Guide to Oriental Rugs

An Oriental rug can be a long-term investment that pays off in style and function. Be informed before you shop with these rug terms.

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What does handmade mean?

Handmade can mean many things. Price and quality depend on a number of factors.

Hand tufted: A tufted rug is made using a mechanical tufting tool that secures and inserts the yarns in the backing, often canvas. Since the tufted yarns are not securely enclosed by a knot, the backs of these rugs are usually sprayed or painted with adhesives to secure the pile yarn. These rugs cannot be truly called "Oriental rugs."

Hand knotted: In a hand-knotted rug, each yarn is individually tied in a knot by the weaver. Each knot of yarn is tied securely around two or three strands of warp yarn, which is the vertical yarn set up initially on the loom as the basis for the rug that will be woven upon it. This is a completely handmade process, no mechanical tools are used.

A hand-knotted rug will be more expensive than a tufted rug. In addition, a hand-knotted rug made in the crossed style of weaving is more time-consuming and durable (and expensive) than an uncrossed rug.

Shearing: After the rug is woven, overall shearing of the pile is done by hand, to an even depth or to variations of textural depth specified by the designer. Shapes within the overall design are usually incised, cut around carefully by hand to create dimension and clarity of design.

Knot count: This term refers to "knots per square inch." The more detailed and complex the design, and the finer/thinner the wool, the more knots are required for clarity of color and design. High-quality rugs usually range from 50 to 100 knots per inch. Imagine the work that goes into that kind of hand weaving. Knot density will affect the cost of the rug.

Where was the rug made?
You've heard of a Persian rug or a Chinese rug or a Tibetan rug — all of which fall into the Oriental rug category, which covers rugs from China to Vietnam, Turkey to Tibet, and Iran to India. The finest Tibetan rugs are hand-knotted in Nepal and India, often by organizations that employ local families in the rug-making process, says Barbara Jacobs, an artist who designs her own line of rugs.

What is it made of?
Many Oriental rugs are made from wool and/or silk. As the basis and primary material, wool is the most resilient, comfortable and durable material to use in these rugs. To add variations of color, texture and design, silk is often used as a highlight accent. Another interesting and durable material that is used for textural and color variation is the fiber called "Allo" or Himalayan Nettle plant. Oriental rugs often incorporate hand-dyeing and hand-carding as part of the weaving process.

Should I order a rug sight unseen?
Time: As with all custom furnishings, high-quality rugs take time to produce. If you don't find what you want in stock, you can order a rug and expect delivery in about four months, Barbara Jacobs says. Customizing your rug will take longer and will usually carry a surcharge because with each change that is made a new graph or design pattern needs to be made by the manufacturers before starting the rug. Additional fees may also apply when you ask a designer to create custom variations and color specifications.

Strikeoff: This term refers to a sample size rug, made to confirm colors for a custom order. Usually these samples are from 1 foot square to 2 feet square. There is typically a fee for creating the samples, since yarn has to be dyed and the piece has to be woven as if it is a miniature rug. The design on a strikeoff, however, is not of the entire rug but rather of a corner piece or other segment to show yarn types, colors and weaving style.

Pros and cons: Although there is a nominal additional cost, and many weeks added to the production process, you will have an actual piece of rug to see (and keep), that has your custom color selections incorporated in it. This can be particularly helpful if you will be shopping for other furnishings for the same room or adjacent areas.

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