For centuries, oriental rugs were used in tents, homes, and palaces to provide warmth, comfort, and a soft floor. Over time, the inherent value of the oriental rug started to be appreciated throughout the world. The high quality, attention to detail, and fine materials used have made this type of rug one of the most sought-after. The evolution of the oriental rug from its humble origins is based not only on the design, but on the anatomy of the rug itself.
It is not known when the first oriental rugs were created, but the oldest surviving rug dates back to the 5th century B.C. The rugs have evolved over time, getting more elaborate in design along with the use of materials. They are handcrafted over time, sometimes years, and create a story with their design that is imbued with the culture and environment from which the rug has been made.
That’s why there are so many different types of oriental rugs because their design and materials are classified by the region from which they were created. Which is the reason why an oriental rug made in North Africa is different than one made in the Middle East which is different than one made in Central Asia.
Authentic oriental rugs date back past the first century A.D. and must come from the North African, Middle Eastern, or Central Asia region to be considered this type of rug. While the simpler rugs created in the early days might have taken weeks to produce, the larger, more elaborate rugs took a year or longer using the hand-woven techniques of the time.
The materials which are used are natural, such as wool, cotton, and silk. In some areas such as China and Russia, you may find rugs that incorporate horsehair or yak hair which denotes what was available in that area. Most rugs have a similar construction in that the fibers are spun and stretched to create strands called a ply. The more ply present, the stronger the rug.
Cotton tends to be the foundation of most rugs consisting of the warp and weft threads as it is stronger than wool. The wool tends to shrink, but is quite common, so it fills out the remainder of the rug. Because silk is so fragile, it is generally used for tapestries and rugs that hang on the wall.
Natural dyes that are made from plant roots, such as oak, onion, and the like date back to when the rugs were first created. Artificial dyes started to be included around the 1860s and became more popular as they became less expensive to create. Artificial dyes are now commonplace, although there is now a revival in some parts of the world with using natural dyes.
From the outside going in, most oriental rugs have a design that consists of the selvedge or outer secondary border. The selvedge is where the warp is tied to prevent the rug from unravelling. A large, main border and then another secondary border that usually surrounds the design element in the middle.
The medallion in the center is usually one of distinctive design which may have a pendant design above, below, or both. The four corners of the inner secondary border are often places for design elements to be included. The main border is the area between the outer and inner secondary boarder and may have design or color patterns in place.
A better understanding of oriental rugs starts with the history and the terminology used in the creation of the rug itself. What follows are a few of the more common terms that you will find associated with the rug.
Kilim: This is an oriental rug design that is flat and does not reveal any knots. However, you can see the space between the warp threads. Kilim rugs are often used for covering the floor although some designs make them perfect as tapestries. They lack the durability of a pile rug however, which is why they are more used for horse blankets and prayer rugs.
Pile Woven: This is a strong, durable rug that does show off the knots used in its construction. It may be used like a Kilim but is more often found on the floor as a traditional rug.
Pile: Threading a yarn around two or more strings of warp and then tamped down which creates a row. When the threads are severed, they create a surface which is raised. Either a Turkish or Persian knot is used to create the pile. The Turkish one is more common and symmetrical while the Persian is asymmetrical and allows for elaborate design patterns.
What follows are a few other terms that you may run across when looking over oriental rugs.
- Abrash: A terms that refers to the fading of color inside a rug
- Jufti Knot: Wrapped around four strings, does not last very long
- Warp: Horizontal yarn
- Weft: Vertical strands
It is true that the more knots per square inch (kpsi), the longer lasting the rug will be. That is why you should shop for rugs that have a higher kpsi level.
How to Choose the Right Oriental Rug
Since you should expect to pay upwards of $5000 for an 8’ x 10’ rug, this should be seen as more of an investment. This means you will need to do a little work to get what you need.
The first step starts with the place that you are going to place the rug. Measure it so you know what size you need. You’ll want the rug to end about a foot from the wall depending on your needs, so keep that in mind when measuring. You may want to take a photo to ensure the rug you get matches what you have.
Once you have that, then you should focus on the type of design that catches your eye, the age of the rug, and overall quality to ensure that it will last for a long time to come.