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A Layman’s guide to Oriental Rugs

We at Bohemians have become enthusiastic collectors and dealers in the oriental carpet field and find them to be beautiful and highly fascinating as an art form.

Oriental rugs are one of those subjects you can delve into looking for a simple “what is it” answer and come out needing a masters degree. It simply is not an art form that is easily or quickly explained, especially to Westerners who sometimes have enough trouble pronouncing foreign foods (I still quite don’t know how you pronounce “quinoa”) let alone understanding the designs, techniques and histories of carpet making from foreign places. Hopefully this simplistic guide will excite further study of the complex world of Oriental Carpets.

Oriental carpets by the strictest definition are carpets made by hand in the orient. The “Orient” in this case means “the East”– the middle east, and Asia. The “Rug belt” as it is sometimes referred includes parts of North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and India. (Rug production has spread to European countries and the United States in the last centuries but typically we restrict our focus on true oriental rugs.)

Carpet making varies in technique, design and cultural signification in different places and often produces very different regional effects. The terminology developed to describe rugs therefore often describes a place as much as a design. For instance an Agra Rug is named after the city of Agra in India (the site of the Taj Mahal) and describes an often sophisticated floral all-over pattern. Similarly “Heriz” rugs are rugs produced in the North West city of Iran, Heriz. Rugs from this area are known for their durability and strength with bold central designs. Heriz rugs are said to be very durable in part because of the large copper and mineral deposits in the mountains of Heriz, which in turn produces a thicker wool from animals fed on the mountains.

Culturally and historically, carpets were produced for a vast array of reasons and purposes. Nomadic peoples especially in Afghanistan and Iran (known as Turkmen) often used hand made rugs as wall coverings in their tents, bags as well as floor coverings. Carpet weaving was a rich source of cultural inspiration and a source of social unity for Turkmen people. Women predominately engaged in carpet weaving, but whole villages were involved in carpet production, dying wool and sheep and goat rearing. Carpets were prized for their artistry and vibrant colors.

Oriental carpets and especially antique oriental carpets are still prized for this artistry and technique. The skill and time involved in rug production is vast and often overlooked in a modern world where mechanization has replaced much of the work previously done by hand. A room size oriental carpet can take years to produce and is a process that often involves the handiwork of multiple weavers.

The reproduced patterns often seen on modern machine made carpets, in our opinion, are therefore a poor substitution for authentic oriental rugs. Synthetic fibers and dyes have replaced real cotton, silk and wool and naturally derived hues. Tufting and large machines and computers are able to crank out thousands of replicated knots in an instant. Designs and motifs which reflected cultural values and the unique inspired vision of a weaver are now based on “hot trends” and sailability in the marketplace. Lastly, tufted rugs are simply not of the same longevity as oriental carpets. While the latter can last centuries, modern tufted rugs have a lifespan of about 10-12 years.

By: Rachel F.
Bohemians
www.eBohemians.com