Glossary

City/Workshop Rugs

A more formal, finer handmade rug with a complicated design. Made on a vertical loom in a city, town or nearby village but under the supervision of a foreman. The materials, which will be either wool, silk, cotton and metal thread , for these rugs are dyed at the same time to guarantee uniformity of colour and quality. The design will be written on a paper , called a talim, with the sequence of knots and this will either be chanted out to the weavers knot by knot or will be in front of them to refer to as they weave. The designs of these rugs are almost always floral,pictorial and curvilinear as the greater fineness ( more knots per square metre ) of them allows for more detail than Village Rugs.

Village Rugs

A rug made by hand in a cottage industry across Asia from Turkey to China. Each note is tied individually on a vertical loom and this will either be set up in a courtyard or against the side wall of the house. The rugs are commissioned by the local merchant and the materials are supplied in batches as the rug progresses. As the materials may vary in the depth of the colour they have absorbed in the dye vats, as well as the amount of natural oils in the wool, these rugs are not always uniform in look. Thes difference may well only be apparent after some years and will lend a charming, artisan feel which is definitely not a fault. The designs, which are often in the weaver’s’ head only, will be either curvilinear or geometric and the the qualities can vary tremendously – the best ones are better than than many finer City/Workshop rugs in looks and longevity. The pile will almost always be hand spun wool and the base, or warp and weft, of cotton.

Tribal Rugs

Handmade rugs made almost exclusively from hand spun wool and often on a wool base, warp and weft, as well. These rugs are almost all made by settled tribes now, whereas most of them used to be mobile bands of subtribes allied to a larger confederations living off the land with their flocks of sheep and goats and using camels, horses, yaks etc. for transportation. The rugs would be woven on horizontal looms pegged out outside the tents and would be made for internal decoration of the walls and floor- providing comfort, insulation, colour and imagery. Rugs would also be woven to trade for those staples and luxuries they could not garner from their animals or the land they passed through; items such as clothes, tea, salt, tobacco and sugar as well as the guns, bullets and knives with which to protect themselves (and raid others!) and kill for the pot. The best examples of tribal rugs used to be the rugs woven by a girl as part of her dowry which would encapsulate all the skill of her weaving which started at her mother’s knee. The border and medallion designs are distinctive to each tribe but the beauty of tribal rugs lies in the fact the infilling motifs are from the weaver’s imagination and will be stylized flowers, animals and symbols. The materials used to be wholly from their flocks, as well as goat, camel and yak hair, and was always hand spun and full of sheen and life from the natural oils. The dyes were extracted from minerals, plants, trees and vegetables and so were wholly natural. Now the people are settled, but often preferring to live in tents in their courtyards or compounds, the old qualities have been discarded and very little of this still applies. The best ones are still excellent and beautiful but the market is submerged in second and third rate goods so great care must be taken when purchasing.

Persian Kashan Rugs

Kashan is a city in Iran 240 kms/150 miles south of the capital Tehran on the edge of the great central Salt desert. The rugs are hand woven on vertical looms with a short wool pile ( some silk and part silk are also made ) on a cotton base ( warp and weft ) and are of a generally good to excellent quality. The designs are elegant and fluid and are almost always curvilinear and floral with a central medallion. The main ground colour is either red or blue but some washed cream rugs are made too for the modern furnishing market. They generally have a central medallion , medium width border and four corner spandrels and some very fine pictorial rugs are made. The best Kashan rugs are highly desirable, especially the older examples in good condition, but there are enough inferior ones on the market to be wary when buying.

Indo-Kashan Rugs

Handmade rugs from India copying the Persian Kashan rugs from Iran. A very different feel but generally still an acceptable rug, but they should be cheaper than the equivalent originals. The wool used is often too soft for hard usage but it makes them thicker and softer than the Persian ones.

Afghan Ziegler Rugs

Also given trade names such as Garous and Chobi. Possibly the most popular ‘furnishing’ rug in the world for the past 20 years! These rugs are handmade in northern Afghanistan with a hand spun wool pile on a cotton base ( warp and weft ). They are not particularly fine rugs, varying between 80 and 100 knots per square inch which is enough to render the designs without ruining their ‘ Village Rug ’ feel. The dyes are debatably a mix of vegetal ( vegetable and mineral – i.e natural ) and synthetic but are generally done in very sympathetic tones which make them easy to use in most rooms. The designs are borrowed from the antique Persian rugs of the Tabriz area in NW Iran , which were commissioned by the Anglo-Swiss company of Ziegler & Co between about 1883 and 1905. These original rugs are now highly prized and, much restored, to sell through interior designers in the major capitals. The USA is the largest buyer of them. They have the advantage of having either no central medallion or a very minor motif, which makes them easy to place off centre in a room. There are many grades of these rugs so only buy from a trusted source. See also Pakistan Zieglers and Indian Zieglers.

Pakistan Ziegler Rugs

Also given trade names such as Frontier Ziegler, Garous and Chobi. These are the same rugs as the Afghan Ziegler and are woven in northern Pakistan by Afghan refugees who settled in the Peshawar to Attock areas after the Soviet invasion of 1980. Although many have returned to their homes there is still a significant production which is often made to very pale colour palettes to satisfy the western liking for bland tone on tone interiors.

Indian Ziegler Rugs

Based upon the Afghan Ziegler Rugs and Pakistan Ziegler rugs, they are of a much heavier construction with a deeper pile. The wool is machine spun and is generally a New Zealand blend which gives them a very different feel and look. The dyes are synthetic but modern man made dyes are so good that this is no longer an issue. They are slightly less money than the others but could well turn out to be a better product in the long term!

Ground Colour

The most dominant colour in the main part of a rug. Also called Field Colour

Field Colour

Also called Ground Colour . The most dominant colour in the main part of the rug.

Handmade Rug

A rug that is hand woven, each knot tied by hand around the warp threads strung lengthwise on the loom.

Hand Spun Wool

Combed wool which is spun into rougher, thicker strands by hand on a drop spindle or wheel.It is a skilled job to release the correct amount of wool from the prepared roll to achieve a uniform thickness and twist but once mastered is done without thinking whilst being able to gossip and watch over children and animals. Tribal Rugs and Village Rugs are almost always made with this processed wool.

Machine Spun Wool

A finer and very uniform strand of wool is achieved by machine as it always uses the same amount of wool and revolutions of twist. It is cheaper to make but also produces the finest wool for weaving City/Workshop Rugs.

Warp and Weft - also called the Base

These are the foundations of a rug. A handmade rug is started by the longitudinal threads, the warp threads, being strung between two rollers or beams. These are the threads the weaver is tying the knots around to form the design. Once a complete row of knots has been tied across the width of the rug the weft , or locking thread, is woven in and out of the warp threads and tamped down to form a stable line. The warp and weft threads are almost always cotton, which forms the most stable rug foundation, but can also be wool or silk.

The Base

This is the foundation or back of a handmade rug and is formed from the warp and weft threads. A hand tufted rug has a pre-made mesh backing into which the knots are fired with a tufting gun.

Natural Dyes

Also called Vegetable or Vegetal ( VEGETable and minerAL ) dyes. The dyestuffs made from vegetable, mineral, plant, fruit and tree matter. These colours can be derived from bugs, such as the cochineal which makes a red colour, along with the root of the madder plant; plants like the indigo produces a lovely blue. Leaves such as vine and weld gives a yellow colour whilst oak bark and iron ore gives a black tone. Many rug dealers will always tell you their rugs have natural dyes as this is deemed to be a value adding selling point- much as Organic is used to sell many products today. However, the process of making natural dyes is long and expensive and so most rug materials are dyed with synthetic colourants and are not the worse for it. Bear in mind that natural dyes start life as being quite strong and jewel toned, so if your rug is muted and washed out when new then it is not. It takes time for natural dyes to fade with use and light and when they do nothing can equal them- so if you are patient, have relatively deep pockets and like to buy good quality you need to absolutely certain you are not being lied to.

Synthetic Dyes

Basically any dye that is not Natural . The first synthetic dyes were available from about 1858 and many of the tones were pretty virulent, in particular a vile orange and pink which never fades. Many antique rugs can be accurately aged because of these colours, which were much loved by rug makers across Asia for their fantastic hues, ease of use and cost effectiveness. In reality most rugs were made using a mix of natural and synthetic dyes. It is a large and complicated subject and can be studied through many of the oriental rug books listed here

Iran

The modern name for Persia . Bordered by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia and Turkmenistan. Historically the major handmade rug producing country in Asia- most laypersons call any oriental rug a Persian rug. Renowned for the sheer depth and scale of the production which became a vital part of their economy, along with nuts and fruits, before the discovery of oil eclipsed them both my a massive factor. Iran is a vast and complex country, riven with religious, tribal and social divisions but, since the overthrow of the last Shah in 1979 , is held together by a deep reverence for Islam in all its forms and is admired for its family values and hospitality.

Persian Bidjar Rugs . Also Bijar.

Handmade rugs from Kurdistan in NW Iran. The Rug Expert’s favourite rug! The wool is almost always of the highest quality and has a beautiful lustre, which combined with the sublime colours and the incredibly heavy construction gives us the ‘Iron Rugs of Iran’. They are the best constructed rugs in existence due to the many interlocking weft threads of both wool and cotton which are beaten down with great force to make a highly dense and hard wearing pile. The designs are florally primitive but are not so complicated as to appear refined and they are made with overall herati designs or with floral central medallion layouts. The borders are distinctive with a main band surrounded by four narrower guard ones containing rosettes, border botehs and stylized flower motifs. The colours are incredibly lovely- in particular the green and pale blue. For all these reasons they are rare and the older ones are expensive- but worth every penny.

Indo Bidjar

They have the appearance of the Persian Bidjar and,whilst being good rugs compared with many new ones, are nowhere as good. The wool is a New Zealand blend and the dyes are duller. The weft threads are not hammered down to build up a massively strong, dense pile. However at half the price they are still a good furnishing rug option with the look of a great rug.

Kurdistan

A province in NW Iran ( Persia ) that is not autonomous to the Kurdish people, whose ancestral land also forms part of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. An area of rugged beauty whose geography and climate contribute to the superb wool,wonderful individuality and vibrancy of much weaving from this area.

Semi-formal Design

A rug design that has a set main structure of a border , corner spandrels and a medallion or central motif . Often used to describe a Village Rug w hen the knot count is low is too low to weave a precise design and the effect is more naive. Also used to describe a design that is not balanced and which has been transposed from the weaver’s memory.

Qashqai Rugs

Tribal rugs which are woven by the semi nomadic Qashqai who are part of a federation of tribes based around the south western city of Shiraz in Iran. Their rugs are woven on horizontal looms and are made entirely of wool but goat,and horse hair is also blended. The traditional designs of older and antique rugs are distinctive and incorporate primitive palmette scrolls, flowers, animals, birds, floral rosettes and cones – in effects all of nature that they live within when migrating with their flocks. Modern western demand has reduced the quality of most of their weaving and they have been asked to make the thick and heavy Gabbeh rugs in huge numbers.

Transhumance

A system of pastoralism and nomadism involving a twice yearly migration of people and flocks from one area to another. This is is typified by moving the flocks of sheep, goats, cattle etc. from the heat of the lowlands to the greener and cooler higher pastures in the hot summer months. This practise is believed to account for the excellence of the wool from these flocks and is still widely performed across Asia.

Horizontal Loom

A loom is a frame for holding the longitudinal warp threads under tension to enable the weaver to tie the knots around. A horizontal loom is constructed vertically so the weaver sits with the threads directly facing them and the rug is rolled down as they progress.

Zagros Mountains

A mountain range running from southern Iran all the way through eastern Iraq and into south eastern Turkey. Used by Iranian ( Persian) tribes as summer pastures

Hand Spinning

The making of the yarn ready for weaving. This applies to wool, silk, cotton, goat ,camel and yak hair. When done by hand this process is started by carding , or sorting, the material into long rolls ready for spinning. Hand spinning produces a less fine yarn which looks more ‘artisan’ than machine spun and is preferable achieve a unique feel to a rug.

Corner Spandrels

The corner pieces of the rug design, set within the main ground abutting the border. Defined as the space between a curved figure and a rectangular boundary. This mirrors the architecturally influenced designs of most formal City/Workshop rugs and fancifully represents the four corners of the compass with the medallion being the centre of the earth. In a perfectly balanced design these spandrels will equal ,when placed together, the size of the central medallion.

Fars Uplands

This is a term for the foothills and peaks of the Zagros mountains in the province of Fars in south west Iran ( Persia )

Fars

One of the provinces of Iran ,with the city of Shiraz as its capital. Located in the south west of the country and home to many tribespeople, including the Qashqai .

Shiraz Rugs

The capital city of of the province of Fars in SW Iran ( Persia ). Many tribal rugs are collected from the surrounding area and sold through the bazaar here and thus are lumped together as Shiraz rugs- much like rugs from the city of Bokhara in Uzbekistan.

Bokhara Rugs. Also Bukhara

Rugs traded from this city, as from Shiraz in Iran, but not actually woven here. The tribes of the surrounding area – the Tekke, Yomut, Ersari, Choudur and Saryk – would sell through middlemen in the city and because of the often subtle differences in design they would be lumped together under one name. In the west these designs were called the ‘ Elephant’s Foot ’ design for obvious reasons and were copied in Pakistan in western furnishings colours to great e ffect, and still are.

Pakistan

A country bordering Iran, Afghanistan and China. Rug weaving is a small but important part of Pakistan’s economy and helped earn much needed foreign revenue in the years after Partition in 1947. Their designs are borrowed from Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, in particular the Afghan Ziegler and Bokhara rugs and they also make excellent fine quality Persian design rugs in the area around Lahore.

Elephant’s Foot Design

The layperson’s’ description of the tribal shields or ‘guls’ used by the Turkoman ( Turcoman ) tribes , today settled between the Caspian Sea and the Amu Darya River , to decorate and differentiate their rugs. It was said that a traveller would know which tribe he had stumbled across by these ‘heraldic motifs’ on the rugs of the camp. No one knows how or why these symbols are as they are but they are the most recognizable of today’s geometric design rugs. The Bokhara rugs , either from Uzbekistan or Pakistan , all have this design.

Uzbekistan

A landlocked country in Central Asia surrounded by Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Krygyzistan, Afghanistan and Turkmensiatn. The rugs and tribal decorations of the Turkoman have always been traded through the city of Bokhara ( Bukhara ).

Central Medallion

The motif, large or small, in the centre of a rug which may have a cartouche or pendant attached. Medallions can singular or plural and can be in many shapes and sizes. A rug expert can often tell a rugs provenance by the medallion’s composition.

Cartouche

A defined area, either within the border or attached to the medallion, which is used to frame text or used as decorative banding. It is also used to frame a tribal Gul ( heraldic motif ) as well as a repeating design in rug borders.

Vegetable and Mineral

See Natural Dyes

Persian Serapi Rugs

A name which has been given to the better quality of Persian Heriz rugs from NW Iran ( Persia) which have a much more open and attractive design than the regular production. The name applies to older and antique Heriz rugs , which are now highly sought after and are very expensive when in good condition. The name perhaps originated in The USA where it was noticed the large central medallion and its surrounding plainer area looked similar to ponchos used by the American Indians.

Persian Heriz Rugs

Thickly piled and sturdy handmade Village rugs from NW Iran (Persia) and part of the Tabriz family.The knots are generally quite large so the quality is in the sheer weight of materials used, with a thick hand spun wool yarn and a heavy warp and weft ( base). The designs are angular and the colours are almost always a red ground colour with a blue or cream border. There are many grades of Heriz.

Chobi Rugs

See Afghan Ziegler and Indian Ziegler