Planning To Buy Oriental Rugs? Know More About This Piece of Mystic Knots and Twists

Carpet

Planning To Buy Oriental Rugs? Know More About This Piece of Mystic Knots and Twists

Planning to buy authentic Oriental rugs? Most people don’t know where to look for one and how to know if what is being offered to them is a genuine piece.

History of oriental rugs
Oriental carpets in Istanbul. Turkey.

Before we come to that, let’s understand: What exactly is an Oriental rug?

Orient is the term used for the countries in the East. A rug made in this part of the world using various types of materials such as silk, wool, or even cotton, is regarded as authentic.

What Are Oriental Rugs?

In a reputed rug merchant’s display, you might even come across products from Western Europe and the Caucasus and some hand-woven authentic-looking ones from Egypt, Romania, and Uzbekistan. However, rugs from countries that have a tradition that goes back to thousands of years are of a distinct class. They come from Iran, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Pakistan.  

The Oriental rugs that come from other countries are not authentic in the classic sense. These are mass-produced using machines that copy the original designs. An original Oriental hand woven traditional rug of average 9’ X 12’ size made using routine methods can take around 3000 hours to complete and more time on setting up the loom, spinning the material, designing, dyeing, and finishing.

Oriental hand-woven rugs are made using a manually operated loom. There can be variations in the types of looms used.  In small villages, they create the rugs using wooden looms with not much focus on perfection in the loom design. In a professional workshop, the loom would most likely be metal and precisely designed.

The Origin of Oriental Rugs

Rugs were first created by tribeswomen from the hilly terrains of Persia to provide protection from the brutally harsh and extreme winters.  These handmade carpets and rugs kept the tribes warm on freezing winter nights. The early rugs were created using sheep wool, available in abundance in the region. Natural dyes extracted from plants were used for coloring the rugs. The red, brown, and terracotta-colored rugs were not only attractive but also extremely durable.

There are mentions of rugs in the Persian 6th-century literature where they are referred to as valued chattels. As no carpets from that part of history have survived, it is tough to pinpoint the technical aspects of these carpets. However, they were believed to have been created in a flat woven pattern.

There is no consensus among experts about the origin of antique rug weaving. It is however commonly believed and accepted that rug weaving was first initiated by Cyrus the Great when he was at the helm of the Persian Empire (529 B.C). The carpets made during this time were generally for residential use. The design patterns and the weavings have the stamp of the community or the tribe where it was created.

The oldest carpet is believed to be the one found in Southern Siberia in 1949 in a Pazyryk tomb. The carpet dates back to the 5th century B.C and has a whopping 1,125,000 knots. It carries the motifs of deer and horse – a strong symbol of its Persian origin.

The Persian and Oriental rugs were made using the Senneh or the Ghiordes knot incorporating wool, goat hair, silk, and cotton. The materials that went into weaving the rugs were those that were locally available. For instance, a rug made in Afghanistan often had a wool pile knotted on a wool foundation.  A rug made in the Hamedan region was most likely to have a wool pile knotted on a cotton foundation.

The designs of oriental rugs had a dominance of patterns that reflected the culture of the weavers of the region. Experts could trace back the history of the earliest rugs and accurately identify its origin by analyzing its design in terms of colors, patterns, and shapes.

It is believed that the Ardabil carpet on display at the famous Victoria & Albert Museum in London is among the oldest dated carpets in the world. There are some interesting facts about the Ardabil carpet.

  • It is believed to have been made in 1539-40 for the Ardabil Mosque, now located in northwest Iran.
  • The carpet has over 30 million hand-tied knots
  • It is 12 meters by 5 meters in size
  • The carpet incorporates non-figurative designs
  • The weavers have used more than 10 colors in the carpet

The Transformation Into an Organized Industry

Oriental carpet making thrived and became a popular art. The carpet-making process is said to have reached its zenith in the 15th and 16th centuries. During the Safavid Dynasty, which lasted till 1722, the Oriental carpet making became an organized sector under the watch of Shah Tahmasp and Shah Abbas. They focused on making Oriental carpet making into an organized form of art. A weaving industry was created aimed at commercial production of carpets and rugs, hiring the services of highly skilled and experienced artisans. Royal Weaving Workshops also came up during this era to help designers and workers come up with their most creative designs.

It was during this period that carpets, and rugs with gold and silver threads were created. Artisans would create sketches of creative rug designs, and the talented weavers would bring those intricate and attractive designs to life by creating stunning carpets. With the administration offering their support to these efforts, the artists and the designers were able to come up with some of the finest products were of the highest quality. These carpets were sold in Europe.

Oriental rugs that began appearing in Europe were brought by Crusaders and Muslims in Spain. These carpets can be seen in some of the 15th-century paintings by Han Holbein, Lorenzo Lotto, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Giovanni Bellini. Not surprisingly, some of the designs and patterns of these carpets are still known by the names of the painters who used them in their art.

Difference Between Oriental And Persian Rugs

Well, a Persian rug is an Oriental rug created in Iran. Most Persian rugs have a history of 100 years and more and come from the former Persian Empire.

Weavers from Persia are known for their passionate commitment to exquisite designs and premium quality – two aspects of rug weaving that they never compromise on.  Visit any reputed museum in the world, and you can be sure that the rugs on display here were created by Persian weavers.

All Persian rugs are Oriental rugs, but not all Oriental rugs are Persian rugs – That should infuse some clarity and clear confusion.

Types of rugs and designs
Selective focus image of Persian silk rugs

Types of Oriental Rugs

The various types of Oriental Rugs available on the market are:

Village Rugs

Woven by agricultural communities with access to local materials, these rugs are generally woven on vertical looms. However, horizontal looms are also not uncommon. The rugs have warps of cotton and wefts of wool or cotton.

City Rugs

These rugs are commercially woven using permanent looms by trained and skilled craftsmen. The entire process from start to finish is done using machines and technology.

Palace Rugs

As the name suggests, these types of rugs are large-sized and have very intricate designs. Made of the finest quality raw materials and handcrafted by the best artisans, these rugs are not only rare to find but inordinately expensive as well.

Prayer Rugs

These come in standard sizes of 2’ X 4’ and 4’ X 8’ and are usually designed to have an arch at one end. These rugs represent reverence and are among the most sought-after rugs today.

Materials Used In Creating Oriental Rugs

Most of the hand-knotted oriental rugs have a woolen pile. However, despite the name emphasizing that wool is used for the pile, this is a misnomer. The pile may contain animal and hair fibers in various combinations. Apart from the common presence of sheep’s wool, the woolen rugs may also contain camel hair, goat hair, metal fibers, mohair, and silk.

Oriental carpets made of silk are further categorized into natural and synthetic silk. Mercerized cotton is also an element of these carpets.

Different types of materials are used for creating oriental rugs. However, some general materials account for 99 percent of all hand-knotted rugs.

Artisans often blended different materials such as wools, cottons, and silks to create fine pieces of carpets. Silk was a common factor in pile materials that reflected luxury and style. Wool was the default pile material because of its excellent physical properties and high durability. It was easy for workers to work with wool as it could be easily and quickly drawn and spun into yarn. The cleaning of woolen fibers is also easy when compared to other materials because of its unique structure. It also lends easily to the dyeing process. The tensile strength of wool is another key reason why it is preferred by workers for creating piles. Wool does not shrink when washed.

Many workers and designers also prefer using silk in the pile work because of its high durability. It does not need a mordant to be dyed. Also, weavers can place a very high knot count into the carpet with silk threads. However, the popularity of silk fibers dips when compared to wool because of two key factors. One, silk stains easily and is difficult to clean. Two, the cost is high when compared to wool. That’s the reason for the rampant use of synthetic silk (mercerized cotton) in oriental carpets. They look and feel like real silk.

Cotton is generally used in the creation of wefts and warps in oriental rugs. Luxurious rugs make use of silk fibers.  A combination of the two can be seen in some antique pieces. The popularity of cotton sustained in the Oriental carpet-making industry because it was regarded as the best for creating a base fiber. It’s low cost and high durability were also the key contributing factors.

Designs, Patterns, and Symbolism:

The oriental carpet design is one of the most vital aspects of its high level of attractiveness. It is the variety of design elements that helps determine its value and appeal to buyers. The designs also offer a clear sign of where and why a specific Oriental carpet was created.

Oriental rug design elements are of two types:

  • Rectilinear Designs comprises angular patterns and geometric motifs
  • Curvilinear Designs are made of floral patterns and motifs in intricate settings.

It is possible that a rug may contain both these design elements neatly incorporated into each other.

Buy oriental rugs
Restoring antique carpets, rugs and kilims.

Oriental rugs are also differentiated on the basis of their fields and borders.

Fields:

The field occupies the large area of the center of the rug. It encloses the main pattern and designs. The contents of a field can be further categorized into

Open Field

They have a large area filled with one solid color surrounded by a number of borders. Examples: Caucasian Talish and Kazak rugs, Tibetan, Nepalese, and Sultanabad rugs.

Medallion

Medallions are created in the center of the field in various styles, sizes, and numbers. Central medallions can be superimposed either on an empty field or on one with a repeat motif or an overall pattern.

Repeated Motif

In this type, the field has multiple rows of the same motif. In some cases, the field may be combined with the medallion design. They are found in Boteh, Herati, Mina, Gul, and Knahni types of oriental rugs.

Allover Pattern

This field comes with multiple motifs, but not in any repeated form. The common patterns used are flowers on vines and tendrils, vase, tree, garden, and others.

Panel

The panel field design is compartmentalized into squares, rectangular shapes, domes, diamond shapes, lattice, and similar shapes. These shapes contain flowers, trees, stars, and palm designs.

Portrait or Pictorial

This type of design is characterized by landscapes, religious scenes, or events of historical importance.

Prayer

Prayer rugs almost certainly have a prayer niche in the form of an arc at the top of the field.  Some prayer rugs may also have stars and urns.

Borders:

Oriental rugs have borders in the form of a band series of ten or more. They all run along the rug’s perimeter and have repeat designs of motifs such as rosettes, stars, flowers, and geometric patterns.  Some also have poems and prayers inscribed on them.

The Historical Importance Of Oriental Rugs

According to many experts, the history of oriental rugs is as old as the history of religions. Rug weaving was an art form of immense importance in the past. While the old form of designing and production has changed dramatically over the years, primarily because of the introduction of modernization and technology in the weaving industry, there is little doubt about the charm, value, and importance placed on oriental rugs created the traditional way.

In some countries, the amazing art form and the manner in which carpets and rugs are created have remained unchanged for over 3000 years. Rug making has an interesting as well as intriguing history. There are references to oriental carpets and rugs in the Bible and other documents and books of high religious and historical relevance. However, there are gaps in the flow of information making it difficult for historians and researchers to accurately create a historical flowchart of the evolution and development of the Oriental rug-making industry.

History of oriental rags and designs
Leisure activity color image of travel, photographed with a Canon DSLR camera taken at outdoor. Photograph represents tourism, vacations, adventure and relaxation. Edited with Photoshop, color correction was made and sharpened.

The Tradition of Weaving / Culture and Skills

There are two theories on how rugs came into existence and the traditions of weaving oriental rugs.

The first one states that the nomads and villagers of the ancient Middle-East created piled carpets using any available materials to protect themselves from the harsh elements. This theory would mean that the rugs were for purely utilitarian purposes and devoid of any artistic values.  

The second theory contends that rugs were created as decorative elements.  It credits the creation of oriental rugs and carpets to a group of people or a community with a highly creative mind. The theory also states that the world’s first oriental rugs were created on vertical, permanent looms, using high-quality materials to ensure a luxurious finished product.

A practical line of thinking would suggest that the reality behind the creation of oriental rugs is a combination of the two theories. While the early oriental rugs were created for protection purposes, creative artists saw the potential of these decorative handmade rugs as attractive items. Intricate art forms found its way into these rugs to add to its value and make them precious items of collection for the privileged and the art collectors. Weavers, designers, and artists kept experimenting with designs and materials to create intriguing and attractive pieces of modern rugs and carpets that dazzled the world as time went by.

The Spread of The Industry Across The East

The runaway success of rug markets in Persia made other countries sit up and contemplate how to set up rug centers within their borders.  In the East, India established workshops during the regime of Emperor Akbar. These were found mostly in North India in places like Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. These workshops were influenced by the Safavid designs and work ethics but developed their own culture and designs with time. While Persian motifs were seen as a standard part of the Oriental rugs designs across the world, in India the designs were influenced by local factors.

Soon China too entered the oriental rugs manufacturing market. The Chinese rug industry developed and flourished during the Quing Dynasty. Rug making centers also came up rapidly in Spain, France, and England to meet the growing demands for such products for domestic consumption.  The decline of the Safavid court began in the 18th century and it had a direct bearing on the rug making processes as well. New rug designs came as an interpretation of the classical Safavid court rugs. 

The entry of Americans into the buyer market saw a change in demand in terms of sizes, colors, and designs.  It also saw the re-establishment of the Safavid system, which helped stop the exportation of rugs of inferior quality. Expert artists were hired to create new designs. The weaving and designing processes became two separate entities to ensure greater speed. With the introduction of new and path-breaking technologies, highly efficient looms came into play. New types of materials, including synthetic dyes, also influenced the market significantly.

Uses of Oriental Rugs:

It is evident from its history that an oriental rug that is beautifully crafted can never go out of style. The new designs, colors, sizes, and fabrics used in these rugs and house carpets make them highly versatile and creates a slew of opportunities for their use in all kinds of homes. There are a few basic tips to be followed while buying Oriental rugs.

  • Choose monochromatic or neutral colors that blend with the décor of your home
  • Be creative while mixing and matching patterns
  • Never compromise on quality and finish

Designers recommend that you choose the rugs first while decorating your home and then paint the room accordingly. The logic behind this suggestion is that the Oriental rug is a limited work of art. You can easily find a shade of paint of fabric to match the rug design and color, and not vice versa.

Where To Buy Oriental Rugs:

Choosing the right location and rugs suppliers is a vital decision because it is easy to slip up because of the presence of a large number of players in the market. Research and collate a list of the finest rug distributors while purchasing Oriental rugs and carpets to make sure that you get the right one for your needs and at the right price too. Handmade rugs are the best. Look for a reliable, reputed, and authentic rug resource that can not only provide a wide range of choices but also guide you into making the best buying decisions based on your needs and budget.

Istanbul Rug, located in Berkeley, California is acclaimed as one of the most dependable sources for high-quality handmade Oriental carpets and rugs. You can find one of the largest collections of antique, traditional, modern, silk, and other varieties of oriental rugs here. Apart from the great selection, the service is also of impeccable standards. They also have a showroom in San Rafael in California.