One of the stories in One Thousand and One Nights tells the tale of a Magic Carpet that will transport the prince to his desired destination “in the twinkling of an eye.” While rugs may not actually carry you to another place, their beauty can take you to another time, with an artistry that goes back centuries.
Rugs, one of the first functional forms of art, can be found in nearly every culture. The use of rugs even pre-dates recorded history: there is evidence that our cave-dwelling ancestors placed animal hides on floors for warmth and comfort.
Rug weaving is thought to have originated in two areas: Asia and Western Europe. The Asian or “Oriental” style can be linked to China, Central Asia, the Middle East, Turkey, North Africa, and India.
There are specific characteristics within each region, but the basic styles have remained unchanged. Distinctive designs are usually named for the city, town, or region where they were produced: Persian, Turkish, Caucasian, Turkoman, Indian, or Chinese.
Within the regions, different styles may be named for various weaving districts and their marketing centers. Persian rugs such as the Khorassan, Meshed, Herat, Shiraz, Kirman, Tabriz, Senna, Sarouk, Herez, Hamadan, Sultanabad, and Ispahan all derived their names from the places they were sold.
TYING THE KNOT: The most popular, a symmetrical knot, originates from Anatolia and is known by connoisseurs as the Turkish or Ghiordes knot. The finer, asymmetrical knot used in Persian, Indian, and Chinese rugs is called the Senneth knot.
What to look for when purchasing an Oriental rug
The better educated you are about Oriental rugs, the more you will appreciate their beauty, artistry, and craftsmanship. Here are some factors to consider beyond the design when evaluating rugs:
KNOT COUNT: determines the rug’s quality, value, and durability – the more knots per square inch (or KPI), the better.
WEAVING TECHNIQUE: hand-woven is the highest quality, machine-made is considered of lesser quality. Learn to tell the difference with our hints at right.
QUALITY OF MATERIALS: look for unadulterated wools or silks, hand-spun if possible.
LENGTH OF PILE: generally speaking, the longer the pile, the lower the quality.
DYING MATERIALS: vegetable-dyed rugs are more highly valued than their chemical dyed counterparts, as the natural dyes produce more aesthetically pleasing colors.
SYMMETRY: look for symmetry in image, size, and knot construction
Hand-woven or machine-made?
Here’s how to tell the difference at a glance
◗ The design should be the same on the front of the rug as it is on the back. Some “hand-tufted” rugs have a canvas backing – “hand-tufted” rugs are deceptively named, and are NOT hand-woven.
◗ If the rug has fringe, the knots created to pull tassels together have minor inconsistencies in the manner they were created.
◗ The fringe goes into the rug, and is not affixed with precise (machine-made) stitches. A hand-knotted carpet never has machine-fixed fringe.
◗ Hand-woven rugs have small inconsistencies in knot height and thickness, and minor imperfections. Look for knots that are smooth to the touch, with minimal bumps, bulges, or puckers when purchasing a top-quality rug.
➤ THE MAKING OF A HAND-WOVEN RUG
This century-old process has been altered and perfected through the years. Skilled artisans and quality materials are the essential elements to creating beautiful rugs that will be treasured for generations.
Rugmakers seek out wool based on its strength, coarseness, and sheen. While most sheep are sheared twice a year, the spring wool is favored for carpets. The selected wool goes through a process of washing and hand carding. Fibers are then wound into threads using a weighted object, called a spindle, and several threads are spun together to become yarn that is long, resilient, and glossy.
A design is chosen and the dying process begins. A variety of dye sources may be used to color the wool: insects, plants, vegetables, or synthetics. Plant-based dyes are the most difficult to work with and require skill that takes years to master. It is increasingly difficult to find rugs dyed in this manner, making them among the most valuable.
Dyed wool yarn is subsequently attached to a wooden frame, called a loom, and handwoven by skilled artisans. Depending on the intricacy of the design, this process can take anywhere from four months to a year, with each knot painstakingly hand-tied.
The completed rug is cleaned with soap and water, then secured to flat metal frames to dry in the sun. Once dry, the carpet is examined for irregularities by inspectors before being brought to market.
➤ HOW TO DECIDE A RUG FOR YOUR SPACE
Now that you know where they come from, how to determine their quality, and how they are made, you can find the perfect rug for your home keeping these five things in mind.
- High-quality wool or silk rugs wear well and look better over time. Wool is resilient and flame-resistant, takes dye well, and is insulating and hardwearing. Silk is highly durable, and has a gorgeous luster.
- Choose a rug that is 2 feet shorter than the smallest wall in the room. Hall rugs should allow for at least 6 inches of floor to show on all sides.
- Look for brand name retailers and manufacturers such as Karastan, Royal Intercontinental, Merida Meridian, Elson, and Tufenkian.
- Take a photo of the room that needs a rug, bring the dimensions of the room with you, and note the colors in the room.
- Consider the cleaning the rug will require and ask the seller about any special care needed.
FEMME ROUGE would like to give special thanks to The Rug Company for providing information and images for this article. The Rug Company has established itself as the leading name for handmade contemporary rugs.
The Rug Company; therugcompany.com