hans Holbein the Younger’s paintings dating from the mid-15th century, and there are records of the beautiful rugs of the court of Shah Abbas in Persia from around the same period.
Some rugs you see in homes and stores today are more modern creations, but still have that perceptible aura of humankind creating practical beauty to decorate their homes – whether it is a castle, bungalow, apartment, or tent.
If you are thinking about buying a handmade Persian rug, you will be the owner of a stunning artisan floorcovering that will give decades of pleasure, comfort, and practicality.
A Persian rug is entirely handmade, which should not be confused with hand-finished, which defines a power-loomed or hand-tufted rug that is later trimmed or has a fringe attached.
Persian rugs are made in a marvellous array of designs, materials, colours, and sizes with a pile or without a pile, in the case of flatweave kilims or dhurries. The materials used are mostly wool, cotton, and silk with tribal rugs using goat and camel hair. The most ornate intricately woven rugs, i.e., those with the highest density of knots per square inch or metre, are known as City or Workshop rugs.
There are two types of looms – vertical and horizontal. The vertical loom is used to create 98% of all rugs designed for the floor. Pictorial or flatweave rugs are made to be hung on the wall or as bed covers or drape over furniture, and these are often woven on the horizontal loom. A vertical loom consists of two rollers made of wood or steel, which are fastened top and bottom. So, one roller is at ground level and the other at about 2-4 metres high depending on the desired rug size.
The rug’s base is made by stringing the warp, which comprises cotton threads, around the two rollers. The threads are then adjusted to get the right tension. This part of the task is essential because a wrongly tensioned rug will soon lose its shape, with ripples in the pile and curved edges.
Each weaver will have his individual pattern consistent through time, and the weaver often knows it by heart. If not, the pattern is drawn by a master designer and put to paper.
The pile materials of wool, cotton, or silk, or a combination thereof – are pre-dyed to achieve the required colour. Before the advent of synthetic dyes in Europe, weavers would extract the colours from roots, leaves, bark, berries, fruit and vegetables, stems, seeds, insects, crushed rocks, etc., to make exquisite colours. Applying the colour to the yarn was highly skilled work, and the secret knowledge passed down through the generations.
A better-quality rug has sufficient yarn dyed in a single batch to guarantee uniformity of tone throughout. Many rugs exhibit bands of differing tones as they age, known as Abrash, which shows the materials were not dyed simultaneously.
An experienced weaver who continually works on one type of rug will perform from memory and select the correct colour yarn automatically from yarn balls that hang in front of him at eye level. For a less experienced weaver, or to produce an incredibly detailed design with many colours, the pattern will be inscribed in code on paper, which again will hang at eye level.
Some small workshops making exceptionally fine and expensive rugs may employ a master weaver, always male, who will chant the colours and design to assure absolute accuracy. This saves the workers from having to look at the paper instructions.
Each knot is tied by hand around two of the warp threads until a complete row is made. A spreader bar then separates the threads, and a horizontal weft thread is placed between them. A metal fingered claw is used to pound the weft thread to secure the knots – just as cement bonds layers of bricks.
Length of Time
Depending on the quality and size, a rug can take any length of time, from a few weeks to several years to finish. Once ready, a locking weft thread is woven either end around the warp threads, and the rug is released from the loom by cutting the warps at either end.
A rug made using a horizontal loom is nearly always a Tribal rug made by nomadic or settled tribes in Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. These are simpler to produce and, like vertical looms, have rollers at each end, albeit a fraction of the size. The warp threads are again strung between them. The tension is attained by hammering pegs at each corner and is achieved by experienced touch. These looms are designed for the open air and transported when new pastures are sought for the flocks. The rugs and kilims (rugs without pile) woven on these looms are far smaller and less decorative than rugs woven on vertical looms, and therefore the precision of design and colour is not so significant. This often leads to an abstract charm due to the loom’s owner’s small mistakes as the younger generations learn to weave. These rugs are finished and taken off the loom in the same way as with the vertical loom.
When removed from the loom, the rug is a somewhat rough article and needs to be finished. The sides are fastened by a selvedge of wool or cotton wrapped around two or four of the outer warp threads. This stops the rug from unravelling or fraying.
The rug is put inside a large metal latticed drum, which rotates over a pit and removes the excess wool and dust. After this, it is washed in a stream or soaked with water on a concrete platform and brushed. Tribal rugs may be cleaned by beating them with a stick.
Once thoroughly dried in the sun, the pile must be clipped. An expert always does this as a layman could ruin the rug. Traditionally clipping was done with handheld shears, which demanded a strong forearm and a keen eye. These days electric shears are used, which makes the job far quicker but still requires skill. The shaggy pile is now lower – the lower the pile, and therefore the thinner the rug, the better the quality. A rug with the most knots per square inch will not reveal gaps as a lesser quality item will.
Many poorer quality rugs are given a final wash in chemicals that change their final appearance. This can provide a washed-out bleached effect, a silky shine, or a tea leaf sepia tone. A better rug should never be altered in this way. It must look outstanding due to the materials’ original quality. Chemicals have a damaging effect on a rug.
The rug is now fit to show in Lahore, Bhadohi, or Tehran, or be shipped to a showroom in London, New York, or Paris.
All trends come and go, and there are many popular types of modern rugs that are all the rage right now, many of which make beautiful additions to any interior. So, there is no doubt there is the newer fashion of putting monochrome or funky up-to-date rugs on the floor. However, the market for traditional Persian rugs remains robust.
An oriental or genuine Persian rug provides an “old money” look to a home because you know that rug highly likely was not selected at a high street store a week ago. That rug has been in use for years. It is probably not a top seller this year and quite possibly entered the family when a previous generation invested the money in an item for their home that they knew would last for many years into the future.
In general, the average household does not appear to acknowledge the appeal of a beautiful Persian rug. Still, others ignore the home decor magazines and TV programmes and buy what they find most appealing. A traditional Persian rug can look impressive in a modern flat, just as a contemporary rug can look fabulous in a period home. So, ignore the latest fashion, and go with what you like!
Through frequent usage and indifference to detail, the terms Persian and Oriental rugs have become interchangeable. You will find rug dealers call themselves either Persian Rug or Oriental Rug sellers, and sometimes both. There is no variation in the handmade artisan end product, but a Persian rug is made in Iran (formerly known as Persia). The term ‘Oriental rug’ can describe rugs from the other primary weaving countries, such as Morocco across to Egypt, and then in a geographical arc, encompassing Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Nepal, Tibet, and China.
To meet the demand for the most attractive and profitable designs, manufacturers copy Persian rugs in other Oriental countries so you can buy a Persian ‘Kashan’ rug in Pakistan, India, or anywhere else. The layman has little choice but to trust the retailer, whether online or in a store, to correctly price the rug. This is not implying an Indian ‘Kashan’ is always subordinate to the original. Still, in most instances, the copies, while being well made, never really have the same air of quality. This is especially true with Persian rugs from China, which have a comparatively lacklustre aura.
Many reproductions of Persian rugs made in Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India are of excellent quality. These rugs are Persian rugs in all but name and have exquisite designs and colours that permit less wealthy buyers to decorate with stunning reproductions of antique Persian rugs. The buyer must pay close attention to the sellers’ description and realise they are buying a copy- however expensive and well made, it is a copy! There is frequently no difference in price between intricately woven Persian and Oriental rugs. However, considerable savings are to be made if buying copies of inferior (but still robust) Persian ‘Gabbehs’ or shaggy Moroccan rugs from India.
If you must have the ‘genuine’ article, then a Persian rug should always be made in Iran. The astute buyer will ask a trustworthy expert retailer for advice; as for the layperson, this is a complicated topic.
So, find an expert you trust and follow their guidance. Remember that rugs are now produced and copied in countries extremely far from the original, so a Persian ‘Kashan’ design made in Iran will be a vastly different product than the same rug made in India, although they might look similar. The surface appearance indicates nothing, which is why buying online is risky. Take time to evaluate shops, galleries, and warehouses, or consult with an expert to begin the process.
If you simply want to know if a rug is hand-knotted (handmade), look at the reverse and see if the design is the same as the front. If it is not, but there is some outline of the design showing, it is machine-made. If the back is covered with cotton or hessian, the item is hand tufted.
A genuine Persian rug will not have sewn-on fringes. The end of the warp yarns form the fringe and are an integral part of the carpet. If you see when looking at the back of the rug that the fringes are sewn on, then in all likelihood, it is not an authentic Persian rug.
The traditional rugs sold by Persian & Modern Rugs are always entirely made by hand, each knot individually tied by a weaver around warp threads on a vertical or horizontal loom. A handmade rug can have tens of thousands to millions of knots and can take up to a few years to complete.
The elements used are usually wool, silk or cotton, or a blend of these. The lengthwise warp threads and the rug’s latitudinal weft threads that make the rug’s backing are always cotton, wool, jute, or silk.
The most usual and popular traditional rugs are made in Iran (Persia), Turkey, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and China. You can buy rugs in various colours, including black, blue, green, cream, red, and pink.
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