When we say Persian rugs are handmade, we really mean it! Every part of the traditional Persian rug creation process– shearing the sheep, dyeing the wool, creating the yarn, weaving the fibers, washing and finishing the rug, and everything in between- is done by hand. This month’s blog will focus on the first steps in the Persian rug creation process: gathering and dyeing the fibers.
We’ve included photos from both Indian and Iranian artisans in this blog post, as the overall rug making process is quite similar in both countries. We often refer to rugs of certain designs or that are made in the traditional Persian way as “Persian rugs”, even if they are from India, China, or another country that is not Iran.
Gathering the Wool
The rug making process begins with gathering the fibers that will be used in the finished rug. Typically, Persian rugs are made of wool, so we’ll be focusing on the wool gathering and dyeing process. Although you can find rugs made of other materials or blends of other materials with wool, the average Persian rug is 100% wool.
Most Persian rugs are made of sheep wool. Although you can sometimes find rugs made of other types of wool as well, sheep wool is the most desirable. The quality of this wool varies widely, and not all wool is equal. The quality of wool is highly dependent on factors such as the diet of the sheep and the environment where it has lived. Additionally, different areas of sheep have softer or coarser wool. For example, the wool on the belly of a sheep is much softer than the wool found on their backs. This is because the wool on the belly is generally untouched by environmental stressors, like wind and dirt.
Once the wool is sheared, it must be washed and spun. You can’t just start weaving with the unfinished wool! The wool is thoroughly washed by hand in large buckets of water. At the end of the day, even the softest wool still needs a good cleaning. The cleaning process removes impurities, such as dirt, small bits of plants, and other things that might find their way into a sheep’s coat. After it has received a nice and thorough washing, the wool can be spun into yarn, which will be used in the actual weaving process. Some rug makers spin their yarn using a spinning wheel, but many rug makers still spin the yarn by hand.
Dyeing the Wool
Next up is the dyeing process. You might be reading this and thinking that there is no way people still dye the fibers by hand. Think again! People still dye the wool by hand, and the practice is still very much alive in Iran.
Rug dyes fall into two main categories: natural dyes (also known as vegetable dyes) and chemical dyes. Some rugs are made using vegetable dyes, and some rugs are made using chemical dyes. There are pros and cons to both types of dyes. There are also some colors that can only be created using vegetable dyes, while other colors can only be created using chemical dyes.
Vegetable dye produces the traditional colors many rug enthusiasts love, however, it is also very difficult to reproduce these colors using vegetable dye. This is because there is a limited source of materials, and one batch of saffron based dye can look different from another batch due to the inconsistencies between harvests. Compared to chemical dyes, vegetable dyes age beautifully. The colors become more subtle over time as they fade, yet they still retain their initial beauty.
Chemical dyes are far easier to reproduce. All one needs to do to reproduce the exact same color multiple times is to record the exact amount used. They also provide a more uniform look compared to vegetable dyes. Depending on your tastes, this can also be a negative attribute, as many people prefer the imperfect look that natural dyes have.
Pigments are poured into a dye vat. Next, the dye is mixed in. Once the mixing process is complete, the wool yarn can be added in. The wool is pushed in with a wooden paddle, spun around multiple times, and thoroughly mixed into the batch of dye. This is to ensure that the colors are applied to the wool fibers evenly. The fibers should be saturated in color with no blotchy areas or undyed spots.
Once the fibers have been dyed, they are laid out to dry. After the drying process, the yarn is brushed thoroughly to remove any tangles and knots. Once that step is complete, the yarn is ready to become a Persian rug.
What to do if the Persian Rug You Bought Isn’t Handmade
If you’ve just purchased a Persian or Oriental rug, you undoubtedly want to show it to your friends and family. You have them over and show it on your floor. And then one of them – someone whose knowledge of rugs you trust – inspects your rug and tells you gently that it’s not a hand-knotted rug.
“What does that mean?” you ask. “How can it not be a hand-knotted Persian rug?”
And then your friend explains that it’s a machine-made rug and he knows so because he noticed the knots on the underside of the rug you purchased are too uniform to be hand-knotted because the weaving and the knots of a hand-knotted rug will be slightly inconsistent and uneven. What’s more, the designs of hand-knotted rugs are very detailed – almost as clear and detailed as on the front. But your rug’s design isn’t very clear on the back.
Now, many machine-made Persian rugs are very beautiful. They can be of great quality and can last for 20 years or more. (In fact, the Karastan brand of rugs is very well regarded. But this brand is made in the U.S. Still, a Karastan brand rug is of very good design and quality.)
As beautiful and well-made as a machine-made rug can be, it is not coveted by collectors. If you had believed your rug would appreciate in value over the years – as many genuine, hand-knotted rugs do — you would be wrong.
So now what do you do?
If purchased from a dealer, you can take the rug back and discuss the situation with the dealer. The dealer may say that you misunderstood what constitutes a hand-knotted vs. a machine-made Persian rug. He could say that he was honest with you and never said it was a hand-knotted rug (hand-knotted rugs tend to be much more expensive than machine-made rugs).
The dealer may or may not agree to give you a refund or trade the rug for another (especially if it’s been a while since you purchased the rug and it’s showing some wear – even honest rug dealers may not back rugs that show wear).
You may just need to enjoy the rug you purchased – many machine-made Persian and Oriental rugs are beautiful.
But the scenario described above is an important reason for you to do your research before purchasing a rug. Study what constitutes a hand-knotted rug from a machine-made rug. Take a look at rugs you know are hand-knotted and compare them to machine-made rugs so you can tell the difference.
If looking for a Persian or Oriental rug in the Dallas region, visit the Behnam Rugs showroom. We’re happy to show you the difference between hand-knotted and machine-made rugs and we look forward to educating you in the history and quality of a fine, hand-knotted Persian or Oriental rug. Contact us at 972-733-4000.
What’s the Difference Between Persian and Oriental Rugs?
As you search for a handmade rug for your home or business, you’ve no doubt noticed that the terms Persian and Oriental tend to be used interchangeably when it comes to these rugs.
So you may be wondering if there’s even a difference between them.
Our answer? There is a difference that matters because the history of a rug and the country of its origin are integral to the workmanship as well as the design of the rug.
In fact, knowing the difference between a Persian and an Oriental rug is of particular importance if you’re looking for an antique rug.
In a nutshell (and by the strictest of definitions), an Oriental rug is one that is hand-knotted in Iran, Asia, China, Russia, India, Turkey, Pakistan, Tibet, and Nepal.
As for Persian rugs, these also are Oriental rugs, but they are made only in Iran (the former Persia).
Many Persian rug designs actually hold the names of the cities in which they originated (a Tabriz design, for example). The designs’ popularity grew over time and even though the patterns now are made in different cities, the designs have retained the names of their city of origin.
A Persian rug also tends to have a thicker pile than an Oriental rug (up to 160 knots per square inch) and has extremely rich colors woven into their unique designs.
Persian rugs also are considered to be of higher quality than an Oriental rug, although hand-knotted Oriental rugs today also are of exceptional workmanship.
A Persian rug is made by many skilled artisans, who work hundreds of hours on one rug. A 9’ x 12’ foot rug, for example, can take as long as 14 months to complete, with four to five craftsmen working on the rug for up to six hours a day.
Oriental rugs also offer beautiful workmanship, designs and colors, particularly silk rugs. While you may think the silk would be too delicate, these rugs are incredibly sturdy (although they do require a bit more care than wool rugs). Silk Oriental rugs do diverge from their Persian cousins in that they tend to use more traditional Buddhist designs and often use a palate of blue, yellow and apricot for their colors.
You’ve found a handmade Persian rug with a design you adore. You want to purchase it, but you want to make sure it’s a quality rug – after all the rug seller is asking for a good amount of money for this gorgeous “investment piece.”
Read below for FIVE indications of a rug’s quality.
If the dealer is saying the rug is handmade or hand-woven, it should have no backing at all attached to it. You should just see tiny knots on the rug’s back side. In fact, the design on the back of a handmade rug will be almost as clear as it appears on the front side of the rug.
Take a look at the back of the rug. A rug made by machine will have a uniform warp-and-weft grid while a handmade or hand-knotted rug’s back will have variations and slightly wavy wefts and warps.
You’re not looking for a rug without any imperfections. Handmade rugs will have a few – they are made by hand, after all. Still, a quality rug will lie straight and flat on the floor and should be realistically regular in its shape.
The rug’s color should be lustrous and made of wool or silk. Its colors should be balanced and a new rug’s colors shouldn’t have bled or have faded. It shouldn’t be too shiny, nor should its colors be exceptionally harsh or bright.
This antique Sarouk rug is a great example of how an antique rug retains its colors over the years. The colors of a new, high-quality Persian rug should be brighter, but not much more so.
Perhaps the most important component of a rug’s quality is the density of its knots. To check for knot density, press your fingers into the base of the rug’s pile. The knots should feel as if they are packed tightly. (You should do this on different quality carpets so that you can get a “feel” for how dense a rug should be. Many rug dealers – such as Behnam Rugs – are happy to take you around their showroom to teach you how to check for knot density.)
Of course, you should purchase a rug you love and, while it’s certainly fine – and even wise – to purchase a quality Persian rug for its investment value, it’s far more important that you love the rug’s design, it’s beauty, its quality, and how it adds so much to your home’s interior.
As mentioned above, we’re more than happy to take you by the proverbial hand in our Dallas showroom and teach you how to ascertain a handmade rug’s quality. Contact Behnam Rugs at 972-733-0400.