Handmade Persian rugs rank as some of the most popular rugs, but identifying an authentic Persian rug is often difficult. Doing your research is an important step in purchasing a quality carpet, from understanding the different materials and construction methods to identifying an authentic rug. Learn all about this style with our Persian rugs guide.
Overview of Persian Rugs
The Persian rug label applies only to rugs handmade by artisans in Iran. The area was once known as Persia, which is where the rug name originates. The earliest Persian rugs served a practical purpose as floor mats to keep cold floors warm. The weavers eventually began incorporating motifs into the designs, often connected to the specific geographical area where the rugs were made. The rugs became symbolic of nomadic cultures, making them meaningful and valuable.
Persian rugs are most often hand woven by nomadic artisans in Iran. Wool is the most common material used to make the rugs. It is soft yet durable, and wool is readily available to weavers in Iran. While local wool is often used, Iranian weavers sometimes use imported wool from New Zealand or Australia. Early nomadic weavers used wool from their own sheep to create the rugs.
Silk is sometimes incorporated into Persian rug design, but natural silk is very costly, so it isn’t used as often as wool. While silk is a very fine material, it is also very strong. Still, silk rugs aren’t recommended in rooms with high foot traffic. Some rug designs use a mixture of wool and silk to emphasize certain details while keeping the overall rug highly durable.
Persian rugs typically feature intricate detailing and beautiful designs, which makes them a bit like artwork for your floor. The quality materials and time-tested construction methods render authentic Persian rugs highly durable, long-lasting and able to withstand foot traffic. Many old Persian rugs are still in existence.
How to Identify a Genuine Persian Rug from a Fake Persian Rug
Because Persian rugs are so popular and potentially valuable, you’ll find many imitation versions on the market. Manufacturers and vendors try to pass off these rugs as the real thing, but there are very distinct differences, particularly in the quality. Fortunately, you have a few different methods of checking out rugs to make sure they are authentic Persian rugs.
Persian Rug Country of Origin Labels
Look for a label on the back side of the rug as your first clue about whether or not it is authentic. If it is a genuine Persian rug, it should list the country of origin as Iran, as all authentic Persian rugs are made here. If the label lists the country of origin as Turkey, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Nepal, India or Pakistan, the rug isn’t considered a true Persian rug. Instead, it falls under the more general term of Oriental rug. That doesn’t mean the rug is poor quality. It simply means it’s not an authentic Persian rug.
Hand-Knotted Persian Rugs
Traditional, authentic Persian rugs are made by hand using natural materials. You can identify a genuine hand-woven Persian rug by folding the rug back onto itself. Look at the base of the pile, where you should be able to see the distinct rows of knots. Another way to determine if a rug is hand-knotted is by looking at the back of the carpet. When the piece is hand-knotted, you should be able to see the design on the back of the rug, not just on the front. Machine-made rugs tend to have thicker backings without a visible design showing.
When considering a hand-knotted Persian rug, the type of knot can indicate if the rug is an authentic Persian carpet. Persian rugs traditionally feature a single looping knot. Turkish rugs, in comparison, use a double looping knot. If you’re looking at antique Persian rugs, look for single-loop knots. Modern Persian rugs may use the double looping knot, so this test may not hold true if you’re looking at brand new Persian rugs.
Persian Rug Patterns and Designs
Persian rug designs and patterns tend to fall in certain categories. Recognizing those designs can help you identify a true Persian rug and choose a style that fits your preferences. More than 2,500 years ago, when Persian rug design developed, the patterns varied based on the specific tribes weaving them. Every village had slightly different styles and patterns, which often related to the specific religions, traditions, history and geography of that particular village.
Rugs created in Iranian cities often follow design plates, which tell the artisan which color to use for each knot. Rugs made in villages or tribes may also use this template method. However, many of these rugs are also designed through the creativity of the individual artisan weaving the rug. Tribal and village rugs tend to have a more raw appearance because of this creativity. While some people prefer the perfection of a template-designed rug, others prefer the authenticity of a raw design.
Some of the styles and their distinguishing features include:
- Abadeh: A large center diamond and smaller corner diamonds characterize this style, named after its city of origin.
- Afshar: These Persian rugs often feature geometric patterns with a large central design featuring squared medallions. Red and blue are common colors for these rugs.
- Ardebil: Named after a province by the same name, this style is characterized by a diamond medallion and small fish in the design.
- Baluch: Blue, red and brown often dominate these small Persian rugs.
- Bidjar: Known for durable, compact pile, these rugs often feature a fish pattern, medallions or floral motifs.
- Birjand: Light red, vivid blue and ivory are the colors commonly used on these rugs, which feature borders with lots of detailing.
- Gabbeh: This distinct style of Persian rug often features a simple design, usually with rectangular elements with animals integrated into the pattern.
- Hamadan: Named after one of the oldest cities in the world, this style of rug often features a varying pattern with repeated elements, including medallions.
- Heriz: These rugs, produced in the northwestern Iranian city of the same name, feature distinct designs with large right-angled medallions and large corner sections.
- Isfahan: Isfahan rugs feature known for their thin construction with a high knot density. Designs often replicate mosque tile work or garden designs.
- Kashmar: Traditional Kashmar rugs typically use cream, light blue and ivory in the designs.
- Mashad: Rugs from the holy city of Mashad often feature medallion patterns and often come in large sizes.
- Nain: Nain rugs are very popular and often feature a middle medallion plus arabesques and floral patterns.
- Navahand: Small nomadic designs surrounding a large central medallion commonly decorate these rugs. They use a cotton foundation, which produces notable softness on the rug.
- Tabriz: These Persian rugs often feature a central medallion with arabesques, weeping willows and cypresses surrounding it. The four seasons motif is also popular with this type of carpet, as are ancient palaces and ruins.
Persian Rug Weaving
Persian rug weaving traditionally uses a hand-woven technique that takes several months to a year or more to make. Machine-spun Persian rugs aren’t considered true Persian rugs in the traditional sense, but they can provide a suitable stand-in if you have a limited budget yet still want the look of a Persian rug.
Hand-Woven Persian Rugs
As the name suggests, a hand-spun Persian rug is a carpet made by hand. On a hand-knotted Persian rug, the artisan creating the rug ties each knot individually by hand. Each piece of the pile is wrapped around the foundation and then tied. Handmade rugs are more expensive due to the time-consuming construction method, but they’re also more valuable. They tend to gain value, making them an investment in addition to a home décor item. If you choose to sell an authentic, hand-knotted Persian rug in the future, the rug won’t lose value.
These handmade rugs are made on a loom. Horizontal looms feature four wooden bars as the frame, with the distance between the bars determining the width and length of the rug. Stakes or nails secure the loom to the ground in a horizontal orientation. The weaver typically sits on the ground to create the rug. This style of loom is popular for nomadic weavers, as it is much easier to assemble and disassemble. Rugs made on horizontal looms tend to be smaller.
Vertical looms stand upright and are often found in workshops or in cities rather than nomadic areas. The vertical loom also has four sides. The weaver sits or stands near the loom to create the rug.
Hand-knotted rugs start with a foundation of warps, which are vertical strands running through the rug. They create the structure for the rug. The artisan weaves and ties the individual pieces of wool around those warps to form the design. A weft strand goes between each of the rows. The wefts are inserted after each row of knots is tied. The tightly packed weft strand keeps the knots firmly in place.
These authentic hand-woven Persian rugs are unique and individual, even if they are made from a pattern, because they are tied by hand. They take months or years to make, so you get the satisfaction of knowing a lot of care and artisanship went into your rug.
Machine-Woven Persian Rugs
Modern production methods have changed the Persian carpet manufacturing business to some degree. While many rugs are still hand-knotted by artisans, rugs may also be woven on a power loom. These machine-woven rugs aren’t considered as valuable as hand-knotted rugs, but they still offer the traditional motifs and patterns at a lower cost.
Considering a Persian Rug? Here Are a Few Things to Look For
Knowing how to spot an authentic Persian rug is an important first step in making your purchase. Several other factors help you narrow down the options to find the best carpet for your home. Look at the following details to make your selection.
Persian Rug Sizes
Persian rugs come in a variety of sizes, from small accent rugs to large area rugs and long runner rugs. Measure your area carefully to help you decide what size to order. Determine how much of the floor you want the rug to cover. You can also use your measuring tape to determine how a Persian rug of a different size might fit into the space. For example, you might find an antique rug you love in a size slightly smaller or larger than you want. Testing out different sizes helps you decide if that rug will still work for your space.
Persian rugs for sale vary in price, with size being a major factor. Large Persian rugs naturally cost more because they take longer to make and use more materials. You can get a small Persian accent rug for a moderate price if you want the authentic quality without investing in a large Persian rug. If you’re on a limited budget, consider bumping down to a smaller size to get Persian rug quality while staying within your price range.
Handmade or Machine-Spun Wool
Before artisans weave the wool into the carpet, it goes through the spinning process, which essentially twists the fibers together into a long, continuous strand. The wool used to make rugs is either hand spun or machine spun.
Wool that is spun by hand is generally more costly and valuable. When spun by hand, wool tends to have irregularities in the twist simply because the person spinning the wool tightens it more in certain areas inadvertently. It also has more texture than machine-spun wool and offers greater strength. Hand-spun wool absorbs dye well, making the colors vivid. However, there may be some difference in color since tighter-spun areas absorb less dye than looser areas. You may also notice a difference in how the wool feels on hand-spun Persian rugs. It tends to have a soft, fleecy feeling. Essentially, hand-spun wool creates a more authentic, handmade feel and look to the rug.
A machine-spun Persian rug is generally less expensive. It has a more uniform look to it compared to hand-spun wool rugs. Some people prefer that uniform look, while others prefer the more organic look of hand-spun wool. Machine-spun wool also absorbs the dye more evenly, which creates greater consistency in the coloring. Persian rugs made with machine-spun wool tend to have a more even, finished look.
If you look at a hand-spun rug next to a machine-spun rug, you can likely notice the differences if you pay attention to the consistency of the color and the look of the pile. Choose a hand-spun wool rug if you like a more rustic, authentic look with some variations throughout that give it a handmade look. If you prefer a more polished look with no variation in the coloring or the pile, look for a machine-spun Persian rug.
Natural or Synthetic Dyes
The color palette found in Persian rugs comes from either natural or synthetic dyes. Natural dyes are more traditional for this style of rug, making them a more popular choice and a more costly option. Early Persian rugs used vegetable-based dyes, and many people still feel Persian rugs should only use vegetable dyes. Rugs tinted with natural dyes tend to have a more limited color palette than synthetic dye rugs. However, the color is often very saturated and beautiful without being overly harsh. The colors almost seem to have a glow to them.
Yarn colored with natural dye also blends well with other colors. The natural dye seems to create a harmonious look no matter what colors are paired together. This is because while certain natural components used to create the dye have a prominent color, they also tend to have elements of other hues in them. For example, madder, which is used to create reddish dyes, also reflects blue and yellow, so it blends with neighboring colors that have those hues in them. Synthetic dyes are monochromatic, so they won’t reflect those other colors.
While natural dyes are traditional, synthetic dyes have been used in the rugs for more than 100 years. The synthetic dyes expand the range of colors available to weavers when compared to vegetable dyes. However, vegetable dyes tend to have a more natural look. If you look closely at a rug colored with vegetable dyes, you’ll notice some variation in the coloring rather than one consistent color. This variegation adds to the character of the rug, adding a pleasing, irregular effect. While there is some debate on longevity, natural dyes are generally considered to last longer than synthetic dyes.
Much like the hand-spun versus machine-spun debate, deciding between a rug colored with natural dye or synthetic dye often comes down to the look you want. If you want a traditional feel with some slight irregularity in the coloring, choose a rug made with natural vegetable dyes. If you prefer consistency in color with a wider range of color options, look for a rug made with synthetic dyes.
Persian Rug Age
Authentic Persian rugs gain value over time, especially when they are well maintained. Genuine Persian rugs can cost thousands of dollars, particularly if they are antiques and have been well maintained. They are valuable and highly collectible, which can make true antique rugs expensive and difficult to find.
Modern rugs are often made to look like antique Persian rugs. Buying from a reputable dealer is important to avoid getting tricked into buying a so-called antique rug that’s actually not old at all. In some cases, you might decide to buy a new rug designed to look old on purpose. You get the look of an antique rug without the high price tag that comes with a true antique Persian rug.
You can find Persian rugs in a variety of styles and designs both antique and new. Many of the designs remain very traditional, even on newer rugs. If you like a particular traditional style but don’t want to pay for an antique rug, you can likely find a similar design in a new Persian rug.
If you do buy an antique Persian rug, ensure you know the condition of the rug first. Some older rugs have visible wear or are fragile because of their age. You’ll pay more for a well-maintained antique rug, but it will last longer than one that is worn or frayed.
Where to Buy Persian Rugs Online
Browsing Persian rugs online lets you easily compare the detailing, price, size and other features. You typically get a much wider variety of styles and patterns online, and you can easily search for specific patterns, styles or sizes of rugs. Cheap Persian rugs online should be considered carefully. Buy from a trustworthy online rug retailer to ensure you’re getting an authentic Persian rug of high quality.
The general Persian rug style fits well into almost any design scheme, but there are some major differences in the actual designs. You’ll find everything from large, geometric patterns to ornate, intricate detailing. Browse the different types of Persian rugs to find the style that best fits your preferences.
From there, hone in on the particular color scheme that works well with the furnishings you already have in the room. Wool naturally resists stains, but darker colors in high-traffic areas tend to hide stains and dirt better than light-colored designs. For example, an ivory-based design in your main living area or entryway may not be the best color choice.
Following our Persian rug guide helps you select a quality, authentic floor covering perfect for your space. Rug Source offers a wide selection of discount Persian rugs online. Browse our selection, and work with our dedicated sales team to find a floor-covering option that fits your needs and preferences.