Persian rugs are a beautiful addition to your home. Not only are they practical to cover cold floors, or to create a warm, inviting feel, but they can be valuable if you maintain them well, as the amount of time that goes into each one, coupled with their intricate patterns, makes them amazing works of art.
Traditional, Persian rugs were made entirely by hand and could take weeks or even months to finish, depending on their size. Silk was the original material used, as Persian and oriental rugs were thought of as quality home décor. Only the highest members of society could afford a Persian rug in their homes and silk was an expensive material to purchase.
The rugs are hand knotted and deftly created through each individual thread being woven into a pattern around warps and wefts to prevent them from coming loose.
Ensure that every single fiber is placed correctly is a time-consuming task. If one is out of place, then the entire pattern is ruined.
The rug stays firm due to the tightened knots and the pressure placed on each warped strand by a weft strand placed in between to maintain the position.
The end strands are then tied together in various knot combinations, leaving a fringe or trailing threads, holding the whole piece together.
What Are Warps and Wefts?
The ‘warps’ are the vertical strands of material that run up and down the rug while it’s on a loom. The silk strands are attached directly to these and knotted around. The fringe is then knotted to the loose ends of the warp.
‘The wefts’ are the horizontal strands that are added between each layer of threads to tighten the structure and keep the threads in place.
A weft strand is then added after a full row of threads has been knotted.
Persian Rug Materials
Although Persian rugs were originally made from silk, they are now sold worldwide, and the changes in audience and the global economy have led to various other materials being selected to make the rugs.
This means that you may get thicker rugs, still maintaining the intricate patterns, but more suited to colder climates. The materials used now are also more readily available and cheaper to manufacture.
Cotton is used for the warp and weft strands in most Persian and oriental rugs. These strands are the foundation of the whole rug and typically need to be more hardwearing than the actual pile material.
Although cotton is used for the foundations, it wouldn’t normally be used to thread the actual rug as the material doesn’t hold up well under heavy use. If you had furniture resting on a cotton rug, it would likely wear away quite easily.
Although the standard warp and weft are left white, some rug makers will dye the cotton to add a little extra detail on the underside and fringes to match the pattern within the rug pile.
Wool is now the most commonly used material for the actual pile in Persian rugs. Not only is it durable and soft, but it holds up well in most climates. Its soft touch underfoot is a great addition to any home and it maintains its structure for the longest under strain. Furthermore, it’s fairly easy to clean in comparison to other rug materials.
Sheep’s wool is also a common source of material in Iran, where the rugs were originally made. This makes a wool rug more authentic.
In Iran, rug makers also use camel or goat hair to make rugs because of their availability. However, these hairs aren’t as soft as sheep’s wool and are very difficult to dye due to their high levels of keratin in the hair.
Research has shown that wool from sheep in the mountains is better quality, thicker, and more appropriate for taking on natural dyes as the colder climate strengthens the fibers.
For a luxury Persian rug, wool shaven from a lamb’s shoulders and belly on its cut is on the same level as silk for quality and can be just as valuable.
Silk is one of the most expensive materials to use in rugs because of its delicate nature and the fact that it’s very difficult to get hold of. Silk was originally transported from China to Iran, meaning it’s most popular in oriental rugs. As silk comes from silkworms which can’t survive in Iran, it was originally only a material that the richer end of society could afford.
Because of the fine, delicate strands, silk rugs were more often used as decorative wall hangings than actual floor rugs, which is why Persian rugs are now being seen as a piece of art.
While silk does take on dye fairly easily, it should absolutely not be cleaned by an amateur! If you own a silk rug, you should approach a professional cleaning service to maintain the rug for you. This is because the fine fibers can easily fray or break if you’re a little too rough.
Persian Rug Dyes
Each strand of wool or silk is treated and dyed before they are knotted into the rug, creating a long-lasting color formation.
When Persian rug making was in its infancy, traditional rug makers would use purely vegetable dyes. These give the rug an authenticity that chemicals don’t but are likely to fade more quickly if not treated correctly.
The other issue here is that natural dyes are limited to specific colors that can be achieved by mixing natural substances. For example, Indigo is made from the fermentation of plant blossoms, whereas saffron and berries create a red or purple pigment. For this reason, many older rugs had similar color palettes and you could often tell how old a rug was from the color formations.
Chemical dyes are a more modern alternative introduced in the late 19th century. At first, many rug makers were banned from using chemical dyes as the colors just gradually disappeared the more you walked on the rugs.
However, dyes have now become more sophisticated, they remain bound to the fibers for much longer, and even stay strong through the rug cleaning process, which offers a much wider range of potential patterns.
While Persian rug making has come on leaps and bounds since it first began, with high-quality, unique rugs being created all over the world, the original antiques can still be identified by their natural color dyes and traditional wool or silk usage. Overall, the more traditional your rug is, the more valuable it’s likely to be.