Have you ever walked into a high-end carpet store and been intimidated about what to look for in a hand-knotted rug and how to know what you are getting? I have. But all my fears were allayed at a recent seminar hosted and presented by Alyshaan Fine Rugs.
First, feel free to call them carpets or rugs. It’s kind of like soda and pop; it just depends on where you come from or what you simply like saying. Carpets may have originally been more the universal label; however, with the onset of wall-to-wall carpet, things just naturally moved to rugs, but both are equally appropriate.
The fact of the matter is that hand-knotted rugs have been around back to and earlier than the 5th century B.C. We know this because the excavation of a Shiite chief in the Pazyryk Valley in Siberia disclosed the first known hand-knotted artifact, encased and thus, preserved in ice. The refined artisanship of this find confirmed the belief that carpets were woven as articles to decorate dwellings as well as serve all the intents of providing insulation from the climate.
The art of the hand-knotted rug gradually spread around the globe over the centuries, but it is believed, because of various excavation sites, that the Middle East region was the cradle of carpet weaving. Nomadic tribes migrated from Turkestan to the west, the Caucasus, Persia, and Anatolia; as well as to the east to China; and then ultimately to India, extending this art form to the natives of these places, eventually leading to rug making in Spain and France.
Each of the various tribes added their own flair to the designs as well as named the hand-knotted rugs after their villages such as Tabriz, Kerman, Mashhad, Kashan, Gabbeh, Safavid, for the hand-knotted variations and Kilim and Soumak for flat-woven carpets.
These respective regions had available to it certain plant, animal, and minerals for dyes that influenced color, types of wool available from indigenous sheep (dark in the lowlands and white in the highlands), as well as designs that would be indicative of each tribe. Typically, tribes at higher altitudes produced a finer quality product because the wool was softer, whiter, and more plentiful to keep the sheep warm in the winter.
Natural Dyes vs. Chemical Dyes
Natural dyed hand-knotted rugs tend to be softer and more muted in color. Color variation can also be great. If the craftsman dying the yarn did not dye enough strands in a batch, they would have to repeat the process and without precise records as to how much dye and water to use and how long to boil the wool, the color will not come out the same. This is not a defect; it is just to be expected and adds to the charm of the rug.
Chemical Dyes have come a long way. The original attempt at chemical dyes used an acidic base causing the hand-knotted rugs to disintegrate over time giving chemical died rugs a bad name. The products used today are more gentle, resilient, and colorfast than natural dyes.
Whose Hands are Making your Hand-Made Rug
The best hand-knotted rugs are typically designed and woven by adult weavers. But the process is more of a group activity as it is not uncommon to see four to five women working to execute the knots in a single rug and the children washing and trimming the final products.
Caring for Your Rug
- Vacuum, Vacuum, Vacuum. Without a beater bar. The beater bar will break down the fibers and lessen the life of your hand-knotted rug.
- Do not let carpet cleaners come to your home to clean your expensive hand-knotted rugs. Take them to a reputable carpet dealer and they will have them properly cleaned. What is the proper cleaning? Coldwater, a little soap, and lots of rinsing.
- Rotate yearly. If your client says that they like a rug from one side and not the other because of the color variation with the nap, they may need to select another rug. Rotating the rug will double its lifespan.
- Pet accidents. You can spritz with vinegar and water and dab with a paper towel, but be sure to rinse and dab to get the vinegar out of your hand-knotted rug. Do not rub, just blot.
The price of custom rugs surprisingly is not determined by the number of colors. The price is determined by the grade of the wool or other yarn material you select and the required size of your hand-knotted rug.
Do not expect delivery of your hand-knotted rug immediately after you have been told it is complete. Rugs typically take additional processing time to go through a repeated washing and blocking phase. Remember that hand-crafted rugs are very likely handcrafted in the mountains and in less than pristine conditions. Repeated washing releases the lanolin in the wool fibers and gives the finished piece its final luster.
After washing hand-knotted rugs are shaved, clipped, or carved, depending on the pattern.
Types of Rugs
Hand-knotted – which can be pile-woven textiles or flat-woven carpets with no pile, in bright colors, and with a tapestry-like texture. You can tell a true hand-knotted rug because it will never have a backing. The fringe on hand-knotted rugs is the warp threads. Whereas fringe on hand-tufted or machine-made rugs is sewn on.
Hand-tufted – the finished product may look and wear much like a hand-knotted rug, but the hand-tufted is created without tying knots. These wool rugs are made with a tool called a “tufting gun.” Loops of wool are pushed through a backing that has been imprinted with the overall design. Hand-tufted rugs take far less time to make and as such are more affordable area rugs.
Machine-made – the least expensive but depending on the pattern and material quality there are many beautiful selections. The back of the rug is finished with an adhesive material which will start to disintegrate over time. If you notice a white powdery material on your floors, it is time to replace the rug.
Selecting a reputable dealer is the best first step in purchasing a high-end hand-knotted rug. The next time you find yourself in Alyshaan Fine Rugs or in another fine carpet showroom, you’ll know a little bit more about the process and the terminology, as well as realize purchasing a high-end rug is a journey in learning, creating, and enjoying.