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Bijan’s Oriental Rugs
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Oriental Rugs - A buyer’s Guide

  • Dyeing and colors.
    The dyer is an extremely important, and often somewhat mysterious figure in rug making.  In nomadic and village cultures, the master dyer, almost invariably male, often acts as the tribal wise man, whose advice is sought on a whole range of subjects that have nothing to do with amking rugs. Dyeing is considered a science, whose secrets are handed down from generation to generation, and when the dyer is working, only other dyers may speak to him.  This mystique is understandably less pronounced in modern urban manufactories, but the dyer is nevertheless a figure of considerable importance and prestige.
    Dyeing begins after the wool has been cleaned, usually by washing in a weak solution of soda and soap, when it is immersed in an alum-bath for about 12 hours. The alum acts as a mordant, a chemical used to create a bond between the fiber and the dye stuff, and after the yarn has been satisfactorily treated it is soaked in a bath of dye. Between each stage the yarn is left out in the sun to dry.
  • Natural Dyes
    Often referred to as vegetable dyes, despite the fact that many of them are obtained from animal and mineral sources.  Although the majority of weaving groups today use chemical dyes, they are still used by a number of nomadic and village groups.  In fact,  market demands has encouraged their use, a growing number of weaving groups in many countries are now returning to those traditional dyes, in spite of the fact that good quality synthetic dyes are reasonably cheap and plentiful.  This reflects both a desire to uphold tradition and the fact natural dyes produce a subtle beauty of tone that has never been equaled by even the finest synthetic dyes.
    The natural dyestuff have the advantage of being readily found in the natural environment.
    Red is obtained from the roots of the madder plant (Rubia Tinctorum) and also from the crushed bodies of female insects of the coccus cacti genus, which produce a color usually referred to as cochineal or carmine red. A third shade of red is derived from insect chermes abietis.
    Yellow is made from the reseda plant, vine leaves and pomegranate skins. Saffron yellow comes from the dried pistils of the saffron crocus, but this plant is ow extremely rare and the color is exceptionally expensive.
    Blue is derived from the ubiquitous indigo plant, and green is produced by mixing yellow and blue.
    Gray and brown are obtained either by using un-dyed wool or by dyeing the yarns with extracts from nutshells and oak bark.
  • Chemical Dyes
    These were introduced into Persia and Anatolia in the late 19th century, but proved to be totally unsuitable for rug yarns, producing rather crude colors that were given to rapid fading.  In 1903 the Persian government stopped the import of these aniline dyes and brought in laws, which were strictly enforced, ordering dye houses found using them to be burnt to the ground. Any weaver caught using the illegal dyed yarn could face very tough punishment.  Needless to say, these measures prove effective, and Persian weavers went back using natural dyes until the more reliable chrome dyes were introduced in the years between the first and second World Wars. Modern chrome dyes are, however, extremely reliable, color fast and made in a wide range of attractive colors and shades. Today’s rug buyers can be assured that the colors, will only improve with age.
  • Abrash
    Name given to sudden change in the intensity or tone of a particular color which does not correspond to any similar change in design. It is caused by the weaver moving to separately dyed batch of yarn part way through making a rug. Abrashes are usually found in nomadic and village rugs, where only small amounts of yarn can be dyed at any time, and are not a sign of inadequate craftsmanship. However, they are not acceptable in workshop rugs.
  • The relationship between color and age
    As a rug begins to age its colors lose some of their intensity and sharp divisions of tone gradually mellow into a more harmonious whole.  This process may take 20 years or more to complete, and its more pronounced if natural dyes have been used or if the rug has been exposed to direct sunlight.  It is an important factor in dating a rug.
  • The meaning of individual colors
    Varies from culture to culture.  In Muslim countries, green, the color of Mohammed’ coat, is sacred and very rarely used as a predominant color; but it forms an important part of the dyer’s palette in non Muslim cultures, particularly China; here the sacred color is yellow, in which the Emperor traditionally dressed. white represents grief to the Chinese, Indians, and Persians, and power and authority in Mongolia.  Orange is synonymous with piety and devotion in Muslim countries, while red, the most universal rug color, is widely accepted as a sign of wealth and rejoicing.

In the past 20 years there has been a huge increase in the quantity and variety of new vegetable dyed rugs available. The trend began in western Turkey in the late 1960’s, but knowledge of vegetable dying has now been re-introduced into Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and China.

  • Flat-weaves or Kelims weaving
    Flat-woven rugs are generally referred to as Kelims, or Gelims, which is a Turkish word meaning prayer rug. They are made by tightly interweaving the warp and weft strands to create a flat, pile-less surface.  The design is produced by threading the strands through a number of  the warp strands, rather than directly from edge to edge, and then looping them back around the last warp thread used.  Each section of the overall design is woven separately, and when one part of the pattern is completed a new, usually different colored, weft thread is inserted at the point where the last one finished. The angular nature of most patterns allow the warp strands to be overlapped by two or more sections of the wefted pattern, ensuring that the rug is bonded firmly across the width. On the rare occasions when vertical stripes are used in the design, the adjoining sections are either stitched together at the back, or the first and last weft threads from the adjoining segments of pattern are tied around the same warp strand, a technique used by the American Indians in weaving blankets.  Consequently, the weft strands form the pattern on the face of the rug which, because they have been looped back around the warp strands, is clearly visible from both back and front.
    Kelims are much quicker and cheaper to to produce than pile rugs, and this is normally reflected in their price. However, they have become increasingly collectable in recent years and are no longer as inexpensive as they were.
  • Tapestry weaving
    A very similar techniques to Kelim weaving.  It can be easily distinguished because the weft strands are left hanging at the back, and the design can only be seen from the front.
  • Soumak weaving techniques
    associated with the Caucasian weaving group of the same name which has produced this highly distinctive type of flat-woven rug for generations. The design is created by wrapping a weft thread around four (or sometimes more) warp strands and then drawing it back and wrapping it around two, a technique of “looped” weaving not dissimilar to the way fishermen make their nets.  It produces a slight herringbone effect on the face of the rug and a series of ridges along the back.  The easiest way to recognize Soumak weaving is to turn the rug over and note the unclipped strands of weft hanging from the back.
  • Dhurries and Druggets
    Not generally classified as oriental rugs, despite being made in the orient. Dhurires are flat-woven rugs made in India using the warp sharing technique (i.e., looping two separate parts of the wefted pattern around the same warp).  They usually employ simple geometric designs and are very cheap.  Druggets are made in India and the Balkan countries, usually from a combination of goat hair, cotton and jute, and are equally cheap and cheerful, but not so frequently found. These comments only apply to modern Dhurries and Druggets; older ones have become quite collectable in recent years.
  • Knotted or Pile Rugs
    In oriental rugs the pile is created by tying a short length of yarn around two adjacent warp strands so that the ends of the yarn protrude upwards to form the surface, or pile, of the rug.  This process is referred to as “Knotting”, because when the weft and warp strands are beaten together to hold the yarn in place, a securely tied knot is formed.  In oriental rugs, every knot, which correspond to two individual strands of pile, is tied by hand, and a skilled weaver can tie something in the region of a thousand knots per hour.  The knotting process always begins at the side of the rug, after the selvedges have been secured, by tying a knot on each pair of warp strands in a horizontal direction across the width of the rug.  When one horizontal line of knots has been tied, they are beaten tightly together with the weaver’s comb before starting on the nest line, and this continue upwards until the rug has been completed.

  • Different types of knot
    There are two main types of knots used in contemporary weaving: the Senneh, or Persian knot, and the Ghiordes, or Turkish, knot.  Each has its own slight advantages and disadvantages, but, in practice, both are excellent for the purpose, and the choice of knot does not affect the overall quality of the rug. However, knowing which types of knot has been used is extremely important in helping to determine where a particular rug was made, because although individual weaving groups may copy each other’s designs, they rarely, if ever, change the knot they use.
  • Senneh or Persian knot

    Persian Knot

    Formed by looping the pile yarn through two warp strands and then drawing it back through one.  It is also referred to as the “asymmetrical” knot because the pile yarn may be drawn to either the right or the left of the warp strands.  Many experts argue that the Persian knot makes it easier to produce intricate, curvilinear designs by enabling the weaver to tie more knots per the square inch, but this theory is by no means universally accepted in the carpet and rug trade. The Persian knot is used almost exclusively in China, India, Pakistan, and the Balkan countries.  It is also widely used throughout Persia and Afghanistan, although, ironically, not in the Persian town of Senneh from which it derived its name. A simple, though far from foolproof, method of telling whether the Senneh knot has been used is to examine the back of the rug. Usually, if only one loop or bump is visible across the warp where the knot has been tied, then the Persian knot has been employed.

    Persian Knot

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