There are many things to consider when investing in an Oriental rug, and it’s not always a simple task to choose the best carpet for you. Whatever rug you choose, you are likely to have it, and live with it, for a long time, possibly even passing it down to future generations. That’s why it’s important to feel confident about the choice. Here are some tips and guidelines for judging the quality of any rug.
Look at the fringe. If the fringe is sewn on, the rug is probably machine made. Occasionally, a worn fringe will be replaced with a pre-fabricated one, but typically the fringe is your first clue that a rug may be machine made. Also, the pile, or main fabric of a rug is made of tufts of yarn that have been individually tied into the carpet. These knots can be seen on the back of the rug as small, individual squares. Machine made rugs lack this kind of definition on the back of the rug.
Also, remember that hand tufted rugs are not the same as hand knotted. Hand tufted means that the manufacturer uses a "tufting gun" to shoot a v-shaped piece of yarn into a plastic grid, creating the pattern in the rug. Another version of hand tufting entails a weaver pulling the v-shaped piece of yarn through the warp threads, but not tying a knot in it. Though faster for the manufacturer, this corner-cutting technique makes a rug that lacks the strength and structural integrity of a true hand knotted rug. Avoid hand tufted rugs if you are looking for a long term piece for your home, as hand tufted rugs cannot be repaired.
One of the most important factors in the longevity and beauty of a rug is the quality of the wool. We have found that the best carpet wools in the world come from Iran, which is why Iranian rugs have always been the most sought after rugs in the world.
Wool quality is determined by the breed and diets of the sheep from which the wool is shorn. Minerals in their water can give the wool extra strength and luster. Feel the rug, massaging the wool between your fingers. If it feels strong, supple, and rich, as opposed to dry, harsh, and crisp, then the wool is of good quality. One thing to be particularly careful of is "tabatchi" or dead wool. This is wool shorn from sheep that have already been slaughtered. Tabatchi wool is very brittle, and will wear out in a very short time. Rub your hand firmly over a spot on the surface of the carpet a few times. If you have more than a tiny bit of loose wool fiber, it is a likely that the rug is made of tabatchi wool. These rugs should be avoided if possible, as they will wear to nearly nothing and the rug will lose all its value within a span of just a few years.
The best wool is called "kurk". Kurk comes from the first shearing of lambs between 9 and 14 months old, and only from the neck and under the arms. Kurk has a feel almost like velvet, but is exceptionally strong.
Many dealers try to sell knot count as the only measure of quality. While it’s true that a higher knot count means that the rug took longer to make, there are other factors to consider. Knot counts in rugs can vary from as low as 40 per square inch to as high as 1200. Think of knots as pixels on a screen. The finer the knot count, the higher the resolution of the picture. Therefore, higher knot counts work best for rugs with a great amount of detail. Curvilinear designs need higher knot counts. Geometric designs can often do with far lower counts and still be very high quality pieces.
In Iran, most knot counts are measured in "raj". One raj is the number of warp threads in 7 centimeters. A 30 raj carpet is usually considered "commercial" grade, with somewhere between 120 and 140 knots per square inch. Carpets of 50 raj and higher are considered fine carpets. A 50 raj carpet usually has about 330 knots per square inch. An 80 raj carpet, like our Serafian carpet, has about 900 knots per inch, and is a truly exceptional piece.
An average weaver can tie between 4,000 and 8,000 knots in a day. This means that a 9' X 12' carpet woven at 350 knots per inch (as in many fine Bijar carpets) can take over two years for one weaver to make.
Density related to knot count and affects the longevity of a carpet. The tighter and denser the pile is, the better the rug will withstand wear. Take your fingers and try to wiggle them into the pile. Is it difficult to work them all the way to the bottom of the pile? If so, the carpet is dense and likely to wear well.
Some carpets, particularly tribal pieces, are rare simply because the tribes that weave them are small and nomadic. An example of this is carpets from the Yallameh region in Iran. Woven by members of the Luri tribe, these carpets are fairly rare. The Luri weave most of their rugs on small looms in their homes, so larger pieces can be very hard to find. Another example is Quashquli carpets from the Quasqai region. These exceptionally tight and dense carpets are very rare, and represent an “endangered species” of the rug weaving world.
Look the rug over carefully, front and back. Keep an eye out for repairs, worn places, or other signs of trouble. If a rug has a repair, decide if it is obvious, or if it blends in almost unnoticeably. Turn the rug over and squeeze the back of the rug in several places. If you notice spots that are dry and crackle, they probably have dry-rot from improper drying at some point in the carpet's past. This weakens the foundation of the rug, leading to repairs later on. Avoid any carpet with dry rot, as it has almost no resale value.
Many rugs are chemically washed to fade or soften the colors. The caustic chemicals used to do this also strip the lanolin out of the wool, rendering it brittle and weak. Though the colors of chemically washed rugs may be appealing, the rug will wear out much more quickly. You may see rugs that are labeled as "Tea Washed" or "Herbal Washed". This process entails fading a rug chemically with abrasive chemicals, then soaking the rug in an herbal formula (usually henna or tea) to give the rug an antique patina. Though the colors in these rugs are very much in fashion today, these rugs cannot be expected to last as long as traditionally made rugs.
A safer way to fade the colors of a rug is to put the rug in the sun every day for anywhere from a few days to a few months. Because this is time consuming, few rug importers are willing to commit the time and resources to "sun-washing" their rugs. Most of the true Persian (Iranian) rugs we carry have been sun-faded if they are faded at all.
The term "Glue-back" refers to a type of rug where a layer of glue is placed between the tufting of the rug and either a canvas or cloth backing. While often sold as quality "Hand-made" rugs, there are many problems that this glue can cause over time. Eventually it starts to decompose and a white powder will begin to fall out of the rug. Also, most Glue-backs will eventually "off-gas" a strong latex smell. Furthermore, it is very common that when the glue begins to wear out, the backing will "delaminate" and detach from the body of the rug, making a terrible mess and leaving you with a rug that is best thrown away rather than repaired. Lastly, Gluebacks do not take well to cleaning. Nearly all types of wash have the potential to damage the glue and can cause any or all of the aforementioned problems to occur. For these reasons, we highly recommend avoiding any rugs that are labeled "hand-tufted" or that have a layer of cloth on the back.