Archive for March, 2012

Persian Rugs, Oriental Rugs: How To Distinguish them

As the owner of an Oriental rug or a Persian carpet, you are going to get greater pleasure from them if you had more information about your beloved investments as to their history, origin, and characters of patterns. The study of classification and identification of hand-knotted area rugs often becomes discouraging, as it involves a consideration of the characteristics of more than just a few different classes, almost all of which are found to have exceptions to the best known types. To add to the difficulties of the issue, the opinions of the so called “experts” in regard to the less known classes are frequently incorrect, and detailed descriptions, even at the best, are unsatisfactory.

The study of Persian and Oriental rugs goes beyond a brief and plain research. It is impossible to become an “expert” in this field without a long personal experience in handling rugs, combined with attentive studies and a growing patience for learning about a subject of such a vast domain. However, familiarity with one class makes it so much easier to distinguish others through comparison and a relatively effortless process of elimination. Within the U.S. market, the majority of area rugs used to be “Persian” up until about three decades ago when the market was supplied with a large number of other types of handmade rugs from China, India, as well as Pakistan, just to name the major competitors of Persian rugs. For the beginner, it would suffice to learn the most basic about these types of rugs. You should keep in mind that Persian rugs have the largest number of classes, most of which can only with difficulty be distinguished from one another. Therefore, guidelines for identification of Persian rugs will not be discussed here.

Persian patterns: Shah Abbasi, Mina Khani, Gul Hannai, Herati

Persian patterns: Shah Abbasi, Mina Khani, Gul Hannai, Herati

Chinese rugs can easily be distinguished by their well-known, traditional patterns with the exception of Persian reproductions, which started about forty years ago with Kashan, Tabriz, and Nain patterns being the most popular. Wool rugs with simple geometric designs came to be used as floor coverings in China only recently. Unlike most oriental rugs, in Chinese patterns, the motifs stand alone rather than joining together to form the design, each having its specific meaning and often inspired by religious influences on the individual weavers. The foundation is typically cotton with two shots of weft inserted over each row of knots. The diameter of the threads of warp is much smaller than the diameter of the threads of the weft. It may be interesting to note that production of Chinese rugs has significantly decreased during the past few years due to so many factors on which an entire book can be written.

Typical Patterns of Chinese Rugs

Typical Patterns of Chinese Rugs

Indian rugs may generally be recognized by the realism and formal arrangement of their floral patterns. Due to the fact that weaving workshops of India have almost always been supervised by Persian master weavers, most Indian rugs are strongly influenced by Persian patterns. This has also resulted in Indian rugs to be named after the Persian style names that they reproduce. For instance, an Indo-Tabriz is a Tabriz design made in India. These Indian rugs tend to have a relatively thick pile and are very durable, always woven in workshops, exclusively for exportation. The warp is normally cotton with two shots of weft, also of cotton with differing thickness, inserted over every single row of knots.

Typical Persian Paisley patterns

Typical Persian Paisley patterns

Rugs woven in Pakistan are produced in concentrated workshops and factories, exclusively for exportation. Any hand-knotted rug from Pakistan belongs to the category of “Pakistani” or “Mouri”, a reproduction of Turkeman pattern (called Bokhara), characterized by repeated and geometric diamond-shaped motifs. Those from the Pakistani category copy Persian designs of Farahan, Kerman, and Tabriz. Use of more muted color tones has made them very popular in Western markets. The pile is usually trimmed very short, with two shots of cotton weft inserted over each row of knots.

The foundation of a rug, consisting of warp and weft threads, receives minor consideration from potential buyers, yet it is one of the most important factors defining the quality of a rug, and its strength is one of the most necessary conditions for utility. As a general rule, the backside of an Oriental rug will offer valuable information to the novice collector: Is each row of knots firmly pressed down upon the weft, or does each knot has a length equal or exceeding its width, and does the weave show inconsistencies. Only by consideration of these different points, and often more, such as the nature of colors, the character of wool, and the manner in which the wool has been spun, is it possible to determine much doubtful cases of rug identification.

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Persian Bakhtiar Rugs

Old Bakhtiari with the typical corner and medallion design

Old Bakhtiari with the typical corner and medallion design

With Shahr-kurd (town of the Kurds) being its capital city, Bakhtiari tribes are scattered around an area southwest of the noted city of Isfahan known as Chahar-Mahal. However, the formerly nomadic tribes of Bakhtiari, have since become settled. The term “Bakthiari” consists of two parts: “Bakht” meaning luck or chance, and “iari” meaning friend or companion, so as a whole the term would mean “Companion that brings good luck and fortune”, perhaps a title given to Cyrus the Great King. A relatively small percentage of Baktiari are still nomadic pastoralists, migrating between summer and winter quarters. No reliable statistics as to the number of Bakhtiari population is available, but some estimates claim this number to be around 800,000.

Historically, a large volume of Persian rugs, both in commercial grade and as excellent collectors’ pieces have been woven in this region. During the beginning years of the Nineteenth

Old Bakhtiari with Bandi pattern

Old Bakhtiari with Bandi pattern

century, production of Bakhtiari rugs increased, and raised rapidly due to the fact that there are around 200 villages in this area where rug production is the major means of making a living. Almost all production of Bakhtiari rugs have been offered for sale in the rug Bazaar of Isfahan, with the exception of new pieces commissioned by some major rug exporters. Reviving older patterns and traditional ways of rug production, such as the use of hand-spun wool and natural dyes mostly due to the efforts of these same exporters have made these carpets some of the most attractive pieces found in the rug industry within the last couple of decades. A large portion of rug making in this area has also been turned toward weaving “Gabbeh” rugs, mostly by same exporters.

All possible sizes have been woven in Bakhtiar, though smaller sizes are more common due to the fact that wooden looms used by Bakhtiari weavers would often break by heavy weight of larger rugs. Incidentally, moving large pieces around during seasonal migrations would not be very easy to accomplish. However, many over sized pieces from this area have been produced in workshops and are today considered master pieces and exceptional works of art. Foundation is usually cotton with 2 shots of weft inserted over each row of knots. There is also great variation of colors: many shades of red, brown, blue, yellow, ivory, and green. Many rugs from this area, specially older pieces use hand-spun wool and natural dyes, and the pile is normally trimmed medium to high. With the wool often obtained from the weaver’s own herd, and the highest quality of vegetable dyes used, the pile of Bakhtiari rugs are often soft and glossy.

Bakhtiari Golfarang

Bakhtiari Golfarang

Patterns show a great deal of variation as well, perhaps mainly due to the fact that many small villages make rugs according to their own taste and style, usually also influenced by the environment. Designs often range from Shahabbasi flowers with a relatively large center medallion, and sometimes an attractive allover pattern, tile (Kheshti) design, Golfarang, Bandi, and Hasiri. Some of the more important centers of rug production in the region include Shahr-kurd, Chal Shotur, Shalamzar, Saman, Sefid Dasht, Faridan, and Ghave Rokh, just to name a few.

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