Western Interest in The Eastern Carpet

Early Interest
You may be treading on a work of art without knowing it. If you think this is an over-dramatic statement you should know that remarkable treasures are being sold from homes and estates all the time, and that the owners may have little idea of their importance before the sale. So if you have a rug at home bought more than fifty years ago there is a chance that it could be something exciting. It is not only the public who have difficulty in understanding carpet. Of all the objects circulation on the art market carpet are probably the least understood, so let us look at how these carpet came to the west and see how this state of affairs came about.

Richard Sackville posing on a rug

Richard Sackville, third Earl of Dorset is shown here standing on a carpet. The artist painted the carpet in sufficient detail for it to be identified as a type made in Turkey. Its source was probably a cottage industry which succesfully supplied large numbers of carpets to Europe during the seventeenth century. The painting, of 1613, is by William Larkin.

Carpet came to the west throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as objects of value which conferred dignity and status on their owners, as many paintings of the period reveal (see image above). Turkey seems to have been the main supplier to the west through Venice and as a result all hand-knotted carpets, whether from Persia or Egypt, were called at the time ‘Turkey carpets’. Some idea of the different types of carpet imported to the west can be gained from a study of contemporary European painting.

In the seventeenth century interest in carpets grew to include Persian, Egyptian and Indian products but already in the first decade of the century a new style of European carpet, destined to displace the oriental carpet from fashion, had made its appearance in France. Later, during the reign of Louis XIV, a workshop making carpets for the court was established in an old soap factory on the outskirts of Paris. The name ‘Savonnerie’ became famous and the French decorative style was adopted as the norm of taste throughout Europe.

By the eighteenth century a designer commissioned to design an interior would include the floor covering in the overall scheme. It is known that the Adam brothers made their own carpet designs and had them executed in workshops in London and Axminster. Several other workshops are recorded as having been established in England and Scotland at this time to make hand-made pile carpets in European designs. The new décor made oriental carpets look unfashionable and demand for them faded away. It was at this time that the factories at Axminster and Wilton, now famous for machine-made carpets, began.

The Rediscovery of Carpets
In the nineteenth century ‘oriental’ or ‘Persian’ carpets as they came to be known again aroused interest. Paintings of nineteenth-century western interiors often include a rug or carpet, usually a tribal or village weaving from the Middle East. Some of these were brought in the local bazaars and brought home by those tireless Victorian travelers, while others were imported by merchants from Turkey, which became the centre of the carpet trade.

The resurgence of interest in carpets was stimulated by the so-called orientalist painters, artists working in the Middle East, who presented to the European public a romantic and dramatized view of local life. This type of painting, typified by the work of J.F.Lewis, became extremely popular. The subjects are meticulously drawn and frequently include representations of carpets that are on the whole accurate, just as they were in the sixteenth century, so that various types of piled carpet and flat-weave can be identified without difficulty. Research into European painting prior to 1700 has yielded important information on the dating of early carpets, and, in view of the difficulty of obtaining accurate data on the dating of tribal and village carpets, a similar approach could be used for later paintings. Nineteenth-century painting, potentially a rich source of information, has yet to be explored.

Henry VIII posing on a rug

King Henry VIII had a sizeable collection of carpets and must have had an important influence on their popularity. Portraits showing him standing on recognizable Turkish carpet, or seated on a carpet-covered podium, bear witness to their importance; so much so that copies of Turkish carpet were made in sixteenth-century England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

A few early photographs also include recognizable carpets, notably the work of Roger Fenton in the 1850s. He, like the orientalist painters, attempted to capture something of the flavour of the Middle East.

One result of the increasing awareness of oriental carpets was the interest taken in them by William Morris. His indebtedness to aestern, especially Persian, design is well known, but he appears to have particularly interested in carpets and set up a workshop for their commercial production in 1879 at Hammersmith. His designs, while original and distinctive, draw heavily on Persian carpets for their inspiration. Those made in his workshop between 1879 and 1881 are signed with his device consisting of an M, hammer and double wavy line, signifying water.

In the second half of the century demand for these exotic imports increased enormously and the carpet formerly a curio, became an accepted article of furniture in the respectable home. The response to this demand had far-reaching social and economic consequences for the carpet producing countries. The whole pattern of production gradually changed, as did the carpets themselves.

The growth in demand increased steadily and it became apparent to the far-sighted merchants that tribal and cottage weavers would not be able to supply the requirements of the market for much longer, and that some additional source of supply was needed. In the 1870s the first of a new wave of carpet producing workshops was set up in Tabriz in north-west Persia. Others soon followed, and from these small beginnings grew Persia’s huge commercial carpet manufacturing industry which has since been successfully copied in many other countries. We will look at this important development in more detail later. First we must look at how the carpet producing countries responded to increased demand prior to the great expansion of commercial production.

Exporters, hungry for goods, prompted enterprising local traders to visit the nomadic encampments, tribal areas and villages, and buy wherever the ancient craft was to be found, usually on a price per unit area basis. They then brought their wares to the trading centres such as Bukhara, Shiraz, Mashhad, Tabriz and Tiflis, from where they were transported in bales by camel, mostly to Constantinople (Istanbul), as it was called at the time, and then shipped to the west, having passed through several hands on the way.

As well as carpets and rugs the traders bought many items made for everyday use in tribal life, such as saddle bags, pouches and animal trappings. But what began as a basically functional object was not necessarily what ended up in the Victorian drawing room. The saleable part of these tribal weavings was the piled area and so appendages such as ropes, tassels, hanging loops and the plain-woven backs of bags were considered a nuisance, and their shipment an unnecessary cost. They were cut off, sometimes very crudely, and simply discarded. Objects were often further mutilated to make them more acceptable: cradle-shaped bedding bags were cut up into six pieces and sold separately as little mats to cover furniture; pairs of bags were sewn together to make a small rug after a border was cut from each; 40-feet long piled bands, used to stabilize the trellis tent, were cut into 3-feet lengths, and so on.

In the 1870s and 1880s many of these small tribal weavings were cut up and used as upholstery fabric, pillows and bolster covers. Ironically this basically destructive practice has caused a number of lovely old pieces to survive which otherwise might have been lost if used on the floor. An amusing aside to this fashion is that its popularity prompted the German firm of Koch and the Kock to produce machine-made imitations of Turkmen and Qashgai weavings for sale as upholstery material.

The objects reaching the west were faced with another menace, a process known as ‘chemical washing’, which involves treatment of carpets with alkali followed by an acid to neutralize the alkali. Sometimes a bleaching agent is used as well. This process partially degrades the wool, softening and increasing the lustre of the pile. The colours are also altered, toned down and even bleached out if desired. The aim is to make a more attractive product. The majority of new carpets sold today have been ‘washed’ under controlled conditions, but in former times the finer points were not always observed and many tribal artifacts, especially those bleached, have been completely ruined by the process. Objects surviving the twin hazards of mutilation and bleaching were then subjected to shod feet and caresses of the older type of ‘beat-as-they-bash-as-they-chew’ vacuum cleaners. As a result few tribal weavings made prior to the impacts of European influences survive in original or complete condition.

Obscure Sources, Unsuspected Treasures
Throughout this period no effort was made to keep records of the carpets. The traders who made first contact with the weavers certainly had every commercial reason to conceal their sources so it is very unlikely that in their turn the exporters in Constantinople had any more than a general idea of the district where the goods came from. Thus a mass of material of diverse ethnic and tribal origins, from villages and encampment all over Turkey, the Coucasus, Afghanistan and Persia, poured onto the market without any form documentation, was shipped to Europe and America and sold to the public as home furnishings. And the further the carpets traveled from their origin the less people knew about them. It will ever be regretted that there were no ethnographers at this time making notes, recording dates, places and types of loom used; no Captain Cooks to bring to the west objects of known date and origin. Now only the carpets remain.

So how was the nineteenth-century householder to know what he was buying? The seller’s knowledge was patchy, the buyer’s ignorance total. The dealer would no doubt have done his best to tell the totally ignorance total. The dealer would no doubt have done his best to tell the totally ignorant buyer all he knew about the pieces. In the case of tribal work little information of a specific nature was available but for commercially produced rugs there was more and it was generally accurate. Some valuable information has been transmitted by word of mouth within the families of dealers in the west, traditionally Armenians and Sephardic Jews, in the form of a lore of carpets, consisting of a sort of working jargon used in the everyday affairs of business. It includes an elaborate nomenclature, almost a set of nicknames, for carpets according to size, colour, pattern, place of shipment, district of origin, village of origin, function, shape and so on. Many terms are words from one of the local languages. As they probably passed through at least one other language on their way to English the words have often changed into something else and their original meaning lost, giving endless opportunity for misunderstanding. Much of the traditional information about carpets is valuable and amounts to the only source we have, but the accumulated inaccuracies will take a generation of scholarship to untangle. More than fifty years of study have already gone into laying the academic foundations for an understanding of the earlier Islamic carpet, but the classification and documentation of tribal carpets is still a long way behind.

The student of this material is faced with immense problems. In Europe the first tribal carpets came to museums as late as the 1870s. The haphazard gathering of tribal and village weavings has made it very difficult to understand the pattern of production at this time and as a result there are large gaps in the knowledge of where and when a piece was made. Occasionally the gap can be filled by the discovery of old inventories describing a particular carpet still in a house, or by an inscription and date woven into a carpet, but more often only an informed guess is possible. To complicate matters dates can be falsified and inscriptions are sometimes copied from earlier carpets. Perhaps somewhere there are documented examples of earlier date yet to be discovered, surviving under unusual circumstances, but although in the last ten years increased interest in tribal weaving has brought to light numerous examples hidden away in museum storages and country houses, unfortunately none has had with it this much hoped for paperwork.

This is how in the scramble to export goods during the last century a few objects, now understood to rank among the outstanding achievements of tribal and folk art, came to be used as scatter rugs, cushions, covers for piano stools, upholstery, and simply floor covering. Age is no guarantee of quality and in case the impression has been given that every old carpet is a masterpiece of ethnic art, it is good to remember that most carpets were the consumer goods of the tribal people, made for everyday use. They were discarded when worn and new ones woven to replace the old. Weavers with great skill and artistic sensibility were few, and only rarely did a weaving pass beyond the threshold of the ordinary. Such a variety and profusion of objects came onto the market in so short a time that it was impossible for traders and public to make detailed judgements on their character. Everything was mixed up and only now, with the benefit of hindsight, is it possible to discriminate between the exceptional and the commonplace.

If a buyer had a good eye he might pick out a particularly charming piece. But mostly purchases were on the basis of price, size and colour. Price was determined by size, fineness of weave and quality of workmanship, with a premium for rarity and special appeal. As a result of this haphazard process many a treasure has been pounded into oblivion by passing feet, although almost miraculously some outstanding objects have been lovingly cherished in quite modest homes to be passed on to the next generation.

In time the carpet bought long ago by grandparents or great aunts return to the market. The recycling of rugs from households back onto the market is a slow process. It may take as little as a decade or as much as three generations. Today we search among these old pieces innocently acquired so many years ago for treasures of a vanishing art which was already in declined a hundred years ago.

Carpets From the Tents, Copttages and Workshops of Asia, Page 33-48, Jon Thomson, 1983 London

▲ return to top

Rug Cleaning Guide

rug cleaning process

Our rug cleaning process: colour fastness test, removing all the dust, bathing, shampoo, rinsing, drying and grooming.

Why wash a rug? A clean rug has brighter, clearer colours and the wool is glossier. If this isn't reason enough, washing a rug protects it. When a soiled rug used, soil particles cut the fibres and accelerate wear. If a rug is to be stored, then washing helps protect it from beetles, moths and mildew. Another motive is to discover the rug's true condition. The first washing of a newly acquired rug may disclose virtues and faults. One may discover brilliant colours and attractive design details or painted areas and permanent stains. Ultimately, the truth is best.

When a rug is washed, what is removed from it? According to a research survey of households, soil on surface in the home typically consists of:
45% sand and clays
12% animal protein fibres
12% cellulose fibres
10% alcohol-soluble particles (resins, gums, fatty acids)
6% ether-soluble particles (fats, oils, rubber, asphalt)
5% gypsum
5% limestone
3% moisture
2% miscellaneous

Usually, the combination of the solvent action of the detergent and the mechanical action of the washing process are sufficient to remove this collection of substances.

Sometimes washing a fabric is necessity, even though conservators regard it as an irreversible process. A rug can be permanently and perhaps adversely, affected by washing. Generally, the risk is worthwhile. But it is best to understand and evaluate the risk before the rug goes into a bath.

Assesing The Risks
One risk is running or bleeding colours. This risk is greatest where there are large areas of white or light coloured pile, or white areas next to red or orange coloured pile. It must be inspected for existing signs of running or bleeding in light coloured areas, If it has already happened once, it could happen again. Before washing, test must be done for colour fastness. A clean, white fabric moistened with a solution of detergent and water must be used. Each colour must be rubbed vigorously to see if any colour transfers to the test cloth. This test is important. A rug can be ruined if light coloured areas are stained with other colours.

If the rug has suffered dry rot or is brittle with age, washing tends to disintegrate the damaged area. The condition should be carefully assessed before washing a rug that may have a fragile foundation.

If brittle or rotted areas are small and reconstruction is intended, then washing may be desirable. When there will be no reconstruction and the foundation is brittle, the rug should not be washed, only surface cleaned.

It is unlikely that rugs will shrink as they are washed and rinsed in water at room temperature. Even if a rug does shrink, it will only be slight (and the result will be higher knot density). However, rugs can change shape after washing. They may be slightly narrower at the top end. A rug may have been in this trapezoidal shape when it was taken from the loom. After initial washing, it may have been stretched into a rectangular shape as it dried. Subsequent washing permits the rug to return to its original shape.

Washing can also fix or set certain stains. This is prevented by spot stain removal before washing. Washing removes any sizing in new rugs. When sizing or starch has been added to a rug to increase its bulk and stiffness, the rug will be comparatively soft and limp after washing.

After washing, white knots where warps have been tied together may be noticeable from the front of the rug. Some dealers use felt tip pens to colour warp knots in order to make them less apparent. When the ink washes out, the knots can be seen. Sometimes a white cotton warp fringe will turn light brown as the rug dries after washing. Usually an additional thorough wash of the fringe will clear up this problem. Minimise wetting adjacent pile so that there is no "wick" effect in the fringe washing.

Preparing the rug for washing
Before washing inspect the rug carefully. Look for caked soil, paint, stains, dry rot, and damaged areas. Caked soil should be broken up and removed with a dull edged table knife. Damaged areas that might tear or unravel during washing are stopped off, that is damaged ends or sides are temporarily stitched up. Holes or other damaged areas can be strengthened for washing by rough stitching white fabric patches to them.

Specialist rug cleaners may use different kinds of equipment to vibrate, beat, or force air through a rug to shake out embedded dirt. This is known as dusting a rug. For most purposes, careful vacuuming suffices. Use a small vacuum nozzle without a brush so that there is maximum suction. First, vacuum the back of the rug. After vacuuming the back, you'll probably find sand and dirt on the floor which have been loosened from the pile. If there's a lot of this material, it's a good idea to vacuum the back again. Then, carefully vacuum the front of the rug.

Washing, Rinsing and Drying
Household detergents are unsuitable for washing rugs. It is too difficult to rinse out the suds and detergent. Use a mild industrial detergent with a pH of less than 7.5. A good detergent is Orvus WA Paste. This is sodium laurly sulfate. The product is biodegradable and manufactured by Proctor & Gamble. It is sold by commercial laundry and cleaning supply companies. Orvus is used by veterinarians to wash pets. If it's gentle enough for Old Shep, it's gentle enough for your rug.

Mix about one cup (250 milliliters) of Orvus with about 15 to 20 gallons (60-80 liters) of water for the washing solution. If there's a high mineral content in your water supply, a water softener helps the cleaning action. Only cold or room temperature water should be used for washing and rinsing.

The rug is completely immersed and soaked in the washing solution for about one hour. Agitate the rug every 15 minutes. After half an hour of soaking, a considerable amount of soil is usually visible in the wash water.

A large rug can be accordion folded into the washing solution. In this case, washing time should be increased to two hours, with a rinse and new washing solution after one hour. In agitating a folded rug, lift up to the folds one at a time on either side to allow wash after to circulate between the folds.

After soaking, the rug is scrubbed vigorously on both sides with a fiber brush. The rug is then rinsed until the rinse water runs clear. A large rug should be spread out, with the back facing up, and rinsed by hosing down. Then it is reversed and the front of the rug is hosed down. Rinsing must be very through. Inadequate rinsing leaves mud in the rug. The result is a "concrete" effect which will break fibers when the rug is flexed.

A wet rug is very heavy and must be handled with care. It will take two strong people to handle a wet 9 x 12 foot ( 3 x 4 meter) rug. Support is also essential. The weight of a waterlogged rug can cause the rug to tear if it is supported at only one edge. Do not stress damaged areas in handling the rug when it is wet.

When rinsing is complete, the rug is spread out, pile upwards, and water is forced from the rug with a squeegee. This is the same type of squeegee used to wash windows, a thick rubber strip fixed in a bracket with a handle. The squeegee is moved in the direction of the pile, starting at the top of the rug and working towards the bottom. This should be done three times. The more water forced out from the rug, the sooner the rug will dry.

If possible, the rug should be allowed to dry flat. Drying time depends on the rug's condition, size and ambient temperature and humidity. Typically, a 9 x12 foot rug in full pile will require between two to three days to dry completely.

Washing Small Fragile Rugs
Rugs that brittle, crumbling or powdering should not be washed. However, small fragile rugs can be washed using special equipment.

Two frames are built and covered with plastic window screening. The rug is placed on one screen and the two screens are laced together, sandwiching the rug between them. The screens and rug are immersed in the wash solution and very gently agitated. After soaking, the rug is rinsed in several baths and left to dry on one of the screens.

Deciding whether to wash a rug us always a matter of judgment. If the rug is both fragile and very valuable, it is best to have it washed by a professional textile conservator.

Surface Cleaning
Surface cleaning is much less effective than immersion washing. However, in some situations it may not be possible to wash the rug by immersion, or the rug may be too fragile for immersion washing.

After testing for colorfastness, mix a strong solution of Orvus and water and agitate the solution to create suds. Whit a sponge, rub the suds only into the pile, a square foot at a time. Rinse the sponge frequently in another container of water to release the soil it has picked up. As each area is finished, moisten the sponge with clean water and wipe the pile down towards the bottom of the rug. No excess water should be release in to the pile or foundation during surface cleaning. Let the rug dry flat.

Oriental Rug Repair, Page 177-182, Peter F. Stone, 1981

This is a simple guide for washing rugs correctly; if in doubt about anything, get in touch with us. Needless to say, experience makes a great deal of difference in handling rugs. We are specialists providing expert rug cleaning with 15 years of experience, we have successfully washed thousands of rugs.

rug cleaning, turkish milas, fringes trimmed and groomed

Upon our client's request, we have trimmed the finges of this rug to give it a tidier look. Turkish Milas, probobly about 30 - 40 years old, great condition, if maintained well, it will last centuries.

▲ return to top

Usage, Care and Storage of Rugs

Using Rugs
Consider the condition, type and value of a rug in deciding where to place it. A fragie and old rug or kilim will not last long in high-traffic areas such as halls and entryways. Rugs in such areas should be in full pile as the resilience of this surface protects the knots. Knots without pile are not so effective in protecting the foundation. The rate of wear down to the foundation speed up rapidly once the knots are exposed. Wear will be more evenly distributed if rugs in high-traffic areas are reversed each year. This end-to-end reversal is very desirable even though you don't notice annual wear. Once the knots are exposed in a particular area of the rug, wear will proceed much more rapidly. Reversing the rug will preserve the pile and delay wear exposure of the knots.

Use coaster to protect rugs where furniture rests on the rug. Move the furniture around or reverse rugs annually so that crushed pile can 'relax'. If pile has been crushed by furniture legs, it can usually be restored by steaming and brushing the area. You can protect rugs from hard friction and crushing wear by placing them on underlying materials. Please note that, rugs are best placed on firm and even places, only use underlay if the surface is not even, surface has sharp edges sticking out (old wood flooring chips or unpolished natural stone), or your rug is slippery therefore can cause a hazard. Rugs should not be placed on wall to wall carpets as the foundatins do not get the firm support they need. Use only the right kind of underlays, RugArt stocks good quality underlays specifically designed for fine rugs.

Caring For Rugs
It's a good idea to vacuum rugs which are in frequent use. Vacuuming prolong the period between washes and reduces rug wear. Rugs in high-traffic areas should be vacuumed once a week. Use a brushless vacuum nozzle for greatest efficiency. If your vacuum cleaner has a power-driven rotating brush at the nozzle, never past the nozzle over rug ends. Rotating brushes loosen fringes, wefts and end knots.

Of course, a rug with foundation damage should not be used. Where warps or wefts are broken in the foundation, the selvage, or ends, the damage will spread rapidly under the stress of use. Either repair the damage promptly or take the rug out of service.

Clean up spills right away. Scrape up solid materials such as towel and blot up liquids. Blot from the edges of the spill towards the center. After all excess liquid has been soaked up, you can surface clean the spill area. If the spilled substance may stain, use the appropriate stain-removal techniques carefully or call us or send us a e-mail for advice. All stains should be treated as soon as possible, over time a stain may fix the colour of the yarn permanently and acidity may cause a great deal of damage to the foundations and pile of the rug.

How often should a rug be washed? More detailed info cen be found at our rug cleaning page. In heavy traffic areas like hallways or entrances, rugs should be cleaned every 18 months, however rugs in less used areas, such as bedrooms, would not need to be cleaned that often, possibly once every 3 to 4 years. Observe your rug for deciding whether it needs a wash:

Does soil come off on your hand when you rub the pile, even after vacuuming?

Aside from abrash, are there differences in the shade of similar light-colored areas?

Has the rug been exposed to heavy traffic?

Does the rug have a stale or dusty smell?

If your answer to any two of these questions is yes, then the rug probably need a wash.

Finally, it's a good idea to carefully inspect rugs at least once each year. Look for wear or damage that should be repaired before it gets any worse. For rugs mounted on walls, check the backside annually since this is where moths leave their eggs.

Rug Storage
The area where rugs are stored should not be subject to wide temperature variations. Some humidity is all right, but it should not be high enough to support mildew. Optimum storage conditions are 50% relative humidity and a temperature of 70F ( 21C).

Don't place rugs in storage unless they are clean. Soiled rugs invite insect attack and mildew. Periodically inspect stored rugs. This is the only way you can be absolutely make sure that the rugs are not being attacked by insects. We provide free moth treatment with all the rugs cleaned.

Roll rugs up for storage. It's best to store rolled rugs horizontally rather than on one end. Rugs will be damaged along crease lines if they are folded for long-term storage. Regular brown wrapping paper can be used to protect most rugs in storage. Never store rugs in plastic bags or plastic wrapping. The rugs should be able to absorb moisture from the atmosphere and release moisture into the atmosphere. For very valuable rugs, acid-free tissue paper is placed on the rug and rolled up with rug. Heavy acid-free paper is then used to wrap the rolled rug.

We hope you will find this article useful in maintaining your rugs. Like all the other fine woven materials, natural fibre rugs will last long time when looked after well. If in doubt or you need to ask something, do not hesitate to get in touch, we will be happy to help.

Oriental Rug Repair, Page 194-197, Peter F. Stone, 1981

▲ return to top

Rug Fibres

rug yarn, persian wool, 2-3 ply

Wool is the chief material used in carpets, besides cotton and silk. The wool is mainly sheep's wool, but camel wool is also used occasionally, for very fine carpets, goat's hair. Camel wool is always found undyed since it is naturally a strong golden buff colour which, while beautiful in itself, will not take a dye well. Used in it's natural state, a well-knotted camel wool rug with light golden brown a its basic colour can look like a sheet of gold in a favourable light; against this the coloured design may appear like contrasting enamels. Such pieces are found among Persian Hamadan carpets which use camel hair as a favourite ground and border colour. There is also another group of north-west Persian carpets from Azerbaijan which is characterised by its basic ground colour of natural wool.

With regard to sheep's wool, the most important material for carpets, it is the quality of the wool which is one of the most important considerations in a carpet; this quality depends on several conditions. An important part is played by the climate in which the sheep have been raised. The finest wool comes from the flocks reared at high altitudes in the Caucasian mountains and in mountainous part of Persia and Turkistan. Sheep from low-lying lands yield a coarser and less good quality of wool. Grazing is also important and, it is believed, the chemical composition of the water. Equally important is the part of the sheep from which the wool is taken. The finest quality of wool comes from the animal's shoulder, that from the legs and belly being somewhat inferior. Sheep's wool of the finest quality can appear as glossy as silk, and even be mistaken for it. Angora goat's wool excels in it's fineness and is wonderfully glossy, but it breaks easily. Where wool is of poorer quality it tends to look dry and lusterless in a carpet. Wool which has come from the carcase of a dead animal is definitely inferior, and its durability is greatly impaired.

Cotton is much used for the warp and weft of carpets made in certain areas. Persia, a country which grows a great deal of cotton, tends to use cotton for the foundation of most of its carpets. In Anatolia and the Caucasus cotton is hardly found at all, the warp and weft like the pile being made of wool. The same is true of the nomad Turkoman tribes of Central Asia. Kilims and Soumaks are always made of wool throughout.

A simple test for distinguishing between wool and cotton is burning, if the end a thread is pulled from a carpet and held against a lighted match one can tell from the way it burns whether it is made from an animal fibre such as wool, or a vegetable fibre such as cotton. Wool when it burns curls up and leaves a residue, due to its fatty substance, whereas cotton burns to a white ash without losing its shape. This simple experiment will show how to distinguish the difference between the two. The fat content of wool is always present in a carpet made under oriental conditions and even normal washing of the carpet will not completely remove it. After handling a number of woolen rugs for some time, one can often detect the greasiness on one's hands. This fat content is undoubtedly appreciated by dogs, who not only like to lick woolen rugs, but for this reason enjoy chewing them.

Silk being an expensive fibre, is much less frequently found in carpets, but high quality carpets of court manufacture are occasionally woven with silk warps and also wefts. Its fineness and strength make it an excellent for material for high-grade carpets, and silk pile carpets have a special lustre of their own, the best of them being of superb quality; but many third-rate silk carpets have been made for both the contemporary oriental and European markets. Particularly famous are the silk carpets made under Shah Abbas I (1589 - 1628) and the celebrated sixteenth century Hunting Carpet * from the Habsburg collections in Vienna.

Oriental Rugs, Page 27-28, Herman Haack, 1960

** Recomended further reading: "16th Century Persian Spiral Vine Carpets with Animals"

▲ return to top

Rug Colours and Dyes

rug yarn, persian wool, 2-3 ply

Perhaps the most appealing attribute of oriental carpets is their wealth of colour, and this charm on the sheen and texture of the wool from which each individual carpet is made. The splendour of the colours, their lustre and sheen, are perhaps to be attributed to the fact that the oriental craftsmen often come from the most primitive strata of society, living still on a nomadic, or semi-nomadic level, as yet untouched by the influence of more advanced civilization. They have a natural artistic sensibility, and the simplicity of their lives has led them to develop to high degree a sense for colour and its complementary rhythms. Their innate artistic feeling enables them to distribute the colours and divide these so that do not clash, but attain a significant harmony. Be this as it may, the best carpets seem to achieve a wonderful effect of richness and splendour. But its important to realize the difference between the old colours obtained from natural dyes, whether vegetable or animal, and the modern chemical dyes obtained in the first place from Europe. Aniline and alizarin dyes have been used to some extent in most parts of the Orient since the end of the impart the glowing effect of the old vegetable dyes, and when bright they look merely garish and crude. The early chemical dyes which were obtained were misunderstood and improperly compounded; most of them proved extremely lacking in colour-fastness. Although the old vegetable dyes often fade to a greater or less extend, they seldom lose anything of their original beauty, and the best of them are relatively fast. Particularly fugitive are mauves, violets and greens. Chemical dyes, particularly in the early period of their use, proved highly detrimental to the quality of oriental carpets. Since then the more far-sighted manufacturers and weavers have avoided this abuse, caused by the importation of cheap chemical dyes, and although an attempt to forbid the importation of synthetic dyes proved abortive, their use has generally become better understood and more limited. Synthetic dyes are found least of all in the Turkoman carpets. In fact, they hardly penetrated at all into the inaccessible regions inhabited by these nomad tribes.

It is always important to establish the colour-fastness of the dyes of a given carpet. This can be gauged to some extent by examining the front of the carpet in contrast to its back and observing the relative degree of fading. By bending back the knotted pile and examining the wool near the knot, one can see how much fading has taken place at the surface. To establish the tenacity of a given dye a rug may be dampened with hydrochloric acid and rubbed hard over the colour in question on the front of the carpet. Most chemical dyes will be revealed by this test. If hydrochloric acid is not at hand, a quick test can be made by moistening a handkerchief with water; a fast colour should not be moved by this, but it will be found that with hard rubbing many colours will tend to be moved. When carpets are washed, as all carpets must be in the course of time, dyes which are not truly fast to water will tend to run. This running of colours is always discernible to an experienced eye and is a sign of faulty dyes. It should be remembered that many oriental carpets are made with partly vegetable and partly chemical dyes, and therefore considerable discretion is to be used in assessing their value. The best synthetic dyes will stand up to the washing test, and also carpets where the colours have been fixed with the use of certain chemicals, such as chlorine.

Natural dyes are mostly made from plants in the form of roots, seeds, stalks, rinds of fruit and suchlike. The colours obtained from vegetable dyes tend to vary a great deal in shade. The reason for this lies in the technique of dyeing into which a number of imponderable factors enter. Madder root is a source for many shades of red, and the age of the root plays an important part in establishing its tone.

BLUE is obtained from the indigo plant through oxidization with air.
YELLOW from the stamens of saffron, a kind of crocus, an excellent yellow is obtained, but it is a rare and valuable colour and for this reason very seldom used today. Yellow is also obtained from vine leaves and the rind of pomegranates.
DARK BROWN AND BLACK are obtained from the gall-nut, a parasite which lives mainly upon oaks; but black dyes usually contain a certain amount of iron oxide and this is a great disadvantage, since with exposure to light the acid tends to eat through the woollen fibre and dissolve it in time. It may frequently be noticed that the black parts of old carpets have worn very much lower than the other parts of the pile. Sometimes this gives the effect of a pattern standing out in relief against a dark ground, but whether this effect should be admired is highly questionable since it is purely fortuitous and it is in fact defect. In some of the best carpets, wool from black sheep is used; needless to say it does not suffer from this disadvantage.
UNDYED BROWN wool from sheep and particularly used, especially in Hamadan carpets and those from the Karabagh region.
UNTREATED WHITE sheep's wool does not look pure white but is grayish or yellowish in tone; if it is not it may be suspected of being chemically treated.
GOOD RED is derived from kermes, which is beetle gathered from the kermes oaks or cacti. The shells of the beetles are dried and yield an excellent dye.
PURPLE in antiquity, purple was a highly prized colour and was obtained from a certain type of seashell. Purple is normally obtained from the blending of red and blue dyes.
PINK is a relatively rare colour. A peculiar light wine red which is almost pink is a favourite colour in carpets from Karabagh region.
GREEN is a rare colour for the ground of a carpet since it is the sacred colour of Mohammedans and associated with the Prophet. No believer will step on a green carpet with his feet. None the less, as a complementary colour in the pattern, green is often found in the older carpets, such as the Vienna Hunting Carpet. When green is found in prayer carpets, the sacred use of the carpet sanctifies the colour.

Occasionally it will be noticed that a particular colour shows a marked change in different parts of the carpet; sometimes there will be light and dark stripes of the same colour. This need not be regarded as defect in the carpet. On the contrary it is sign of a carpet made under simple conditions by a nomad tribe or in a primitive home. The nomad does not want to burden himself and his animals with pots of colour during his trek. He will prefer to make up a little colour, use it, and count on making up a fresh supply when he has moved to new pasture - lands. Often, however, he does not succeed in exactly matching the colour at the next halt where conditions may be somewhat different; the shade of the colour will therefore vary in tone from one end to the other. Often it may be said that these variations serve to enhance the quality of the carpet. It should also be remembered that with Mohammedans a certain unevenness and lack of uniformity in their works of art matches with their religious views, since the Mohammedan does not consider it right for man to create anything perfect. Only Allah is capable of perfection, therefore nearly all Islamic carpets show definite and intentional irregularities in the pattern. Once can observe this particularly in the corners. Whilst machine-made European carpets will show complete regularity of pattern, asymmetry is the hallmark of the genuine oriental carpet. For the same reason the oriental prefers uneven numbers. Another characteristic may be noticed, namely that rugs made by nomadic tribes, and particularly the Turkoman herdsman, are dark in tone, for these people who spend so much of their day in the glaring sunlight find relief and joy resting their strained eyes on dark colours in the home.

Oriental Rugs, Page 57-60, Herman Haack, 1960

▲ return to top

The Ardabil Carpet

The Ardabil Carpet

The most famous carpet, Ardabil, can be seen in V&A museum in London, it is on display in Islamic Arts gallery on the ground floor. To preserve its colours, it is lit for ten minutes on the hour and half-hour. You can also see a magnificent Usak, Kirman and Ifsahan rugs from 16th - 17th centuries in the same gallery. Highly recommended if you are a rug enthusiast.

how it was made
The basic structure of the carpet is hidden by the pile. Like most textiles, it consists of warps and wefts. The warps are the threads running the length of the carpet. The wefts are the threads that run across its breadth. Both warps and wefts are made from silk, which is a very strong fibre when new.

The first stage in production was to tie the warps on to a huge, vertical loom. The weavers then knotted short lengths of wool around the warps to create a row of pile. When the whole row was finished, they inserted three rows of weft over and under the warps to hold the knots in place. The pile was then packed down with a special comb-like beater. Finally, the pile was trimmed with special scissors to achieve a uniform length. This process was repeated again and again until the huge carpet was finished, when a final trimming would have taken place.

The pile is made from wool, which holds dye much better than silk. The pile is very dense - there are about 5300 knots per ten centimetres square (340 knots per square inch). This density allowed the designer to incorporate a great deal of detail, but making such a large carpet with so many knots would have taken a team of skilled weavers several years.

Up to ten weavers may have worked on the carpet at any one time. Most carpet weaving was done at home by women, but for a court commission such as this, the weavers may have been men. The weavers would have worked from drawings provided by a specialist designer. The patterns are generally symmetrical, but there are often small differences between the two halves. This suggests that the drawings showed the overall pattern required but not the colour of each knot.

The pattern includes ten colours. The wool was dyed in batches using natural materials such as pomegranate rind and indigo, so the shades vary slightly. For example, the blue background appears to 'ripple' where darker and lighter batches of wool were used.

The direction of the pile shows that the weavers began at the end with the smaller lamp. The colours are best viewed from that end.

▲ return to top

The Rug Market Takes Flight

old rug

A leaf-patterned blue rug from the courtly heyday of 17th-century Iran sold at Christie's this spring for $9.6 million, 20 times its asking price-and the highest price ever paid for a rug. Several months earlier, Sotheby's sold a rug from the late 1500s for $4.3 million, the going rate for a top sculpture by Alexander Calder.

Oriental rugs, once the obsession of Ottoman sultans, European nobles and American robber barons, rarely topped $2 million a decade ago. Now, these centuries-old carpets from Turkey, Iran, and the Caucasus are commanding sums more often reserved for masterpiece paintings than floor coverings.

A patchwork of global collectors and institutions are fueling the rise. New museums across the Middle East and Europe are driving up prices as they build collections of Islamic art. Contemporary-art buyers from Singapore to the Silicon Valley are rolling out antique rugs to complement the abstract, geometric art works that hang on their walls. And everyone is on the lookout for the next little-noticed niche of the market that could see a spike in value.

As the global art market recovers, collectors are once again scouring the marketplace for new areas to exploit. Pastoral landscapes and gilded table clocks-antiques that once would have been too stuffy for high-spending art collectors-have emerged as some of the market's newest favorites. Buyers who bid up trendy contemporary art works during the boom only to see them plummet in value during the recession are seeking out more obscure pieces whose values could rise with an overall market upswing.

to read the full article, please go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704198004575310643634857392.html

▲ return to top

Pazyryk - Oldest Rug Ever Discovered

world oldest rugoldest rug

Before 1949 the oldest rug ever discovered was found in East Turkmenistan in an area known as the Tarim Basin. But in 1949 Russian Archaeologists under the guidance of Sergei Rudenko made a major discovery which had a dramatic impact on the artistic history of rugs. The Pazyryk was discovered in ice filled tomb in Outer Mongolia (Scythian burial mound) dating from the 5th Century BC. It has characteristics of a modern Persian or Anatolian with a pile and Turkish knots. Its age is proven to be around 2500 years old.

Whoever made the Pazyryk Rug, it is of suberp workmanship - a fact that indicates the tradition of rug weaving was already well established at this time. The design itself is of interest for it uses motifs reminiscent of those found on rugs found two thousand years later. The centre of the rug is composed of a rectangle of squares arranged in four rows. In all there are twenty four squares, around this central rectangle of squares are bands of elks and mounted horseman, each band seperated by either griffons or croses.

The knots are well executed, about two hudred and seventy to the square inch. The squares are themselves contained within a border of octagons resembling later Turkoman (ghiordes) 300 asymmetrical knots per square inch. The Pazyryk rug shows a mixture of Assyrian, Achaemenian, and Scythian motifs. The overall impression is overwhelming.

▲ return to top

Tabriz Rugs


Situated as it is in the north west Iran, it was at one time the capital of Iran although its people are Turkish in both origin and language. Since the mid 19th century, it has been a major centre for the manufacture of rugs and carpets.

Today few carpets are being produced in private houses, the majority of production being done in small factories. The looms are vertical, often with metal rollers, and some are massive, producing carpets up to 30 - 35 feet (10 meters) wide. Since the mid 19th century, designs have been made spefically to meet the export market and are therefore geared in some ways to satisfying European taste. Thus rugs can be found in most colours.

Both Turkish and Persian knots are found, though the symmetrical Turkish predominates. Several qualities are known, with densities ranging from about 64 to 400 knots to square inch. In fine rugs, pile is extremely compact but can be somewhat coarse, as the wool itself coarse, a feature which is often accentuated by the fact that it is dyed and washed in water in high salt content. Some of the finest carpets, made especially at the turn of the century had silk piles. Hunting patterns are found. Borders are always exquisite, composed with three guards, the main band normally repeats the gorund motif. Herati designs are found but are somewhat rare.

Size Most sizes up to the very large Loom Vertical Warp Cotton Weft Cotton, of variable thickness Pile Wool, silk. Wool pile can be uneven and rough Knot

Turkish, sometimes Persian, between 64 to 400 knots to the square inch Motifs Varied with preference to central medallions and floral motifs Colours Varied

Antique Oriental Rugs and Carpets, Page 100, Philip Bamborough 1979
Photo: Late 19th Century, 9ft 4in x 12ft 3in
Copyright © 2002-2007 Bonhams 1793 Ltd.

▲ return to top

Ghiordes (Gördes) Rugs

ghiorde rug

The town of Ghiordes, (Gördes) which has given its name to the Turkish knot, is situated in western Turkey about 60 miles from Izmir, the port on the Aegian coast.

The antique rugs of Ghiordes, are amongst the finest in all Turkey. Indeed at one time they were so highly thought of that they were being faked at Panderma. These rugs can be divided into two groups, those dating from the 16th to early 19th century, and those dating from 19th century onwards. They can be easily distinguished apart from design, quality and other features, by their colours. Rugs in the first group tend to have dull and sedate colours, while those in the second are much more lively.

With the occasional exception proving the rule, Ghiordes rugs are exclusively prayer rugs. The finer examples are richly decorated. There are number of features distinctive of Ghiordes. The janina design is one. This design resembles two exotic and brightly coloured fruits set between a vertical leaf to which tehy are joined. This stylised flower / fruit motifs is found on the borders of some of the rugs dating to the 19th century, as well as modern ones. The prayer niche or mihrab which is outlined by a thin notched border is usually placed between two wide but shallow rectangular areas, one above and one below the niche. The ground is decorated with highly stylised flowers and fruit. The mihrab may be supported by two colomns, one on each side, while from the central pinnacle may emerge a floral motif that appears like a hanging lamp.

Colours used in motifs and borders are somewhat limited. In the second group, the niche is more often red with the the motifs and borders in vivid colours, which may include orange, ivory, yellow, red, all merged in perfect harmony.

The rugs were made on small vertical looms. The pile is normally of high quality wool, closely cut. The warp and weft are of cotton, sometimes undyed cotton is also used for knotting special white motifs. Normally two weft threads are spaced between knots. Knots are Turkish, varying in density between 65 and 130 to the square inch. Silk rugs are also known, either silk on cotton warp and weft or all over silk. Silk rugs normally have a density of about 130 knots to the square inch.

Size Various including all normal prayer rug sizes Loom Vertical Warp Double cotton Weft Cotton Pile Wool, (occasionally silk) Knot Turkish, density between 65 and 130 knots per square inch Motifs Prayer rugs, rectangles above mihrab, janina fruit and flower motif, 'hanging flowers' in mihrab

Antique Oriental Rugs and Carpets, Page 112, Philip Bamborough 1979
Photo: Antique Ghiordes, 3'4" x 5'4"

▲ return to top

Khorasan Rugs

antique khorasan rug, late 19th century

The province of Khorasan is exteremly large, covering a wide area in the north of Iran. The capital is Mesded; the ancient capital was Herat, now part of Afghanistan, Meshed itself nearly hundred miles from the Afghanistan border and only sixty miles from the border with Russian Turkestan.

Khorasan carpets are readily recognasible by a peculiarity of the weft. Normally single thread is used, but every seven to ten wefts it is increased to three. This causes the back of the carpet to have a banded appearance. The most common decorative motif is the herati in its original form. The Herati motif infact originated in Khorasan, at the ancient capital of Herat from once it got its name. Herat today (now in Afghanistan) is no longer a rug producing centre.

The herati motif on Khorasan rugs and carpets covers the entire field, with the border too decorated with the herati border motif. The herati motif is not enclosed in a central diamond. The guards utilise boteh motifs or rosettes. The bothe is also used for the border in older carpets. Colours tend to be bright in carpets form the south of the region while in the north they are more subdued.

Size Various especially large rugs, some up to 20 feet long Loom Vertical Warp Cotton Weft Cotton Pile Wool Knot Persian, densily knotted

Antique Oriental Rugs and Carpets, Page 76, Philip Bamborough 1979
Photo: Antique Khorasan, Late 19th century. 10'0'' x 12'9''

▲ return to top

Bergama Rugs

antique bergama rug, late 19th century

The town of Bergama, a town about 30 miles tothe north of Izmir, on the Mediterrain coast in west Turkey. Rugs bearing this name the knot, however, originate in the town but from villages in th elarge area to the north and east of the town. The rugs were and are made pricipally by weavers of nomadic or semi nomadic origin. Small factories are also thought to have existed in or near the town from an early date but Bergama was mainly a market centre. Carpets and rugs thought to be from this area are shown in early paintings, in particular "The Ambasaddors" by Hans Holbein in 1533, now in the National Gallery in London.

The villages of the Bergama group produced rugs decorated with a large variety of design and motifs, which often appear to have no common dominator. Close examination will, however, reveal threads which suggest a common origin. A feature which the Bergama wevaers seem to have favoured was the square or nearly square rug. The centre of the rugs usually have a large rectengul which dominates the rug. Another distinctive feature is the use of the eight-pointed star, which may be set within octagon, square or circle. The flavour is distinctly primitive of geometric character with Caucausian oevrtones. Infact, in the later respect they are sometimes confused with the rugs of Kazak. Distinctive colours for the motifs are white, orange ana azzure. Squares and octagons are often outlined in blue or other colours.

Size In propotion from about 2'6" x 3'6" to 5' x 6'3" or even squares Loom Horizontal Warp Wool (Late examples cotton) Weft Wool (Late examples cotton) Pile Wool, good quality and deep. Lustrous red, normally two or three rows, which form a strip easily seen in the back of the rug. Knot Turkish, low denstly between 30 and 80 knots per square inch. Motifs Geometric, particularly eight pointed star, rectangels, octagons, etc.

Antique Oriental Rugs and Carpets, Page 110, Philip Bamborough 1979
Photo: Antique Bergama, Late 19th century. 5'10" x 6'10"

▲ return to top

The Turkoman Tribes

antique tekke rug

Turkomans or Turks originated in Turkestan, which streches from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, through what are now ex Soviet States of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakistan, Tadzhikstan and Kirgizstan to Sinkiang. East Turkestan streches from the eastern borders of the ex Soviet states through Sinkiang to Kansu; West Turkistan is defined as being the area now covered with Turkmenistan, through taking in some parts of the western Uzbekistan, including the city of Bokhara.

Within the last century, the growing political dominance of Russia, which both under Imperial rule and latterly under the Soviets, has sought to impose a settled authoriatarian regime on essentially nomadic, autocratic peoples, has meant to move of Turkoman tribes into Persia, Afghanistan and as far as Pakistan. From the evidence of weaving alone, however it is probable that, since the end of the Second World War, the ethnic and cultural balance of the Turkoman peoples has been all but destroyed.

At the time of the earliest recordings of the Turkoman peoples, they were located to the east of the borders of what is now Uzbekistan, around Tashkent. They were referred to also as The Oguz, and the Arabs were in no doubt that the peoples living to the west were the same origin as the people they called Toghuz - Oghuz, who were then still settled in Mongolia and Sinkiang.

At the end of 10th century, the Arab ruler of Bokhara faced a revolution, and sought the aid of a muslim Turkoman leader, Selcuk. The Selcuk Turkomans thereafter retained the patronage of the Samanid dynasty, and for the first time a Turkoman tribe moved accross the Jazartes river into the region of Khorasan near the city of Bokhara itself. Other Oguz Turkomans followed in the next hundred years or so. Such tribes, the Salors, Chaudors, Ersaris, Saryks, Yomuts, Tekkes and Arabatchis created beautiful Turkoman tribal rugs.

Selcuks were powerful enough by the middle of the 11th century to found their own dynasty in Persia, Mesopotamia, Asia minor and Syria and later, by descent in Egypt.

Rugs and Carpets of the World,Page 35-37, Ian Bennet 2004
Photo: Antique Turkoman Tekke rug, pre-1910. 4'10" x 6'1"

▲ return to top

Rug Weavers, Origins, Designs

Abadeh, Afshar, Ardebil, Bakhitiari, Bijar, Feraghan, Malayer, Hamadan-Mazlaghan-Lilihan-Mushkabad, Mahal, Mehriban, Isfahan, Joshaqan, Karaj, kashan, Kerman, Khorasan, Meshed-Birjand, Mir, Mud, Nain, Qashqa'I , Qum, Sarab, Saruq, Senneh, Seraband, Shiraz, Tabriz, Tehran, Heriz, Veramin, Yezd.
The general label 'Persian' is probably the one most commonly applied to oriental carpets and rugs. As a geographical label, however, it is in some respects vague for its borders have varied from time to time. The name Iran was bestowed upon the country in 1935 by Reza Shah, however, when describing geographical areas of origin of rugs or carpets it is more to the name, Persia.

Rugs and carpets have always been cherished in Persia where they have been an important part of the interior furnishing of house, palace or tent. Rugs and carpets were found in the homes of the rich and the not so rich - only the quality would differ. There is an old Persian saying 'The richer the man the thinner the carpet' (i.e. the better quality). Carpets of Persian origin have been traded both inside and outside Persia for centuries. They are a commodity for investment both to Persians as well as to others; indeed they are often regarded as a better investment than conventional stocks and shares. At one time every important household had it's own weaving workshop, where the weavers would make rugs not only for domestic use but also for accumulating a surplus, for rugs and carpets were considered better than money and were even used for paying taxes!

Rugs and carpets have been made in most parts of Persia; Some centres are, of course, more famous for their rugs and carpets than others, some are simply market towns which have given their name to the rugs that pass through them. The more sophisticated and certainly the larger carpets are the product of urban 'factories' made under the direction of a master weaver, while others, mainly small rugs, unsophisticated yet charming in conception, are the work of nomadic tribes such as the Qasqa'i.

It is not unusual even in modern day Iran to see the entire floor covered by rugs and carpets. There is, in fact, a formal and traditional way of arranging rugs, which has the great advantage that the floor covering can be adapted for use in any room, whether large or small. There is normally a central rug, the Mian Farsh, which may be anything up to 18 feet (5.5 metres) long and 8'33" (2.52 metres) wide. At one end running crossways is the principal rug or Kellegi which may be nearly 12 feet (3.6 metres) in length and up to 6 feet (1.8 metres) wide. Either side of the Mian Farsh and running up to the Kellegi are the Kenarehs - about the same length as the Mian Farsh but only about 3 feet (0.9 metres) wide. The majority of early Persian rugs are fairly narrow and long; this is not only due to the average shape of rooms but more to the fact that a large number were made on the narrow looms of the namads.

Apart from use in homes, carpets played an important part in the festive decorations of court and public occasions. They also were used to great effect as the sumptuous floor coverings of mosques and by the faithful as prayer mats. The latter were made in most centres. They play an important part in the life of a faithful Moslem, who is expected to pray five times a day, in that the rugs protect the worshipper from the dirt when he kneels down and touches his head on the ground, facing all the time towards Mecca. Prayer rugs are small in size and have a central mihrab - a representation of the prayer-niche which indicates the direction of Mecca in mosgues.

A look at a map of Iran will show how widely distributed are the centres of rug making. In the north-west, Iran borders Turkey and the Caucasus, now part of the Soviet Union - in this area are Karabagh, Heriz, Tabriz, Gorevan, Mehriban, Sarab, Azerbaijan and Ardebil. To the west on the Iraqi facing side of Iran is Senneh, the centre which gave its name to the Persian knot. In this area too are the Kurdistan nomads, while the Luristan nomads are in the south-west, as are the Qashqa'I and Bakhtiari nomads. In the south are the centres of Shiraz, Fars, and the east Kerman; the Afshar nomads are also in the south. To the east is the territory of the Baluchi nomads, while north-east the area is inhabited by the Tekke and Kurdish nomads. Between them is Meshed. The other major centres such as Feraghan, Saruq, Qum, Kashan, Khorasan, Mahal, Mir, Isfahan and Abadeh are situated in the large central area of the country.

Bergama, Ghiordes, Isparta, Kayseri, Kirsehir, Kula, Ladik, Milas, Mudjur, Koum, Ka Pour, Panderma, Sivas, Smyrna, Ushak, Yahyali, Yuruk

Anatolia is the old name for Turkey - in the rug world it is still used to describe Turkish rugs. The Turkish rug has been known in Europe longer than its cousin from Persia. So high was their reputation that in the 16th century Cardinal Wolsey ordered sixty of them. In fact, until the early 17th century, to the European the oriental rug was Anatolian, and it had a noticeable influence on the evolution of designs and patterns of European and Spanish carpets. So identified with the craft of hand-knotting was it; that until the 18th century, hand-knotted pile upholstery was known as turkey-work. In the 19th century, literally thousands of rugs were exported to Europe. Known as Smyrna carpet (Izmir) after their collection and export centre on the coast, these carpets are notable for their light background and floral decoration in green and pink.

The rugs and carpets come from all over Turkey, from the shores pf the Mediterranean to the interior. They are noticeably different from the Persian rug. Both in concept and in weaving technique; the main colours are red and blue, and designs generally avoid the depiction of men and even animals, for being Sunnites they observed the Koranic law (which forbade this) more strictly than the Persians, who were Shiites.

Turkish prayer rugs are bright, yet at the same time have an air of religious sobriety about them. They are sometimes woven in green, a sacred colour.

Turkmanistan - Uzbekistan - Afghanistan - Yomud - Salor - Bukhara - Beshir - Pendiq - Baluchi.

For the purpose of discussion the Turkoman group can include Afghan and Baluchi rugs, for they all have one thing in common - colour. The majority of the rugs and carpets from these areas have red as a predominant colour. Shades vary, however, from deep red, wine, scarlet to pale red - the common dye being obtained from the madder root. They were, and still are, made in a large area spanning more than one country - for the rugs are the work of nomads.

Turkoman rugs are made by Turkoman tribes which are spread over an area including Turkmanistan (Turkestan), now a Soviet rebuplic; the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan; Afghanistan; and some by the Tekke tribe which thirty years ago left Turkmenistan and now live in the northern steppes of Iran. The tribes traditionally have been nomadic sheep-rearers, living where possible in suitable pasture lands. They are horsemen and fierce warriors, for in days gone by they fought for pasture and water, supplementing their income by raiding caravans and travelers. Being nomads they respected no land, and no frontiers.

The rugs are made by the women on the horizontal or ground loom which is portable but primitive. It also imposes a restriction on size; thus nomad rugs are seldom very large. Most out-put was intended for domestic use and consisted of rugs for the tent (or hut), saddle-cloths, camel-bags,door hangings, wall-hangings as well as storage bags such as the hanging torba and the juval. Surplus production was marketed at the market town such as Bukhara, Meshed, Heart etc. Fine quality rugs were also made specifically for sale. Today, in those areas of the Soviet Union which the Turkoman tribes inhabit, they have been encouraged to become 'settled' and many rugs are now produced in workshops and marketed thorough State agencies. However, in spite of the fact that the pattern and quality of the material remain much the same, the general appearance and appeal of the modern rug is now here near the same as its 'wild' ancestor. Design is almost invariably based on the octagonal 'gul' of which there are several distinctive varieties.

Woven in the same region by Turkoman nomads are the Beshir rugs-these too are predominantly red but yellow and green are also found. Afghan rugs at first glance also appear similar to Turkoman, but a second examination will separate them, for there are a number of differences. Originally woven by Turkoman nomads, they are today almost exclusively the work of the Afghans. Apart from differences in technique, design and colour variations, the knotting is coarse and the pile longer in comparison. Baluchi rugs have somewhat uncertain origins, for although made by Baluchi tribesmen they could come from Iran, Afghanistan or the vague area in the border region. Baluchistan itself, often accredited with the manufacture, is a somewhat uncertain candidate for the honour, for the dozen or so Baluchi tribes, each with its own pattern preference, are scattered - Meshed for instance in Iran was one of the principal centres for marketing Baluchi rugs.

Chi Chi - Kuba - Daghestan - Derbend - Karabagh - Kazak - Shirvan - Sumac

The Caucasus have been at various times home to many different peoples including Turks, Armenians, Persians and the Turkic nomad tribes of Central Asia. All have enhanced its rich heritage of rugs. For although from many different races, the resultant Caucasian rugs have a distinctive quality, which is easily discernible whether they come from north or south.

The rugs come from a difficult and generally inaccessible mountain area between the Caspian and Black Sea. At one time under the control of Persia, it came under Russian domination in 1813. Today it is part of the Soviet Union. The rugs come from centres in the southern part of the country, from Derbend, on the western shore of the Caspian Sea in Daghestan, south of Derbend, from Kuba, Chi Chi, and Sumac, and south-east from the village of shirvan, also situated near the shore of the Caspian Sea in southen Azerbajian. To the west is the home of the Karabagh rugs, while north-west of the Karabagh region in the mountainous heart of the Caucasus, is the home of the Kazak rug.

Caucasian rugs have the distinctive feature of being severely geometric, Every subject has been made geometrical, even human figures, animals, birds and flowers; all are composed of arrangements of straight line. In addition stars, swastikas and rectangles are also used to great effect. Colours are blue, red, yellow, ivory and green. Mostly of wool, the rugs are all knotted with the symmetrical Ghiordes or Turkish Knot. Coucasian are among the most popular of oriental rugs.

India (Agra-Lahore etc.), Pakistan, Kashmir.

Generally speaking Indian rugs and carpets can be said to be in the Persian tradition. Having said this we must immediately seemingly contradict this statement by adding that they are also distinctly Indian. The reasons lie both in the history of carpet making in India and in the geography of the sub-continent.

Early Indian floor covering were made from pressed and matted wool. These 'Nandis' or what we now call 'Namdas' are recorded in a document of the eighth century. Pile rugs were not introduced into India until about 1580 when the Moghul emperor Akbar established a royal workshop in his palace and brought weavers from Persia to work in it. Some of the carpets from their workshop have become world famous. One is in the Girdlers' Company in London, another is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Jehangir, Akbar's son, continued the Royal patronage as did his son Shah Jehan. Carpet factories were set up at Lahore, Agra and Delhi.

The original designs were Persian, inspired by Kerman, Kashan, Isfahan, Heart etc. After a wile, Indian weavers took up the craft and workshops were established under the patronage of wealthy merchants and noblemen. It was in these workshops that variations in design began, by adjusting designs to the individual requirements of the patrons. The Indians' love of nature, of animals, birds, flowers and trees, so beautifully expressed in Indian miniature painting, soon found its expression on carpets.

Beautiful floral carpets were made, while others with animal designs were full of life and energy. Design leant towards the pictorial. Colours too changed. They became lighter than the Persian with a distinctive use of pink.

The Indian carpet continued to be admired and cherished both within and without
Its country of origin. In 1851 the 'industry' received a major boost at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in London. This in a way marked the end of individualism, for to meet demand, carpet 'factories' were established at Mirzapur, Amritsar and in Kashmir at Srinagar. With demand increasing rapidly quality fell equally rapidly, However, the situation eventually steadied.

Kashmir is particularly noted for its fine carpets and rugs, but as a centre it has had its ups and downs. It is said thah carpets were first woven in Kashmir in the mid 15th century, in workshops established by Prince Shahi Khan who had his interest in rugs aroused after spending seven years in Turkistan. After his death, the industry declined, until it was revived in the 17th century by Ahmed Beg Khan, a governor of Kashmir. The industry continued but it was not until the 19th century that Kashmir carpets really created interest. Based on the Persian model, the Kashmir carpet has continued the tradition but has also introduced some Central Asian designs. Unlike Persian, the weving is done by men and small boys.

Pakistan can perhaps be considered in the sphere of influence of the mainstream rug producing countries, being bordered on one side by Afghanistan and Iran and by India and Kashmir to the east. It is, however, only a secondary centre, the industry having been introduced in the 16th century at Lahore. The rugs are in the Persian style though rugs in Coucasian and Turkoman designs have also been made. They are similar to Kashmir rugs but generally inferior in quality, though the older specimens are of very high quality indeed.

The rugs and carpets of China are in complete contrast to those of the Islamic world. Very little detail is known about the various centres of rug production or about individual periods. What is known, however, enables us to understand the background of a rug and to estimate its age. Carpets, in China, were woven in organized workshops or factories. They were not, except for a few small rugs made on China's northern and western borders, made by nomads.

In comparison to the Islamic rugs these are formal, but only in a conservative way. That is that the rug had been completely conceived and formalized before weaving began. It also means that as with most Chinese arts and crafts, designs tended to be conservative and to be used in later periods; thus they are generally of little value in assessing a carpet's place of origin or period.

In some carpets from eastern China, the weft and warp is sometimes of cotton, while in west China, North China, Manchuria and Chinese Turkistan the weft and warp tends to be in wool. The Senneh or Persian knot is used. In silk rugs, wets, warps and pile are of silk, though on certain cheaper varieties warps may be of cotton.

Styles can best be attributing a carpet emperors or dynasties, such as Ming, K'ang-his, Chi'ien Lung etc., but attributing a carpet with say a Chi'en Lung design does not attribute it to the period, for like all Chinese art, archaic designs were often reproduced in reverence of the period. Designs are generally Buddhist or Taoist in inspiration.

During the Ming dynasty, an unusual rug was woven in which the pile stood in relief against a background of gold and silver threads. Ming style were generally 'pre- Persian' in inspiration; colours tend to be subdued and somber. In the reign of K'ang His, however, Persian influence showed itself, while Ming designs were also copied. Further influences from themselves in the Ch'ien Lung period. It must be remembered that the Chi'ing dynasty, to which both K'ang His and Ch'ien Lung belonged, was Manchu in origin and not indigenous Chinese.

In spite of all these outside influences, Chinese rugs are instantly identifiable from corresponding Persian, Turkish or Central Asian examples. The colour range of the Chinese is far more limited than the Persian. Primary red is rare in China, while apricot, peach, blues and yellow were greatly favoured. Natural wool were also popular. Green is generally not found in rugs earlier than the Ch'ien Lung period, and is rare before 1875.

Tibet - Ladakh - Sikkim - Bhutan - Nepal.

Tibetan rugs are not sophisticated but are the products of nomads and small villages. They are small in size and usually extremely colourful, if not gaudy. In design they are similar in same respect to the Chinese but with strong Central Asian and Mongolan artistic overtones. The symbolism is Buddhist.

Made of rather coarse wool and thickly knotted, they come in various shapes, suitable for use in tents or small huts or houses and include horse trappings such as saddle cloths. They are not over strong, and when compared to the nomad rugs of Islamic countries appear distinctly crude.

It is not possible to attribute rugs to any particular part of Tibet or with any certainty to any period. Also made in small villages, the craft has extended to those areas of the Himalayas on the Indian side of the Tibetan border including Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal. Tibetan refugees in India are continuing the craft, but the designs are no longer traditional.

Antique Oriental Rugs and Carpets, Page 17-22, Philip Barnborough 1979

▲ return to top

18 Burgoyne Roadme
London N4 1AD
Oriental Carpet Centre (OCC)
105 Eade Road
Building A, First Floor
London N4 1TJ
TEL 020 8350 1929
MOBILE 07909 515 936

rugart.biz © RugArt Restoration & Cleaning 2010 Privacy Policy