Updated: Sep 24
Over the past decade, A new look has hit the oriental rug market in recent years. Zero pile is a rug industry term for a hand-woven pile rug with the knap of the carpet reduced to no or almost no pile or knap, hence the term zero pile.
Zero pile rugs, such as the rug to the left, can be new or vintage rugs reworked. These rugs start life as typical oriental rugs having a pile or knap woven like a traditional handmade rug. After weaving, the knap of the rug is reduced or removed post-weaving to give the woven rug an almost flatweave or kilim appearance.
How Are Zero-Pile Rugs Made?
The pic to the right is a workshop in central Turkey specializing in reworking vintage rugs in zero pile. These vintage rugs have little value due to outdated colors, design, wear, or damage. Behind this worker lies piles of vintage rugs imported back to Turkey from Europe and America to be repurposed. These rugs will be reworked in three ways: bleached - washed overdye, or patchwork. First, the pile or knap of a carpet must be taken down as low as possible. In this photo, a vintage Turkish Isparta carpet is being sheared low a shearing machine is used to take the pile down.
You may notice the field of this rug is very low and worn already. This worker concentrates on taking the much less worn border down in pile height. As the machines remove more of the carpet and get closer to the rug's foundation, the greater the possibility the shearing machine can damage the foundation warp, weft, and rug Knotts. This worker is greatly accelerating the wear process through mechanical means. A loss of carpet pile takes decades and happens in an hour or so.
Remember the words wear, damage, and accelerated deterioration; we will come back to this a little later.
Torching, Bleaching And Washing
Fire from blow torches takes the carpet pile down the rest of the way to zero pile height. It takes some experience and skill to know when the rug has reached the right height. Too far and the rug's foundation can be compromised, and too low, and the rug looks uneven. At this point, the rug heads off to washing to remove soot and smoke smell and to be bleached and or overdyed.
Rug Wash Floor
Here, workers wash rugs traditionally to remove soil and smoke smells and prepare rugs for bleaching and dyeing.
This washing process is similar to what a proper-run rug cleaning shop in America would do to a rug. However, some of the cleaning techniques and methods are more aggressive than an American rug cleaning company would use.
Many of these rugs are overdyed and then sold as overdyed vintage rugs. Making a zero- pile rugs is an aggressive process, and carpets get damaged. Damaged rugs that don't make the grade are sent to be made into patchwork rugs. The rug to the right is half a scrap of a room-size Persian Kerman rug. This oriental rug is unsuitable for resale and destined to be cannibalized into a patchwork rug. The original colors have been chemically taken down, and the rug remnant is being over-dyed blue.
Patch Work Rugs
Here, a worker assembles pieces of rugs into a patchwork rug made from vintage oriental carpets. The stitching sits on the rug's surface, and patchwork rugs are very thin.
Are zero pile rugs durable?
No, In the case of new handwoven zero-pile rugs, rug buyers spend thousands of dollars for a rug that in some cases, might last a few years. About 80-90% of the material used in these new rugs is destroyed, cut, and burned off. In reality, rug-buying consumers pay a premium because zero piling a rug requires a lot more labor to make a new worn-out area rug. Think of it as the rug world's version of buying new jeans with holes deliberately put in them.
Often, these rugs have been damaged from the zero pile process and have been repaired in some cases; color touch-ups with chalk, paints, and adhesives are used to help keep rugs together. These hidden and latent issues pop up after use on the floor or during cleaning.
This close-up picture below of a new Zeropile rug shows exposed warps highlighted with red arrows. The knot of the rug has been sheared or burned away, exposing the warp, the knots should be tied around the warps, covering and protecting them, and in return, the warp keeps the knots in place; the knots are gone.
Walking on this rug will cause deterioration, vacuuming this rug will cause deterioration, and cleaning or spot cleaning will cause deterioration to this rug. The blue in the top center is the manufacturer's attempt to hide some of these exposed warps/ damage in this rug.
Are these good or bad rugs? It's an endless debate; however, a rug buyer should consider this look comes at a price, often a hidden price of longevity & durability. One should consider where such a rug will live in their home and if it's appropriate. As a rug cleaner and restorer, I'm not savvy at telling people how to decorate their homes, I'm really good at telling you how to keep your oriental rug looking good and how it will wear.
Zero pile rugs show soil much quicker; without a carpet nap, there's no place for soil to hide so the vacuuming & cleaning that I earlier said will cause deterioration to this rug is what the rug needs to keep looking nice
Our goal is not to stop you from buying such rugs; it's to make sure you have an educated understanding of the performance and limits of such rugs.