How Area Rugs Are Made
Area rugs have much in common with carpeting. Many are produced on computerized looms using a variety of techniques. But there is a category of area rug that makes it more truly an art form and less a floor covering. These are the handmade, hand-knotted rugs. Some are antiques, but many are being made today. Before you make your decision, you should understand the pros and cons of both types.
Machine made rugs are less expensive and are not considered long term investments. Woven rugs are created on automated weaving looms in which multiple colors of yarn are sewn into a backing material. The rug’s elaborate designs may originate in the mind of a talented individual, but machines execute them. The benefit of machine made rugs is that they have many of the qualities of handmade wool area rugs, for example, but cost significantly less. Also, most machine made rugs are impervious to moisture and mildew. They just don’t wear as well as a handmade area rug.
Handmade (also called hand-knotted) rugs are full of inconsistencies, and that’s what makes them unique. Even if the overall pattern is made many times, each rug will be different. There will be variations in the color of the yarn, for instance, and there will be telltale signs that identify the weaver.
On top of everything else a handsome rug will do for you, handmade rugs are wonderful investments that last many lifetimes and become part of your family legacy. In order to insure that you have a good investment, consult a trained professional.
There are some terms that will keep showing up in our discussion of weaving rugs. Two are warp and weft (or woof). These terms come from flat weaving, but still apply to rug weaving. Lengthwise yarns (the ones typically attached to the loom) are called warp and crosswise yarns or horizontal yarns are called weft. Weft are the yarns manipulated by the weaver. Special textures are introduced by changing the color of the yarns used and by passing one or more woof threads over one or more warp threads.
It’s Elemental, My Dear Weaver
All rugs share three fundamentals:
- The Weaves
There are three major weaving techniques:
- Pile weave
- Flat weave
Pile weave or knotted weave is the method used to make most rugs. A short piece of yarn is tied around two neighboring warp strands creating a knot on the surface of the rug. All pile rugs are woven with knots, but different weaving groups use different knots.
Every single knot is tied by hand. A single rug has 25 to over 1000 knots per square inch. A skillful weaver is able to tie a knot in about ten seconds, meaning 6 knots per minute or 360 knots per hour. It would take our weaver 6,480 hours to weave a 9x12-foot rug with a density of 150 knots per square inch. That means one weaver needs 810 days (approximately two-and-a-half years) to weave a rug. This is why hand woven rugs are an investment — not just of money, but of time.
There are no knots in flat weave, hence the name. The weft strands are simply passed in and out through the warp strands. Rugs made in this manor have no pile and are flat. Most cloth is woven in a similar manner. Flat weave rugs have a special look.
A hand-tufted rug is also created without tying knots. Instead, tufts or loops of yarn are pushed through a primary backing. The tufts are then held in place with glue while two additional layers of backing are added.
The final step involves cutting the tops of the loops or tufts to create the pile. The height of the pile is determined by how much yarn is cut off and how long the initial loop was.
Hand-tufted rug makers use a “tufting gun” to push the yarn through the backing.
It takes much less time to hand tuft than to hand knot — days instead of months or years. Consequently, hand-tufted rugs are generally less expensive. Still, hand tufting requires a high level of artistry to replicate the intricate patterns.
Tying knots on the warp strands makes pile weave rugs. There are a variety of ways to tie knots and normally, the method indicates the region in which a rug was made or the tribe who made it.
Asymmetrical Knot (also known as Persian or Senneh)
Normally considered the finest knot, it is typical of Iran, India, Turkey, Egypt and China. This weave is very fine and tight.
Symmetrical Knot (Turkish or Ghiorde)
You will find this knot used primarily in Turkey, the Caucasus and Iran by Turkish and Kurdish tribes.
Knot density refers to the number of knots per square inch (or square decimeter) in a handmade rug.
Count the number of knots per linear inch along the warp and weft (visible on the backside of the rug) and multiply the two numbers. The total can range from 25 to 1000. In most cases, the higher the number of knots per square inch, the higher the quality of the rug.
The process of changing the color of wool, silk and cotton — even manmade yarns — is called dyeing. There are two types of dyes: natural and synthetic.
Until the late nineteenth century, only natural dyes — extracted from plants, animals, or minerals — were used for coloring weaving yarns.
Roots, flowers, leaves, fruit and the bark of plants have been used to make dyes for thousands of years. Here’s a quick look at the colors and what plants they come from.
Blue or Indigo comes from woad, or dyer’s knotweed.
Yellow comes from saffron, safflower, sumac, turmeric, onionskin, rhubarb, weld and fustic.
Red is from madder, redwood bark and Brazil wood.
Browns and blacks come from the brown resin of the Acacia tree (catechu dye), also from oak bark, oak galls, acorn husks, tea and walnut husks.
Orange comes from henna.
Green comes from over-dyeing any of the blues with any of the yellows.
Animals (Insects And Snails, That Is)
Carmine or red comes from the Cochineal, a scale insect found on plants in Mexico, India and Iran and kermes, found on Oak trees near the Mediterranean. Kermes, the most ancient of all three, have been used since before the 16th century.
Imperial purple comes from fresh mucous secretion from the spiny dye-murex sea snail. In ancient Rome, it was incredibly expensive and therefore, used to denote members of the highest classes.
Yellow, brown, and red come from ocher.
White comes from limestone or lime.
Black comes from manganese.
Red comes from cinnabar and lead oxide.
Blue comes from azurite and lapis lazuli.
Green comes from malachite.
Dyers are able to get a variety of colors and shades from the same dye source. Different materials, the mineral content of the water and the mordant (a chemical that fixes a dye by combining with it to form an insoluble compound) can cause variations in color.
Natural dyes are still used today in traditional dye-houses and villages that are close to the source.
By the mid-nineteenth century, demand for handmade rugs was increasing in the West, thus spurring production in the East. It became important to manufacture rugs more quickly and less expensively. Synthetic dyes were introduced in Germany. Soon they were imported to Persia, Turkey and other Eastern countries.
The first synthetic dyes were aniline dyes. Aniline comes form the German word for indigo. Broadly, it’s a synthetic organic dye. Fuchsine (a brilliant bluish red) was one of the first synthetic dyes developed in Germany in the 1850s and the revolution was on. These dyes made from coal tar were brilliant, inexpensive and easy to use, but they tended to fade when exposed to water or light.
To protect the integrity and reputation of the Persian rug, Nasser-e-Din Shah, the king of Qajar Dynasty in Persia, banned the use of aniline dyes in 1903. He gave orders that if aniline in any form was found, it was to be publicly burned; and if any rugs were found that were made with aniline dyes, they too, were to be burned. Persian weavers discontinued the use of synthetic dyes until the modern synthetic chrome dyes were developed in the years between the First and Second World Wars.
Chrome dyes, like their natural counterparts, are colorfast and come in an infinite variety of colors. They are also much cheaper to produce. The majority of yarns made today are dyed with — you guessed it — chrome dyes.