Buying an authentic hand knotted rug is a piece of art that will last many lifetimes. It’s a treasure to keep in your family for generations to come. Persian, Afghan, and Oriental rugs are all hand knotted, using wool or silk.
Knowing the differences between authentic hand knotted and machine manufactured rugs will help you to make the right decision when investing in a new rug. Unlike hand knotted rugs, a machine made rug is not as durable or as easy to repair if damaged.
The History of Hand Knotted Rug Making
Hand knotting is an ancient tradition of rug making dating back thousands of years. It’s thought that the art of making carpets was first developed by the nomads on the planes of Central Asia. The carpets were used alongside sheepskin coverings as a way to protect themselves from the harsh cold winters, with the added benefit of decorating their tents.
As the materials that were used to make ancient rugs decay naturally with time, very old discoveries are rare. The oldest surviving rug is the “Pazyrryk” carpet, dating from the 4th or 5th century BC. It was probably made in Persia or Armenia. What’s very interesting is the knot density of approximately 360,000 knots per square meter, it’s higher than most rugs available to buy today; when you consider the basic loom used at the time, the skill of the artisan was magnificent.
Symbols used in Hand Knotted Rugs
There are many different designs and patterns used in rug making. Each designer or weaver will have a theme in mind when creating the carpet. Whilst it’s not always possible to fully interpret the rugs meaning, you can guess at the general theme by decoding the symbols.
Here’s a quick guide to interpreting symbols:
|Bird||Faith, Paradise, Fertility|
|Star||Spirituality, Good Luck|
|Tree of Life||Direct Path from Earth to Heaven|
|Paisley design||Flame, Universe|
The Process of Rug Making is Much The Same Today
Just as in ancient times, it starts with a design called a cartoon. The carpet designer draws their design on graph paper, choosing the colours carefully. The design is then given to the weaver who creates the rug as specified by the designer, knot by knot. The skill of the weaver will have a great impact on the finished product.
In some areas, there is no designer and the weaver chooses the design, perhaps inspired by nature, the beauty of their surroundings or perhaps their way of life. It can take months or even years to complete some hand knotted rugs. Often, weavers work in pairs, especially during the finishing stage.
How is a Persian Rug Hand Knotted?
Every weaver will have a loom where they will lay the foundation of their rug. The pile is knotted onto the foundation of tightly strung vertical warps and horizontal wefts. The knots are tied to the warp and the wefts are placed between them to keep the knots in place.
A good weaver will tie knots as small and consistently as possible. Before and after each row of knots, the weft strand is passed through the warp and a comb is used to pack down the knots creating a tight structure. The fringe of the rug is created from the loose ends of the warp.
Materials Used in Rug Making
Wool is the most popular material used in rug making for its durability, softness and ability to hold colour. It’s also been readily available to the people of Iran for thousands of years. The best wool generally comes from the colder high altitudes as the environment causes the sheep to grow a thick and lustrous coat.
Cotton is an excellent material for the foundation of rugs and is occasionally used in creating white details in the rug pattern itself. The most expensive option, natural silk is generally used for rugs which will be used for wall hangings or in special areas and rooms of the house. At one time, weavers could only obtain silk from China. Although more widely available now, it’s still only used for the best pieces due to the high cost.
The quality of wool varies according to the climate, the breed of sheep, and the time of year that the sheep are sheared.
Compared to wool, cotton is generally considered to be a more resident fibre and it is less elastic. So, tighter knots can be tied on cotton warps as opposed to wool.
Goat hair occasionally found in Oriental rugs in the side bindings but is more frequently found in saddle bags and cushions.
It has a very high tensile strength and can be twisted very finely, plus it is quite resistant. The finest silk comes from the first part of the amazingly long single thread with witch silk warm spins its cocoons. When unrolled, the thread from one silk cocoon can stretch up to 25,000 meters.
The Dying Process
Before the knotting beings, the yarn is washed several times. The yarn is dyed in a variety of shades as chosen by the designer or the weaver. Both natural and synthetic dyes are used in modern times, depending on the preference of the manufacturer.
Some rug makers like to use only natural based dyes but modern dyes have been used for over 100 years. With modern dyes, there are more variety of shades available.
Different Types of Finishes
There are various ways of finishing rugs, one of them is hand tufting. Tufted rugs have a cut pile surface. Tufted carpet technology is fairly new in terms of the history of carpet manufacturing methods and is much faster compared to the traditional hand knotted methods.
Hand hooking is another finishing technique which gives a looped pile surface. Often you will see a combination of both cut and loop pile on the same rug.
There is also the machine made technique where rugs are made by massive looms that weave together bobbins of carpet yarn and backing. This is a modern way of making various styles and designs which are often copies of Handmade Persian, Afghan, and Oriental Patterns.
The rug will be finished with a protective backing and bindings may be attached to the edging to add strength. The rug is then washed to remove excess dirt, detergent or dye left over from the process. Shaving and levelling are the last steps in the process before the rug is ready to be sold.
Sometimes a rug may be advertised as “Hand-Made”, but this does not mean that it is actually hand knotted, so it’s important to know the difference. There will be a big variance in quality and durability. A hand knotted rug is far superior to a hand-tufted or machine manufactured rug.
How to Tell if a Rug is Hand Knotted
If you are traveling abroad and you are unsure of the reputation of the merchant, it’s always best to have some prior knowledge of rug making before making any purchase. Often machine manufactured rugs are passed off as hand knotted to the unsuspecting buyer.
The back of the carpet will look completely different on a machine made and hand knotted rug. Look at the back of the rug. If the pattern is very uniform it is probably a machine made carpet. A hand knotted carpet will have a slightly wavy warps and wefts pattern on the back.
An authentic hand-knotted rug will have a very tight weave. There should also be a label on the back of the rug indicating the country of origin and how it was made. Often a master designer will sign the rug so look for a signature along the edge of the carpet.
If you have any questions about hand-knotted rugs, we are always here to help. Just contact us.