Trivia of Persian Carpets





The History of Persian Carpet

The origin of carpets was hand-knotted rugs which were created by nomads who took care of sheep. They previously used animal skin or fur as rugs or for clothes. As time went on, they clipped wool from sheep and they were able to make a kind of felt rug. By spinning wool into yarn, they enabled themselves to weave plain fabrics and later hand-woven pile carpets. In those early days, the size of the carpets was relatively small and even now nomads rarely weave larger carpets. When they became town dwellers, they started to make larger ones. The Russian explorer Rudenko discovered the earliest existing carpet, which is now kept in the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, in Russia. He found it at the grave of a Scythian prince in Pazyryk, which is located in the Altai Mountains, approximately 80 kilometers from Outer Mongolia. This Pazyryk carpet is 200 X 183cm large, woven 36 knots per square centimeter. Rudenko estimated it was made during the Achaemenid dynasty to cover horses.

No rough drafts of these patterns were made in the beginning. Most patterns were geometric and traditionally handed down from father to son. Craftsmen who settled in cities began using curvilinear lines in carpet. Sophisticated and complex curvilinear lines developed extensively in the 15th century. Prior to making carpets, rough outlines were drawn. The Ardabil carpet (Il52X543cm, produced in 1540), which is now displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, shows advanced weaving techniques at the zenith of their development. With increasing demand from the Royal families and nobles, weavers began to make carpets woven of not only wool but also silk yarns. Furthermore, Persian carpets were used as the most luxurious gift among the nobility. At Kyoto's Gion festival in Japan, Hoko, the giant floats, have been decorated with Persian carpets since the 17th Century. During the Safavid dynasty, many court workshops were established by order of the king.

Many carpets were made for the Royal family or were special orders from other coun'tries, Persian carpets, rugs and other works of art reached the height of prosperity in those days.

The export of a large number of the carpets to Europe also started in the middle of the 19th Century. In the Nasser Al-Din Shah period of the Qajar dynasty, many Persian carpets were exported to Europe. Because of the strong influence of capitalism and commercialism, weavers tended to emphasize the mass production of carpets. Due to the wide use of chemical dye, the use of traditional vegetable dye decreased, and greater importance was attached to the carpets appearance rather than quality. But during the second half of the 20th century, this trend was somewhat reversed as some workshops embarked on the revival and development of traditional techniques and designs.

The Pazyryk Carpet
B.C.5〜B.C.4C Hermitage Museum

The Ardabil Carpet
Collection of Victoria and Albert Museum

Characteristics of Persian Carpets and Rugs

1. Materials

There are two types. One is piled RUGS (known as carpets) and the other is non-piled rugs ( known as gelims or kilims ), which have been woven for a long time. Piled rugs are far outnumbered by non-piled rugs. The component of pile rugs are warps, piles and wefts.

The warps account for 12-15% of the total yarn which is used in a carpet. The warp threads are normally made of cotton, wool or silk. Depending on areas or tribes, different materials are used, nomads using mostly wool. Nomads have decreased in numbers; they are currently about 1% of Iran's population (700,000). Wool is used among settled weavers as well, but using wool as the warp is rarely seen in Iranian hand-woven carpets. More than 80% of Persian carpets use cotton for the warp. When the silk is used as the pile, it is also used for the warp. The Esfahan region is famous for its very high density carpets using silk as warps.

(2) Pile
Pile is the face of carpets and accounts for 70-75% of the yarn which is used in a carpet. The pile is usually made of wool or silk. Wool carpets are made of wool pile threads, and silk carpets are made of silk pile threads. Silk contains 12% moisture and wool contains 18% moisture. Moist textiles do not crackle with static electricity so that a carpet does not easily get dirty. Therefore, those carpets are very healthy products. In Iran, 96% of woven carpets are wool carpets and the rest are silk. Until fifty years ago, most silk carpets were woven in the Kashan region. Now the Qom region is the most renowned for its production of silk

(3) Weft
The weft accounts for 15-18% of the yarn which is used in a carpet. The weft is normally made of cotton. Silk is sometimes used in silk carpets, but wool for the weft is very rare.

2. The Structure of Carpets

The following explanation is how to weave Persian carpets. First, a weaver makes a plain weave with the warp and the weft (figur1), then knots a pile thread around two warps in one line according, to the design. After knotting piles, the weaver play at cat's cradle, threading wefts and beating them with a special metallic reed. Two wefts are commonly used per one line of pile. One weft is thick and the other is thin. It is different depending on the region; some places thread more than one or two wefts. Mostly two wefts are threaded. There are also regional differences in the way of knotting piles . We can classify two major types of knots. One region knots symmetrically using hooks, and the other region knots asymmetrically without using hooks. In general, the symmetrical knot is called a Turkish knot and the asymmetrical knot is caned a Persian knot.

Structural drawing of pile carpets

Symmetrical Knot

Asymmetrical knot (Knot: left open)

Asymmetrical knot (right-handed knot)

3. Dyeing of Pile threads

colordye stuff
blue/navy blueindigo and opopanax
dark greenindigo and opopanax
light greenindigo and pomegranate skins
yellow/light yellowpomegranate skins
dark/brownwalnut husk
beigewalnut husk

The Iranian Plateau is surrounded with a great variety of plants which are suitable for dyeing yarns for carpets. The following are commonly used plants:

Aniline dyes were introduced into Iran from Europe towards the end of the 19th century Although the use of vegetable dyes has diminished it has been restored in the last twenty years.

4. The Looms

Horizontal Loom

It consists of four wooden pieces forming a rectangular Frame, all fixed w'th pegs. Warp threads are stretched parallel to the ground. The nomadic people use this loom because it is easy to set up.

Vertical Loom

They are generally more permanent structures with vertically stretched warp threads. They are easier to use for weaving and larger carpets can be woven on them. This loom is used by many except the nomads in Iran.

5. Physical Reasons Why Iranian Handwoven Carpets and Rugs are Long Lasting

  1. (1) The climate in the Iranian Plateau is ideal for the production of wool. The Iranian wool has thicker fibers than Australian or New Zealand wools. When stepping on or pressing down a carpet, the face of the carpet can be restored as it was before. Thus, Iranian wool is suited as material for carpet making.
  2. (2) Iran is rich in the materials and the ingredients of vegetable dyes. Wool and silk are produced ir+ large quantities. Plants and organic substances are in abundance.
  3. (3) Iranians themselves are the major consumers of Persian carpets. They commonly have been considered as trousseaux (bride's outfits) in Iran. The carpets have comparable value to land or money. Many Iranians purchase Persian carpets as good investments.
  4. (4) The older a Persian carpet gets, the more its commercial value increases. The well-used carpet improves its colors, and the wool becomes softer and improves its luster. Antique Persian carpets are very popular, particularly among European collectors.
  5. (5) Distinctive hand-weaving techniques cannot be imitated by machine.
  6. (ⅰ) Pile threads cannot be knotted with the warp by machine weaving. In the machine-made carpet, a V-letter-pile thread is usually placed on the top of the warp. To prevent losing the pile thread, synthetic glue is often put on the back of the carpets.
  7. (ii) Two wefts can be threaded to a line of the pile thread and fully beaten on a hand-woven carpet. Therefore, the weavers can make highly dense carpets.
  8. (iii) By way of example, current techniques of the Jacquard machine can utilize only limited colors of threads, whereas hand-woven carpets can use any amount of colors.
  9. (iv) In hand weaving, artists are able to creat their own designs, thereby creating more artistic and valuable works.

A Guide for Choosing the Right Carpet

  1. 1. Make sure that the materials in the pile, the warp and the weft are natural, particularly the weft which is unseen. Make sure the carpet is genuine. Until the 19th century, hand- spun yarns were used for carpet making, but currently machine-spun yarns are being used.
  2. 2. Choose an authentically dyed carpet. Vegetable dyes were the mainstream until the 19th century. Most yarns are dyed by chemicals now. Dye stuff makers specify the way of dyeing. If the yarns are not dyed as they should be, the carpet may lack the fastness of color. Therefore, ask advice of a reliable expert.
  3. 3. Select a properly-knotted carpet. Don't decide merely by a carpet’s density of knots. Materials and the density of knots may vary by region and by weaver. When selecting a carpet, it's more important to check the traditional techniques used, the weaving patterns and the origin of the raw materials.
  4. 4. Designs and Coloration
    Patterns and the tone of colors are up to individual taste. Originality is important. Persian carpets have a long history of outstanding designs and colorations that were born in different ethnic environments and culture. For that reason, Persian carpets have been highly regarded as superlative art works. If a carpet was woven in a different country by imitating designs and coloration of Iranian carpets, the carpet would not be an original carpet.

Please bear the above in mind when buying artistic Persian carpets.

The Maintenance of Persian Carpets and Rugs

  1. 1. Air the carpet in the shade once every few months.
  2. 2. Regular vacuum-cleaning is sufficient to keep its beauty.
  3. 3. When storing a carpet for a long time, you should use a moth repellent or naphthalene, roll up the carpet and store in a dry place.
  4. 4. Change the position of the carpet yearly to minimize the effects of sunlight, thereby, maintaining its uniform gloss.
  5. 5. If you do not step on the carpet with shoes, there is no need for professional cleaning for 10--15 years. If necessary, have your carpet cleaned professionally. * Small wool carpets are washable at home. Put your carpet on the level floor and hose with‘cold water. Use a neutral detergent, and brush along the pile's direction with a brush. Put cold water on both the face and the back of the carpet until dirty water does not come out. Drain the water off the carpet and dry both sides. Make sure your carpet is completely dry. It is better to clean your carpet when warm weather is likely to continue.
  6. 6. If a carpet is used for a long time, the fringe may become worn or the hem of the threads may fall off. Do not sew new threads on the fringe when repairing. Better mend the damaged fringe by extending the warps.
    Be careful not to unravel the fringe.
  7. 7. Persian carpets can be used for about 100-200 years, depending on their quality and origin. Unlike synthetic fibers, wool carpets do not catch fire easily. In case of fire extinguish immediately and clean the singed part. The mark seldom remains.
  8. 8. The fibers of the carpet may become feeble, or rot, if you place a heavy desk, a sofa or a shelf on it for a long period of time in a humid house. If there is a hole in the carpet, consult a repair shop specializing in Persian carpets.