Oriental Rugs Today
Originally, Oriental rug designs were dictated by family tradition.
Today, Oriental rugs are made in factories with the intent to mass produce rugs for exportation. However, one aspect of the process still remains the same and it’s what distinguishes Oriental rugs from most other rugs: the pile (or the part of the rug that you walk on) is tied to the rug’s foundation. With other rugs, the pile is generally glued to or passed through the foundation, meaning the rugs don’t last as long. The process of tying the pile to the foundation is what creates the pattern in Oriental rugs. It’s like if you were to draw a picture by filling in the squares on a piece of graph paper, line by line. This technique is at least 3,000 years old, but it was a breakthrough in rug design. It created sturdier rugs and allowed for a higher degree of ornamentation.
Most of the Oriental rugs that are imported into the United States today are made by weavers who are under contract to produce rugs in designs, sizes, and colors that are specified by Western importers. Some importers are extremely involved in the creative process, while others are less so. The best quality (and therefore, more expensive) Oriental rugs come from importers who are extremely involved. While the price of many Oriental rugs may seem extreme, knowing what goes into making them does help justify the price tag.
1. Deciding what to make
The first step is, of course, figuring out what style of rug to make. Most importers can’t pull an idea out of thin air, so they generally look through books and magazines for inspiration. However, they also keep in mind the style, size, and colors that will be the most popular in the Western world.
2. Deciding on colors
The color scheme is generally the most important aspect of an Oriental rug. That’s the first thing a buyer notices, and is usually the element they care the most about.
3. Analyzing the structure of the rug
Importers need to analyze the old rug they are basing their new rug off of. How many knots per square inch? How are the edges warped and the ends finished? As well as a multitude of other factors that the weavers will need to know in order to successfully complete the rug.
4. Finding weavers
Importers talk to a variety of producers to see if they have weavers with the required skills to make their specific rugs. Once they find the right producer, they contract a certain number of pieces. The producer is an integral part of the rug making process. They know how many looms the importer will need, how tightly to string the looms, what kind of looms to use, and which weavers have the required skills.
5. Before production can begin
Once the weavers have been contracted, importers need to provide them with all the materials they will need. This requires a lengthy process and is the stage in which most expenses are acquired.
• A different drawing of the rug, knot for knot, on graph paper for each size of rug they want produced. This is generally a job for a specialist.
• Calculate how much wool needs to be provided. Then importers need to find an agent to track down the best wool on the market. Importers also need to know about the different effects different kinds of wool have on Oriental rugs so they know which kind of wool they want.
• Commission to have the wool carded. This is the step in which the wool is straightened and separated into individual strands.
• Commission to have the wool spun. Importers need to decide what effect they want to rug to have once it is completed. If they want the rug to have an antique look about it, then they want the wool to be handspun (which costs more money). If they want the rug to have a more modern, even look, then they will go for machine spun wool.
• Commission to have the wool dyed. Importers must decide if they want the wool dyed with synthetic dyes or natural dyes. If they choose natural dyes, it will cost them a significant amount of money, as a specialist is required.
• Find suitable cotton for the foundation. Similarly to the wool, handspun cotton will look more antiqued while machine spun cotton will look more modern. It all depends on the look the importer is going for.
6. After weaving
After the weaving process is finished, the rugs need to be clipped. Handspun wool requires six washing and clipping cycles, unless a chemical wash is used. If the importer wants the rugs to look extremely antiqued, then the wool can be clipped unevenly and put through a chemical wash, or an herbal wash, to mimic natural wear and tear.
Throughout this process, costs can be cut at every step, and often are. That is reflected in the quality (and price) of the rug. Great Oriental rugs can last for years if they’re taken care of properly. It’s a hefty investment, but well worth the cost.
Source: Oriental Rugs Today (paperback) by Emmett Eiland