Oriental Rug Weaver
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Introduction

During the past century, the Oriental rug has become valued throughout the world as a work of art. With its rich history and color, the Oriental rug often is called the aristocrat of rugs. Although the Oriental rug of today may not soar through the air like the magic rug of Arabian legend, the Oriental rug does perform magic, transforming interior spaces into extraordinary spaces.

The term, Oriental rug, traditionally has been used to describe hand-knotted rugs from the East. The process typically involves stretching warp threads on a loom and knotting the pile to these threads. When a row of knot is completed, a weft thread is inserted. Once the entire rug is knotted, the pile is shorn. To a large degree, the precision of the design depends on how tightly the rug has been knotted and how short the pile has been cut.

The rug's density, or number of knots per square inch can be a useful indicator of the fineness and durability of the rug -- the more knots the better. A superb Oriental rug may have more than 500 to 1,000 knots per square inch.

Historically, the great rug-producing areas include Turkey, Persia, the Caucasus and Turkestan. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India and China also must be added to the list. And under Arab influence, Spain, too, has produced hand-knotted rugs of distinction.

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History

Although there are references to rugs by early Greek and Arab writers, just when the first Oriental rug was woven is unknown. In 1949, a Russian archaeological expedition to the Altai mountains in southern Siberia excavated a royal burial mound that contained a miraculously preserved frozen rug, Known as the Pazyryk rug, it was used as a saddle cover for a horse interred in the burial mound. Beautifully designed, the rug dates from the 4th or 5th century B.C. and is the earliest-known surviving example of a hand- knotted rug.

One theory is that the technique of knotting rugs was begun by the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. These tribes produced small rugs typically decorated with geometric motifs inspired by plant and animal forms. For the nomad, the rugs were both decorative and utilitarian, serving as floor covers, wall hangings, curtains and saddlebags.

Because the nomadic rug-makers were forced to dismantle their looms and move on whenever their security was threatened by natural elements or human foes, their creations may contain irregularities in weave, selvages and design. The wandering nomads are credited with spreading the art of rug-making to new lands and peoples.

Some of the greatest rug-making centers developed in Persia and Turkey. Persian manuscripts from the reign of Chosroes I, the king of Persia from 531 to 579, describe the Spring Rug of Chosroes. This rug was woven of wool, silk, gold and silver. It was studded with precious stones.

The period from the 16th century through the first half of the 18th century is known as Persia's golden age of rug-making. A number of rugs survive from this era and are recognized for their harmony of colors and originality of designs.

Rug-making probably has been taking place in Turkey at least as long as in Persia. After his visit in 1271 to the Turkish region known as Anatolia, Italian traveler Marco Polo described the area's rugs, with their geometric designs and animal figures as the most beautiful in the world.

Turkish rugs appear frequently in the paintings of well known artists. In fact, German artist Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) painted the geometrically patterned rugs so often that they came to be known in the West as Holbein rugs.

It was primarily through Italian merchants that the Oriental rug became recognized and valued in Europe. Venice early established itself as a major trading trader with the East. Venetians spread Oriental rugs along their narrow streets, hung the rugs from windows and used them to decorated their gondolas.

By the early 16th century, Oriental rug collections could be found in the great courts of Europe, including those of Catherine de Medici and Charles V. The Lord Chancellor of England, Cardinal Wolsey, is reported to have purchased 60 Turkish rugs from a Venetian dealer to furnish his palace at Hampton Court.

Western interest in Oriental rugs waned during the 17th and 18th centuries. But after the great exhibition of 1891 in Vienna, Europeans had renewed enthusiasm for the rugs. Americans soon followed suit. Western importers began asking the rug-makers to modify dimensions, and sometimes color and design, to satisfy the tastes of Europe and the Americas. In the 20th century, the appeal of the Oriental rug continues to grow.

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Classification

The name 'Oriental Rug' or “Oriental Carpet” is usually referred to all hand-knotted rugs or carpets; since this denomination is not inexact in view of their common Asiatic origin. However, the immensity of the producing areas, and the variety of techniques, styles, and materials used necessitate a detailed classification. As a rule, Oriental rugs are divided into two main groups:

The most famous and commonly seen weaving centers are as follows:

In general, rugs come from a variety of styles, colors, and shapes. For example, rugs come in both flat-weave and piled rug. Most antique rugs have been passed down from generation to generation and reflect the cultures in which they were made. The new rugs will reflect the present generation and the future generations to come. This art is something that should be embraced and it is imperative to have knowledge about this unique art form, not only to understand the cultural contribution, but to enhance the value and enjoyment of the rug as a whole.

There is a great deal of effort put into the creation of a rug.  Based on the size of the rug and how fine it is, the weaving style, dyes, technique, design, knot count and creativity involved in the making of such a master piece may take months, or even years to create. An 8x10 rug with 300 knots per square inch has approximately 3,456,000 knots within the rug it self!  Now, if it takes one second to make one knot, it can be estimated that it will take 960 hours of hard working artistic professionalism to complete such a task.

The quality of an oriental rug depends on several factors, such as type of material used, variety of colors, design complexity, quality of dyes and density of knots. Usually all over higher quality require for more labor to be involved in creating a beautiful rug, which contributes to its greater value.
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Designs of Oriental Rugs

No matter how well woven and rich in color, the Oriental rug probably would cease to fascinate without its seemingly infinite variety of designs. Regions develop and jealously guard their own patterns and designs, passing them down from generation to generation. By studying a design, it often is possible to date a rug and determine where it was produced.

To a certain extent, rug-weaving areas can be divided into those using floral designs and those using geometric shapes and patterns.Floral patterns dominate in Persia and India. Caucasian and Turkman rugs almost always employ geometric designs; when the rare floral pattern is used in these rugs, the design tends to be stylized and rectilinear. In Turkey, both floral and geometric designs are used, although the latter are more common. Chinese rugs are easily recognized by patterns that include dragons, monsters or fabulous birds.

Most creatures possess symbolic meaning, and in Chinathe dragon represents imperial power and also has strong associations with Confucianism. In Persia, however, the dragon symbolizes evil; in India, death. Scenes of fighting animals on Oriental rugs typically represent the struggle between good and evil.

Plants, flowers, and even geometric motifs, also have special meanings. The cypress tree symbolizes mourning, as well as immortality through death. The palm and the coconut are metaphors of blessing and fulfillment. The pony symbolizes wealth, while the lotus foretells a great lineage.

A universal symbol found in South America, Egypt, India and elsewhere is the geometric swastika that has been a popular border design. In China, the swastika symbolizes peace -- a meaning apparently ignored in 20th-century Europe. A frequent Mohammedan symbol is the crescent which signifies faith. Another universal symbol, the endless knot, represents wisdom and immortality.

Because the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) spoke against the artistic representation of humans and animals, geometric patterns often dominate the designs of muslim artist. Although Persia embraced the Islamic Shiite religion, the area's rug-makers often continued to decorate their creations with lively animal and human figures in dream-like surroundings. On the other hand, it is quite rare to find any animal or human figures on early Turkish rugs.

Turkish prayer rugs are characterized by rich and minutely detailed decoration. Found on all prayer rugs is the arched mehrab, or prayer niche, which is pointed to Mecca when the rugs are used in prayer.
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Materials

The most commanly used  material in Oriental rugs is different types/qualities of sheep's wool. Other common materials include pure silk, goat's hair, camel's hair and cotton.

Wool is provided by the numerous flocks, often tended by nomadic shepherds, that graze in vast, undeveloped areas. The finest wool is thought to come from a region, often referred to as Kurdistan, where the western part of Persia borders Turkey. Wool from Khorasan and Kirman is famous for being fine and velvety, while wool from the Caucasus and Central Asia is prized for being strong and lustrous.

The nomadic peoples usually shear the animals toward the end of spring. First, the animals are washed by the side of a river or near a well. The wool undergoes a second washing after the clipping. Then, it is trampled underfoot and dried in the open air. The wool is spun according to age-old methods. Holding a quantity of wool under arm, the spinner twists the threads and wraps them around a rod.

The material for the warp and weft threads varies from region to region. Cotton foundation is used extensively in Iran (Persia) and in Pakistan. In Turkey, particularly in mechanized production, the warp and weft also tend to be of cotton. And the use of cotton for warp and weft threads is increasingly replacing wool in the Caucasus. Warp threads of goat's hair frequently are found in Afghanistan, Baluch and Bukhara rugs. Because it is not long-wearing, camel's hair has lost favor with the nomads of Turkestan.

At times, silk has been used for both the warp and weft threads, giving the rug a sumptuous appearance. Since the silk is expensive, it typically is reserved for rugs woven in a higher quality some times as a special order and sometimes for royalty.

Sheep's wool continues to be the material of choice for the pile of Oriental rugs. The wool of the pile usually is two-ply, meaning that two threads have been twisted together. It is from the materials used that Oriental rugs obtain their wonderful sheen.

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Dyeing Process

The harmonious and radiant colors of the Oriental rug are among its major attractions.   It is the richness of the color scale that allows for the magnificent decorative effects.

Prior to the 20th century, traditional dyes -- derived from plants and animals -- were employed. Recipes were handed down from generation to generation. One of the most important coloring agents was from the madder, a common plant that grows wild in Persia. From the root of the madder came dye for various shades of red and pink.   When combined with a mixture of milk and fermented grape juice, the madder root yielded a violet dye. The bright red cochineal insect also provided red dye, as did the kermes insect that lives in the bark of oak trees.

Wild saffron provided a reddish-yellow, while cultivated saffron offered a pure yellow.     A lighter yellow came from the root of turmeric. A fungus of the mulberry bush provided  a green-yellow. The soaking and fermentation of indigo plants from China and India provided blue. The infrequently used black dye came from iron oxide, and it was the only dye of mineral origin. However, the acid substance obtained from soaking iron shaving with vinegar can have a corrosive effect on wool. Brown dyes could be made by mixing madder with yellow or from the shells of green walnuts, gallnuts and valonia. The brown dyes sometimes had a tendency to dull with age.

The most successful and widely used colors in Oriental rugs are reds, yellows and blues. Red is probably the most popular of all colors and is a favorite of Turkish and Turkistan dyers. Yellow and dark green are used extensively in Persian rugs. And blue is frequently seen in Caucasian fabrics, particularly those from Armenia.

Yarn was not dyed in the skein; instead, each long strand was plunged into the dye.    The yarn then was dried in the open air and eventually was exposed to sun and dust. This system imparted to the shades of different strands an endless number of gradations. And these gradations made a woven rug vibrantly come to life.

Around 1870, controversial synthetic dyes came to the coastal regions of the East and eventually worked their way to the nomadic peoples. Particularly for shades of red, the synthetic aniline dyes proved more economical to use than natural dyes. And aniline dyes allowed rug-makers to speed up production and meet increasing product demand.

Aesthetically, however, the chemical dyes had limited success. Natural dyes mellow with age, while synthetic dyes fade. In some cases, synthetic dyes completely change color over time. It has been said that naturally dyed rugs become more beautiful with time, but synthetically dyed rugs deteriorate with time.

In an attempt to stem the invasion of chemical dyes, Persian sovereign Nasir-ud-din (1848-1896) ordered that all aniline dyes be destroyed. In addition, rugs made with the artificial dyes were confiscated. But smuggling prevented the strict application of these measures. The laws eventually were modified so that rugs with artificially dyed threads were penalized with an export tax.

Since 1920, natural dyes have virtually disappeared from the making of Oriental rugs. The use of synthetic dyes remains controversial. Some say the aniline dyes have been greatly perfected and offer every guarantee of quality. Others say aniline dyes, over time, dry the rug fibers making them brittle and fragile and seriously diminish the value of modern Oriental rugs.

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Weaving and Knotting

The most basic of looms has been used to produce exquisite Oriental rugs. For the wandering nomads, two trees growing a few feet apart can become a loom when a couple of poles are stretched between the trees.

Looms can be horizontal or vertical. Vertical looms are further divided into the village loom, the Tabriz loom and the loom with rollers. The village loom is the simplest with an upper and lower beam, both horizontal, fastened firmly to two vertical posts. The warp threads are rolled around the lower beam and their free ends are brought together in bundles that are fixed to the upper beam.

Whether horizontal or vertical, the loom has a simple mechanism that allows the weaver to divide the warp threads into two sets so that the warp threads can be reversed after each shoot of the weft. The artisan first weaves a selvage. Several shoots of weft are made to obtain a narrow band which is intended as a firm edge for the knotted areas.

The knots of yarn are the basis of the rug's pile. The most common types of knots are the Turkish (Ghiordes) knot and the Persian (Senneh) knot. An important factor in determining a rug's origin is the identification of the type of knot with which the rug is tied.

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Flat Weave

The basis of a rug are two sets of threads -- the fixed warp threads which run from north to south, and the weft threads which are woven from east to west and separate each row of knots. The Turkish knot is knotted around two warp threads while the Persian knot is knotted around one warp thread and looped under the next in an TS' pattern.

Each knot is tied by hand. Skillful artisans can tie about 15 knots a minute or about 8,000 a day. This means it would take the artisan more than two months to weave a rug that is 10 feet by 6 feet and has a hundred knots per square inch. Typically, a rug of this size would be woven by several artisans working together from a chart which shows the number of knots to be tied in each color.

 Weft-wrapping or Soumak

In addition to knotted rugs, the Caucasus is known for producing Soumaks.

These are pile-less rugs made with a flat weave technique of wrapped weft threads -- a technique used throughout the Middle East. The geometric decorative elements used for the Caucasian soumaks are based the designs used for knotted rugs. A typical layout includes superimposed medallions in the form of notched stars. Typically made of wool or silk, these soumak rugs are strong and compact.

The majority of Oriental rugs, including those from Turkey and the Caucasus, use Turkish knots. Many Turkoman and Persian rugs use Persian knots, but Turkish knots also are common in those regions. The geographical dividing line seems to be the Caspian Sea.  To the west of it, the Turkish knot is used almost exclusively. To the east, the Persian knot dominates. Lying on both sides of the dividing line, Iran (Persia) uses both types of knots.

Purchasing

Oriental rugs can be bought from dealers or at auctions. In either case, the rug should be evaluated as to its artistic beauty, its condition, the quality of weaving, and its age.

Occasionally, when a rug is made, the signature is woven into the rug in arabic script.

It is recommend that the purchaser go the a reputable business where prices correspond to the quality of the merchandise -- Oriental rugs typically blend well with the interior of Western homes. The colors are restful and harmonious. It is rare that an Oriental rug detracts from a room's furniture, tapestries or other decor.

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Maintenance

Good quality oriental rugs are meant to be used for atleast several generations. It should be noted that, in
many eastern countries, footwear is removed upon entering the house, thereby extending the life of the rugs.
Obviously, an oriental rug in the front foyer will wear faster than a rug used in a lesser traffic area.
Rugs hung properly on the wall tend to last longer then the ones used on the floor.

 

Always use an appropriate non slip rug pad for your safety and long life of the rug. Hard wood floors sometimes damage the rugs with their oil residuals and carpet surface tend to make the rug buckle. So don’t put the rug directly on the carpet, hard wood floors or tile surface.


An oriental rug should be beaten rarely, if at all. Keep vacuum away from the fringes, for most damage to the fringes is caused by vacuum cleaner. Brushing the rug against the nap of the
pile will push dirt deeper into the fabric that could result in damage.

Check your rug periodically for moth, as they are small and hard to notice. Moth is the same insect that causes
damage to your clothes. Commercial insecticides can be used to prevent the moth damage

In case of spillage, act immediately. Make sure the colors / dyes are fast. Blot it out with a clean paper towel,
and then use a damp white cloth to the take the stain out gently. Don’t let the spill sit on it, as it will cause damage to the rug. Avoid using any chemicals/cleaners on the rug. If your rug gets stained, have it professionally cleaned as soon as possible, as it will avoid further damage to the rug.

Have your rug professionally cleaned every 18 months or so depending on the traffic. This will ensure the longevity of your oriental rug.

It is a good idea to have an Oriental rug examined by an expert annually to check for tears or other problems. If
a quality Oriental rug is cleaned and examined regularly, it should remain an object of beauty for years to come.

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