An oriental rug is a hand knotted carpet that originates in the countries that are part of the Oriental world which is mostly located in Asia. Such countries include Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, India, China, Nepal, and Tibet which are the largest producers of oriental rugs. The term oriental rug is really the family of rugs that make up this part of the world. That is why rugs from Iran, which are known as Persian rugs, are considered oriental rugs, too.
This type of rug consists of unique designs, interesting color combination, and most importantly a distinctive knot that holds the rug together. Most rugs are named for their country, region, or even village that they were created. Sometimes they are named after the tribe that created them. Until the 20th century, the rugs were handmade. Today, you’ll find many oriental rugs that are made by machines.
The origins of oriental rugs go back to ancient times. Although the exact origin is not known, in 500 B.C. the Pazyric carpet was first crafted in the Achaemenid period. It is arguably that the rugs pre-dated that time by hundreds of years, but these are the earliest examples that either exist or were mentioned in historical records.
Persian carpets were mentioned in Chinese texts that came from the Sassanid period which goes back to 641 CE. Cyrus the Great, ruler of the Persian Empire had his palace decked in many different oriental rugs which drew the admiration of Alexander II of Macedonia when he saw them around Cyrus’ tomb. It should be noted that these rugs are rather primitive in comparison to today’s versions, but the basic approach is still the same.
How Oriental Rugs are Made
While there are different methods in terms of the materials, colors, ad design, the basic approach is still the same for handmade oriental rugs. The wool, cotton, or silk material is dyed to the desired color, then the threads are weaved together to create the rug. The knots are what hold the rug together, so the more knots you can find in the rug, the more durable and valuable it should be.
In addition, there tends to be more knots in the silk compared to wool due to the delicacy and thickness of the material. Many rugs with silk are mostly used as tapestries or displayed in areas so they will not experience foot traffic. This is why most rugs that are designed to be placed on the floor are crafted from wool or cotton depending on the material that is available in the region.
Over the next thousand years, oriental rugs became more elaborate when incorporating different designs and colors. They also became larger on average as well. One important addition was silk, a material that augmented the wool fibers and is still quite notable even if delicate. It should be noted that each country that produces this type of rug has its own history as well.
Afghanistan & Pakistan
These two countries are joined together thanks to being next-door neighbors with tribes that share similar designs in oriental rugs. Although not produced in Iran, these are considered Persian rugs as well due to the influence in each country. The opening of the Western market has ironically slowed the production of the rugs which used to be for displaying tribal designs and emblems to celebrate the past. One advantage for those looking at purchasing this type of rug is that they are still mostly handmade.
The country associated with Persian rugs this may be the most prominent birthplace of weaving carpets. The intricate designs, high-quality materials, and vibrant colors make Persian rugs some of the most popular in the world. However, political and social unrest has slowed down the production of the rugs as they are in less demand. Furthermore, countries like the United States have banned the sale of Persian rugs created after 1979 from the country. Still, the Kerman and Tabriz rugs which are the most prominent Persian rugs still sell in good numbers.
It may be somewhat surprising that India and not Iran is the largest producer of oriental rugs. The practice of making such rugs arguably came from the Persians who conquered India long ago. What makes rugs from India unique is the wide diversity of design and colors used to create the rugs. While machines have taken over much of the market in terms of producing the rugs, there are still plenty of artisans who create Indian rugs by hand.
For many centuries, China has produced a wide array of oriental rugs. Most notably in the early years for kings and the well-to-do. The emblems that were placed in the rug were usually focused on the current emperor of China. Over time, the design of the rugs became more elaborate, but the basic hand-woven technique was still used until the 20th century when machines took their place.
Formally one of the most prominent creators of oriental rugs, the decline of Turkish rugs in recent years is arguably due to the lower quality products produced by machines instead of being handmade. Still, the Turkish silk rug is highly prized and has been in demand for many centuries. The several tribes that still inhabit the country make handmade rugs that reflect their unique culture. The long and storied history of Turkish rugs means that they will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future.
The oriental rug continues to be quite popular around the world. Both as a collector’s item to be displayed and as practical rugs for everyday use. Their durability, style, and impressive designs whether hand made or put together by machine are still in demand worldwide. What was once reserved for kings and the rich is now priced so that most people can afford to have such a run in their home.
For collectors, ancient oriental rugs are in high demand and often fetch a considerable price depending on their origin and condition. This is why oriental rugs will continue to be the most sought-after by everyday people.