‘Many handmade ancient and recent oriental wool
carpets show outstanding brilliance and persistence of colour that is not
achieved by common industrial dyeing procedures. Anthropologists have suggested
the influence of wool fermentation prior to dyeing as key technique to achieve
the high dyeing quality. [-]
Not only the elaborate patterns,
but also the vivid and persisting colours of oriental carpets and other flat
weaves have been fascinating people all over the world since medieval times.
Many of these textiles are remarkably stable against any typical forms of
bleaching, [-] , and keep their shiny colour brilliance over centuries even
under harsh conditions.
Since the 1970s cultural anthropologists have studied and revived traditional [-] dyeing procedures [-] They collected and evaluated methods for dyeing of hand-prepared sheep wool with locally available natural dyes and found that the key technology for the persistent colour brilliance of the investigated textiles was a controlled fermentation of the wool with Geotrichum candidum yeast prior to dyeing.’
The undeniable charm of the Qashqai gabbeh rests likely in their simplicity, but also their aesthetic unpredictability.
The tribeswomen of the Turkic peoples of the Iranian south west have for centuries produced superb rugs. These rugs are easily recognizable and are aplenty at bazaars in Iran and abroad. They have a reputation of being well-made and sturdy.
The Qashqai artists work strictly within their ancestral traditions; traditions that are as old as the mountains that surround their camps – clumps of black tents dotting the landscape.
Qashqai designs are rooted in the tribe’s ancient cosmology
and as such pose creative limitations to those who make them.
Gabbeh, shaggy and seemingly unrefined rugs used as tent floor coverings are perhaps an exception. Only recently, have the gabbeh rugs wedged their way onto the market; soon enough however, they have become the designers favourite.
The spontaneity and abstract primitive realism resonates with western lovers of art; gabbeh harmoniously contrast with somewhat austere modern home décor.
Making of gabbeh rugs provides the women of the Qashqai tribes with a means of unrestrained artistic expression, a way to interpret the harsh reality and the cosmic solitude of the nomadic life.
When rug shopping, we often hear of organic dyes. They are no doubt long-lasting and age like the finest wines.
Not all of them however are plant-based. Insects such as cochineal were
once used to produce red. Good news for vegans: cochineal red has been nearly
entirely replaced with synthetic dyes which are as red and possibly as nice. Rug collectors disagree as the muted crimsons
of the antique rugs possess a seemingly an inimitable depth.
But is there such a thing as a vegan rug?
The answer is YES.
We often buy attractive carpets; more often than not, at
Inexpensive carpets are often sold in large chain stores;
they may be replicas of some of the most popular tribal rugs: Caucasian, Afghan,
They may be hand-knotted, ranging from poor to acceptable
quality. They will be likely produced in poor countries where low labour cost
and abuse afford a steady supply of inexpensive merchandise ensuring good
profit to all, save perhaps for the labourers themselves.
Costs are continually cut to ensure greater gains: cheap
chemical dyes are obviously more economical than the organic ones; only humans
can produce a hand-knotted rug. Skilled workers demand money, and it takes time
to produce a finished product.
The one area where money can be saved is the material: wool.
And here comes the solution: the so-called ‘dead wool’.
‘Dead wool’ is wool collected from dead (slaughtered)
animals, and it is by far the least expensive material available to textile
It is also used in carpet manufacturing although, it is
sheep wool is dry, brittle and lacking of lustre.
made of dead sheep wool are inexpensive, but their appearance is inferior to
most virgin wool products.
‘The poorest-quality wool, taken from dead sheep, is referred to as tabachi, “dead wool.” An easy way to recognize a rug made from tabachi is to rub it with your hand. Notice how the wool feels. Good wool feels springy, while dead wool feels brittle and may actually break when you stroke it. In than case, you can expect the rug to deteriorate with even a moderate amount of wear.’ 
It certainly takes more than a glance to identify the origin,
or the age of the carpet.
Too often, in social media, do we see bad photos of not so bad carpets with requests
for identification of origin, age and value.
There are a number of ways scholars and experts can identify the origin of a rug, at times, narrowing it down to a village, or small tribal sub-group. They can ‘guesstimate’ the age of a rug too. The monetary value of a rug however depends on too many factors to be suggested with any level of certainty.
Rugs speak for themselves; that’s a fact. Their secrets are revealed through design, foundation, selveges, fringing as well as material, including dyes.
The design is of paramount importance; one should be able to recognize a Nain, Keshan or Kashmar by their distinctive designs; one may tell a Kazak from a Shirvan. However, it is the study of the rug foundation, the intricate crisscross of warps and wefts that yields the ultimate answer – Thus Spoke the Rug.
Most antique (1800 and early 1900s) Kazaks, for instance, have a distinct red wool foundation; newer Kazaks (pretty but not collectible) will have a unnaturally white cotton base.
Most antique Kuba region Caucasian rugs, have the so-called depressed foundation which appears as nearly three-dimensional.
Most antique Karabagh rugs show dark wool wefts and wool foundation.
Nearly all Hamadan rugs (Malayer, Mezlagan, Tafresh, Zaijan, etc.) are hand-knotted on a single-weft foundation.
Both the Bahtiari and the Afshars adopted cotton foundation in he 1930s; antique and early 1900s rug from these groups will have all-wool base.
Cleaning of precious collectible carpets is a process that should be carried out with responsibility and care. Once in a possession of an antique rug, a collector (or investor) assumes the role of a true custodian of important artifact and part of the artistic heritage of great importance to future generations.
Many valuable artefacts of weaving arts have been lost to neglect,
pets and their owners.
Professional cleaning of antique rugs requires a skill and that skill inevitably comes with a price.
The antique rug that happened to be in your custody, ought to be cleaned at least once every year as the film of dust collected on the surface of the rug will affect its appearance.
Such annual cleaning can be carried out at home, though, and rather inexpensively to boot.
Here is a very simple and effective way to do it:
To get rid of the loose dirt and dust in
your rug, turn the rug pile-downwards and vacuum the rug using a commercial
vacuum cleaner. Make sure that the head of the vacuum cleaner has some weight;
the process essentially consists of beating the dust out.
The process of ‘beating your rug’ is very important; dust left in the foundation will turn into mud when, in later stages, water and shampoo are applied.
Turn the rug pile-upward and give it another gentle vacuum to extract any dust left in the wool fibres.
Before undertaking this step, look for ‘hot’ jarring colours on your rug. Such colours ( candy red, for instance) are often synthetic and prone to ‘bleeding’. To ensure the stability of the dye, spit on white cotton cloth and rub it against the ‘suspicious’ area. Saliva is alkaline; it will react with the chemical dye and the cloth will be stained. If this is the case, you are better off sending your rug to a professional. If the cloth has no traces of colour smudging, you are safe to proceed to the next task.
Fill a buspan with lukewarm water adding cooking salt, commercial vinegar and wool shampoo or detergent. Mix thoroughly
Using a soft brush, preferably a natural fibre one, clean the carpet moving the brush gently in circular motions against the direction of the pile. Concentrate on small areas (a square foot at most) and dip the brush in the cleaning solution (lukewarm water, vinegar, cooking salt and shampoo) shaking off the excess of water before proceeding further.
You may have to prepare the cleaning solution more than once, if you see it is dirty, or you may simply run out of it if the rug is quite large.
Note that no rinsing is required; the foam will soak into the wool and dissolve completely and without a trace through the encounter with salt and vinegar.
Once the washing of the carpet is complete. leave it on the sun if possible. Otherwise, if the cleaning is done indoors, use a fan or a heat fan instead. Within a few hours in the sun, a bit longer indoors, your rug with shine with colours.
The last step is to vacuum gently the rug combing the pile in the right direction (from the top to the bottom). You will notice that all traces of soap residue are gone, and the carpet looks and smells new.
As a responsible custodian of an antique rug, you should NOT wash your rug in a washing machine (you will ruin the foundation of the carpet beyond repair); dry-clean your rug (same effect); water soak your rug (this may cause bleeding of colours); use powered rotary-brush cleaners on your antique rug as they are deigned specifically for wall-to-wall machine-made carpets.
Hereke rugs are among the most coveted collectibles; they are beautiful and expensive; and as any objet of great aesthetic value, imitable.
Hereke is a town that is not too far from Istanbul. It was the Otttomn Emperor Sultan Abdulmecid (1823-1861) who set up the original carpet factory in Hereke in 1843.
It is said that
only the best artists were brought here from the Persian city of Kerman to
share their skill and talent and produce the finest carpets for the imperial
palaces in the region.
Soon after the
collapse of the Ottoman Empire, a state-run school of carpet making was
established within the premises of the old Hereke Imperial Factory.
A number of reputable workshops sprang out in the town en
suite ensuring a steady supply of the finest silk rugs to the markets around
Small-format silk rugs with knot counts in excess of a million per a single square meter have become very popular among collectors and nearly a household name in home décor in the Western World .
The demand was high and so were the prices, a situation which inevitably gave rise to sub-industries.
Keyseri, a town in central Turkey, still produces well-made and rather inexpensive imitations of Hereke Ottoman designs in mercerised cotton.
China, of late, began producing extremely fine, high quality
copies of the same designs which ironically (owing precisely to the astounding
quality) have become collectible too; they are classified officially as Chinese
And of course, there are forgeries meant to capitalize of the
high value and popularity of the genuine rugs and deceive unsuspecting buyers.
There are however several unique features to the silk rugs from Hereke which are distinguishable enough to spare even an inexperienced buyer a substantial financial loss.
Hereke versus Keyseri
Most Hereke rugs are signed; Keyseri rugs almost never.
Most Hereke rugs feature abstract arabesque patterns; Keyseri rugs often feature realistic avian motifs.
All Hereke rugs are made of expensive natural silk; Keyseri rugs are made of inexpensive artificial silk which is actually mercerised cotton.
Turkish versus Chinese Hereke
Most Turkish Herekes are signed; the signature typically, but not always, appears in the top right corner.
Most Chinese Herekes are signed HEREKE – هرك (the same genuine signature) but the cartouche-like trade mark tends to appear on the kilim part of the silk rug as opposed to the pile part as is the case with genuine Turkish Herekes.
Turkish Herekes are extremely fine; Chinese Herekes seem finer, almost machine-made in their appearance.
Genuine versus Fake
There are a number of ways one can spot a fake and here are some:
Genuine Hereke is a silk on silk (all natural) rug; copies are often not.
Burn a small segment of the fringe to spot fake silk
Remember that most Herekes are signed quite discretely, only once. Some forgeries may feature more than one signature.
Hereke rugs have very fine double-layered Turckoman-like selveges; most fakes feature simple rolled hemming sides
Herekes will rarely feature realistic images (birds, etc); some forgeries may.
All in all, when investing money in buying a silk Hereke rug, consult an expert if in doubt. If you are buying a decorative item, on the other hand, origin may not be very relevant; there are beautiful Chinese Herekes; there are beautiful Keyseris. However, buying a forgery harms the genuine industry.
Here is an example of a Kazak rug which if the study of dyes were to be applied by the experts, the suggested production period wold be likely attributed to the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century.
There is no presence of any synthetic materials, and the style seems unaffected by the state-imposed Soviet aesthetics which left no room for fantasy and whimsicality of the pre-Soviet Azerbaijan.
The date on the rug however contradicts this type of the reasoning and renders the antique ‘a rare case of confusing identity’
The date on the rug in Arabic numerals appears to be 1931, or 1971. In Indian numerals, it is repeated as ١٣٣٤/1334.
1349 + 582 = 1931
1349 + 624 = 1973 (approximate date)*
The notion of the rug being an artifact from the 1970s can be easily ruled out, but illegibility of the date on the rug doubtless adds to the confusion.
This argument proves how cautious one must be when assessing the age of a given textile artifact.
Whether it is a stylistic, dye or date study, ample room ought to be reserved for a margin of error
A.G. * Iran officially adopted the solar calendar on March 25th, 1925.
Dates appear on the
oriental rugs sporadically. Unless forged to deceive buyers, they are meant to
commemorate important events; weddings, births, etc.
Such dates require some historical understanding to be properly read. Firstly, most dates on the oriental rugs are presented in Indian numbers. This may sound strange but in truth it is the Europeans who at a point in history abandoned Roman numerals such as I, II, III, IV, V … X in favor of the Arabic ones 1,2,3,4,5 … 10.
The Arabs, on the other hand, whose trade with the Subcontinent was always of great economic importance, adopted the Indian numerals ١,٢,٣,٤,٥.١٠ which, unlike any other Arabic texts, are are read from the left to to the right.
These dates are almost always presented in Islamic (lunar) calendar and need to be converted to their Gregorian equivalent.
The simplest way to do it is to add 582 years to the date in question, hence, for instance, ١٣٣٣ as on the Yerevan rug in our collection meaning 1333 represents the year 1915 in Gregorian calendar.
However, in 1925 Iran (Afghanistan a few years earlier) abandoned the Lunar calendar and adopted the Solar one. Therefore, all Persian rugs bearing dates 1925 onward are much younger than the ones with dates from before 1925.
For instance, the Bijar in our collection dated ١٣٣٤ or 1334 is not just a year younger than the Yerevan one but as many as 43 years; it is in fact dated 1958 in Gregorian calendar.
When reading dates on Oriental rug dated ١٣٠٣ or 1303 (1925) onward, one ought to add 624 years to obtain the correct but approximate number.
The main challenge is to identify rugs hand-knotted and dated before or after March 1925 as that is when the calendar was re-set to 1.
Example: a rug dated 1333 in old lunar calendar is a 1915 antique artifact; a rug that was hand-knotted in 1334 after the 25th of March 1925 is a 1957 semi-antique or vintage rug of a much lesser collectible value.
Here is an elaborate system of accurate reading of dates on Persian (and
Caucasian) rugs as recommended in Majid Amini’s Oriental Rugs Care and Repair A Van
Nostrand Reinhold Book p.53
‘a. Divide the woven Persian number by 33 [The Muslim year is
lunar and is [/] eleven days (or one thirty-third of a year) shorter than the
Christian solar year.
b. Subtract the result of a
from the vowen date
c. Add 622 (the year of Mohamed’ flight [from Mekkah to Medina] to the result of b and this will give you the Christian date.’
1334 : 33 = 40
1334 – 40 = 1294
1294 + 622 = AD 1916
When assessing the age of a rug, ironically, the dated rugs present the most difficulty as dates may be easily, purposely or inadvertently, misrepresented. Most scholars and antique rug experts rely on their knowledge of dyes used in a particular artifact which offers reliable but its approximate age. The presence of a date will sometimes confirm the dye-suggested period but more often than not, it may just complicate the matter.
All in all, determining the age of an antique rug is a complex process that always implies a certain margin of error.
Understanding of symbols in the oriental rugs is a complex process that requires a thorough ethnographic research. The featured rug, a late 1800s or early 1900s Kazak from the Armenian village of Shusha in Azerbaijan. displays a number of motifs that may be characteristic to baptismal carpets used in Christian ceremonies.
At first, this carpet appears to be a classic Islamic prayer rug which is owned mainly to the niche (mihrab) and the ‘hands of Fatima’ or simply ‘khamsa‘ (five) motifs. An in-depth analysis however reveals a very different picture.
While the presence of the ‘Hands of Fatima’ motif renders this rug overtly suggestive of the Islamic prayer rug, other artists opted to use one hand only, perhaps, to prevent such obvious association.
As suggested in our previous article Prayer Design , the roots of the classic Ottoman prayer designs may in fact reflect ancient imagery found in various Christian manuscripts. However, the symbolic use of the Tree of Life, for instance, predates Christianity or, for that matter, any practiced religion. It is arguably. the Tree of Life image that evolved in Islam to form the classic image in prayer design – the mihrab
The most suggestive symbols of the carpets in question are inscribed into the mihrab (or the crown of the Tree of life) and consist of Hands, an Ewer, and a comb.
‘A motif stylized in the form of a water container, symbolizes purity and purification and [is] used also as a symbol of pregnancy.’, while ‘The Hand motif is used against a spell or evil eye, where the comb motif is related to the protection of birth and marriage.’ (-) Yashar Bish Rugs&Kilims
Small, whimsical accents are sometimes added to the design in village and tribal rugs. More often than not, these may appear as flaws and/or distractions, e.g. a wisp of wool of different color, a small motif breaking the overall symmetry of the rug, etc.
These motifs, despite appearing in various and often distant parts of the rug world, are part of the shared myriad of symbols rooted in primeval times.
The entire design of the rug is set within a light brown field; ‘ Colors play a major role in conveying the story of a rug (…) [and] Brown [represents] fertility, according to Esmaili Rugs&Antiques.
The roots of symbols appearing in village rugs from around the world are set in myths and archetypes; they have existed for ever, as long as man and woman walked the Earth. .
Note on Shusha: Susha or Shushi is an Armenian village offered to Azerbaijan by Josef Stalin as a divide-and-conquer strategy in the early 20th century. Armenia regained the village during the many consecutive conflicts.
The evolution of the oriental rug design is likely more complex than one may expect. When studied, most carpet designs appear to have evolved out of their primeval forms which transformed in time to fit their historical and religious context.
What may appear as a fundamentally Islamic objet d’art, the prayer rug for instance, consists of elements which are a fusion of several motifs transcending their historical and religious contexts.
In fact, what is referred today as ‘an Ottoman niche motif’ arguably evolved out the symbol of the tree of life which predates the Islamic traditions.
Below, are examples of tree of life rugs forming a niche (mihrab), a motif that prevails in Islamic arts.
The so-called ‘head and shoulders’ prayer rug design also inscribes the symbol of the ‘Tree of Life’ as seen in the beautiful Beluch work, and it may be argued that the niche motif (mihrab) evolved as a matter of coincidence rather than a planned idea.
What is typically viewed as a classic Ottoman ‘columns and niche prayer design’ is, with all likelihood, an Anatolian invention but it dates to a period when Asia Minor was in part also home to a large Christian population.
Below, are ancient Armenian prints from Christian manuscripts juxtaposed with what are evidently echoed in Ottoman prayer rugs.
The origins of rug designs are often rooted in ancient mythologies and reflect the long-forgotten symbols. Over millennia, the boundaries of religions had become blurred and motifs transformed and merged into new political and religious environments.