Brief introduction to Conservation and Restoration of Carpets

The Oriental rug is made to last a long time; a good rug can be used for several generations, according to the use to which it is put: if it covers the floor of a drawing-room, it will naturally stand up better to wear than if it is laid in an office. With regard to rugs hung on walls, these can last for centuries, as is borne out by the wonderful examples in museums of Florence, Milan, London, Berlin, Vienna, Paris and those in American museums and in private collections throughout the world. Some of these, almost undamaged, date from the end of the fifteenth century or the beginning of the sixteenth century. In the East, and especially in Persia, it is the expected to remove shoes before treading on a carpet to prevent wear. 

The correct conservation of a rug poses hardly any special problem. It is sufficient to take some very simple precautions against dust and moths, the most insidious enemies. A carpet should be beaten only very rarely. Vacuum cleaners ensure sufficient cleaning and dispense with this laborious and often inadvisable task. In fact, the warp and weft threads suffer from beating a carpet that has been slung over a rail. Vacuum the front and back of the rug regularly is sufficient maintenance. Take care to always hoover parts of the rug hidden underneath furniture or armchairs, to prevent moths damage. 

It is inadvisable to wash handmade rugs as a machine made rug. Temperature control, moisture control, colour conservation are a few of the issues one could encounter if the rug were washed incorrectly. Oriental Rug Gallery, Nottingham offers professional handmade rug wash service. 

Early rugs ad silk rugs need special consideration. They must never be beaten but simply run over lightly with a vacuum cleaner. During the summer months, if a person leaves his home for any length of time, he runs the risk of having his rugs attacked by moths. To prevent this commercial insecticide should be used. As soon as the carpet shows the slightest tear, or when the pile has been eaten and the warp and weft become uncovered, one must call in the services of a specialist restorer who will fill the empty spaces by remaking the missing knots. 

Frequently, particularly with carpets of recent mass manufacture, some of the weft threads adjacent to the fringe become loose, so that they leave the row of knots unbound; these latter gradually become undone and risk destroying the carpet little by little. When this happens it should be seen by a specialist promptly. 

Here at Oriental Rug Gallery, Nottingham, NG1 3FN we have one of the handful of oriental rug specialists in the UK, who had more than 30 years experience in weaving and mending handmade oriental rugs. Please email us (majid@ruguk.net) or ring us at 07768616666 for a free quotation on mending your handmade oriental rug. 

Please note, some machine made rugs are made with wool and cotton and may appear similar to a handmade rug. In some instances these high-end machine rugs, if purchased from prestigious venues, cost even more than authentic handmade rugs that has taken months to produce. We can mend these machine made rugs at Oriental Rug Gallery in theory, however, as machine made rug does not carry any financial value, it is inadvisable to mend these rugs unless it carries significant emotional value. 

Brief history of Oriental rug trading

The principal production centres of oriental rugs are mainly situated in Middle East, India and China. The carpet trade centre, where international traders meet, are in Tehran, Istanbul, London, Leningrad, Hamburg and Zürich. 

In recent years, the production of Oriental carpets and rugs have been systematically industrialised. In some regions of Iran, the production is under the control of the Iranian Carpet Company, whose headquarters are in Tehran. In these workshops, the ancient methods of dyeing with a base of natural colours of vegetable die have bene resumed. There are also large private factories in Kirman, Nain, Isfahan and Tabriz, smaller ones are found in Arak. However, the majority of the output still comes fromf amilies who work at home following traditional methods. 

Since the 1970s, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania have produced rugs of fine and glossy wool, with fairly deep pile (height of rug) generally knonw under the name of ‘Spartan’ or ‘Macedonian’. Iranina and Turkish weavers supervised the installation of the looms. 

At Hereke, in Asia Minor, there exists an old industry created in 1845 by Sultan Abdul Mecid, who wished to emulate the early rugs produced under the reign of the Shahs of Persia. They were copied with remarkable fidelity. Among these high quality pieces (with up to 650 knots per square inch) are some examples in silk. 

The popularity of Oriental rugs in Russia was unparalleled to other countries around the beginning of 20thcentury. The imperial and princely palaces and governors’ residences were decked out with magnificent and rare collections. At Leningrad and Moscow, the collections of Caucasian and Persian carpets had been built up from the spoils of war collected by the Tsars during their struggle against Mohammedan states. The old cathedral and convents also possessed beautiful rugs received as gifts from soldiers and diplomats taking part in the movement of Russian expansion in the East. Before the WWI, Russian exported Caucasian and Turkoman carpets in great quantity. For example, in 1913 approximately three hundred tons of rugs were exported. In 1928, according to the information of the Bureau Sakgostorg (USSR), Caucasian rug export was to the value of ten million roubles, while the export of rugs from Russian Turkestan had increased by 30% in one year. 

Formerly, the European carpet trade took place almost exclusively on the Italian markets, notably at Palermo, Pisa, Genoa, Florence and especially Venice, where the merchandise of the Orient abounded. In the 15thcentury, the Queen of the Adriatic controlled the monopoly of carpet imports, which she redistributed in Europe. Already in the 4thcentury, the Venetians had established this trade at Pavia. It is certain that the rugs that so much delighted Holbein came to Germany from Turkish to Venetian shops. 

Quick note on purchase of Oriental rugs

In buying an oriental rug one should take the same care as one does when buying a jewel: the purchaser should go to a reliable specialist house, where prices will correspond with the quality of the goods. The expert is also a man of taste, capable of guiding the choice of the client according to the use to which the carpet is going to be put. 

In general, the Oriental carpet blends easily with the interior of modern homes; its colours are restful to the eyes and are so harmonious that they are incapable of detracting from the beauty of either tapestries or furniture. It is preferable to choose a compact rug of good wool. Some rugs have a slacker texture (less knots per square inch), the dealer will indicate to the collector for what use the rug is intended. A carpet must always be examined on the reverse, where one will find again the pattern but more or less distinctly. It goes without saying that the more compact, fine and careful the knotting, the better the rug. 

Rug designs categorised

Each rug weaving region has its own distinct design, after all, that is the principle method of identifying a rug. However, to systematically approach the topic of rug design, we can grossly categorise the field designs into the following seven categories: prayer, medallion, repeat motif, all-over pattern, open field, panel and portrait. Rugs from some particularly artistic weaving region may be designed in more than one of the above mentioned themes. While other regions prefer to remain with one specific design for all its rugs.

The field is the name for the area of the rug within the border.

Prayer Rug

As the name suggest, prayer rug was originally designed as mats to be used during prayer. The Islamic faith requires praying several times a day, which means prayer rugs are part of everyday life in Islamic countries. Prayer rugs tend to be small in size as it is intended for one person’s specific religious ritual. Most popular size is 5×3 feet, 152 x 91 cm. They are meant to be portable and comfortable for kneeling on. Prayer rugs have a prayer niche (mihrub) or arch that forms the focal point of the field. Depending on the breed, the arch can be rectilinear or curlinear, or supported by columns. The area under the arch is called the spandrel and is designed with classic motifs of the breed of rug (region of the rug). 

Medallions

Central medallion design rugs have a central figure as the focal point, which is called the central medallion. This could be a single medallion, or more medallions. In some rugs, the design of the medallion is repeated in corners (spandrels) to harmonise the whole design. Medallions appear in many styles, sizes, shapes, such as round, oval, geometric or even elongated. The background behind the medallion, which is called the field, has as many variations as the medallion. It could be open, filled with repetitive pattern, or radiates the medallion design outwards or in the corners. 

Repeated Pattern

The most famous example of a repeated pattern rug is the Bukhara rug with the small ‘guls’ design. The motif is repeated throughout the field. Repeated design could be used with stripes and medallions. 

All-over Pattern

All-over pattern refer to the rugs that have the field filled with motifs, but not repetitive or regimented, rather a field depicting a hunting scene, a garden design of the classic tree of life design. 

Open Field

As the name suggest, the field is open/empty without motifs or design elements. Chinese rugs are often designed with open field. Open field rugs have the advantage of fully displaying the magnificence of abrash. Borders of open field design rugs tend to be rather elaborate. 

Panel Designs

Bakhtiare is the most famous example of panel-designed rugs. The rug has a series of compartments or panels, shaped in square, diamonds or rectangles. The elements are often simple designs demonstrated by geometric figures, such as flowers, trees and stars. Some experts argue the irrigation channels that constructed throughout the rug belt, which enabled gardening and farming in an otherwise inhospitable environment, inspire panel design. 

Pictorial

Most pictorial rugs are exquisite fine rugs. They were initially inspired by European oil paintings. Considerable weaving skill as well as artistic intuition is needed for an oil painting like pictorial rug; as a result such rugs tend to display majestic landscapes, portraits of kings and leaders, or even exact replica of famous works of art. Interestingly, in Afghanistan after the war in 1980, pictorial rugs began to bear pictures of fighting machines such as tanks and helicopters, some of surprisingly attractive.

The Art Of Dyeing

Dyeing the wool is the first step in making an Oriental rug. It is a beautifully simple process. Create a dye bath, boil the bath while whirling the wool in it, drain and dry in the glorious sunshine. Thousands of years of experience and techniques are applied to each batch of dyed wool. It is the first step in how to make a rug beautiful.

Dyed wool gives Oriental rugs the astonishing colours that grows and matures with age. Dyeing wool requires a great deal of skill and precision, this process is an art form. The master dyer, inevitably a man, is a revered and powerful figure in the community. His advice is sought on a range of subjects, particularly those concerning herbs. His secrets of dyeing are well guarded and carefully passed down from generation to generation, father to son.  

To start the dyeing process, wool must be carefully and properly washed. After the wool had been spun into yarn, it must be cleaned again to allow dye to fully and evenly penetrate the fibres. The wool is then treated with a chemical mordant to fix the dye. Common mordant are alum, iron, chrome and tin. Depending on the mordant, the colour of dye is altered. 

Then begins the actual dyeing process. The skeins of wool are submerged into a dye bath, which is a secret combination created by the master dyer. The dye bath is brought to a boil, while the wool is carefully stirred to ensure uniform absorption. Wool is hung to dry naturally in the sun after the dye bathing. Silk and cotton are dyed in much the same way, using the same kind of dyes. 

Natural Dyes

Natural dyestuff is derived from plants and insects. The former is the more prevalent source. The most common plant dye is the madder plant, which creates a brownish red colour. Indigo is creates clear blue hue; it comes from the indigo plant. Weld, from the weld plant, makes a yellow or gold colour. The skin of pomegranate creates an orange hue. Onion skin creates a yellow or copper colour. Walnut, oak and other nuts create various shape of brown. The most popular insect dye are cochineal for a red hue and Dactylopius coccu cactifor a yellow hue. 

The mordant used to fix the dye can dramatically change the colour. For example, an onionskin dye combined with alum yields a golden deep yellow but the same onionskin dye fixed with chrome produce a copper colour. The fluidity of colour dye in the rug making process makes each rug unique artwork. Any rug made before 1870s are most definitely natural dyed and are extremely valuable for that reason alone. 

Synthetic Dyes

The truth is synthetic dyed rugs does not mean poor quality rug. It is the quality of the dye that determines the quality of the rug.  

1856 William Henry Perkin first invented the aniline dye, which was directly applied to wool with an alkaline solution. Sadly, the colours run easily and bled when washed and faded dramatically when exposed to sunlight. 

In the 1870s, the direct acid dye was created. Wool were coloured in an acidic dye bath. It had solved the sun exposure issue but it still bled during the wash. Azo dyes, created in the same period, offered better colours but certain colours still bled. 

1940s was a period that applied chrome dyes, which was applied with chromium mordant to fix the colour. Potassium um dichromate was applied to wool to achieve an even application. 

Since then, fibre-reacting dyes are the go to synthetic dye method. The colour-giving part of the dye molecule binds with a wool molecule, permitting the dye to become a part of the wool’s chemical structure. It creates a highly colourfast result, but expensive. 

There are two ways to determine the quality of dye: the shade and intensity of the colour and colourfastness. The first one is easy to judge. Top quality rug will be attractive, not harsh or faded. Colourfastness, on the other hand, is difficult to determine while buying. You could test colour by lightly rubbing the rug with a moistened handkerchief. 

Painted Rugs

Painting rugs is a fascinating process as a consequence of Persian rug dealers’ attempt to appeal to the Western demand. It started in 1920s and 1930s, when many Persian rugs were considered to bright and garish for the Western market. These rugs were given a chemical wash to soften the colours, then a lustre wash to create a lustrous sheen. Finally a hand-applied painting that darkened the colour.  This painting process was followed by yet another lustre wash. Most Sarouks were ‘painted’ in this manner, as were some Mahals, Hamadans, and even some valuable Isfahans. Many valuable antique rugs such as Sarouks were painted. Unless the painting process was poorly applied and blotchy, it does not affect the value of the rug. 

However, sometimes the term ‘painted rug’ refer to rugs that have been coloured by ink or acrylic paints to hide the worn areas, also known as a colour wash. It is highly popular today to grey, white or red colour wash rugs, and this creates a mono-coloured rug with traditional design and hand weaved knots underneath. Originally, this colour wash method was considered unethical as it was meant to hide worn areas or rugs that have bled during the wash. However, in today’s market, the coloured wash continue to gain popularity.

The Oriental Rug Terminology

Warp threads 

Warp is attached to the upper and lower beams of the loom. The warp threads must be strong as it forms a large par to of the rug’s structure. They type, thickness, colour of warp threads varies with each breed of rug. 

Warp threads materials include wool, cotton and silk. Wool is first hand or machine spun then piled, the thickness of the ply depends on the breed of the rug. Cotton is more commonly used in finer rugs. Machine spun cotton warps were introduced in the rug-weaving industry as result of industrialisation. Machine-spun warps are much more uniform with generally five plies or more. Hand-spun warps have much more character and much more coarsely spun with only three or four plies. Silk is reserved for the finest of the fine rugs. I tis the most expensive but is also the strongest warp in relation to its diameter and allow for much more detailed design. 

Weft Threads

Weft is also forms part the structure of the rug. A pass of a single weft between two rows of knots is a ‘shoot’. The number of shoots used between rows of knots depends on the breed. As with warp threads, weft threads are made of wool, cotton and silk. Weft is usually un-died, but could be dyed in red, pink or blue depending on rug breed. 

The Knots

The knots are responsible for the colours and patterns of the rug. Two basic types of knots are the Turkish/symmetrical knot and the Persian/asymmetrical knot. Turkish knot is formed by encircling two warp threads with a strand of yarn, then looping the ends tightly between the two warps. The Persian knot is formed by first encircling one warp thread with a strand of yarn, then winding the strand around another warp, and finally pulling one loose end between the two warps. The other loose end emerges outside the pair of warps either to the left or to the right. 

The Pile

The pile of a rug is to describe the knots collectively. The pile height, achieved by the type of knots and raw material, is one of many ways to identify the breed of a rug. The quality of the pile depends on the quality of the yarn. Wool yarn varies greatly from region to region, as well as the source. Kurk/Kork wool is the best wool; only the first ever shaving of a lamb on the belly and nape of the neck are considered kurk status. The poorest quality wool is often called ‘dead’ wool. As the name suggests, such wool is removed from butchered sheep, which is often dry and brittle. Camel hair, goat hair are sometimes combined with wool to give the pile a bristly texture. Finally, silk threads make the finest pile in the finest rugs. Silk is sometimes combined with wool to achieve a certain effect or to accentual parts of the designs (highlights). 

The Fringes

To remove the rug from the loom, the warps, which are connected to the top and lower beam of the loom, must be cut. This portion of warp that remains is known as the fringes. The fringe must be knotted to prevent the knots from coming loose. The fringes are the first clue that give away the game of how fine the rug is; coarse fringes normally belongs to a rug with lower knot count/knot density. 

Side finishes

To protect the rug, the side edges are secured in a number of ways. Weaving several of the warp threads with the weft threads forms a simple selvage. Or the selvage can be reinforced by adding an overcasting stitch with one or two colour yarn, long the entire rug. In some regions, the side cord is sewn onto the edges of the rug. 

Shaving the rug

When a rug is completed and taken off the loom, the final step is to shave off all the tufts left hanging. Sometimes the weaver will shave the rug to 2 inch (5cm) in length, which will reveal a blurry design. It is the master shears that shaves the rug to the correct pile height. The best master shearers are most celebrated for their delicate skills at shaving the rugs. The entire rug must be even, if the shearer slips, months of dedicated labour will be ruined.  

The makings of an oriental rug

Basic Weaving technique of any Oriental rug

The weaving of any oriental rug shares the fundamental methods. The warp threads are attached to the upper and lower beams of a loom. 

A strand of coloured wool or silk is knotted around a pair of warp threads repeatedly across the width of the loom. The loose ends of the knots make up the pile depth of the rug and form the colour of the body. After the rows of knots have been completed, a weft thread is run horizontally through the carpet to secure the knots in place. For flat weaves, such as kilim, there colourful weft threads through warp thread in order to create a design. 

Looms

Looms are the foundation tools for weaving any rug. There are two basic types of looms, horizontal and vertical looms. The nomads often use a horizontal loom sits close to the ground. Horizontal loom is held in place by large stakes driven into the ground, which makes it difficult to maintain an even warp tension and results irregularities in rugs. Which is a trait that many, including myself, adore in nomadic pieces. 

Vertical looms, which can stand upright, are used by city weavers (professional or master workshop weavers). The simplest vertical loom creates rugs the same size as the distance between the upper and lower beams. This is found in some weaving villages. A detachable plank is raised as the weaver progresses, so the weaver is always in front of the area that she is working. Tabors looms are much more complicated as it allow warp threads to form a continuous loop around the upper and lower beams. As the rug is woven, it is lowered around the lower beam and up the back of the loom. There is the even more sophisticated ‘roller beam’ loom. As the name suggest, this loom allows the rug to roll forever and can create any length rugs. The complicated looms allow two or more weavers to work simultaneously. 

Wool preparation 

Preparing the wool is no easy task. Weavers often stop half way through the weaving process to sheer, prepare and spin more wool, which results in the most amazing ‘abashes’ on these handmade rugs. Abash is caused by different year’s wool’s ability to absorb and hold onto colour. Abash is more common in nomadic pieces, where the weaver had to stop to gather more wool, which may well be from the following year’s sheering. It may take the weaver more than three years to finish a small pieces as her other mother tasks interfere with the weaving. Master workshop pieces, ones with access to unlimited wool, tend to be abashed free. 

After a sheep is shorn, the wool must be washed, dried and sorted. The wool is then combed. Combing is to align the fibres to create a strong yarn when spun. Finally, carding is accomplished by brushing the wool with two wooden paddles (called cards) with slanted metal teeth to brush the biers till they are soft, untangled and fuzzy. 

Wool spinning draws out the fibres and twist them together, by hand or by machine, to form a strand of yarn; two or more strands twisted together to form a ‘plied yarn’.  Hand spinning is performed using a spindle. Machine spinning requires a spinning wheel. Yarn must be twisted in one direction, either clockwise or anticlockwise. For the best yarn, the strands should be plied in the opposite direction from which they are spun. 

Decorating with Oriental Rugs

A few tips and pointers on interior design with oriental rugs!

Trying out a rug at home

Bringing a few rugs home to try out has distinct advantages. You can examine the rug in detail in an unpressured environment. You can examine the rug under day light and artificial light. You will truly see how the rug fits in with your décor and lifestyle. The appearance of a handmade Oriental rug will usually enhance, and be enhanced by, its surroundings. You will no longer be looking at the rug as one of many in the showroom, instead, you will be seeing it with your own furniture and accessories. Something wonderful happens when a rug arrives in a new home. The right rug will take your breath away. 

Ideally start a room from the rug 

It is best to buy an Oriental rug before anything else in the room. There are infinitely more paint colours, wallpaper patterns and fabrics available than there are handmade oriental rugs. Building the room around the elements in the oriental rug can often yield spectacular results. Pick three favourite colours from the rug and work that into the paint, fabric and plants. The results are absolutely phenomenal, every single time. 

The right size rug

There are no strict rules on rug size and room size. The aim is for the rug is to work with, rather than against your furniture. A variety of different sizes will suit a particular room. The first step is to determine the floor space. Ideally, if you were to present us with a scaled floor plan that shows placement and size of all the furniture in a room; the floorplan will practically shout out what size rug you should have. A floor plan should include accurate dimension of the entire room, not just part of the room, interesting features such as fire place and bay windows, and sizes of the larges furniture (sofa, bookshelf) should be noted. This will allow you to tackle the size issue with a master plan. 

Oriental rugs are not meant to cover the floor completely. If you want the oriental rug to cover most of the room, it is best to leave 18-24 inches of bare floor on all four sides.  The bare floor space acts as a frame for the rug.  By the way, the depth of the average piece of upholstered furniture is 32 inches. 

This basic scheme of determining the right size can vary slightly to accommodate distinctive features, such as a fireplace. If a fireplace with a hearth extends into the room, then the rug can be brought flush against it or close to it, leaving an 18-24 inch margin on the opposite side of the room. This helps from distorting the room’s proportions. After all, if the fireplace were on the long side of the room, and you had left 18-24 inches between the fireplace and the rug, then you will have to choose a narrower rug, which accentuates the length of the room. Don’t worry about the danger of sparks, the wool in the pile of a rug doesn’t burn that easily. 

Many large rooms have several distinct functions. Rugs are often used to define the area. For example, two different rugs can set off a dining area from a living area, or a study area with a desk from an entertaining area with sofa and chairs. 

The shape of a rug can change the proportions of a room. Long runners and rectangular rugs can lengthen a room, while two different rugs can shorten or subdivide the same space. You could use a rug to direct flow of traffic of a room. For example, walking over the fringed end and along the length of a rug seems to direct people to a particular area, while walking directly across a rug may make your guests hesitate. This factor is especially important in the entrance hall, where careless placement of a rug could lead visitors in the wrong direction, who might end on up in the kitchen as opposed to the living room. 

The function of the room and the rug

The dining room rug doesn’t need to be any larger than the space required for the dining table and chairs to pull out comfortably. It will serve as a plate for the table and chairs to sit on. Dining room rug must be quite durable to withstand the heavy wear from constantly moving/pushing chairs away from the table. Especially since such stress tends to focus on particular spots on the rug. 

The bedroom rug is much more tricky to select as the bed may hide a great deal of the carpet. Sometimes, it is better to use a number of small pieces around the furniture in a bedroom, but to also offer enough coverage to avoid bare feet touching the bare floor! Larger bedrooms with little furniture can usually accommodate large rugs that brings the room together. 

Staircase rug makes any staircase absolutely strikingly beautiful. The rug’s patterns take on a wonderful look when they are seen from such a different perspective. Be sure to buy a very good quality carpet for your staircase and have the nap facing down, so you will not be going ‘against the grain’ or against the pile when walking on the steps. This will ensure the rug stands up to all the traffic it will be getting. 

Study rug or library rug, any area where people will be spending a lot of time, should be sturdy. Merely walking across a rug does not cause as much damage as sitting in a particular area and digging in the heels of your shoes. Do not tempt to buy something inexpensive for a high-traffic area. Your initial outlay of a better quality rug may be higher, but it will last much longer and improve with age. 

Needs of a rug

The edges of the rugs are their weakest parts. They should not be exposed to constant use. That is, a rug should not end within an arch or a doorway, nor should there be bare floor between a rug and a piece of furniture that is used for seating. If this happens, the edge of the rug will wear prematurely, and may also be a tripping hazard. Rugs also need to be reversed periodically to even out the use. 

Colours of a rug

Your choice of colour will depend on the existing décor. Identify the basic tone of a given room of either cool or warm colours. A light rug enlarges a room, while a red one warms up the room. Also consider the practical side of choosing a rug. A pastel rug is lovely in a bedroom or a room that is not used a lot, but it would not be recommended to put such a rug in the most heavily travelled part of the living room or by the front door. 

Design of a rug

Oriental rugs can blend with a variety of decorating styles, from traditional to mid-century to contemporary. There are no rules when it comes to which rug is best suited for which décor, however, a little common sense would be very helpful. For example, hiding a central medallion under a dining table or a bed is not as sensible as using an all-over design. If you like an uncluttered minimalist look and have not got a great deal of furniture, a medallion rug would be an ideal choice. A double niche medallion rug would echo traditional gilt framed pictures or silver photograph frames. A brightly colour kilim will bring out the bright colours in the fruit bowl in a white kitchen.  

Persian rug breed identification

Whether the rugs are made in an isolated village or in a city workshop, Persian rugs are usually named after the town or district in or near which they are produced or collected, with the exception of nomadic pieces that are named after the tribe’s name. 

Each area has its traditional designs, executed in a set palette of colours, often using some area specific weaving technique. The designs in Persian rugs generally reflect the passion for detail – the intricate interplay of lines and repeated patterns – that is also present in Iranian painting, tiles and calligraphy. However, Iranian weavers certainly are not averse to making changes to suit the tastes of their foreign customers. Over recent years, some Iranian weavers are substituting light colour and earth tones for the traditional primary colours and adapting some of the classic designs and sizes. 

If you are knowledgeable of all the characteristics – colours, designs, materials, weaving technique – of each region, you will be able to identify precisely the source of each Persian rug. However, the matter is slightly complicated by the fact that most Persian designs have been reproduced in other countries throughout the world. 

In general, the majority of Iranian rugs have wool pile on a cotton foundation, but you will also find coarser rugs woven on wool foundations in the areas where nomadic traditions are still maintained, as well as very fine pieces woven on silk and linen in the towns around Nain, Isfahan and Qum. In Qum, you can find wool pile rugs with accents of silk to outline or highlight designs, silk pile rugs worked on silk and cotton foundations and rugs made entirely of silk. In Isfahan, silk is sometimes used for the warps, while in Nain it is frequently used in the outlining. 

Nain rug with silk accents
Nain

Isfahan

Qum

Most Persian rugs are made with Persian knots. However, the Azerbaijan district in the north western part of Iran near the Russian border weavers use the Turkish knots. The weavers in this area use a small hook to work the pile threads into the foundations, a technique that makes it impossible to tie Persian knots. 

Azerbaijan rug

Persian Rugs – Where Do They Come From?

The Persian empire was one of the oldest and most powerful in the Middle East, and weaving had always been an important part of its artistic history. Unsurprisingly, the 15thand 16thcentury, the period when the Persian culture reached its peak under the Safavid dynasty, is known as the golden age of Oriental rug making. 

The Safavid shahs were great patrons of the arts, and they brought skilled craftsmen from all over the empire to their capital at Isfahan. The court artisans produced rugs that were quite unlike the geometrically designed carpets found in other countries at the time. These new rugs had elegant, intricately curving designs, and they were woven with the finest materials in the most precise detail. The magnificent court rugs made for the Safavid shahs represent the height of the art of weaving. In fact, they set the standard of workmanship and design that are still used to judge the finest Persian rugs. 

The Persian empire is now a distant memory, but its weaving tradition is very much alive and thriving in Iran. The country’s population includes a huge number of different ethnic groups, each with its own distinctive historical design and weaving technique. The rugs they produce can range from rustic nomadic pieces to finely detailed master workshop carpets that are descendants of the Safavid court rugs. 

Modern Iranian rug production can be divided into three different categories.

The nomads and villagers

The smallest percentage of the total comes from nomadic tribes and their sedentary kinsmen who live in small farming villages. These nomads and villagers do not rely on weaving for their livelihood; their rugs are generally less expensive than master workshop or city workshop pieces. They are not as finely knotted but do have an undeniable rustic charm. 

Since the nomad and village looms are more primitive, these weavers produce only small rugs; in addition, their selection of materials is usually limited to whatever is available in the area. When nomad and village rugs are completed, they are taken to a central depository in one of the nearby towns or cities. There the rugs are sheared, not unlike shearing a sheep, washed and sold to a buyer or a dealer. Nomad and village rugs can vary a great deal in the fineness (knot count) of the weaving, mainly because the only quality control is whether or not the market will accept their goods. 

Contract rugs for the Bazaar

Another form of Persian rug production involves an investor who contracts carpets on speculation by providing weavers with enough capital to cover the cost of materials and labour. The weaver makes the basic decision on what patterns and colours to use, but these choices are bound by local traditions and techniques. When the contract rugs are finished, the investor gathers them up and sell them, usually to shopkeepers in the bazaars. Again, because no strict specifications are laid down, these pieces vary greatly in quality. 

Workshop rugs

Finally, there are large resident companies that are responsible for the majority of Iran’s rug production. These firms have standing orders from foreign traders to export certain types and quantities of rugs, which are made in workshops that usually contain many looms, thus the ability to produce many rugs at once and to be able to create oversized rugs. These rug manufacturers subsidise their weaving and fully control it, dictating all the specification of the rugs, including colour and size. Obviously, this form of production is much more efficient than nomad or speculative weaving, and it means the quality of workshop rugs is much more consistent. 

What is a tribal rug?

The term tribal rug is sometimes used to describe any rug or woven artefact that is essentially tribal in character and appearance, regardless of the function for which it was made or the ethnic origin or life style of the weavers. However, the term should perhaps be more properly applied only to those items that are produced by people living in tribal societies, in a limited number of weaving techniques, and that are primarily used as floor coverings or associated furnishings. 

In practice, however, there are exceptions to this precise definition, and some items that cannot properly be described as either tribal or rugs are nevertheless generally accepted as falling into the category of tribal rugs. For example, the term tribal is sometimes applied to all the items woven in the predominantly Kurdish town of Bidjar, Iran, although the vast majority of Kurds in the area live a settled existence as part of the general Iranian population, non-Kurds may have participated in the weaving, and the rugs made in the town have long since evolved their own distinctive regional, rather than tribal, character and appearance. 

Bidjar AL1339 404×320 cm
https://oriental-rug-gallery.co.uk/product/al1339-404×320-cm

Similarly, the expression rug is frequently used by dealers as a collective term for a range of items that include tent partitions (purdahs), door-flaps (enssis), eating cloths (soufrehs), stove covers (rukorssis) and a variety of bags, animal trappings and other woven artefacts. The same is true of the blankets, ponchos, etc., produced in various parts of North, Central and South America, which, although not strictly rugs, are often considered to have a sufficiently close association with rug weaving to fall under the general umbrella of tribal rugs.

The term tribal rugs should therefore be viewed as a general, somewhat arbitrary, classification that includes not only items that can be regarded justifiably as both tribal (in origin) and rugs (in function), but also one that contains a number of other items that have traditionally fallen within the bracket of tribal rugs.