What is an Oriental Rug?

What's the definition of an Oriental rug?

By Eric Bollmann

While visiting one of our longtime clients to take a look at cleaning their wood floors I was asked a very simple question: "Is this an Oriental rug"? On the face of it, it is a simple question. However for a professional, with a long history in the rug cleaning trade it opens a proverbial can of worms. Area rug, Oriental rug, area carpet, hooked rug, woven rug, hand knotted rug, handmade rug, tufted rug, machine made rug, loomed rug, contemporary rug, Karastan rug, a Stark carpet and so on and on. It's enough to make your head spin.

You Know it When you See it

Even within the expert community of the rug trade such as: dealers, cleaners, appraisers and retailers, there are many different definitions and opinions of what exactly an Oriental rug is. Some definitions will be as narrow as that the region where a rug was made (the Orient - roughly the area made-up of what is now Iran) determines if a rug is worthy of being called an Oriental rug to some definitions will be as wide as to cover almost any floor covering that is constructed using a fabric material. It's like that quote made famous by a superior court judge who was attempting to give a definition of pornography: "you know it when you see it." It's kind of the same with defining what makes a rug an Oriental rug.

My definition

However that obviously doesn't answer the question that was originally posed: What makes a rug an Oriental rug? So let me start off by giving you what my definition of an Oriental rug is:

"A floor covering that is hand-knotted (or hand woven) with a foundation structure made-up of weft and warp yarns."

I know I may have just lost half of my readership with a statement like that. But let me give you a quick primer on hand-knotted versus hand-made rugs. On the face of it, they seem the same.

Hand-knotted or hand-made?

Hand-knotted or Hand-made? The critical term here is hand-knotted. This means that a fiber was tied (knotted) by hand around the warp yarns of a rug. As you can imagine this is a slow and very labor intensive process, often taking months to complete.

In contrast the term "hand-made" is widely used on tags of tufted rugs that are either hand or machine tufted and then glued together. They often will have the look of an Oriental rug from their physical appearance. However their structural integrity is very weak. This means the difference between a hand-knotted rug lasting for generations with proper care versus a tufted rug possibly delaminating and coming apart within a couple of years.

The back tells the story

The way to tell them apart is to take a look at the back of the rug. Lift up a corner and what do you see? If it's a jute or cotton backing material you can be assured that it's a tufted rug.

Oriental hand knotted rugs on the other hand will be truly hand knotted in the sense that the wool tufts are literally tied around the foundation fibers (those weft and warp yarns I was talking about earlier) of the rug. They will show themselves as the bottom of the knot with the same fiber as you see on the top (fuzzy) side of the rug.

Retailers lacking knowledge or worse……

Although this is only the starting point to be able to start telling hand-knotted or Oriental rugs apart from the many other types of rugs, it is a very critical one. I've so often seen the results of people paying top dollar for a hand-made, tufted rug that is being sold to them by either an unsuspecting retailer, truly lacking knowledge. Or worse, by a scrupulous rug dealer, who knows better but doesn't care. He's only in it for the quick dollar.

Starting point of a lifelong journey

Hopefully you've not fallen prey to such an unpleasant experience and instead you're learning everything you can about the subject of Oriental rugs. Oriental rugs are a passion of mine and there are many sources of good and great information. However one source does stand above the rest (in my opinion) for the beginning rug enthusiast. Turn your browser to https://jacobsenrugs.com/blog for lots of good reading and learning.

If you need your rugs cleaned and taken care of I know a place

It probably can be perceived as self-serving, however I'm willing to take that risk. If you're a rug owner and you live in Southern California I know a great place to take your rugs for their cleaning. It's the place I call home and it's called Zerorez. We have locations in Irvine, Reseda and Riverside and specialize in chemical -free cleaning of all rugs, however we also have the expert knowledge that true, hand knotted Oriental rugs need. Reach us at 866-937-6739 or on the web at www.zerorezsocal.com. If you have specific questions about your personal rug feel free to e-mail me at ebollmann@zerorezsocal.com.

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