The Elements of a Hand-Crafted Oriental Rug

Understanding how a handmade oriental rug is made quickly reveals why these functional artworks are so prized by owners and collectors the world over. The following terms will familiarize you with the rug weaver’s art, and hopefully enhance and expand your appreciation of this ancient and respected art.

• The Loom – Every hand-crafted rug is created on a loom. Although weaving looms differ considerably in both size and sophistication, all operate on precisely the same principle, providing a secure frame on which to tie the warp strands. The shape of the loom, as well as its mechanical construction, has a considerable effect on the size and shape of each and every handmade rug.

• Knotting the Rug – In oriental rugs, the pile is created by tying a short length of yarn around the adjacent warp strands, causing the yarn ends to protrude upward. This forms the surface—or pile—of the rug, a process known as “knotting”. Knots are created when the weft and warp strands are beaten together to hold the yard in place, forming a securely tied knot. When an oriental rug is being woven, every knot—which corresponds to any two strands of pile—is tied entirely by hand. A skilled rug weaver can tie as much as a thousand individual knots each hour; the higher the number of knots per square inch, of course, the greater the quality of the rug.

• Anatomy of a Knot – Two basic kinds of knots have always been used in the construction of handmade oriental rugs. The first is the symmetrical, or Ghiordes--also known as the Turkish knot, because it is most widely used in Turkey. The second is the asymmetrical, or Senneh, commonly referred to as the Persian knot—because it is most frequently found in Persian rugs.

• Dyeing – This is the process of adding color to the yarn used to make handmade oriental rugs. Until the mid-to-late nineteenth century, natural dyes were used exclusively. Then, as chemical dyes came into common use, their low-cost and ease of use made them popular with yarn producers of the time. Today, more than ever, natural dyeing is the preferred method of creating vibrant, stunning oriental rugs.

These ancient formulas, many of them kept secret for generations, include such ingredients as saffron erocus, pomegranate skin, vine leaves (for yellow), cherry juice and madder (for red), indigo (for blue), cochineal, and nutshells, tobacco, and tea for blacks and browns. Although chemical dyes remain popular among producers because they are both cheap and plentiful, it is an acknowledged fact that natural dyes produce a subtlety of tone and a lasting beauty which has never been equaled by even the finest synthetic dye.