Are Silk Rugs Worth The Money?
For centuries silk oriental rugs have represented wealth and luxury. By the mid-20th century, Silk carpets were not beyond the grasp of the average rug aficionado. Today silk rugs and floor coverings are just another options for would-be rug buyers to ponder with some special considerations and price.
Silk cultivation dates back to China in the Neolithic (Yangshao culture, 4th millennium BC). Silk has been woven into tapestries, rugs, and fine fabrics, for over 4,000 years.
It's unclear when silk was introduced to Persia/ Iran by the 6th century; silk rug weaving had been well established in Persia, Turkey, and India and traded throughout the world.
The process of raising silk is long and labor-intensive. Silk is a protein fiber made by the Mulberry silkworm Bombyx Mori; the silkworm larvae make a silk cocoon. The cocoon is harvested to make silk fiber; each cocoon must be soaked in hot water and manually unspun. Before the 20th century, it was very hand-labor intensive work.
Raising silk and processing the fiber is a singular specialized skill requiring specific conditions for food and yielding only one product, silk cocoons. In contrast to wool carpets, sheep were raised for fleece, milk, and meat were ranged to pasture with minimal effort.
Since silk is highly specialized, its cost is much higher than other fibers such as wool.
Why are silk rugs so expensive?
Where Are Silk Area Rugs Made?
In China, India, modern-day Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, most rug-weaving cultures made silk rugs by the turn of the 20th century.
In rug production, silk is also raised in these countries. In Iran, most silk production is in the northeast, and in Afghanistan in the northern part of the country. Traditionally silk was reserved for higher knot count rugs; by the 20th century, silk was used for rugs of moderate knot count.
Around this time, We see the rise of silk highlights in wool rugs to contrast and highlight design elements.
Rise of fake silk Viscose Rayon
In 1844 John Mercer invented the mercerizing process for cotton by treating cotton with strong caustic solution cotton took on a similar look to silk but not precisely.
In the 1890s, art silk or "artificial silk" was developed; later, it was rebranded to Viscose and Rayon. Viscose better approximates real silk in look and feel in the mid-20th century, giving rise to fake silk rugs.
Viscose was a much cheaper alternative to the expensive labor-intensive natural silk. It didn't take long for unscrupulous rug merchants to cash in, selling Viscose rugs as "real silk" rugs.
This silk rug fraud sometimes follows its way up the production chain. I've known cases where the issue was the silk fiber broker and points where the dealer was the source of the rug fraud.
What is the difference between Bamboo silk rugs, Banana silk rugs? The only difference between the two is the feedstock of fiber used to make Rayon/ viscose both are the same end fiber.
How can I tell if my rug is real natural silk?
The easy way is to take a small piece of yarn and burn it. Real silk is a protein fiber; it smells like burning hair when it's burnt. In contrast, when Viscose or mercerized cotton is burned, it smells like burning paper.
Fake silk rugs (viscose- Rayon) made in China to look like Turkish silk rugs
Viscose is used in wound care products for its superior absorption of liquids such as blood.
Best silk rugs
The best silk rugs are woven in Iran, or silk Persian rugs as they are often called. Laws exist to reduce fraud in producing silk carpets in Iran and to a lesser extent in Turkey.
Fraud can still happen; in these two countries, but buying an Iranian rug made with fake silk is much less common than in Turkey.
The issue in Turkey isn't just genuine silk; it is authentic handwoven Turkish silk rugs. Increasingly, rugs are imported from Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan and sold as Turkish Hereke silk rugs and Kayseri silk rugs. During my last two travels to Turkey, rug shops were an uncomfortable percentage of fake silk rugs and wool rugs made outside Turkey, sold as Turkish rugs.
Even worse, very finely made machine-woven rugs made with viscose-rayon are being sold as hand-made Turkish silk rugs. For Turkish rug merchants, China is the primary source of fake silk viscose rugs. China makes real silk and viscose rugs in the same workshops. To compound the issue, in some shops, the rug is a real silk rug, but it's made in China, not Turkey.
Are silk rugs durable?
You may have heard that a silk fiber is stronger than a comparable steel wire, and this is true, but this isn't a complete picture of silk as a floor-covering option. While silk is very strong, it's also fragile in many respects relative to wool.
Silk fibers are soft and are easily abrade from soil and foot traffic much more than wool. As such, silk develops permanent wear and soil patterns much more quickly than many other fibers. Silk Oriental rugs need to be cleaned more promptly than wool hand-woven rugs.
Silk is hollow and absorbs soil and stains, so it's often harder to remove them from silk rugs. Silk is harder to dye, and the hollow fiber is prone to hold unstable dyes, so dye bleed is always a concern with silk carpets.
Ironically this is also true with viscose rayon; these soft fibers have poor performance in moderate to heavy floor use; wool is far superior. If you still desire a silk rug, consider one as a wall hanging or in a low-traffic area in your home.
Most silk rugs can be cleaned like wool oriental carpets by professional rug cleaners. There are some special considerations with color bleed and possible damage when cleaners use carpet cleaning equipment to clean silk, steam cleaning, floor scrubbers should not be used. It's best to make sure a cleaning service understands silk rugs and has experience handing fine Persian silk rugs.
How To Buy A Real Silk Rug
You are set on owning an authentic handwoven silk rug. How do you ensure you aren't taken advantage of or have the carpet pulled from under your feet, so to speak?
Do some homework and do a Google search on silk carpets
Seek out reputable rug retailers one good resource is the Oriental Rug Retailers Association ORRA. ORRA has a list of good-standing members selling rugs.
Always seek a second or even a third opinion. Ask local experts, such as knowledgeable local resources like Renaissance Rug Cleaning Inc. We have nearly 35 years of experience and can verify the rug is silk, country of origin, and condition of the rug. We do this frequently for would-be rug buyers, free of charge. Our expert eyes often spot repairs or hidden damage that could spell big problems down the road with your high-dollar rug purchase.
Warning signs to look for when buying silk rugs or handwoven carpets.
The price is too good to be true. A high-quality, high knot count silk rug costs over 300 per sq ft., so a person offering you one 50 -75.00 sq ft. is too good to be true.
Online rug sales outside the country are ripe for fraud. That doesn't mean all sales are fraudulent, but it's more common with this type of rug buying. If the rug isn't what you expected, then you are stuck.
Photos of rugs for sale are of poor quality, or the color adjustment looks wrong. This is used to hide flaws, damage, defects, and rugs with undesirable colors.
Tie-in sales provision "pay for the rug, try it at home, if you don't like it bring it back for store credit" This is a way to lock you into buying a rug. It's unethical; our advice is to run!
A seller-generated rug "appraisal" or "certificate of authenticity" are often not worth the paper they are written on, and it's a conflict of interest.
Authentic silk rugs are expensive; a real Turkish Hereke 3x5 can range from three to eight thousand dollars. Are you getting a real Hereke, a Chinese copy, or a machine-made rug viscose rug?
My advice, unless you know rugs really well and how to tell real silk from fake, is don't buy expensive silk rugs abroad. Instead, visit a reputable local rug retailer.
Back your buying by seeking out rug experts like Renaissance Rug Cleaning to help make sure you are getting the real deal and not a fake or forgery.