Persian and Oriental rugs whether made in tribal or city surrounding are all hand knotted, the weaver ties the material (whether it be wool or silk) around the warps of the foundation using one of several different knots. Each rug is made to a design, whether that design is copied from an intricate design plate or is inspired by the weaver, their surroundings and their way of life depends on the type of rug. After each row of knots is complete, individually tied using a variation of coloured wool to form patterns, a weft strand is tightly packed between the newly completed row and the one which is about to begin, keeping each knot firmly in place. One rug can take months or even years to complete, ensuring the owner gains a unique work of art which is not only beautiful but practical and often extremely durable.
Various materials, tools and knots are used in the weaving of Persian & Oriental rugs, each explained in detail below as well as a description of the foundation and dyes used in handmade rugs:
Persian Rug Foundations
The foundation of a rug is its underlying structure. It is the foundation that the pile is knotted onto and is made up of the Warps and Wefts.
The warp is refers to the vertical strands running up and down a rug. These are vital to the rugs structure as the knots are tied to them. The wefts are also placed between them in order to keep the knots in place. The fringe of a rug is the tied loose ends of its warp.
The weft is used in order to keep the knots in place. Before and after each row of knots the weft strand is passed through the warp and combed and beaten down, this compacts the row of knots creating a tight structure.
Cotton is used for both warp and weft in most rugs, however, some tribal rugs use wool in their foundation and intricate silk rugs often use silk as a foundation as well as pile.
Pile refers to the material or fibre used in weaving the rug. The main materials used in Persian rugs are wool, silk and cotton. Sometimes camel or goats wool is used by tribal weavers.
Wool is the most commonly used material in weaving handmade Persian rugs, mainly because it is soft and durable but also due to the availability of the natural resource to the people of Iran. Although camel or goats hair is sometimes used, in excess it is undesirable. While they may add sheen to a carpet they are very difficult to dye and the rug may loose its colour faster than if woven with sheep wool. The best wool generally comes from colder high altitudes and the mountainous topography in parts of Iran is well suited to producing excellent quality. Other wool is imported from Australia and New Zealand who also produce excellent materials. Kork or Kurk wool is regarded the best type of wool, this is high quality wool which is extremely soft yet durable. The wool is shaven from only the shoulders and under-belly of a lamb on its virgin cut. This is when the wool is at its finest and is often used in conjunction with silk.
Natural silk is extremely expensive and therefore used less in rugs. Coming from the cocoon of the silkworms, which thrive on mulberry leaves, silk originally came from China before being brought into production in other countries. Silk has the advantage over other natural fibres of being both fine and extremely strong. If it were as thick as wool there would be no contest in durability however as the intricate detail, work and high expense goes into making silk rugs it is recommended that they are used as wall hangings or in rooms with low traffic. Some rugs use small amounts of silk together with an all-over wool pile to highlight details and add depth to the character. Under no circumstances should a wholly silk rug be cleaned at home! If the rug does need cleaned, it should be taken to a professional Persian rug specialist and dealt with on their recommendations.
Cotton is generally used in the foundation of rugs. However, some weavers (such as the Turkmen) use it to introduce white details, creating a contrast in colour and texture. Mercerized cotton is sometimes used to create an "art-silk" appearance.
The wool or silk is treated and dyed prior to the rug knotting process. There are conflicting views about rug dyes with the more traditionalist believing only vegetable dyes should be used. The counter argument is that chemical dyes have been used for over 100 years and many shades and designs simply could not be achieved using only the natural dyeing process.
We believe both types of dye have their merits. Natural dyes often provide a more muted, and indeed natural, palette. Whereas rugs using chrome dyes can be brighter, more vivid and lively than their plant and vegetable counterparts. It really depends on the look you are trying to achieve.
Some chemical dyes are more colour-fast than vegetable dyes while some vegetable dyes are more colour-fast than chrome dyes. It really is a matter of opinion.
Natural & Vegetable Dyes
Some of the most beautiful colours are obtained from natural dyes, not only do these colours appear more natural but their durability tends to be greater than chemical dyes.
Indigo, produced by fermentation of indigo plant blossoms, is the source for all shades of blue. After around one week in fermentation, the solution becomes amber in colour, when the wool is soaked in the solution and dried in the open air, it oxidizes turning blue in the process. Mixing different dyes creates various colours for example, mixing saffron with indigo produces green. Saffron, pear leaves, almonds, and buckhorn berries produce different shades of yellow. The most common dye made from plants is Madder, which creates a red colour and is quite prevalent in older rugs. Black is obtained by submerging previously dyed brown wool in indigo or by using dyes taken from the Logwood trees of Central America or the West Indies. Cochineal is a small insect, when the female is roasted and pulverized the resulting powder produces hues of violet. Many colours in the purple range resulted combining a red and indigo.
The most commonly used vegetable dyes are indigo (originally obtained by extracting and fermenting the leaves of the indigo plant and used to dye wool blue), madder (produced by boiling the dried, chunked root of the madder plant in the dye pot to produce a red colour), and larkspur (produced by boiling the crushed leaves, stems, and flowers of the larkspur plant). These dyes produce dark navy blue, dark rusty-red and muted gold. Expensive Saffron flower is used to create rare shades of yellow.
Long ago dyers realized that as more wool was dyed in a single dye pot, colours became weaker and weaker. Dyers use this notion of depleted dyes to their advantage. The first dyeing produces a deep, strong colour. Subsequent dyeing in the same dye pot produces lighter, softer colours. Dyers also quickly learned to combine colours to produce different hues. There is, for instance, no "vegetable" dye material that yields green, which is an important colour if you're interested in weaving a floral design. To produce green the wool is first dyed blue and then dyed again with yellow. If you look closely at the green colour in a vegetable-dyed rug, you will commonly see that the colour is uneven, blue-green in some areas, and more yellow-green in others. This is because of the double-dyeing technique.
So, by using the notion that depleted dyes produce different hues, and by combining some dyes through over-dyeing wool, dyers can produce a surprisingly large palette of colours from a very limited variety of materials.
Aniline dyes were introduced into the Persian region in the late 19th century, early dyes proved to be unsuitable for rug yarns as they produced crude colors that were prone to rapid fading. At the beginning of the 20th century the Persian government banned the import of these aniline dyes and passed laws, which were strictly enforced, ordering dye houses found producing them to be burnt to the ground. Any weaver caught using the illegal dyed yarn could face severe punishment. Needless to say, these measures proved effective, and Persian weavers went back using natural dyes until the more reliable chrome dyes were introduced between the first and second World Wars. Modern chrome dyes are extremely reliable, color fast and made in a wide range of attractive colors and shades. Today’s rug buyers can be assured that the colors, will only improve with age.
The Meaning of Colours
Across all cultures there are meanings to colours and to an extent these are important in rug design. While green in Muslim countries is the colour of 'Mohammed’s coat' and considered sacred, therefore used less often, it is widely used in Chinese carpets. The reverse is true of yellow in China as it is typically seen as the Emperor's colours. Red is more universally viewed as a sign of power and richness.
Of course commercial demand largely negates these cultural differences with modern pieces.
Before knotting the rug is designed by hand by a skilled artist. City rugs are produced from detailed design plates or cartoons, a life-sized paint by numbers showing which colour of wool to use for each knot. Tribal and village rugs may use this method to create standard designs however many tribal pieces are created from the imagination of the weaver. For this reason tribal rugs tribal rugs have more "errors" than their city counterparts, these of course are an indication of authenticity and some collectors prefer the raw art form of tribal rugs to the more uniform appeal of city items.
Most Persian rugs are pile-woven, the knots tied by hand to the warp strings. Two factors are important when discussing knots – knot density and knot type.
Knot density refers to, and is measured by, the number of knots per square inch (KPSI). This is done by counting the number of knots in an inch down the warp and across the weft and multiplying these figures together.
Knot density could be a factor in the value of a rug, but this is not always true. In nomadic and some village items, knot density is usually not a factor. It is not a factor for collectors of these rugs either because nomadic and village rugs are judged by different standards than workshop rugs. Nomads and village groups do not have the same sophisticated tools as other city weaving groups. Their items are valued by the fact that their designs are created from memory, their dyes and materials are provided from the nature around them, and most importantly the weavers' way of life is expressed in them. These rugs generally have a knot density of between 25 to 100 knots per square inch. Rugs with higher knot density take a longer time to make, and since nomads migrate as the seasons change, if their rugs are not finished in time for the migration, they will have to carry the looms with them. Therefore, their rugs tend to have a lower knot density than workshop rugs. The value of these rugs lies in their heritage and simplicity. They have artistic value.
However in many city and workshop rugs, knot density is vitally important to determining the price of a rug. Similar to television resolutions the more knots (or pixels) per square inch the sharper the design (or picture). A skilful weaver is able to tie a knot in about ten seconds, meaning 6 knots per minute or 360 knots per hour. That means it would take a weaver around 6,480 hours to weave a 9x12-foot rug with a density of 150 knots per square inch. Divide this number by 8 (an 8-hour working day) and it would take one weaver 810 days (approximately two and a half years!) to weave such a rug. A rug as large as a 9x12 is usually woven by two or three weavers, so the above time can be reduced by half or third but the labour costs increase. This is one reason why most Persian rugs are to be considered prestigious items.
The different types or styles of knots have been culturally developed by the different groups and tribes of people as time progressed. The knotting process can be viewed in this video, different rug weaving areas use slightly different techniques and methods however the video shows the effort put into the creation these masterpieces.
The Asymmetrical (Persian or Senneh) Knot
The asymmetrical knot is used in Iran and nearby countries such as India, Turkey, Egypt and China. To form this knot, yarn is wrapped around one warp strand and then passed under the neighbouring warp strand and brought back to the surface. With this type of knot a finer weave can be created.
The Symmetrical (Turkish or Ghiorde) Knot
The symmetrical knot is used in Turkey, the Caucasus and northern Iran. It is also used in some European rugs. To form this knot, yarn is passed over two neighbouring warp strands. Each end of the yarn is then wrapped behind one warp and brought back to the surface in the middle of the two warps.
The Jufti Knot
The Jufti knot can be seen in the rugs of the Khorasan, Iran. This knot can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical and is usually tied over four warps making the weaving process faster.
After the rug knotting is complete the pile is very long and un-even and the pattern barely from the front side of the rug. At this stage the pile must be carefully clipped and shaved to the correct height in turn showing the design and artwork and achieving the desired texture. Washing the rug ensures there is no colour run later in life and removes excess dye and debris. This process may be repeated several times.
Finally the rug is placed on a 'blocking' device to ensure no shrinkage has occurred during the wash, last minute checks are made as quality control is vital. The rug is then packaged and flown or shipped to showrooms around the world.
The comb is used to slide and beat down the weft between rows of knots. This come, moved up and down the warp, pressing the knots in place, securing them before a new row is started.
The hook is a knife-like tool that becomes very narrow on the tip. This tool has two purposes - the weavers use the tip for separating the warp strands while tying a knot and then pulling out the yarn through the warp strands. The side of the hook, which works like a knife, is used for cutting the yarn after each knot is tied.
A rod used for spinning fibre into yarn.
Special scissors are used to cut the long or uneven pile as the carpet is woven.
The knife is used to cut the threads after each knot is tied. This is sometimes done using the hook.
Used as a reference when creating the rug, design plates show the weaver what colours to use. Normally on grid paper, design plates are often drawn up by master-weavers, famous designers or artists. These are used for the creation of some village rugs and all workshop rugs.
The loom is the frame which holds the rug together while it is being woven. Horizontal looms are the simplest type of loom. They are mostly used by nomads because they can easily be dismantled at the time of migration. Rugs woven on horizontal looms are generally small because they need to be finished in time for migration, and it is also difficult to weave large rugs on this kind of loom. Horizontal looms are constructed by four wooden bars similar to a frame. The distance between the two parallel side bars depends on the width of the rug to be woven on the loom, and the distance between the top and the bottom bars, determines the length of the rug. The bars are secured to the ground by stakes or nails. After the loom is constructed, the warp strands are secured to the top and bottom bars. The warp strands are usually very close to the ground. As the rug is woven and the rows of knots and wefts are added, the weavers sit on the woven part of the rug in order to reach the unwoven top parts.
Vertical are specific to village and workshop rugs, and their assembly is more complicated than horizontal looms. A vertical loom consists of four bars, two side bars that go from ground up and two horizontal bars--one at the bottom, close to the ground, and one at the top. This loom looks like a frame that is standing up. The warp strands are secured to the top and bottom bars. Rugs woven on vertical looms are more exact in dimensions and design. There are three different types of vertical looms although different versions of each type may exist: the Fixed Loom, the Tabriz or the Bunyan Loom, and the Roller Beam Loom.
On the Fixed Loom, the weaver sits on an adjustable seat in front of the loom. The seat is raised as the rows of knots are added.
On the Tabriz or the Bunyan Loom, the warp strands are wrapped around and behind the top and bottom bars instead of being secured to them. On this loom, as the work progresses, the woven section of the rug is pulled down and behind the loom. This way, the weavers do not have to move. These looms are used in Iran in the Azerbaijan province and in the cities of Arak, Qum and Hamadan, and also in commercial centers of Turkey.
Roller Beam Loom
On the Roller Beam Loom, the woven part of the rug is rolled around the lower beam. With this kind of loom, very large size rugs can be woven. This loom is the traditional loom used in villages of Turkey; it is also used in Iran and India. This loom is generally used for coarser weaves.