An oriental rug is a heavy textile, made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purpose, produced in “Oriental countries” for home use, local sale, and export. Oriental carpets can be pile woven or flat woven without pile, using various materials such as silk, wool, and cotton. Examples range in size from pillow to large, room-sized carpets, and include carrier bags, floor coverings, and decorations for animals.
Authentic Oriental rugs are investment pieces that, when cared for, become an heirloom quality item capable of being handed down from one generation to the next. They are literally art you can walk on, and they are one of the few old-world quality items you can still buy and enjoy for your home.
Persian Vs. Oriental Rugs
One of the most common questions asked is: what the difference is between a Persian rug and an Oriental rug? The best way to answer this is to clarify that all Persian rugs are Oriental rugs, but not all Oriental rugs are Persian.
Persia refers to modern-day Iran, while the “orient” refers to the entire geographical area in which these handmade rugs are constructed. In order to qualify as a Persian rug, the carpet must be made in Iran. Any rug made in Afghanistan, Turkey, India or another regional country is an Oriental rug.
Who Should Buy an Oriental Rug
The fact is that Oriental rugs, while admired by many, are really only suitable for people for whom the cost and the value of owning one matches. Since the cost of an Oriental rug can be very expensive, it goes without saying that purchasing one is something not just based on price, but also on your lifestyle. Furthermore, Oriental rugs are typically made in classic or tribal patterns, which only appeals to people who like that style.
Look at the Rug Closely
Look carefully at the rug: it should be tightly woven (with more than 200 knots per SQ. in., and often with 500 or more knots), intricately detailed, closely clipped, and it should have real silk fringe that is clearly an extension of the rug’s structure, not sewn on or sewn into the ends of the silk rug. Artificial silk oriental rugs often have only medium weaves (less than 250 knots per SQ. in., and sometimes less than 150 knots per in.), and often have cotton fringe. Good quality real silk rugs always have real silk fringe.
1. Get to know your knots, warps and wefts
Antique Oriental rugs were woven on a traditional loom with strands of cotton, silk or wool, called warps, stretched vertically between two wooden horizontal beams. The weaver then passed rows of silk, cotton or wool, called wefts, in alternation over and under each adjacent warp. The warp and the weft constitute the basic foundation of most carpets. The weaver then repeatedly introduces rows of looped ‘knots’ in between several wefts that are then uniformly clipped to produce the pile. The higher the number of knots the finer the rug will be, and the more intricate the pattern will become. This technique proved so effective that carpets are made using these same methods today.
2. A carpet can reveal a lot about where it came from
Most carpets and rugs are classified by the surroundings in which they were woven — whether hand-woven upon the small loom of a nomadic tribe, part of a cottage industry within a local village, or produced in a professional or royal workshop within a city.
Royal carpets: made in the 16th and 17th century for the Islamic courts, Royal carpets had the greatest influence of all on carpet design, although relatively few survive today.
Tribal carpets: nomadic, or tribal carpets, like the Yomut carpet below, are produced by different ethnic groups; predominantly woven for the tribe’s own use, rather than as commissions or to be sold, their designs are a reflection of distinct histories and traditions. While there was no limit to the length a carpet could be, the width of these rugs could never exceed eight feet (around 240 cm), the standard size of the loom.
Village carpets: carpets such as the Kazak rug below were produced in settled environments: the loom was erected within the home and the carpets woven without a drawn design, relying on the memory of the women who wove them. This strategy meant that each of the carpets contained small idiosyncrasies, both in their construction and pattern — a factor which only adds to their charm. Upon completion, carpets were taken to the nearest regional market, where they would carry the name of that village. Here, they would either be sold to locals, or handled by a merchant for export.
Town carpets: cities such as Tabriz, Heriz and Kashan (see example below) are synonymous with carpet weaving. In the last quarter of the 19th century workshops were established specifically to meet the demands of the Western market, with master weavers overseeing the production of finely woven rugs and carpets. One of the most famous workshops in Kashan was that of Hajji Mollah Hassan Mohtasham, whose carpets are recognisable by the harmony of their design and colouring, the purple silk finish of the selvedge (the material binding each side cord) and the maker’s consistent use of the very best wool, which contained a particularly high quantity of lanolin.
Ziegler: by 1883, European demand for Persian carpets had grown so great that the Manchester-based firm Ziegler & Co. (see below) opened its first factory in the district of Sultanabad, west Persia.
3. Look for harmonious designs with a sense of movement
Perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider when buying a carpet is its design. Is it balanced, well-spaced and harmonious? Does it have a sense of movement, spatial depth and clarity? If these elements are lacking then very often the design may have been misunderstood and you can be left with a carpet that is visually incoherent.
Some designs have been used repeatedly throughout the centuries in various guises. Early 16th and 17th-century Safavid motifs have remained particularly popular, such as those seen on the Kirman ‘Vase’ carpets of southeast Persia and the intricate ‘in-and-out’ palmette designs of Isfahan gallery carpets, including the above example in the forthcoming sale on 26 October, and a much later 20th-century Tabriz carpet (below) sold by Christie’s on 27 April 2017. The harmonious patterns of layered planes of scrolling vines, punctuated with bold palmettes and twisting cloud bands is deceptively complex but creates a natural rhythm that is extremely well balanced. Although these two carpets were woven nearly 300 hundred years apart very little has changed in their appearance, illustrating how the very best designs really do stand the test of time.
4. For richer colours, you can’t beat a naturally dyed carpet
Antique carpets benefit markedly from the use of hand-spun, naturally dyed yarns, the subtleties of which cannot be reproduced by synthetic dyes. Synthetic dyes began to be used in around 1860, and many collectors disregard carpets woven after this point because they do not have the soft hues and nuances of natural dyes. They also fade over time.
Certain colours are considered rarer than others and are actively sought after, such as Tyrian purple, saffron yellow, cochineal rose and certain shades of green. A telltale sign of whether or not a carpet is woven with naturally dyed wool is if it includes tonal changes within a certain colour, forming visible bands called abrashes. These occur because each batch of dipped yarn has a marginally different saturation of dye.
5. Be smart when carrying out care or restoration
As with any work of art, antique carpets require a certain amount of care and attention. Generally speaking, the earlier the rug was woven, the more wear and restoration is acceptable, with collectors placing more importance on rarity and artistic merit than on condition. If a rug has been restored too much, however, or restored to a poor standard, this can have a negative impact on the overall appearance and value of a carpet. Chemical washing, extreme sun-fading, staining or a reduction in size are all things to look out for, because they are often irreversible and will inevitably affect the rugs’s value.
Silk fibres are much more fragile than wool and as a result they are more prone to wear. They are also susceptible to humidity, and if they become wet and then dry incorrectly the foundation will become dry and brittle, and splits will begin to appear. If an antique carpet has been well cared for, however, it can last for years — much more so than a lesser quality, commercially produced modern rug.
6. Poor storage of your rug can be disastrous
It is important to clean a carpet regularly. This can be done with a domestic hoover on a light setting, but if it requires a more thorough clean it should be handled by a professional carpet cleaner.
Before storing carpets, roll them from the bottom, pile facing inwards. When storing a silk carpet roll it with the pile on the outside, because this places less strain on the foundation. Never fold a rug or carpet because this will cause it to crack over time.
Damage by insects, flooding and mildew are the most common problems we see when a carpet has been poorly stored — it is important to check on them regularly.
Do these things to keep it as your everlasting friend
Taking the Proper Precautions
1. Check the rug's label. Lift the corners of your rug to reveal the rug's label. Usually, on the label, it will have instructions on the safest way to clean your Oriental rug. Rugs can be made of silk, wool, cotton, or synthetic material and each requires a certain degree of finesse when cleaning. Cotton and wool rugs are generally more durable and easier to clean.
If you have a silk rug, consider taking it to a professional instead of cleaning it yourself in the case of severe stains.
2. Vaccum and tend to the carpet regularly. Vacuuming your rug at least once a week will lift recent debris and dirt from it and keep it smelling and looking new for a longer time. Vacuuming also prevents the wool fibers in your rug from becoming packed down.
Do not frequently vacuum antique or silk oriental rugs as it can damage them and reduce their value.
3. Keep your rug out of direct sunlight. Oriental rugs can be prone to sun damage, so keep it away from windows if you can. Keeping an oriental rug in the sun will cause the colors to fade over time. If your rug has to be in direct sunlight, rotate it at least once a month. While the colors are still likely to fade, at least they will fade evenly.
4. Test to see if your carpet is colorfast. Some carpets are colorfast and won't bleed when wet, while others will. If the rug's label reads "dry clean only," then there's a good possibility your rug is not colorfast. If you want to test your rug, saturate a small corner of the carpet with room temperature water, then press on it with a clean white cloth. If there is dye on your rag, then your carpet is likely to bleed if you clean it yourself.
In the case that your carpet is not colorfast do a light cleaning but avoid getting your carpet wet or using chemical cleaners on it.
If you need to deep clean a carpet that is not colorfast, your best option would be to bring it in to be professionally cleaned.
5. Move your furniture around occasionally. Heavy pieces of furniture that sit on top of your oriental rug can work down the fibers and damage your carpet over time. To prevent this, rearrange your furniture every six months. This will even out the wear and tear on your rug and increase its longevity.
Doing a Quick Cleaning
1. Sweep your rug. Use a broom with straw bristles or a carpet sweeper to do the initial cleaning of your rug. Sweep in one direction from end to end. Don't rub your broom back and forth because you could end up damaging it. Once you're done sweeping the entirety of the rug, repeat the cycle and go over it a second time.
Electric carpet sweepers use static electricity to pick up dirt and are the safest method for quickly cleaning an antique oriental rug.
2. Vaccum the rug on both sides. Lay out your rug in an empty area and vacuum over the rug slowly to remove excess abrasives, hair, and dirt that can damage your rug over time. Repeat this process three or more times to get all the dirt and debris from the rug. Avoid the rug's fringes because they can become stuck in the vacuum's sweeper. Once you're done vacuuming, flip the rug over and repeat the process on the other side.
When cleaning an expensive or antique rugs, make sure to use the carpet tool because a revolving brush can damage your rug and hurt its value.
3. Beat and shake your rug outside. If you can pick your rug up, you can take it outside and shake it to remove embedded dirt and other particles. If your rug is too big to shake, hang it on a clothesline and beat it with your hands. You should see the dust and dirt come off of the rug as you do this.
4. Spot clean your rug. It's best to tend to spills as soon as they occur because if they dry it will be much harder for you to get the stain or smell out of your rug. As soon as the spill occurs blot up as much of the liquid as you can, with a paper towel or clean rag. Once you've soaked up the spill, dampen a rag and use cold water to blot the stain again.
Do not rub back and forth on the spill because you could end up rubbing the stain deeper into the carpet.
Performing a Deep Cleaning
1. Vaccum both sides of the rug. Bring your oriental rug outside so that you can lay it out on a flat surface. Sweep and clean the area before you begin to clean your rug. Vaccum the rug until most of the dirt and debris is lifted from it, then flip it over to the other side and repeat the process. After you vacuum, shake the rug to remove any additional dirt or debris.
2. Use a garden hose and spray the rug with cold water. Soak the entirety of the carpet on one side then flip it over and spray the other side with water. You should only have to do this for a few minutes on each side for your oriental rug to become saturated with water.
3. Fill a bucket with cold water and a mild liquid soap. You can use a mild liquid detergent or dish soap to clean your rug. Fill a bucket with one gallon of cold water and three tablespoons of your mild soap. Mix the solution together in your bucket.
You can also use a mild shampoo for oriental rugs that are made from wool.
4. Test your solution by cleaning a small part of the carpet. You can use a long haired brush or a non-shedding sponge to clean your carpet. Dip your sponge or brush into your water and soap solution until it's saturated and lightly go over a small part of the rug. Wait up to ten minutes to see if the cleaning solution has an adverse effect on it before proceeding to the next step.
If the cleaning solution is changing your carpet's color or making the colors bleed, stop cleaning it and take it a professional.
5. Clean the rest of your rug. Lather your rug in the direction of the nap, or so that the fibers lay down, opposed to sitting up. Lather your carpet enough to create suds on the surface of the rug.
6. Rinse your rug with your garden hose. Rinse the remainder of the cleaner off with the garden hose. Once you're done doing one side, flip the rug over and rinse the other side of it. The suds on the top of the rug should be washed off thoroughly before drying.
7. Dry your oriental rug thoroughly. Wet rugs can build mildew over time and create a bad odor. Once you're done rinsing your rug, it's important that you allow it to dry before putting it back to where it belongs. Use a squeegee to squeeze the rest of the water out of your rug, then allow it to dry flat on the ground. Remember to flip your rug over so that both sides can dry.
If drying is taking too long try pointing a fan on to quicken the process.
Using Alternative Methods
1. Use talcum powder to remove unwanted odors. After vacuuming your rug thoroughly, sprinkle some talcum powder on the surface and allow it to sit on the rug overnight. The powder will absorb unwanted odors left by pets or smoke. The next day, use your vacuum to lift the powder from your carpet.
You can purchase talcum powder at many different department stores.
2. Use vinegar, water, and detergent to remove pet or coffee stains. Mix 1/4 cup (59.1 mL) white vinegar and 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) liquid dishwashing detergent with 2 cups (473.17 mL) of room temperature water in a bucket and use it to remove harder stains.
The vinegar's acidity prevents the colors in your carpet from running and can eliminate unwanted odors.
3. Consider contacting a professional rug cleaner. If your rug is expensive, made of material like silk, or has sentimental value, it may be a good idea to take it to a professional rug cleaner rather than trying to do it yourself. Carpet cleaners have years of experience working with different types of rugs and will know the best course of action for your problem. While it will cost money, it may be worth it so you can avoid repairs in the future.