We Know: All About Buying Oriental Rugs

What should I know about Oriental rugs?

Oriental rugs are handmade of natural materials, usually wool or silk, and are woven on a warp-and-weft with unique character and designs. They're made in the Near East, not the Orient. The first Oriental rugs came from the Middle East but were shipped through Chinese ports, leading to a misunderstanding that persists to this day. The earliest Oriental rugs were woven in Mesopotamia, which is now central Iraq.

What Should I Look For?

A close weave shows high quality in an Oriental rug. (See how rugs are made in the questions below to understand more.) In the pile rug, you can count knots per square inch to determine quality; the looser rugs have about 80 knots per square inch, while the very finest have 24,000 knots per square inch (the Mughal prayer rug of North India).

You should start with the rug, not the room, and design your furnishings and decor around it. Fine wool rugs are generally the most durable, while silk rugs are decadently comfortable. Most dealers recommend that you choose a wool rug for high traffic areas, and a silk one for your bedroom or to use as a wall hanging. There are four base patterns:

  • Geometrical - with different geometric designs (made primarily by nomads)
  • Floral - with designs around flowers (made primarily by citydwellers)
  • Pictoral - tell stories through pictures
  • Decorative - a combination of the other three

What Size Should I Get?

If you want the rug as a covering for your floor, measure the entire floor and get a rug that spans this but leaves about two feet on all sides. If you just want a rug as a centerpiece (medallion), measure outward from the center to the edge of the area you want covered, and double that for the size.

In a very large room, multiple oriental rugs help to separate your room into different areas.

How Much Should I Pay?

True oriental rugs are not cheap; they are the product of hours and hours of someone's life. However, this is the time to look for a bargain. The US has not been able to purchase rugs from Iraq for twenty years, but the weavers have been making rugs all this time; they are certain to have a backstock and also will want to make an impact on the American market.

A room sized rug will set you back at least a couple of thousand dollars, and often much more for the highest quality rug. Smaller rugs for accenting can be found for closer to $200. The best rugs generally come from dealers, but it is possible to get high quality rugs from discount dealers.

How Are Oriental Rugs Made?

The weaver starts with a design. It's coded on a Talim, a type of graph paper that forms a blueprint for all the details of the rug. Dyes for the yarns were originally made of natural herbs, roots, animal extracts, and minerals, producing beautiful uneven colors. Later in the 19th century, synthetic dyes producing more uniform colors were introduced. There are two basic types: pile and flat-weave rugs. Flat weave rugs are woven from side to side on a loom, while pile rugs are hand-knotted to the woven fabric to produce a fleecy texture.

Most Oriental rugs are woven from ancient patterns, such as the Samarkand, Prayer, Kazak, and Dergazin. Like Scottish tartans, these patterns are unique to different locations and sometimes families.

To start the rug, several lines of undyed cotton fiber are fastened on the loom; the closer the spacing, the finer the rug. This is the warp, and provides the foundation of the rug. The weaver passes his colored yarn over and under the warp to create the weft, producing the patterns Oriental rugs are famous for. This produces the flat weave rug. The pile rug is created by knotting the warp threads to conceal the rug beneath. After a row of knots is complete, they're beaten down with comb to felt the fabric and make it solid. When several rows are knotted, they're trimmed back to reveal the design.

Thicker piles are found in geometric or nomadic based carpets, while the floral carpets have shorter piles. The unwoven warp threads at the end become the fringes of the carpet.

Pile rugs are a very labor-intensive product (taking three people as long as a year to do a large rug), and therefore command higher prices. The most artistically and historically important Oriental rugs have been pile rugs.

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