Updated: Aug 18
I've been working with oriental rugs for over 34 years.. retail, wholesale, production, cleaning, and restoration. I've worked most angles of this amazing world of Handwoven rugs.
Oriental Rugs Are Subjective.
There is no single reason why people own oriental carpets; a woven rug can be purely a practical utilitarian decorative item available in a wide range of shapes and sizes and boasting a wide array of colors and designs. Rugs are pet friendly and hold up well in high-traffic areas of a home, such as the living room, bathroom, kitchen, and hallways.
Yet, Inherited antique oriental rugs often hold fond childhood memories, a connection to our past, and may span generations in a single family. They transcend simply utilitarianism and become more, almost part of the family.
Some collect rugs, particularly antique rugs, as fiber art and a window into the ethnographic makeup of the people that wove them, and often these cultural environments are now extinct, lost to time and "progress"; they are art and anthropological study.
Money rugs are available in various currency denominations, 5 to 100-dollar bill rugs.
Are oriental rugs worth the money?
Aside from money rugs, rugs are worth the money, we need to understand how rugs are made and the time, labor, and energy it takes to get a rug to your floor?
When we think of hand-woven rugs, we think of weavers at a loom, but much labor goes into making a rug outside of the actual rug weaving raw materials, mostly wool. These materials must be raised, gathered, and processed sheep sheared, wool washed, carding, and spinning of wool as in this pic of Afshar women spinning wool in Sirjan, Iran.
While wool is machine spun in many places, hand-spinning wool is still common in some rug-weaving countries like Iran and Afghanistan. I won't tell you hand-spun wool is better; it does provide a difference in how a rug looks and feels.
Afshar woman spinning wool Sirjan, Iran
Rug wool dye process
Spun wool needs color, and skilled dyers work over dye vats to dye wool of various colors for weavers to use, and you can see all these workers and materials cost money. Typically there is an interplay between rug designers and dyers to determine yarn color.
Two types of dye sources can be found in modern rug production synthetic dyes and natural dyes sourced from plants and insects. Most rugs are made today with synthetic dyes, and while some natural dyeing exists, it's a relatively small segment of the rug market. One that is often overstated at the point of sale most rugs people believe to be natural dyed aren't.
Wool dyeing at Zollanvari Rugs Shiraz, Iran
Skilled workers plan color and design; these designs and colors are plotted into graphs for weavers to follow. Traditionally this was done by hand; in today's rug world, a skilled rug designer draws the design in a CAD program designed for the rug industry. CAD drawings easily adapt to different sizes, weave qualities, and design alterations, ultimately making for quicker production turnaround.
Genuine oriental rugs are handwoven one knot at a time and can take less than a months or years to complete. There are many variables in rug production that affect how long it takes to get a rug to market.
The finer the weaving knots to the sq inch or meter, the longer weaving takes.
The number of weavers working on a rug at one time.
How much time in a day a weaver(s) devotes to rug weaving?
Below pic are several Qashqai weavers traditionally weaving a Gabbeh rug that rug weaving has been done for more than a millennia. Gabbehs are lower knot count rugs and rugs such as 6'x9' as this can be completed in a month or less, depending on how much time a weaver spends daily.
Rug weaving is a part-time occupation for these Qashqai weavers, perhaps 4 hours a day of weaving, their looms horizontal, made easy to break down and move. Qashqai are sheepherders in the summer they are always on the move ranging sheep high in the Zagros mountains.
Qashqai Weavers tying knots in the Zagros mountains, Iran
While child labor exists in rug weaving, particularly in India and Pakistan, it's not found in Turkey, Iran, and in high knot count rug weaving, small fingers of children to tie small; fine knots to a degree is non-sense. Child labor rugs are a lower knot count and lower quality high-volume rug production.
It's not just the physical act of tying knots; it's the ability of the weaver to interpret the design and tie rug knots in the proper place. In many places such as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan, weaving is part of their cultural heritage, not just a job. These weavers, like many, are paid weekly based on the progress of weaving.
The photo below is of weavers in Isfahan, Iran in this workshop, they weave a very high knot count carpets this carpet is 800 knots to the sq inch. All of the weavers working on this rug were well-seasoned, experienced, and skilled weavers over 40. It's hard for most to grasp what it means until you sit at such a loom, weave (and I have), and try to tie knots. The carpet in this photo took 5 years to complete by well-seasoned weavers.
Such formal high knot count traditional rugs have fallen out of favor in the west, and combined with the Iranian rug embargo, the future in Iran of such weaving is precarious. It's had to see where this classical rug weaving fits in the twenty-first century
Rugs fresh off a loom look ugly. The pic below is a just-completed rug; it’s face down, but you see from the upturned corner how fuzzy the face looks and, frankly, not very appealing. Rugs undergo a series of treatments to make them appealable.
Here is a picture of the same rug in final finishing, a great deal of time and energy is expended after the oriental rug has been taken off the loom to make the rug more appealing and sellable washing, shearing, and hand detail work to the ends and sides.
In some rug weaving, more labor is expended on the materials and finishing than in the actual weaving of a hand-woven rug.
FAQ- Frequently asked questions.
Are oriental rugs expensive? Considering the time, materials, and labor to make a finished rug, no, I think they are reasonably priced. Used oriental rugs are very affordable, some below the price of new machine-made area rugs.
Are oriental rugs worth money? If you plan to throw away your rugs every few years, no they are not worth it. Good handwoven rugs last a lifetime, I've cleaned a lot of rugs in the last 34 years, and I clean many rugs that are a hundred or more years old. Nothing wears on the floor or performs like a quality handwoven wool rug. If you approach buying a rug as a forever purchase, then they are absolutely worth the money.
Why are they called Oriental rugs? It's from the word Orient a term for everything east of Europe; the Orient and oriental rugs came from the Orient; the name stuck. Oriental rugs vs. Persian rugs. Persian rugs are rugs made in modern-day Iran, Persian rugs are oriental rugs, but not all Oriental rugs are Persian such as rugs made in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Tibet, and China.
Do oriental rugs hold their value? Some do, and others don't. I'm a little pensive with the concept of value and collectability of rugs or, worse "oriental rugs as an investment". I don't recommend rug buying as an investment.
Is rug weaving environmentally friendly? No, high water use and how some chemicals such as dye waste are an issue in some rug weaving countries. However, buying a good quality rug for long-term use as a forever rug is an intelligent money move and upends what I just said about not being environmentally friendly. We clean antique rugs a hundred or more years old all the time. There is nothing more environmentally sound or prudent than a rug that can last on a floor for a century or more. It doesn't matter what kind of floor covering you buy if you are replacing it every five years or so for a new color trend, it's not environmentally friendly, Green certified or not.
I shy people away from rugs based on value yes, some rugs will increase in value, but some will lose value too, kind of like stocks. The real value of oriental rugs is their longevity, performance, color, design, and durability on the floor in your home.
Shopping for a handmade rug in Portland
Tip number one, buy wool, nothing has the performance of good quality wool, not even silk.
Tip number two, stay away from plant fibers, cotton, linen, and Viscose ( rayon, bamboo silk, modal, lyocell); unlike wool, I rarely clean plant fiber rugs over 20 years old, and plant fiber stains and wear easily. Most plant finer living room rugs last 2-5 years, did I mention buy wool?
The rug market and sales have changed over the last two decades, there used to be a high-pressure-gimmicky sales environment that existed, but that's largely gone. Today retailers work collaboratively; no one expects you to walk in and buy a rug; they expect you to look at rugs and samples and ask lots of questions.
The more organized you are walking into a rug shop, the better off you are.
Measure your space; make two measurements the largest possible size rug for the space and the smallest possible size rug for the space.
Gather together photos, fabric samples, and paint samples, and write down any ideas with color and design. Maybe you have seen a picture of a rug in a magazine, paint samples, wallpaper, or whatever it is that intrigues you; put it in a folder and bring it along to the rug shop and sale with the rug salesperson.
Entering a rug store, You will be faced with three basic options buying a rug on the showroom floor, ordering a rug, not in stock from a rug producer, or custom-making your very own rug; let's explore each of these.
-Stock showroom rug. The advantage is what you see is what you get, and you can take the rug home on approval and see how it looks in your space. The downside is you are limited to stock on hand.
-Ordering not in stock. This gives you access to more rug options than what is in stock. You will have to pay the shipping to have the rug shipped to the dealer; depending on the size, this can cost several hundred dollars. There is an inherent color shift that happens in digital and print, as well as a 3-5% in rug color shift in actual rug products. You risk getting a rug that doesn't look the same as in the photo.
-Custom making a rug. The advantage, you have your own design and colors to make a rug, and that rug is unique to you, and there's no other like it. The downside there is a 3-5% color variance in rug production so the rug might be slightly off the desired color. Since it's one-off additional costs are incurred to render the design and production. Getting that custom rug can to several months to a year, so the overall process takes longer.
Rug values and rug pricing
I can't possibly cover the wide variety of pricing in the oriental rug market costs will be determined by materials, weave quality, and country of origin. This becomes complex small things like import-export tariffs. A Nepalese rug imports silk from China Vs. all wool from Nepal drives the cost higher. There was no import tariff on Afghan Carpets shipped directly from Afghanistan; some Afghan rugs shipped through Pakistan paid an import tariff imposed basically the same rug one cost slightly more than the other.
Pricing should be upfront and direct.
Which rug retailer is right for you? It depends on the type of rug, the get-out and visit rug shops, and who you feel comfortable working with.
Portland local rug retailers
Lear more about Renaissance Rug Cleaing Inc