It is understood through extensive research that handmade rugs have been around for thousands of years. The infamous Pazyryk Rug which is kept at The Hermitage Museum In St. Petersburg Russia, was found in early 20thcentury and is estimated to be about twenty five hundred years old. There are also a number of well kept rugs in museums dated back to 16thcentury like the Ardebil rug in Victoria & Albert museum in London.
With advancements in technology, expansions of markets and customer demands of availability and selection particularly in the past fifty years or so, the handmade rug industry has gone through many changes but the fundamentals and construction of rug making have remained the same. Our focus would be exclusively on the hand knotted and hand woven rugs from the most well known regions.
Hand Knotted Rugs:
Rugs which are 'knotted' employ thousands, and often times millions, of individual short lengths of yarn which are 'tied' around one of the internal structures (the warp) of the rug and which extrude from the face to create a pile. By alternating various colors of the pile fiber (typically wool, although frequently silk and in some odd pieces, cotton) per ‘line' or row, designs are effectively created. As work on the rug continues, the 'rough pile' is shorn numerous times to examine how the piece is progressing. Once the weaving of the rug has been completed by this arduous procedure, the sides, or selvedges are attached and the extended warps are finished by either securing in a fringe, kilim, plaited or braided fashion. The rug is then cut from the loom, given a final shear, washed, dried and is now ready for sale or personal use.
Hand Woven Rugs:
Rugs which are hand woven generally do not have a pile. The designs and colors are created by weaving multiple hues of the horizontal yarns (the weft) in between and in & out of the vertical internal structure (the warp). Various techniques are employed in the creation of 'flat-weaves' such as Kilims, Aubusson weave and Needlepoint. If you wish, we encourage you to seek out some of the publications listed on the last page of this site for further illumination.
Handmade rugs and carpets for our purposes are generally made of wool, cotton or silk. In most cases these materials are found locally but with the expansion of trade and the ease of transportation, it is not unusual to see these materials used in regions that are far away from its origin such as New Zealand and Australian wool used in some cases in India or elsewhere.
Whenever the subject of handmade rugs is approached, invariably the types of dyes used are questioned. As a matter of course, most people believe that dyes made from organic materials are the best. What most do not realize is that synthetic dyes have been in use since the 1860's. The first synthetic dyes were extremely strong in their tones but as certain colors had never been attainable from natural sources, these dyes were welcome to many. The first of the synthetics were a fuchsia pink and an electric orange. The dyes were extremely fast and many carpets produced using these dyes can still be found today. Some carpets were a combination of the synthetics and natural dyes and today, it is interesting to examine these rugs and see how the natural dyes have mellowed with age while the synthetics stand out. Certain old dyes (primarily black, dark brown and some greens) made with organic materials were then made deeper in tone by the addition of ferrous (iron) oxide. This addition caused the dyed wool to breakdown prematurely. This is evidenced by areas in the rug where the yarn became so brittle that is simply rotted out of the rug. Purists, will of course, consider this a characteristic of the piece and, some, an indication of age. Caution is suggested however when using this factor as a determinate of age. As the growth of chemical dyes continued, the range of colors became greater and they were generally accepted the world over. However, the inherent problem with the arrival of these new substances was that many weavers who acquired these dyes had no knowledge of how to apply them properly. The instructions were in another language so; the dyers simply applied them in the manner in which they were accustomed. Needless to say, by incorrectly applying the dyes they proved to be non-fast, thereby limiting the life of the tones. As time passed and new methods of producing chemical dye progressed, these materials were accepted even more readily and the techniques with which they were applied became more known. Natural dyes have made resurgence in the modern market and are hailed as the 'new classics'.
The most basic starting point is the format in which the designs have been created. The three most common formats are 1) the quadrant, 2) the left-right and 3) the 'drop'. In the higher quality rugs or the so called city rugs, the design of the piece is drawn and colored on a piece of graph paper with each small square representing a knot. The weavers of these intricate designs and formal curvilinear patterns are required to follow the design knot by knot and to go back and correct any mistakes which may occur. In a quadrant format, the designer needs only to produce one quarter of the design on graph paper as the weaver will follow the design in a 'clockwise' or 'counter clockwise' fashion simply repeating the progression of knots in reverse order as needed. In the left-right format, which is, many times, a prayer rug design, or a 'tree' motif the artist produces half of the design as it would appear split down the vertical axis. This creates a 'mirror' image. A drop typically depicts an asymmetrical design such as a person, a picnic scene, a historic event, etc. In this format the artist must draw the whole design in its entirety.
We can divide the handmade rugs to two groups of city rugs and Village rugs. The city rugs usually have a more detailed curvilinear pattern and a higher knot count with exceptions of course. Some finely knotted silk city rugs have up to two thousand knots per square inch. The village rugs are generally less perfect in workmanship, more geometric and not as finely knotted but just as popular and valuable as the city rugs. The more famous rug producing cities and villages from each region are:
Isfahan, Najafabad, Josheqan, Kashan, Meymeh, Ardekan, Nain, Yazd, Qume, and Tehran
Khorasan, Mashad, Birjand, Dorokhsh, and Kashmar.
East and south region:
Kerman, Lavar (Ravar) Kerman, Baluchi, Afshar, Qashqaee, Shiraz, and Abadeh.
West and west central region :
Lori, Baktiary, Kordish Bidjar, Seneh, Hamadan, Sarouk, Malayer, Lilihan, Tafresh, Enjelas, Hoseinabad, Farahan, Sarouk Farahan, Bibakabad, and Sultanabad.
Tabriz, Khoy, Heriz, Serapi, Sarab, Karajeh, Bakhshayesh, and Goravan
Oushack, Ghordies, Ladik, Sivas, Qaisary, Bergama, Kula, Kars, Konya, Beserabian and Herekeh
Shirvan, Kazak, Baku, Karabakh, Talish, Genjeh, Leshgi, Kuba and Seychur
Aubusson and Savonnerie
As the markets expanded and with the lack of copy rights or any other controls, rugs with patterns or an adaptation of it from any of these places started coming to the markets made in other places. In order to identify a rug we refer to the order of the words we use. For instance, Indo-Heriz in which the first word identifies the country of origin as 'India' and the second word refers to its design as being Heriz. Since the village of Heriz is in northwest Iran, it means this is a Persian Heriz design rug made in India and it is not a genuine Persian Heriz. An Egyptian Agra refers to a rug that has an Indian Agra design made in Egypt. Value of a rug is affected by where exactly it is made among other criterias.We have seen a healthy output of handmade rug from India, Pakistan, China, Egypt, etc. in the past thirty years which provides verity in selection, availability, and price point.
There are numerous sources in print or on-line to read about this beautiful art form. The following publications can be of great benefit and a good start for those of you who would like to get more in depth knowledge of the handmade rugs.
1) The Persian Carpet - by Cecil Edwards
He traveled extensively throughout Iran during the late 1930's and produced the first scholarly publication on the carpets of Persia.
2) Oriental Rugs - A Comprehensive Guide by Murry Eiland
3) Caucasian Carpets - by E. Gans-Ruedin
4) Hand Woven Carpets - by A.F. Kendrick and C.E.C. Tattersall