Archive for October, 2012

Persian Rugs, Oriental Rugs: Where Do Designs Come From?

Artistic patterns of Persian carpets and Oriental area rugs are the outcomes of inspiration and reflection on the designer’s side. They take the form of a drawing called a “cartoon” originating from French tapestry making. Creation of such drawings is an art in itself, undertaken by talented designers. These artists may consider their idea for many years before putting pen to paper, some may be inspired by their own observations of architectural monuments, ancient frames decorated with miniatures, sculpted wooden doors, details of engraved silver plates, and yet others may base their work on research on illustrations in books. Whether consciously or not, they are all inspired by traditional patterns which they reassemble into new designs.

Drawing On A Graph Paper

Drawing On A Graph Paper

The drawing is always made on graph paper where each small square corresponds to a knot tied by the weaver. The color to be used for each individual knot may be specified at this time, or may be postponed to another stage of the process. For coarsely woven rugs, the drawing will be to the same scale as the rug itself. However, for fine Oriental and Persian carpets with a higher number of knots per square inch (KPSI), the drawing on regular graph paper would be too hard to read. In such cases, a drawing of a larger scale is prepared, the size of which could be twice the actual size of the rug, allowing a more exact interpretation of the design and giving a more accurate result on the final product. The drawing must be read by the weaver square by square and knots made accordingly. The most common type of design is “double symmetrical”, consisting of a pattern for a quarter section repeated four times. Here only a quarter of the design is drawn and the weaver will complete the work by turning and rotating it as needed. If the design is to be “symmetrical on an axis”, only half of it is drawn out and the other half is transposed by the weaver. For a totally “asymmetrical” design, a drawing of the whole carpet surface needs to be made. This explains the high price of asymmetrical designs. The borders are treated separately and have a drawing of the side band as well as a corner drawing. At any rate, a designer must create harmony of colors and motifs between the field and the border, and this always comes with many years of experience and hard work.

The finished drawing is sold to the master weaver who will then have it woven in his workshop. In some cases, the master weaver himself may create the design by having a skilled draftsman make several sketches which will then be discussed, considered in more detail, and developed for him. The master weaver rarely draws the designs himself. Design costs are a considerable part of total expenses in rug production, as those created by well-known artists are often sold for large sums of money. An artist may require that his name be woven on the rug as a signature. The master weaver will have to make compromises and adjustments in order to copy a pattern on several different sizes as making a single piece of each individual design will not be feasible in economic terms.

Persian Tabriz Signed by Master Weaver "ALABAF"

Persian Tabriz Signed by Master Weaver "ALABAF"

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Persian and Oriental Rugs: Best Wool For Rug Weaving

Although an Oriental rug or a Persian carpet consists of so many individual elements, the part that is distinctly seen at the first glance is the pile of the rug which is in most cases made of natural wool. Almost all materials needed in rug production are readily available in weaving regions of the world. In fact, parts of the vast plateaus and broad foothill regions of Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan are good for little else but grazing. Large herds of sheep move about these uplands, where they find adequate nourishment as the most important factor giving way to the best wool on the face of the planet. That there is something, either in the grass upon these plains, or in the conditions of the climate, which affects the unbelievable growth of wool, has been demonstrated by the complete failure to raise the animals of these localities elsewhere with an equal degree of success. The long and fine wool for the pile is absolutely essential in the weaving of fine Persian and Oriental area rugs.

 

Shearing the Lamb

Shearing the Lamb

The age, breed and general health of the sheep will naturally make a difference to the quality of its wool. However, the way the sheep are fed and the environment where they are raised have direct impacts on the quality of their wool as well. From living at higher altitudes, the sheep develops a thick, hardy coat heavy with lanolin. Such wool is more lustrous and shiny, has a wonderful patina, and is more resistant to accumulation of dust and dirt. Length of the fiber, oil content, climate and breed contributes to the quality of the wool. For example, wool from drier regions tends to be short in fiber, and low in oil content, not only making it fragile but also giving the wool an unhealthy appearance.

 

A rug’s quality depends largely on the manner in which the wool has been processed. Lousy wool results in low quality rugs. No acids should ever be applied during the process of washing the wool as the lanolin gets washed away. Lanolin yields naturally stain-resistant, lustrous yarn that does not shed. The wool may be spun by either hand or by machines. It may also be dyed by chemical or natural substances. In cases where the dyed wool is hand-spun into thread, the yarn will have occasional lumps which create challenges to the weavers, forcing them to compensate for these lumps by occasionally changing the shape, size or position of a knot. These delicate variations in the pattern of a finished rug – visible only upon close inspection – give it the character so admired almost universally.

 

Oriental and Persian rugs are the original pieces of artwork and still the best when it comes to quality and value. The general agreement amongst rug producers and retailers is that rugs made using one hundred percent New Zealand wool (called Merino) are the very best woolen rugs around. However, experts insist that the wool from northwest of Persia (Kurdistan) sheared in spring time is absolutely the best on the face of the planet and we at Rug Firm tend to agree with them. In fact, this type of wool is so rich in its oil content it looses a significant percentage of its weight after it gets washed, and is to be found in the pile of the most wonderful antique pieces of Persian rugs.

An Example Of Kurdistan Wool, Antique Persian Hamadan (Yousef Zanjani)

An Example Of Kurdistan Wool, Antique Persian Hamadan (Yousef Zanjani)

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Persian Rugs, Oriental Rugs: Traditional Vs. Modern Weaving

Old Persian Heris from the villages of Azerbaijan

Old Persian Heris from the villages of Azerbaijan

To produce Persian and Oriental rugs is, without a doubt, one of the most tedious and time-consuming jobs ever carried out by human beings. The term “produce” should be used rather than the term “weave”, as weaving is only part of the whole production process. To tie a single knot consists of seven different stages by itself. At any rate, rugs that emerged a few decades ago were made differently when compared to pieces that are being produced today. Experts believe that with the introduction of hand-spun wool and natural dyes back into the rug industry during recent years, rugs are being made in the same way as those woven two thousand years ago. Others believe that modern rugs lack personality because weavers are told what the market demands and they need to produce accordingly. Let us take a closer look at the issue. Please note that we are going to consider general forms of rug production without going into detail and that there are always exceptions in overall methods of past and present weaving processes.

Tradition: Men are in charge of setting up the wooden loom, starting with a prayer ceremony to bless the workers as well as all tools and materials used during all phases of production. As the loom is the foundation for the carpet, great care needs to be exercised in its construction. You will end up with a crooked rug if the loom is not tight and straight. Weaving takes place in private homes and is carried out by women in most cases, though claiming that it is just the women who take care of the hard work would merely be an oversimplification. All the villagers participate in raising sheep, shearing the wool, and washing it, while the spinning is done by the elders giving them an active role in the survival of the most important means of income for their village. In fact, spinning is very crucial as villagers need the spun wool not only for their rugs but also for the primary material of their clothing. Dying the wool is considered as a completely different profession. Although most Oriental and Persian rugs used to have a pile of wool dyed by natural substances and plant roots, synthetic dyes were introduced to village rugs during the second half of the Nineteenth century. Such chemical dyes are easier and less expensive to obtain. They give the wool a more consistent color with much less variations in shades as opposed to vegetal dyes, resulting in a more predictable outcome. When a rug is finished and cut off the loom, shearing the pile is done by men using large scissors and working their way across the rug creating an even nap to the surface.

Modern: A loom, often of light-weight metal, is set up by a professional in the concentrated workshop or factory in a matter of only a few hours. By its nature, the metal loom is completely straight and easy to move around. Weavers are actually workers of the factory. They will start and stop work just like any other factory workers and enjoy certain benefits of being employed under such settings. The manufacturer, often through a supervisor, provides the pattern to be woven, as well as the required wool in whatever colors according to orders. Colors may or may not be natural dyes, though synthetic dyes are the norm as they produce more uniform shades in the wool which is rarely hand-spun, because it would make the final product more expensive. A large tool, resembling a regular shaver, will take care of the shearing of the pile after the rug is finished. The final touches and washing the rug are almost entirely done by semi-automatic devices, and everybody is paid by the hour.

Persian Mashad from the workshop of "Zarrineh"

Persian Mashad from the workshop of "Zarrineh"

It is true that the “modern” method of producing Persian carpets and Oriental rugs results in pieces that are more desirable in Western markets as far as color combinations, patterns, and dimensions are concerned. The other side of the coin is that these modern pieces often lack individuality and authenticity. However, by giving weavers so much freedom in improvising on their work, often inspired by elements of village life and little details of their surrounding environment, some rug makers have been extremely successful in supplying the market with wonderful pieces of artwork during the last few years.

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Persian Rugs, Oriental Rugs: Basic Facts

High Quality Persian Tabriz Rug

High Quality Persian Tabriz Rug

In order to truly appreciate the beauty of Persian and Oriental rugs, it would help to understand how they have been (and still are) made, and the endless patience with which the strands of wool are knotted onto the warp one after another, knot upon knot and tie after tie, until the final product emerges. This, almost never, is going to be flawless. Minor defects are explained as deliberately done by weavers, in proof that God alone is perfect, or this may only be the poetical version of the story. At any rate, a rug which lies straight and flat upon the floor, always has an advantage. In most rug producing regions of the world, it is generally women who are in charge of the weaving, and very commonly the whole family take part in it. More often still, Persian carpets and Oriental rugs were woven by young girls just about to enter marriage, and taken to their new home as their portion of marriage gift. A rug woven for this purpose is a work of love and hard labor of many years. It is but natural, under such circumstances, with dreams, hopes, creativity, as well as the stimulus of competitiveness, that masterpieces should result. The “accomplishment” of these young girls is so important, it might be compared to the bead-work so diligently done by our grandmothers. It is an interesting question whether it might not be possible to revive this stylish form of work among the girls of rug-producing countries instead of establishing great factories for machine-made products from set designs. This would definitely result in creation of original pieces and revival of such an old art. However, as is the case in all parts of the world, technological advances attract the younger generations toward “modern” jobs. Rather than weaving rugs in traditional forms, the majority are now being produced in organized workshops and factories.

 

The conventional method of weaving is most simple. The warp –  either wool or cotton – is stretched on a primitive wooden frame (the “loom”). The knotting begins at the bottom and is usually worked from right to left. A bit of yarn – again wool or cotton and about two inches long – is gently twisted between the threads of the warp, then tied in a secure knot, and the ends left as they are, then another knot of yarn is tied and the process repeated until the bottom row is finished and another row begins. One or two shots of weft threads are normally inserted over each row of knots. The ends of knots are cut according to the length of nap desired only when the rug is finished. Knots are generally classified as either symmetric (Turkish) or asymmetric (Persian). When one square inch of rug is completed, according to the quality of the rug and the coarseness or fineness of the wool, there have been from one hundred to five hundred knots, and up to a thousand and more in some top quality – often with a silk pile – pieces of Persian carpets and Oriental rugs. Throughout the process, the weaver is working with her brain as well as with her fingers, following the design and color scheme which she may carry only in her head. Each particular weaver is accustomed to hold to the general design and coloring which distinguishes her specific locality.

 

A Typical Tribal Persian Yalameh

A Typical Tribal Persian Yalameh

Generally speaking, patterns of Oriental and Persian rugs indicate the locality of their weavers. Later, as civilization and knowledge spread, tribes and nations grew to communicate with one another. As a result, local patterns came to be used randomly. For example, you will find in the semi-antique Persian Farahans or Shiraz rugs, a distinctive and obvious trait of Kurdish designs. On the other hand, certain primal and stable patterns, both in the field and border, mark some rugs absolutely and exclusively, as the Bukharas and Afghans. In many, their classification is fixed, or at least approximated, rather by their borders than by the figures in their fields. In fact, border designs are often truer and safer guides to classification than are the designs of centerfield and medallions. There are many border designs strongly determining their origin and the region to which they belong. These borders may have been borrowed or imitated, or may have naturally spread to other regions, and they may be adapted to various other makes to this day. Their evident individuality of design tells its own history just the same.

 

To describe in detail the characteristics of all the classes of Persian rugs and Oriental carpets would hardly be possible. The particular features of some of them, however, may be noted. It should be observed that the term “antique” as applied to rugs is generally abused. A rug is not gorgeous simply because it is old. It must have been fine as a new piece, and it must have been carefully maintained. Time must have only softened its original beauties. These pieces were true creations and not imitations. Modern rugs of fine quality will also improve as they age.

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Persian Carpets, Oriental Rugs: Persian Balouch

Rug experts agree that some of the most interesting Persian rugs have been produced in the region of “Balouchestan”. Perhaps the idea is not so much surprising when the desolate character of the country is considered: A sandy, waterless waste stretches over the most part, and only in  a corner to the Northeast and in narrow strips, where streams from mountain sides water small valleys, is any cultivation. Across this sparsely settled land and farther westward into the Southeastern part of Persia, primitive tribes of Balouches and Brahoes wander with their sheep, goats, and large numbers of camels. Their rugs, woven on equally primitive looms, bear little resemblance to the more artistic pieces of the Indian weavers to the East or to those of Persian Kermans to the West. Nor are they closely related to the Turkeman rugs with which they are usually grouped. In fact, Balouch rugs possess an individuality that once recognized is never forgotten; the uniqueness due to the isolated conditions of a country that is protected from its nearest neighbors by barriers of deserts and mountain ridges, and is possessed by a still unconquered people. The fact that Balouch rugs are rarely colored with synthetic (chemical) dyes is largely due to the same circumstances, though many modern pieces have been produced by such dyes or at least chemically treated by rug merchants in recent years.

A Typical Persian Balouch Rug

A Typical Persian Balouch Rug

One of the most distinguishing features of Balouch rugs is their tones of color, rarely deviating from traditional shades. The dark reds and blues used on these rugs create an attractive contrast, making the splashes of white stand out. Dull tones of green are frequently seen in Balouch rugs. Among all types of Persian rugs, those produced within the boundaries of Balouchestan display the most individuality and diversity in design. Turkeman and Balouch rugs are very similar in the intricate geometric patterns they use, where the design is formed by the repetition of stylized camel’s foot or some other imaginary shapes surrounded by a narrow, similar nomadic border, which usually consist of three or four stripes. They may also consist of a field covered with diagonal bands, with large lozenges, or medallions, all of which are decorated profusely with latch-hooks. Still others have some primitively drawn flower design, such as the Mina Khani, that clearly shows traces of influences from other types of Persian rugs.

Proportionally to their length, very few other Persian rugs have such long webs at the end, though they are sometimes entirely worn away while the body of the rug is still intact. They are usually colored in great harmony with the colors of the background, and are marked with embroidered lines or simple designs. No other rugs have a surface with more lustrous sheen, due to the soft, fine wool of the pile which in older pieces is short and closely woven, giving a play of colors, and velvety appearance unsurpassed by no other nomadic rug. Many of the more desired pieces of Balouch weave now available in the market are the small saddle bags that are of rich yet subdued colors, and possess the character and sheen of antique pieces of Persian rugs. They are rarely woven in sizes larger than 3 by 5 feet. The pile is trimmed very short and the quality of the wool is excellent, resulting in very durable pieces. The foundation on these rugs is either grey wool or white cotton, knots are normally very small and tightly packed down. The average knot density for the majority of Baluch rugs is normally somewhere between 180 and 250 KPSI.

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Persian Carpets And Oriental Rugs: Caucasian “Karabagh”

To the Southeast of Lake Gotcha and north of the river Aras that divides Caucasia from Persia, is the district of Karabagh, a name signifying “Black Vineyard”. On account of its geographic position, it has been subject to the ruling of  several kings for long periods during the many struggles between the two countries. This region is separated from the rug-producing district of Karadagh by the river only, and its Southern border is just about eighty miles away from the city of Tabriz – in Northwestern Persia – to which many of its rugs are taken. For these reasons, it would only make sense to expect more resemblance between Karabagh carpets and Persian rugs than any other type of Caucasian rugs. In fact, the resemblance becomes much stronger when it comes to older pieces, and a lot less visible in the case of most modern products of this region.

A large number of these coarsely woven and carelessly dyed rugs have reached Western markets during recent decades. Some of them come close to Kazaks as far as their geometric pattern is concerned, but in their workmanship, they are very much different. In rugs of Karabagh, one of the two threads encircled by a knot is depressed, they are more loosely woven, they come in smaller sizes, and they do not weight as much as Kazaks either. Many pieces of Karabagh rugs lack the tiny symbolic designs that make nomadic rugs so interesting. The central field can occasionally be open (with no motif or design), or there may be large expanses of white or some raw color such as crimson red, yellow, or blue, on which stiffly drawn nondescript devices are displayed.

It comes as a relief to turn from these poor pieces to those woven half a century ago, with less noticeable coloring and more pure designs. Many of the old pieces of Karabagh rugs are rectangular with a length almost twice the width, though the more modern pieces come in smaller sizes and nearly square shapes. Colors are principally red, blue, yellow, and ivory. The rows of symmetrical (Turkish) knots are only slightly pressed down, yet the warp is generally hidden on the back side. The foundation of Karabagh rugs is usually of wool, and designs are always of a geometric nature. Some have the prayer design of a bit different appearance, showing an arch of several steps rising from near the middle of the sides with a diamond representing the sacred earth. In Karabagh rugs, borders show as great diversity as the main fields, but one stripe usually contains a concession to the Persian and another to the Caucasian tradition. For example, the primary stripe may be of Persian character situated on each side by the running latch-hook, or it may be the well-known crab design, while the adjacent stripe may be a running vine of simple form. Old pieces of Karabagh rugs are very handsome and compete with the best of Caucasian rugs, the drawing is carefully executed, colors are rich, the weave is fair, but like the rare old rugs of Daghastan, they are now seldom seen.

Caucasian Karabagh

Caucasian Karabagh

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