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Oriental Rugs - A buyer’s Guide

How Oriental rugs are Made?

All Oriental rugs are made in one of two ways: they are either hand-woven (Kelims, Dhurries, or in general flat weave) or hand-knotted (pile rugs). Individual weaving groups my adopt slightly varying methods of construction, particularly in the type of knot used to form the pile, and it is often these slight differences in weaving and structure, taken in conjunction with their appearance, that enable rug experts to attribute individual rugs correctly.  The fundamentals of construction are basically the same, however, and before discussing the two methods of weaving in detail, t is important to clarify some universal weaving terms.

  • Warps and Wefts
    The warp and weft are the basic constituents of all textiles, and are often referred to as foundation of a rug. The warp describes the strands of material that run length ways from the top to the bottom of a rug and form the fringes at the ends; the weft runs width ways and forms the selvedges, or sides.  Normally both the warp and the weft are made from the same material, but it is not unknown , particularly in village and nomadic rugs, for contrasting materials to be used; a woolen warp be used in conjunction with cotton weft, for example.
  • Selvedges and Fringes
    The selvedges are the outer edges of the rug where the weft strands have been wrapped around the last few warp strands in order to hold the rug tightly together across its width.  The fringes are continuations of the warp strands, and are secured at the top and bottom of the rug to both hold the weft strands in place and add the final decorative touch to the rug.
    Selvedges are more or less the same on all items, but the fringes are secured in number of distinctive ways.
  • Tied fringes probably the most common and found in rugs from a broad cross-section of weaving groups.  Two or more warp strands are tied together to form a knot which press against the final weft strand and holds it in place.  The process is repeated across the entire width of the rug.
  • Kelim or Plaited Fringe. The weft strands are continued beyond the edge of the pile and interwoven with warp strands to form a short length of Kelim at either end of the rug.
  • Woven Fringe.  A narrow strip of pile material is added to a Kelim fringe. It may be continuous or broken into segments, and usually runs along the top and bottom fringes approximately mid-way between the end of the fringe and the beginning of the main body of the rug.  Woven fringes are usually found only in workshop and masterworkshop rugs.
  • Looms.

    The parts of a rug loom.

    Weaving looms differ considerably in size and sophistication, but all operate on exactly the same principle,  which requires a secure frame on which to tie the warp strands. This is achieved by constructing a rectangular framework, usually of wood, which may be either of fixed dimensions or adjustable in size. On fixed frames, the weaver can only make rugs in sizes smaller than the inner dimensions of the frame; adjustable frames allow one or more of the beams to be extended so that larger rugs can be woven. On most adjustable looms the vertical beams are fixed and one or both of the horizontal beams, which hold the warp strands in place, can be moved up or down the frame. Needless to say, the type of loom used is a crucial factor determining the size and structural quality of the rugs woven by each weaving group.
  • Horizontal or Nomadic looms. The most simple and primitive in contemporary use, these looms have changed little since their inception several millennia ago; they consist of four wooden beams which are laid out flat and secured by pegs driven into the ground. As the name implies, they are used almost exclusively by nomadic weavers. The fact that the loom is horizontal means that the women have to do much of their weaving from the sides, which becomes impossible if the rugs are too wide;  consequently, nomadic rugs tend to be either small, or long and narrow.  having work from different angles makes it extremely difficult to maintain an even symmetry throughout the design, and it is therefore not surprising that nomadic rugs sometimes contain motifs of slightly varying sizes; the fact that so many are perfectly balanced and symmetrical is a glowing testament to the weavers’ skill.  Despite the limitations of the horizontal loom, it is eminently suited to the nomads’ way of life, being both easy to assemble and take down, and not too large or cumbersome to be carried by donkey or camel.
  • Village loom.  Only slightly more sophisticated than nomadic looms, either driven into the ground or secured on a stable base, with two horizontal beams fastened at the top and the bottom of the uprights. Because they are vertical these looms allow the weaver easy access to every point across the width of the rug, and it is possible to produce much wider rugs. However, the overall size of rugs that can be made is restricted by the fixed beams, and village weavers rarely produce large carpets.
  • Adjustable Looms.  Some villages and workshop groups use looms with horizontal beams which can be adjusted to alter the length of the rug.  A more sophisticated version of this type is the Tabriz loom, used primarily by workshop groups.  It was developed specifically for the larger urban workshops and consists of an adjustable loom with a device which, by altering the tension on the warp strands, shifts the completed work to the rear of the loom, allowing the weaver to sit at the same level throughout the entire rug making process. this innovation makes it possible to produce rugs that are almost twice as long as the distance between the horizontal beams.
    Roller looms take the weaving process one step further with a development which is simplicity itself.  The warp strands are fed individually to the horizontal beam at the bottom of the loom which can be rotated so that the finished portions of the rug are rolled onto the beam.  Its advantage over the Tabriz loom is that even larger carpets can be made. These two types are now standard equipment in workshops and masterworkshops throughout the weaving world.
  • Tools. Weaving tools consist of a knife, a beating, comb, and shears. These may vary a little in size and construction, and individual weavers may have several slightly different versions of each, but they are always basically the same.
  • Knife. Used to cut the threads of the pile and foundation material; it usually has a hook on the end of the blade to assist in the formation of the knot.
  • Beating Comb.  Consists of a series of metal blades which are splayed to form a set of sharp teeth.  It is used to tighten, or beat, the threads of the weft against the line of knots tied around the warp strings, ensuring the compactness of the rug.
  • Shears.  Used to clip the pile to an even level once the weaving has been completed.

    A Rug Weavers’ Tools.

Oriental rugs always use natural fibers, and any rug containing synthetic material will invariable have been machine made. The only exception to this rule is the occasional use of very small quantities of gold or metallic thread in some workshop and masterworkshop rugs. Wool, cotton and silk are the main materials, although goat and camel hair are sometimes used by nomadic and village weavers.

  • Wool.  The best and most widely used rug making material.  It is soft, durable and easy to work.  However, the quality varies considerably and not all wool is suitable for rug making. Good carpet wool needs to combine softness with strength and springiness, otherwise the rug wears out quickly and fails to return to its original shape if creased or depressed.  Only certain types of wool possess the qualities required; the best comes from lambs between 8 and 14 months old, particularly those from the colder high land regions.  Unless one has followed the rug making process through clipping to completion, the only way to assess the quality of the wool is to rely on the “feel” of  rug and the reputation of the individual weaving group.  However,  some rugs are prefixed by the word Kurk, or Kork, as in Kurk Kashan, which indicates that the rug was made from wool taken from the flanks and shoulders, where the fibers are longest, of lambs reared in the winter and clipped in the spring.  Kurk wool is generally considered to be among the very best available.
    The process of turning freshly shorn wool into yarn suitable for rug making is both simple and universal.  The wool is first washed, normally after shearing, and then “carded”, a process that teases the wool into longer and straighter fibers.  The fibers are then spun, either by hand or machine, into a continuous tread which is twisted together with other threads, in the opposite direction to which they were spun, to form a yarn.  The individual threads are referred to as “ply”, and the more that go into making a yarn, the thicker and stronger it will be.
    As a general rule, the wool in nomadic items is very good .  Equally, that found in Persian and Afghan rugs is of high quality.  Chines wool is also excellent, and wool from India and Pakistan, although beautifully lustrous, but has improved considerably in recent years.  Superior quality Australian, new Zealand and Belouch wool is often used in the better rugs. Anatolian (Turkish) rugs have improved considerably in recent years, and the general quality of their wool is good.  As a foundation material it is only used by nomadic and some village weavers. It has a tendency to lose its shape and can only be spun into relatively thick strands. This can add a degree of primitive charm to tribal rugs.
  • Cotton.  Normally only used for foundations. The main exception of this rule is Kayseria, in Anotolia (Turkey), which produces rugs with mercerized cotton piles normally marketed as “Art” (Artificial) Silk.  Cotton is grown in most rug making countries in the East, particularly in India and Persia, and is consequently in plentiful supply.  As a foundation material it has numerous advantages : it is strong, does not lose its shape and can be spun into strands sufficiently thin to allow fine weaving.  It is, however, susceptible to mildew.
  • Silk.  Produced by the larva of a species of moth (bombix mori) commonly called the silkworm.  It is native to China and has been cultivated successfully in a number of countries, including Iran, Turkey, India, and the former Soviet Union. The finest silk for rug making traditionally comes from China and an area around the Caspian Sea. This latter region produces a type referred to as Rasht Silk, which is generally regarded as the best in the world.
    Silk is used either on its own or in combination with wool by a number of individual weaving groups in all the major rug making countries, with the  exception of Pakistan, where very few silk or part silk rugs are produced. Silk has a number of limitations. It is reasonably hard wearing but it lacks the springiness and suppleness of wool; consequently, silk rugs tend to retain any creases or scuffing in the pile, and far greater care is needed to protect them from damage.  It is also extremely expensive, and only the most profligate would consider using a pure silk rug as a functional floor covering.  However, its physical beauty is unsurpassed and silk rugs are normally used as decorative, rather than functional examples of textiles art, either as wall hangings, or floor coverings in rooms that rarely see practical use.  Silk is also used as a foundation material; it is extremely strong, keep its shape, and can be spun into very fine strands, but because its cost it is only used when exceptionally fine knotting is required.

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