Hand-knotted Persian carpets and Oriental rugs are the very latest floor covering fashion statement. In fact, interior designers all over the world have discovered their impressive versatility in style, color, type, and size, and are using them to define or enhance not only residential but also commercial decors. Oriental area rugs and Persian carpets of today are woven to suit an infinite domain of decorative styles spanning the traditional Oriental looks to the European, Art Deco, and contemporary. Buyers can choose, for example, Persian-style carpets featuring traditional hues or a wide array of timely decorative colorations. Also, In addition to the tremendous variety of pile rugs, the buyer can choose from an impressive selection of flat-woven pieces, including Indian Dhurries, Persian Kilim, chain-stitch, and Belgian needlepoint rugs. Moreover, sizes run the full gamut in response to the variety of today’s decorating needs. Reproductions of older pieces of Persian rugs easily coordinate with the fabrics and traditional furnishings of many Western homes.
Most interior designers and rug dealers will advise that the most logical way to decorate a room is to start with your Oriental or Persian rug. By extracting a single color from the rug, one can influence the room setting’s entire color and design scheme including that of wall and floor covering, upholstery, curtains, and other window treatments. At the same time, a rug’s pattern can stimulate the mood for the particular furniture style to be utilized in the same room. For example, a hand-woven rug exhibiting the French floral Aubusson design could be the first step in establishing a formal French ambiance or at least some European mood in the room.
However, incorporating the modern Oriental rug into an existing decor is now virtually problem-free thanks to the infinite variety available. A particular decorative scheme can inspire the use of a specific rug type and style. For instance, an 18th century English decor could be the ideal setting for an English-patterned needlepoint rug as well as for a traditional Chinese Peking carpet. On the other hand, in a less formal decorating environment an Indian Dhurrie or a Persian Kilim might be the perfect choice. Experienced home owners can testify that Persian carpets and Oriental area rugs can be used in a variety of room settings. In fact, with a little imagination you can transform an interior space into one that is vibrant with personality thanks to the addition of a handmade Oriental or Persian rug. Also, due to the tremendous (and increasing) variety in rug types and in the range of prices that have emerged during the last few decades, this decorating option is now within virtually every buyer’s reach. The floor of any room is perhaps the most prominent decorative component – accounting for one third of a room’s total space – and therefore deserves to be adorned with only the best. Persian and Oriental rugs can visually connect two otherwise unrelated spaces with much ease. A piece of Oriental Persian rug that you feel totally comfortable with will most likely look the best in your home. With the expanding choices available to today’s rug buyer, selecting the right piece of artwork for your floor requires a considerable amount of your time and patience.
Although Afghanistan shares a border with Iran on its western side, its carpets and rugs have more in common with the tribal weavings of Central Asia in regards with color, design, and weave than with their relatively more sophisticated Persian counterparts. Just like many similar cultures, the Afghans are a nomadic, tribal population constantly moving around from one place to another. Their rugs, woven on small, portable, wooden looms, are mainly produced for use in their private homes, and almost always for decoration purposes. Therefore, it is not surprising that Afghan rugs are available in limited quantities and usually in smaller rug sizes. Many feature natural-dyed hand-spun Afghan wool of very good quality. Various qualities of hand-knotted rugs are available in Afghanistan, ranging from coarse to medium in weave, in addition to flat-woven Kilims.
During the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between real Afghan rugs and those produced in Iran and Pakistan by Afghan refugees who fled their country during its war with the Soviet Union followed by the Afghan civil war. Afghan rugs are characterized by easily identifiable geometric patterns, the reason being that they strictly observe the principles of Islam, in which the display of human and animal figures is usually to be avoided. In addition, Afghan weavers have not been subject to much pressure from Western markets to produce for Western tastes. There are several types of Afghan rugs. The most widely accepted design is the “Afghan Bokhara”, represented by the gul motif, a large, quartered octagon also called “elephant’s foot”, generally displayed in columns or rows and framed within a border. They come in only a handful of different colors, the most common of which would be a rich red. Also popular are the nomadic Balouch rugs, generally prayer rugs with geometric designs. Most Afghan rugs fall into the dark red hues (occasionally blue) with black or dark blue motifs and sometimes with minor touches of ivory or green.
Lately, Afghan weavers have produced an interesting selection of “war rugs” exhibiting stylized depictions of military equipment such as tanks, grenades, and guns which are a clear image of the violent environment influencing the region throughout the 1980s. Of all the carpet types available today Afghan rugs are probably the most truly authentic expression of a weaver’s culture. They hold a special appeal for buyers seeking truly original ethnic expression in Oriental rugs.
Although historical references indicating the precise origins of Tibetan and Nepalese rugs are unclear, it is believed that rug weaving in this Himalayan region is part of an age-old tradition practiced primarily for use in the home. Following China’s suppression of Tibetan nationalism in 1959, thousands of Tibetans fled their country and settled in neighboring countries including Nepal. Shortly thereafter, production of handmade rugs began in refugee camps of Tibet, most of which were mainly situated in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley. By the mid 1970’s, many of the rugs produced by Tibetan refugees were being exported to various European countries. During the decade of 1980, Tibetan and Nepalese rugs received increasing attention from the U.S. decorative market and exports to America have constantly increased. The primitive, handcrafted look of Tibetan and Nepalese rugs, characterized by highly stylized patterns and tastefully arranged color combinations, has great appeal for the Western consumers.
Originally produced as mats, saddle rugs, door covers, bed covers, and pillar rugs (made to fit around Buddhist temple columns), traditional Tibetan weavings generally reflect the importance of Buddhist religion in Tibetan art and culture. Many design elements of Chinese origin were also adopted and transformed by the Tibetans as evidenced by the common use of the phoenix, dragon, and lotus symbols in traditional rugs of this region. Today, design arrangements featured in Tibetan and Nepalese rugs (those woven by Tibetan refugees in Nepal) range from Westernized adaptations of traditional Tibetan motifs (such as branching floral designs and snow lions) to a large mixture of foreign and modern free-form patterns. Some traditional designs of Persian, French, Turkish, and American southwest Indian have also been used in rugs of Tibet and Nepal. The more modern designs of these rugs display bold geometric motifs on open fields and modifications of Art Deco patterns. Whatever the ethnic origins of Tibetan and Nepalese rugs may be, their patterns indicate an effective simplicity that is intensified by a color band going from the rich reds and blues to the softer purples and grays, most of which are dyed with natural and vegetable substances.
In general, Nepalese and Tibetan rugs are woven with hand-spun wool providing their surface with a wonderful depth and richness by means of a smooth variation of color and texture. Some rugs are woven exclusively with Tibetan wool which is typically flexible, lustrous, and relatively strong. However, the majority of hand-knotted rugs are made with a blend of Tibetan and imported wool. Knot density of these rugs vary from 30 to over 100 KPSI (knots per square inch) with the majority around 50 KPSI. The looms used today are somewhat larger than their native forerunners in order to meet the export demand for room-sized rugs. Tibetan weaving features a unique and ancient knotting technique which utilizes the “axis rod” (warp divider) and “Gauge rod” (needle), tools not employed in other rug weaving centers of the world.
Rugs of Tibet and Nepal are increasingly creating considerable excitement among Western buyers due to the fact that they relay the rustic charm, typical of their customary Tibetan counterparts, while displaying fashion-oriented colors and designs available in many different sizes. These bold, wide-ranging patterns and color combinations elevated by a rich texture portray a primitive sophistication which is very unique to these rugs.
Since the middle ages, when Romanian weavers learned the art of rug weaving from their Ottoman rulers, Romania has produced hand-knotted rugs for export on regular basis. Production of rugs was very limited until after the second World War when the government-sponsored weaving centers, or cooperatives, were established. At that time, significant efforts were launched to reproduce Persian designs, specially Tabriz-inspired patterns. Since then, Romanian rug manufacturers have been most successful in developing new qualities and designs to meet Western decorative tastes.
Weaving in Romania is performed exclusively by women and is a closely supervised government enterprise. The wool used in Romanian rugs, although relatively coarse, is resilient and lustrous. The predominant quality of rugs produced today is the “Bucuresti” quality in which the tightness of the weave is approximately seventy knots per square inch (KPSI) and is woven on a cotton foundation into a pile of 100% natural wool. Four other qualities, Milcov, Mures, Braila, and Olt are also produced with knots that range from seventy to about two hundred knots per square inch.
Traditionally, most designs have been inspired by Persian patterns. Most popular in the Bucuresti quality are Persian designs such as Heris, Kashan, and Sarouks executed in traditional colors and in a broad range of fashion colors. Sizes range from very small pieces to palace-sized rugs, with hall runners up to more than thirty feet long. In addition, a more limited selection of non-Persian designs has widened the realm of decorative choices available in all qualities. Among these are antique-style reproductions of Caucasian and European rugs such as the floral French Savonnerie.
Equally important are Romanian Kilims which are part of a rich folk art tradition. Their best historic examples are treasured museum pieces. Romanian weavers today continue to use traditional flat-weaving techniques to execute the very characteristic curvilinear floral designs. These often incorporate geometric motifs and display a wide range of decorative colorations. Romania offers a tremendous production potential mainly due to its talented and well-trained weavers and to its high quality control standards. Thanks to the weavers’ adeptness at executing a variety of design types in both pile and kilim rugs, today’s buyers have a realm of decorative choices at their fingertips.
Although there are so many regions that produce different types of Persian rugs in a variety of qualities, the province of Azerbaijan is definitely one of the most important centers of rug weaving. The Eastern and Western Azerbaijan provinces are located in northwest Persia with many important cities and villages in the rug-production industry; such as Tabriz, Heris, Mehravan, Gorevan, Bakhshayesh, Khoy, Mianeh, Hashtrood, Meshkin, and Ardebil, just to name a few. Antique Azerbaijani rugs are in The White House, The State Department, and many important museums of the world. With exception of some Meshkin and Hashtrood rugs, most rug production of Azerbaijan has cotton foundation, and bold colors of red and royal blue, with a variety of patterns: from informal, tribal, and village rugs to formal, floral and city rugs.
High quality dyes and workmanship is typical of the Persian rugs woven throughout the district of Azerbaijan. The work is mostly done at leisure, with little pressure to speed up the process, and very much in the old fashion. The pattern and style is greatly influenced by that of the Kurdistan province, located to the South and known for the best rugs of tribal manufacture. Its population, while for the most part Turkish, is diversified by strong representation of other races. Weaving in Azerbaijan is as old as the province itself. However, it was not until the vast trade sprang up in Tabriz that the Azerbaijan rugs became known as such. The rug industry has practically been developed since 1890 in this region. Prior to that, the city of Hamadan was the marketplace for the rugs of all Western Persia, and this is why rugs of Azerbaijan were classified as Hamadan carpets. Merchants who made their way to Tabriz in hopes of finding beautiful pieces at bargain prices always came back empty-handed.
But gradually, more for convenience in the conduct of money transactions than anything else, the trade of the districts to the South and East began to go to Tabriz, and the rug industry began its new life there. The rug production of the province is now very large, not only for the rugs woven in the villages, but also for the high volume of hand-knotted carpets made in and around the city of Tabriz, largely the result of Western influence. Under the supervision of the most skilful loom masters, some Persian rugs of amazing workmanship are produced throughout the province of Azerbaijan. Due to migration of some expert rug weavers from “Kerman” to Azerbaijan (initially to oversee the growing rug production), it is not difficult to realize that the model on which Tabriz rugs are designed is in fact the ornamental and richly colored fabrics of Kerman. A wonderful harmony of color combination and perfect compactness of the weave are the major characteristics of Azerbaijan rugs, also seen in rugs of Kerman.
At first, the weaving was carried out in houses, but as Tabriz began to take the place of the then scarce carpets of Kerman, factories with a great number of looms were established in the Azerbaijan province, taking advantage of a large population of talented and skilled weavers scattered throughout the region. A favorite device for borders in Azerbaijan rugs is repeated small medallions containing inscriptions in the Persian alphabets, most often displaying verses from well-known poets. The foundation – warp and weft – are usually cotton, but for some pieces with a relatively higher number of knots per square inch, the warp can be silk. Further examination of recent rug production in this region shows a lot of creativity and innovation by combining colors and designs typical of other districts in order to achieve unique pieces, some of which have come out unbelievably beautiful works of art. This is the result of bold and daring yet simple thoughts of some of the world’s best carpet weavers.
Out of the well-known auction houses around the world, “Christie’s” and “Sotheby’s” are definitely the most famous. Some rare and antique masterpieces of Persian rugs have been sold by these firms over the course of several years. During the first week of June 2013, Sotheby’s auction house in New York sold a Persian rug for $33.7 million, more than three times the previous auction record of $9.6 million received by Christie’s in London for a wonderful Persian rug back in April of 2010.
Christie’s was founded in 1766 and is a popular auction house for unique and gorgeous works of art, with more than 450 annual sales in over 80 categories. With 53 offices in 32 countries and ten salerooms in cities such as Amsterdam, Milan, London, New York, and Hong Kong, Christie’s remains a prestigious destination for those seeking artworks of the highest status. Sotheby’s was founded in 1744 and started by the auction of a huge inventory of rare and antique books and later expanded into other valuable items. Auctions are conducted in salerooms of London and Paris, as well as fine galleries of the company’s headquarters in New York and Hong Kong. Sotheby’s maintains 90 locations in 40 countries and manages 250 auctions each year in over 70 categories.
The rug recently sold is a very rare Persian Kerman carpet from the early 17th century measuring 8 feet 9 inches by 6 feet 5 inches in an exceptionally good condition. Back in 1926, the Corcoran Gallery of Art from Washington, D.C., received the rug by means of a will, as part of a collection by William Clark, a U.S. senator from Montana. It would be interesting to know that the anonymous buyer acquired the rug through telephone bidding. The auction house is not providing any information as to the identity of this buyer, and the Corcoran gallery does not know who the buyer is. It seems like they are not even slightly interested in knowing the identity of the buyer either. The fact that an antique Persian rug can fetch such an amazingly high price may be due to the fact that some collectors in the Middle East and Asia are increasingly investing in Persian rugs with the same excited interest they have been showing for rare and expensive contemporary works. Also the fact that Middle Eastern museums around the world are now investing in Islamic art collections could be producing favorable impressions, thereby sharply increasing the demand for such pieces of art.
The Sotheby’s sale makes this carpet the most expensive Persian rug ever sold by an auction house, as well as the most expensive Persian rug in existence on the face of the planet. It will be interesting to see where such a costly piece of art is going to end up, and how it will be displayed. It will be equally interesting to see how soon this record is going to be broken again, and by whom.
Color in any Oriental carpet or Persian rug is perhaps its most important characteristic, coming to attention before any other aspect of these works of art. It is said among Oriental rug dealers that color is what sells a rug. Long ago, artisans in rug-producing countries learned to master chromatic mysteries lurking in the shrubs of their deserts, and the leaves of so many plants abundant in their surroundings. As a tree is known by its fruits, the dyer has place among his fellows by his hues. Each family of dyers has some peculiar and secret method of producing different shades. This subtle knowledge, however, has been carefully guarded against foreign participation.
Although silk is not the primary material used in the weaving of rugs, there are many pieces entirely made of pure silk where the number of knots per square inch is often very high due to the fact that silk is much thinner than wool and the silk knots tied on a silk foundation will be a lot smaller than wool knots. In many cases, silk is only used as “highlights” by skillful weavers making some flowers or parts of the design stand out. Just like wool, silk is a protein-based fiber and therefore more difficult to dye as opposed to cotton. First of all, silk has to get well saturated so it can absorb the dyestuff. The outer layer of silk fibers must be somehow cut open so the dye can reach the main body. There are sophisticated methods of achieving this task among professional dyers. Also, the temperature of the dyeing solution has to be maintained and never exceed a certain level in order to avoid shrinkage of the material. While stirring the solution occasionally, vinegar is added for extra luster and to promote level dyeing (even color). The solution needs to be kept at this temperature for a certain period of time, or else, the fabric will lose its shiny appearance very soon after the dyeing process is completed. Temperature has to be brought up to a full simmer while stirring the solution frequently. After the pot cools down completely, the fabric need to be laid flat to dry but not before it is given a thorough wash using mild detergents. Longer time, greater concentration of dyes, and higher temperatures are generally going to result in stronger colors.
Substantive dyes (known as direct dyes) get attached to the fiber without the help of another additive or chemical. Mordant dyes on the other hand, require a metal salt to prevent the color from washing out of the fiber. Even though the whole process of dyeing silk can be accomplished within a couple of hours, working with such a delicate fiber requires some experience. Different fibers absorb color very differently. Dyes do not come out the same color on silk fibers as they do on cotton, so it may take some experimentation to achieve the desired colors. Also for silk, mixed colors usually tend to shift one way or another. Maintenance of the temperature when dyeing silk is crucial as sudden changes in temperature can damage the fiber. Dyeing is indeed hard work, but rewards of creating wonderful shades are surely worth all this work.
Although Oriental carpets and Persian rugs are amazing works of art, finding the right place for them in your home could be a bit tricky. No matter where you plan to use your Oriental area rug or Persian carpet, pay attention to details of the area. For instance, is there enough of a clearance under the door if it opens over the rug? Or is the rug going to get walked on in a certain corner because it is in the path of the foot traffic? Or is the rug going to hinder air vents, cover electrical outlets, or be unreasonably exposed to direct sunlight if used in its desired placement? In most cases, careful planning will definitely help you avoid unpleasant surprises.
Smaller pieces can often be placed wherever they look their best or wherever they satisfy a specific purpose. However, finding the right place in a room for a larger rug, which will usually be the main floor covering, requires more planning. Larger pieces are used either in front of furniture, under a dining or a coffee table. Furniture can be placed around the rug giving it the looks of a centerpiece. In cases of even larger pieces, the rug can be placed either under the sofa’s front legs, or be entirely covered by your furniture. This is basically a matter of personal taste. When used under a dining table, the rug needs to be large enough so the chairs remain on it as you pull them out. As a general rule, if you are having a hard time to get the back legs of your chairs up and over the edge of the rug when sitting at the table, you know you will have to switch to a larger size. For dining tables with usual chair sizes, a rug that is about four to five feet wider and four to five feet longer than the table itself should be sufficient. If used under a coffee table, the rug should be placed so that the table will be centered between the long ends of the rug while you are still able to see enough of its colors and design. Coffee tables with a glass top will naturally have an advantage here.
In the past people would purchase a rug that would cover the entire room, but if you have beautiful tiles and hardwood flooring, you would most probably want to show some of the floor around the rug as well. As a general rule, you should allow at least ten inches of a hardwood or tile floor to be exposed around the edges of your rug. If possible, the rug needs to be placed in the center of the room with an equal distance from the wall to the sides and ends. Here, you will need to focus on the wall, and not on a closet or fireplace that may stick out into the room. For a smaller sitting area with a couple of chairs and a small table, any rug with a width of four to six feet and a length of six to eight feet would probably be good enough. In many cases, a round rug would be your best choice for such settings. The same set of rules explained above would apply here as well. Using an area rug in a kitchen can make a huge difference. However, due to frequent spillage of water and foodstuff, we do not recommend it unless you absolutely dislike the floor and can go with a less costly piece of rug for your space. With so many choices in different shapes and colors readily available to you, you can be sure to find the right rug with a bit of careful planning.
The principal types of Oriental and Persian rugs is not always very easy to determine. Hand-knotted rugs are woven in so many cities, districts, and villages with such minor differences that few rug dealers can accurately distinguish all fabrics available in the market today. Substitutions, continually practiced by suppliers, are made possible by the general lack of knowledge among purchasers. To some rugs, fancy names and terms are attached by dealers, perhaps only to refer to the quality, grade, or maybe only the pattern. For Persian rugs, the name always refers to the town or village in which they have been produced. A Persian Kashan rug has been woven in the city of Kashan. In many cases though, a rug would be called a Kashan even if it resembles the traditional design and colors of a Kashan but has been produced in the immediate neighborhood of Kashan. Often the names given to handmade rugs do not indicate the town or province where the fabric has been born, but rather, it refers to the region where the rug has been taken to for marketing purposes. In most cases, consumers do not need to be concerned about this fact, because it is safe to assume that every single rug-producing region in the world is naturally capable of weaving rugs in many different grades and qualities.
Lahore, as the main center of rug weaving in Pakistan, is known for its rich supplies of native wool. To a very large number of rugs being made by Afghan weavers who reside in refugee camps behind the borders of Pakistan no name can possibly be given. Also, during recent years some interesting village rugs of Pakistan have begun to appear in Western markets with no specific name or character of their origin. In manufacturing towns of Turkey, such as Ghiordes and Ushak, several grades of rugs are made, and each grade receives its special name as a guide to a knowledge of its quality. Due to Western influences, and perhaps to native ambition, some relatively large companies have recently been established, using old and well-known fabrics as the pattern in their production to which no specific name can be assigned. Although India is one of the largest producers of handmade rugs in the world, no classification can be given to their production since they are known to be copies of original products and are made in grades arranged merely upon a trade basis. Rug production began in India during late sixteenth century not because of tradition but for purposes of exportation, generating extra income for poor families who found it much easier to copy existing designs rather than going through the expensive and painstaking task of creating them from scratch.
It should be noted that recent advancements and developments in technology and ease of access to information have made the production of rugs so much easier in most parts of the world. A dealer can travel to Turkey and buy his wool there, have it shipped to Pakistan for natural dyeing, then send it to his factory in Nepal where he has several looms set up for the production of his rugs using patterns of traditional Persian carpets. As a result, the origin of hand-knotted rugs does not seem to be as important to end users as it once used to be.
Klims (also spelled Kilims) are the hard, double-faced floor coverings that lack a pile. They are generally made of wool but flat-woven, and are exported to many countries from different parts of the East. Klims possess a prominent place within the Persian and Oriental rug industry for their strong Oriental character. Recently, a large volume of Klims have been produced in parts of Turkey, Persia, as well as India and Pakistan, the majority of which are exported to Europe and North America. In so many respects, there are no Oriental rugs or Persian carpets which are more attractive than genuinely good Klims. In the right environment, a Klim can look a lot more attractive than the highest quality hand-knotted rugs with a KPSI exceeding 500. Since the earliest times, these works of art have been used as floor coverings, wall decorations, drapes, as well as bed covers. In many Klims the artistic geometric designs together with wonderful color combinations result in the most beautiful pieces of Oriental art. The hues are broad and in some degree crude. The yarn used in Klims is twisted so that it is harder and more linen-like than any wool fabric used in pile rugs, and where entirely different colors are brought close to one another, Klims make the most severe line of demarcation.
It is safe to assume that Klims present the more primitive, less complicated fashion of weaving by passing the weft threads around the warp displaying similar patterns as knotted rugs. In almost all types of Klims, the methods of weaving are much the same. The work is done with shuttles, on which the threads of weft are wound. By passing them the colors are carried in and out across the warp, making an even, corded surface, the “grain” of which is the warp itself. Sellers of rugs rarely have the knowledge to distinguish between the several varieties of Klims, and in fact, it may be difficult to do so, except in the case of Persian Senneh Klims which differ radically from all the rest. In everything except the difference of method they are exact reproductions of the Senneh piled rugs. As for fineness, they excel, by far, all other types of handmade Klims. Some Kurdish Klims are made in two or more sections and sewed together afterward. The discrepancy between the two sides, where parts of the pattern are supposed to unite at the seam, is greater or less, but rather adds to the interest in the fabric than detracts from it. Kurdish Klims are made allover Kurdistan, but those from the Persian side of the border are the finest.
Many seemingly intentional irregularities are often found in Klims. Where, for example, some figure is to be repeated several times in white, it may be woven in gray or some other color once or twice, or it may be woven once or twice in cotton, while all the rest are in wool. Also, unlike piled rugs, the border stripes are not the same all the way around the fabric. The rotation of colors is by no means regular either. There is just so much latitude for the exercise of individual innovations when it comes to genuine Klims. In fact, weavers have been given a lot more freedom in their work during recent years whereby producing very unique pieces. It seems the trend is toward more and more popularity of flat-woven Klims and it will be interesting to observe newer pieces that reach Western markets in the near future.