The history of the Oriental Rug design is like the flow of a river. It adopts and blends with the many countries and cultures it flows through. Each country of culture gives its own touch, variation in finish, colors, drawing and treatment. Once these differences and uniqueness are noted it is easier to identify a rug according to the country of its origin.

The constant movement of the Nomads from one area to another in search of a new pasture for their cattle brought new cultural influences to other areas. When tribes intermarry they blend and adopt new ideas and designs. For example, some of the earliest designs found in the shawls made in Kashmir are also found in shawls from Kerman. This is due to the fact that India was invaded time and again by the Afghans and Turks. Nadir Shah, who captured Persia from the hand of the Afghans in the 1720's, successfully invaded Afghanistan and India. He came back to Persia with the "Peacock Throne", wealth of jewel and fine rugs. The Indo-Herati floral design is an example of a design adaptation.

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From the antiques of Isfahan, Ardebil, and Mongol carpets, down to the pieces that are manufactured today in India, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Romania, the same imagination persists - a flower garden, the open air, life. In antique rugs the field is closely covered and stems, leaves, and tendrils pave the winding paths of multicolored flowers and vines on which the design is formed. The arabesques, panels, corner pieces and figures are all balanced. There is a perfection in detail and composition which adds a special charm to the old rugs.

In later years, a medallion was added to the design bringing a centerpiece therefore the repeat pattern became more unusual. Though, centuries have come and gone, many of the classic patterns are still used. The cone, which has become paisley, the rosette and serrated leaves of the Herati pattern, the growing vine, the rose, carnation, lily, peony, the star like Henna blossoms, the palmette, the pomegranate, the shah abbas and the Minakhani patterns, the turtle, the Chinese knot of destiny with birds, trees and animals are all still used.

Learn about the different symbols used in the making of oriental rugs.

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Rug Producing Countries

The transition from simple lines to geometric to floral of Safavid 15th century design was a gradual shift. No one knows exactly when or where this change occurred. The 15th and 16th centuries in Iran were the golden age of the Persian carpets. In India there are travelers reports of carpet weaving industries in Calicut in the 15th century. A Portuguese trader, Barbosa, wrote in 1518 about the heavy carpets inn Cambay Gujarat. Some of the finest carpets were made from 1580 to 1650, with 2500 knots per square inch, in Kashmir, Agra and Lahore.

The major rug producing countries are Iran, Turkey, Caucasus, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Romania and China. The two types of knots are Turkish knot and the Persian or Senna knot. Both types are used in Iran and Turkey.

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Types of Rugs
There are three types of rugs: Geometric patterns from Turkoman, floral patterns from Persian and carved pattern from China.

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Types of Weave
The earliest form of weave is the dimensional flat weave, where horizontal threads are passed over and under vertical threads. This kind of weaving can be traced back to ancient Egyptian times, before pile weaving began.  There are four types of flat weave rugs: Kilim, Dhurry, Sumakh and Aubusson.

  • Kilim
    The Kilim uses the same type of dye and the same patterns in certain areas. The peculiar characteristics of kilims is due to the primitive form of weaving. The weft wool threads are twisted very firm to give the look of linen. The weft threads do not go beyond the particular figure in the pattern and once it is finished perfectly the rug is exactly the same on both sides. Do to the method of weaving, the design is geometric. The meaning of the word Kilim is "double faced", they are reversible. Persian Kilim is called Gileem and comes in a few different types but the finest of these are the Sehna.
  • Dhurry
    The Dhurry is a flat weave rug made in India and in Afghanistan. Old Dhurries are made of cotton and are tightly woven. These rugs were used in wedding ceremonies and other important occasions. Flat weave was essentially the art. At some point there were rules and regulation concerning the quality of the products were established. The best rugs were made by a limited group which included members of the local authority and other influential people.

    New Durries are made from both cotton and wool. The best ones have five or six ply wool yarn twisted together to make the weft threads. The tighter the weave is, the longer the rug lasts. The lowest quality Dhurries are used as bed covers and underlay for fine rugs. These types of weaves have also been seen in American Indian rugs from Peru.
  • Sumakh
    Sumakhs are flat weaves with design on one side, with loose ends at the back. Sumakhs are hand make pileless carpets from the Caucasus, around the Caspian sea. The design of the Sumakh is like any other rug from the Caucasus, geometric and ornate. The ground is covered with geometric shapes running lengthwese with the occasional star or diamond which, is the knot of destiny. There are many beautiful finished weaves made for tents, bags and saddle bags in this area. The women of the tribes placed a high value on design improvement by filling the spaces with small designs without loosing the overall stability of the main design.

    The closest technique of weaving is found in the Kashmir shawls where the two dimensional fabric is made with the design on one side, leaving the loose threads inside. Because of its similarity in technique and fineness, Sumakhs were also called Kashmir. A long needle with a hook is used to insert the different threads between the warp and weft.
  • Aubusson
    Aubusson is woven in France using the Kilim or slit-tapestry technique. The term is also used to refer to the familiar design of these rugs, which generally feature a floral medallion worked in pastel shades. First flat-weave Aubussons appeared in about 1768. In making the Aubusson, the weaver pulls the colored yarns of weft through neutral-colored warp threads that will make a smooth-surfaced fabric that runs the width of the finished rug. The resulting weave is like the weave employed for tapestries , but heavier and thicker.

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Types of Dyes
There are three types of dye used: vegetable dye, analine dye in 1856 and chrome dye in 1930.

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Types of Fibers
There are three types of fibers used: cotton, wool and silk. The warp and weft are cotton as it is used for the backing of the rugs due to the fact that cotton shrinks evenly when it is washed. The pile in most of the rugs is wool. In the finest carpets silk is used and occasionally metallic threads are used to brocade.

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Oriental Rugs as Art
The manuscript painters were a great source for carpet designs. The tulip design which originated in Turkey evolved from the calligraphers's brush to ceramic forms, into carpets. The collaboration between the Islamic architects and designers and weavers is quite evident. Variety as well as, repetition is the theme in this art form. Compared to the modern artists, the ancient art of rug weaving was mostly anonymous by artists who left the rugs unsigned. Sometimes pieces are signed like the Ardebil Mosque rug signed by Maqsood of Kashan, as a prayer of art dedicated to god and to the Mosque.

Oushak rugs of 15th century Turkey are used in paintings of Lorenzo Lotto and Hans Holbein. From several documentary sources we know that Turkish and Persian rugs were used as table covers, wall hangings, trappings for horses and carriages, alters, pulpit and communion table decorations. They also were used in marriages and funeral rituals. Hungary and Transylvania were influenced by the Ottoman.

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