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If you are currently in the market for an oriental rug or you have bought oriental rugs in the past, you know how expensive they can be. If you buy a genuine, hand-knotted oriental rug, you are getting a true work of art from a part of the world most Americans will never see. While China and India produce many of the newer rugs in the American market, Iran and the Caucasus mountain range of the southern Soviet Union were at one time the leading rug weaving regions of the world. It seems that hand-knotted rugs have been around almost as long as colonized human civilizations, and many of the rugs woven today are made in a similar manner. There are many reasons oriental rugs are so expensive compared to a machine-made rug, and the quality and value of a genuine rug far surpass those of an “imposter” rug. There are many methods used in making oriental rugs, but this is a general overview of one common method.

Genuine oriental rugs are woven by hand on a loom, which can be adapted and will be a little larger than the size of the rug being woven. The warp strings, or the strings that stretch lengthwise on the loom, are an important part of the foundation of the rug. These strings are usually cotton because the wool used in creating the pile of the rug will draw tightly and adhere to the cotton when tied. When the warp strings have been tied tightly around the loom, the weaver will create a kilim, or a plait at both ends of the rug, using cotton. This kilim helps tighten the ends of the rug for more effective weaving of the pile.

When the warp of the rug-to-be is secure, the weaver will begin tying the actual knots that will create the soft pile of the rug. He will use a carefully designed drawing of the rug that has been colored onto a grid. Each square in the grid represents a knot, and the colored designs on his drawing let him know when to change colors of wool being used. He will begin by tying a knot using wool thread around two of the warp strings, sliding it down the to the base of the warp strings tightly, and he then will cut the excess thread with a knife. He will continue doing this all the way across the base of the warp until a complete row of knots has been woven. The weaver will then guide another single string called a weft across the warp, and beat it tightly down upon the row of knots he has woven with a heavy metal comb. This assures that the rug will remain taught and even throughout the entire weaving process.

Once a horizontal row has been created, the weaver will begin a new row and follow the colored drawing of the rug to know when to use a new color. An efficient weaver may tie well over one hundred knots in about five minutes or so. But the entire process of creating just one row of knots can take many hours, especially if the rug is large. This weaving goes on hour after hour and day after day until the rug is complete, which may be a significant amount of time. For instance, a 6’x9’ rug may take four to six months to complete, so the labor is very intense. Imagine the cost of a rug if it were hand-woven in the U.S.!

When the rug has been completely woven, it is cut from the loom and scrutinized very carefully for flaws. The fringes you see at the ends of the rug are the actual ends of the warp strings, and may sometimes be braided by the weaver. If the rug has been successfully woven, it is then fine-tuned. Other workers in the rug trade will make sure the pile of the rug is completely even, and will trim any areas of the pile that may need it. The rug is then lightly washed in water to thoroughly clean its surfaces, and to bleed any excess dye from the wool used in making the rug. Some rugs are “tea washed” after they have been woven in a mixture of tea like colorings, which will slightly dye the whole rug and give it a more mellow color overall. Excess water is then extracted from the rug, and it is allowed to dry thoroughly to avoid creating a rot in the rug. It is scanned over again to ensure perfection, wrapped up, and shipped out to a foreign market.

You can see the amount of labor involved in making just one rug, so the prices by American standards really don’t seem too high if you consider the quality and craftsmanship of the rug. Hand-woven rugs are true works of art, and I invite you to visit your local rug dealer so you can see and feel all of the work that went into making just one rug. Whether you buy the rug or not is of no importance, but I’m sure you will appreciate the quality and history of a genuine, hand-woven oriental rug.