The majority of homes today have rugs and carpets in some form or the other. Most people know that carpets originated in the middle east. Persian rugs are held in highest regard to this day. Whether you have wall to wall carpet in your bedroom or an area rug in your living room their origins are quite fascinating.
No doubt carpets and rugs have been woven for centuries. No one knows for sure when humans started weaving carpets but the idea probably came from trying to create a fabric as durable and warm as animal fur.
The very first time the carpet is mentioned in 637 AD when it was found in the palace of Sassanid rulers of Persia. This magnificent carpet was over 1000 m2 and depicted real sized gardens with leaves and flowers, trees and fruit and garden paths.
The oldest persian rugs in existence today are from 16th – 17th century and survived to this day mainly in the palaces and courthouses of Europe. Around 3000 such peices exist today but by far the most famous is Ardabil carpet dated 1535 AD which can be seen in South Kensington Museum, London. This beautiful and truly unique rug of wool and silk has taken 10 craftsmen an estimated 3.5 years to complete and was recently valued at £500,000.
Surprisingly, the techniques and methods of weaving used today are not much different from the ones used in early Persia. Majority of persian rugs were and still are woven on upright looms but some nomad tribes use flat looms. The material of choice is still wool, silk and occasionally cotton. The colourings used are mostly vegetable dyes and are extracted flowers, roots, barks and such like. Very often the methods and techniques for achieving a specific colour vary from region to region and in some cases from family to family.
Today, Persian rugs are in global demand and are often mass produced to meet the needs. In the quest to drive the price down the weavers are not trained properly and the materials used are not of the best quality. However, if you are lucky enough to come across a quality oriental rug produced by master craftsmen you will know that the beauty and comfort is unparalleled and well worth the extra spend.
There are a few basics you should know about rugs. Once you understand how to identify what makes a rug valuable, you’ll have a greater chance at purchasing a better rug.
Rug fibers usually consist of wool in most mid to upper end rugs. High-end rugs may also have silk. Synthetic fibers such as acrylic, polyester, nylon, and olefin (polypropylene) can be found in more economical rugs. Cotton, sea grass, and sisal rugs are often moderate rugs. Your most stain resistant rugs will contain synthetic fibers, but won’t feel as soft and luxurious. All other natural fiber rugs are susceptible to staining if spots aren’t cleaned immediately.
What do you look for in a rug?
Quality of wool, type of dye, and knots. Simply because a rug is expensive, doesn’t mean it has good dyes or is constructed well. Make sure you know what it is and shop around first. The quality of a wool fiber depends largely on the type of dye used. Fine wool is vegetable dyed with fruits, roots, and plants. Cheaper wools and nylons can be dyed with synthetic dyes. A rug should always be tested for colourfastness by taking a damp white cloth and gently rubbing it into the fiber. If any color transfers on the cloth, the dyes are unstable.
Also look closely at the fiber to check the integrity. Make sure it isn’t unraveling. Very fine wool fibers can often look as soft as silk even to an experienced rug professional.The construction of a rug is also a key factor.
To determine if the rug is handmade, turn it upside down and look at the back. If you cannot see the pattern as clearly as on the face, the rug is not handmade. If the rug passes this first test, look at the fringe. The fringe should be an extension of the yarn inside the rug and should not look like it was sewed on separately. Many rugs that claim to be hand stitched are stitched by hand with a machine. You can expect to pay at least £250 for a small 3×4 hand made rug.
BEWARE of rugs with cloth backings. These rugs have something to hide. The cloth is covering either flaws in a handmade rug or even worse, glue that is holding the backing together. Glued backings have a tendency to get torn when the rug is moved or cleaned.
If you are looking for an alternative to a handmade rug, you might look at a Karastan. These wool rugs closely resemble hand made rugs, are cheaper in price, and rarely have the problems associated with cheaper wool rugs.
If you aren’t ready to invest several thousand pounds in a rug, these will be your best bet.
Ask the right questions. Educate yourself. Good luck in finding your perfect rug.