Oriental rugs are celebrated for their rich colors, prestige, quality, and design. They are also renowned for their deep history that spans back to at least 2500 years ago. The earliest known surviving rug is the Pazyryk Carpet, which dates back to 5th century BC.
Hand woven rugs were originally produced for use in the harsh lives of nomadic people, beginning as a tool for protection from the cold. As hand weaving evolved and production techniques were perfected, they were also used as a form of expression for religious beliefs, political events, and for illustrating traditional stories. Kings and noblemen began using rugs in their palaces as the complexity, artistry, and beauty of the rugs developed. This became one of the major keystones of Persian culture.
The basic structure of a rug has four main components: the weft and warp of the foundation, the pile, and the edge finish. The foundation is a series of woven lateral threads, also called weft threads, and longitudinal threads called warp threads. Usually the foundation threads of most rugs are cotton, although sometimes they can also be made of wool or silk. The warp threads are stretched on the loom before the weaving begins, and when the rug is completed and cut from the loom, the ends of the warp create the fringe. Tying a strand of wool thread around adjacent warp threads and forming a knot creates the pile. And finally, the edge finish is the overcast, a simple running stitch or selvage, a woven binding, to reinforce the edges to make them less susceptible to wear.
The primary materials used in rugs are wool, cotton, and silk.
Wool was historically the most widely used rug fiber because of its durability and availability. Wool is generally used for the pile, but may also be used as the foundation in Nomadic and Tribal rugs.
Cotton, a cultivated plant fiber, was more frequently used by weavers in cities and small villages. Strong and resilient, cotton continues to be excellent for the foundation of rugs, but is not generally used in the pile.
Silk, historically among the most costly crafting materials, was also used primarily in the cities. Silk creates a very fine knot, resulting in a highly refined carpet. It may be used either alone, or combined with wool in the pile, as well as the foundation. As a contrast fiber to wool, it is very effective in creating depth and visual dimension in some of the finer weavings.
It is important to remember, the name of the knot does not specifically indicate its use in a particular region. There are two main types of knots, the symmetrical and the asymmetrical knot.
Symmetrical Knots – also called the Turkish or Ghiodes knots.
One yarn is wrapped around two warp strands, and then drawn back out between the two strands to form a tuft of the pile. This knot is larger, more square, and geometric than the other knots.
Asymmetrical Knots – also called Senneh or Persian knots.
One yarn is wrapped around a single warp strand then under and back around the second warp strand. The two sides of the tuft are separated by one strand of warp. Because of this separation asymmetrical knots are said to be “open,” either to the left or right depending on the weavers.
Jufti Knot- also called the false knot.
This is a faster, less desirable method of tying four warps at a time resulting in the faster production of a lower quality rug.
The most common types of weaves include piled rugs and flat weaves. Piled rugs have knots tied onto the foundation, forming rows. Each row is separated by one or more weft strands. The tufts are formed by the end of the knots, which are trimmed to form an even pile on the front of the rug. These are produced both by cities and tribes. Flat Weaves have neither knots nor pile. In a flat weave rug the wefts themselves primarily create the face and pattern of the rug. Numerous wefts are passed inside and over the warps to form the foundation of the rug; in essence they are wrapped around the warps. Although the term Kilim (or Kelim) is often used to describe all flat weave rugs, there are two main types of flat weave rugs: Kelim and Sumak. Kelim weaves do not use any supplementary, or “ground,” wefts (e.g. standard structural wefts, as used in hand-knotted rugs that do not affect the pattern or color of a rug). The wefts used entirely form the pattern and colors of the rug. The wefts are woven under and over each warp and are discontinuous and return as the design or color changes. A slit is produced in the portion of a weft adjacent to where design or color change is intended.
Dyes are generally grouped as ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’ dyes. Natural dyes are derived from plant and insect sources and were used primarily prior to the invention of synthetic dyes. Due to the variability in the source materials it is difficult to obtain an exact match in color from batch to batch. In older rugs it is not unusual to see slight differences in what is intended to be identical color. The variations usually run horizontally through the pattern. The variation is called an ‘abrash’ and does not affect the quality or intrinsic value of a rug. In fact it is often factored as added value to a piece.
Synthetic dyes are grouped as either aniline or chrome. Aniline dyes appeared in the late 1800s and were quickly adopted. Aniline dyes had the drawback of being strongly acidic and destroyed the natural oils in the wool, resulting in rugs that wore more quickly, had poor color quality, and frequently bled their unstable dyes. As a result, aniline dyes were banned from Persia. Chrome dyes replaced aniline dyes for the chemical dyeing process. As with natural dyes, excess dye must be removed from the fibers for the color to become “stable.”
Today, rugs are often produced using a combination of synthetic and natural dyes, or using only natural dyes in a few regions where the traditional practice has resurfaced. What is important to note is that a specific type of dye does not add or detract to the value of a piece as much as the stability of that dye. When selecting your rug feel confident in that all of the rugs Adib’s features are stable in color and can be chosen based on personal taste without the hesitation of dye specifics
Workmanship – The tightness or fineness of a weave is directly related to the amount of time spent making the rug. It is important to remember different regions, for example city and tribal, may have different methods of weaving. Only comparing rugs woven in the same region is the best gauge of workmanship. The continuity of the wefts, the number of wefts per row, the details in the design, and the number of knots per square inch combine to determine the workmanship of a rug.
Material – The type and quality of the wool, silk, and cotton used in the rugs is also a reflection of quality. Good quality wool, also referred to as “live lamb wool” will not shed, or break easily with wear, and is ideal for rugs. Beware of wool that reveals fuzz as you pass your fingers over the pile, as it may indicate dry wool.
Dye – In addition to the type, the stability of the dye is very important in evaluating the quality of the rug. Extra dye must be rinsed from the wool before the rug is woven to avoid bleeding of colors later on. Natural dyes and chrome dyes are still desirable today.
Uniqueness – The most difficult and subjective element to describe may outweigh many other indicators of quality. Mass produced rugs are inherently less unique than one of a kind pieces and therefore have less long term value.
Types of Rugs up
Formal – These rugs are mostly produced in the cities, and feature curvilinear patterns, symmetry and other refined characteristics. They are woven on vertical looms using asymmetrical knots and are uniform in color. Examples: Kashan, Isphanhan, Tabriz, and Qum in Iran.
Casual – Most casual rugs are produced by tribes, featuring geometric patterns and abstract or stylized figures. Tribal pieces are woven on horizontal looms using symmetrical knots and frequently have significant color variations. Examples: Heriz, Hamadan, Gabeh, and Kordish tribes in Iran.
Neutral – Generally neutral in color, the style of these rugs combine curvilinear and geometric designs. Examples: India, Jaipur “tea washed” and Pakistan “antique washed.”