Creating an oriental rug is a process that takes several months to a few years to finish by hand. This ancient rug is one of the most desired in the world, representing over 2,500 years of history and craftsmanship in its intricate design. While machines today can make oriental rugs far faster, they lack the uniqueness of being handmade. In addition, they are considered lower in value and not as desired as those made by hand.
Making the Rug by Hand
Making oriental rugs by hand is still an art form, combining thousands of years of learned techniques with natural materials. It all is based on a design plate or comes from the mind of the weaver depending on their experience and skill level.
All rugs have an underlying structure where the pile is connected through a series of knots consisting of warps and wefts.
Warp: This is the strand running vertically on the rug. They are the threads that have knots tied to them for support.
Wefts: They are placed between the warps to keep the knots in place. The weft strand is passed through the warp and then combed and compacted into place. This creates a tight structure of knots which make for a stronger, more durable rug.
The rug’s fringe is the loose ends of the warp that have been tied to keep it together. So, a person creating an oriental rug would have a series of warps or vertical threads in place and weave the wefts or horizontal threads, batten them down, and connect them with the knots. The more knots, the stronger the rug and more valuable it becomes.
Starting an Oriental Rug
Everything starts with the design. This could be a design requested by a customer or quite often the rugs utilize the designs of the local area or tribes. Sometimes, specific diagrams are requested for the weaver to place in the formation of the rug.
Materials: The three most common materials are wool, cotton, and silk. Depending on the region, the hair from goats or camels are used as well. This is because the rug is meant to represent the village, town, or tribe that creates it. And uses the local resources that are available.
- Wool: The most common material. Soft, durable, and plentiful in most areas
- Cotton: The preferred material because it is light and strong
- Silk: More of a specialty material. Often used in oriental rugs that are meant for tapestries
The wool most commonly used mostly comes from the shoulders and underbelly of sheep as it is the softest. Wool of this nature is often combined with silk to create a unique oriental rug. You’ll find that Kurk or Kork wool is the most prized and used in the creation of many Persian rugs.
For the most part, cotton is used for both the warps and wefts in the creation of Persian rugs. This is because cotton is plentiful in Iran but is sometimes imported as well. Cotton that has been mercerized can be used to create a silk-like appearance that is less expensive compared to using silk itself.
Silk is highly prized, but also quite expensive. Silk originally comes from China, but other countries imported the silkworms which resulted in the materials becoming more easily available. Silk has natural fibers that are thin and quite strong, but they are not nearly as durable as wool. A considerable amount of work goes into the creation of silk material, which is why it is mostly used for rugs that will be placed on display or used as tapestries.
Dyes: Arguably the biggest change in oriental rugs over the past century is the use of chemical dyes as opposed to natural types such as those derived from vegetables. There has been considerable controversy over the use of modern dyes, but there is no doubting their advantages. From being easy to obtain to their greater brightness and color selection, modern dyes are now a vital part of the rug creation process.
Natural dyes: Although it may seem counterintuitive, natural dyes actually last longer compared to their chemical counterparts. While the colors selection is more limited and the brightness more muted, there is little doubt that some of the more beautiful colors come from natural sources. They are used for the warps and wefts to create the colorful patterns seen in each rug.
One interesting aspect about using dyes is that the colors become weaker when all the material is dyed in a single pot. This became a desirable goal as no vegetable-based dye could create the color green unless a faded version of blue was combined with yellow.
Making the Rug
Once the design is decided, the dyes have been used, and the warps set up, the weaver will start the process of creating the rug. While the mechanics of making the rug are fairly straightforward, the time-consuming effort is mostly because of the sheer number of hand knots needed to make a quality product. The weaving of the weft into the warp and packing it down takes relatively little time, but the addition of the knots means that the weaver will spend many hours in creating the rug itself.
When the process begins, it must be seen to its finish. Although changes can be made as long as that part of the rug has yet to be completed. Because the tightening process occurs as the rug is being made, once it is completed the rug should be ready for use.
The creation of an oriental rug by hand is a task that may take years to complete based on the size of the finished rug. The amount of materials used, the painstaking effort at tying knots, and the use of dyes both natural and man-made will determine the overall color, quality, and beauty of the finished product. Oriental rugs are a time-honored tradition that reflects the culture of the people who created it while being loved by those who purchase them for their homes or collections.