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Oriental Rugs - A buyer’s Guide

Countries of origin where oriental rugs are made.

Rugs of the major producing countries

Pakistani  Rugs

  • Weaving region: mainly in and around the cities of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi
  • Categories: workshop

Pakistan only came into existence as an independent country shortly after the end of the Second World War and consequently shares much of its cultural and rug making heritage with India.  However, after Partition (1947) the weaving industry in Pakistan took a rather different course. The government provided massive subsidies to the then declining rug making industry and introduced more modern methods of organization, production and quality control. Muslim weavers who had emigrated from India and Turkoman weavers from the north were brought together to work in large weaving centers in Karachi and Lahore.  The industry was revitalized, and since the 1960s rug making has become an increasingly efficient and well organized business operating under strong centralized control. Some Pakistani weavers own their looms and sub contract work from exporters, while others are directly employed in large manufactories. They a;; produce rugs to order, with strict criteria laid down to govern the sizes, colors, designs and qualities.

  • Contemporary weaving
    Pakistani rugs can be be divided into two broad categories: those which employ Turkoman, usually gul, Bokhara, Schemes and those which copy traditional Persian workshops designs. The former are generally referred to as Mori Bokharas, and the later usually marketed as Pak. Persian or Pak. 16/18.
    In the past these workshop rugs most often came in the classic floral motifs of Tabriz, Kashan, and Isphahan, gut in the last few years there has been a marked trend toward Aubusson and rococo European design as well as antique recreation vegetable dyed rugs.
  • Price and resale value
    At their best, Pakistanis rugs are very good value for the money, particularly when one considers the fineness of the knotting in the better quality rugs. But their investment potential is generally rather poor and only the most exceptional rugs are likely to becomes collectable in the longer term.

Chinese Rugs

  • Weaving region: China
  • Categories produced: workshop.

It is impossible to say exactly where and when rug making in China first began.  There is ample literary and pictorial evidence to suggest that rugs were in use from the 12th century onwards, but it is not clear whether these were Chinese in origin or imported from abroad. However, it is generally assumed that rug weaving was brought into China, probably form Turkestan or Mongolia, some time before the reign of Emperor K’ang Hsi (1661 - 1722), a noted patron of the arts who may well have encouraged its assimilation into Chinese artistic life.  Similarly, it is almost impossible to say exactly where most Chinese rugs were made.  Unlike Persia or Anatolia, where each region or village is associated with a specific method of weaving and repertoire of designs, rug making in China was never based around exclusive localized styles; and although antique rugs may be classified as “Paotao” or “Ning-Hsia”, for example, this is usually a definition of their quality and style, rather than a statement of where they were made.
Nevertheless, Chinese rugs made in heart of the country (Suiyuan, Paotao and Kansu) had  slightly different characteristics to those woven in East Turkestan, Mongolia and Tibet. The former employed more classically Chinese designs and often limited their palette to blues and cream (Suiyuan rug are noted for using only different shades of blue to articulate an entire design). In contrast, rugs from East Turkestan, Mongolia and Tibet often possessed a distinctive Turkoman flavor, in addition to elements of local symbolism which combined with their overall “Chinese” character to create a unique aesthetic style.  This was enhanced by their use of brighter colors, particularly warm shades of burnt orange, yellow ochre, peach, pale green and pale raw umber.  These stylistic differences have gradually eroded over the years, and today regional divisions have all but disappeared.

  • Contemporary weaving
    In terms of price and quality, contemporary Chinese rugs are probably the best value rugs produced today. The rug making industry is organized under strict government control and a wide range of rugs , which conform to exact standards of quality, size, color, and design, are woven in a number of manufactories and workshops in Peking (Beijing), Tientsin, Sinkiang, Shanghai and other centers throughout the country.  The fact that a carpet may be maeketed as a Peking or Tientsin is largely  irrelevant. It may indicate that design is based on one traditionally associated with that name, but the dealer may simply be trying to make the rug seem more interesting by calling it something other than just “Chinese”.
    Both wool and silk rugs are produced in a wide range of Chinese, Persian and French Aubusson designs. They are invariably woven with Persian knot, with a solitary Turkish knot sometimes placed near the selvedge to add strength to the foundation.  The materials, whether wool or silk, are second to none, and it is not uncommon for a mixture of wool form different regions, each noted for specific qualities of softness, springiness or durability, to be employed in better quality rugs to ensure a perfect blend of all the characteristics necessary to produce the best rug making material.  Silk is selected with same degree of care, and although it can be a little uneven to the touch, is generally of high quality.
    Chinese rugs are graded according to the fineness of their knotting, measured in “lines”. In addition, they all fall into two overall categories.
  • Closed back rugs
    These top qua;ity rugs form the bulk of current production.  They range in fineness from 70-lines to 360-lines, depending on the materials and the design, and have piles that can be anything from 1/4 inch to 5/8 inch deep (not including foundation). The most popular closed back rugs are usually referred to as “superfine Peking” (or just “Peking”), although they may also be called Tientsins, Sinkiangs or simply Chinese. They are undoubtedly some of the very best, if not the best quality furnishing rugs on the market in the late 1970s and 1980s.  The majority were made in the 90 lines grade with a 5/8 inch depp pile, but a number 70-lines rugs sometimes with slightly lower piles, were aso produced.  The designs are normally classically Chinese, with spacious central medallions or other traditional motifs predominating (animals, landscapes, floral arrangement) and colors were invariably pastel in tone. Some rugs in this category employ the French inspired Aubusson scheme, which is often referred to as the “aesthetic” style. A number of silk rugs were also made in these designs. They were usually in 120-lines grades and have a 1/4 inch pile.  In addition, a number of rugs were woven in the Peking style, using goat hair; they are slightly crude in appearance, but quite attractive, and inexpensive.
    Another range of more finely knotted rugs are made in Persian designs. Woolen pile rugs of this type may be woven in grades up to 360-lines, usually with a 1/4 inch pile; pure silk pieces start at 300-lines and may be much finer, depending on the requirements of the design.  Persian design Chinese rugs tend to be more expensive than those with classic Chinese and Aubusson designs, as they tend to be more finely knotted.
    A third group of closed back rugs consists of “antique finish” rugs (were popular in the 1970s and early 1980s). These rugs are based on old Paotao, Suiyuan, Ning-Hsia and Kansu designs; they are woven in the traditional colors, and given the appearance of age by a chemical process known as antique finishing.  They were usually made in grades of 70- or 80-lines, with a 3/8 inch pile, and were extremely attractive and authentic in appearance.
  • Open back rugs
    These are made in 70- and 90- lines grades, but employ a different technique, which involves the insertion of heavier wefting between each row of knots, and are less dense and solid in construction than closed back rugs.  This poorer qulaity is reflected in their price.  They can be easily distinguished from a closed back rugs by the white threads of inserted wefting running across the back.
  • Tufting
    A technique used in some Chinese rugs which involves inserting the pile through a canvas or duck backing with the aid of a “tufting gun”.  The back of the rug is then coated with latex and is normally covered by a piece of cloth.  Although these rugs are technically hand made, they are not knotted and should never be sold as genuine hand knotted oriental rugs.  Any rug with latex or cloth back is almost certainly tufted.  Today, they are also being made in India as well in Persian designs. They are excellent alternative for low budget rug shopper.
  • Price and resale value
    In terms of sheer quality, Chinese rugs are probably the best value rugs on the market today.  Only the very finest Persian style pieces exceed the medium price bracket, and no other country makes rugs of comparable quality for the price.  However, their relatively standardized appearance and character, coupled with the quantities available, makes it unlikely that they will becomes collectable, and they should therefore not be considered for purely investment purposes.

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