No one knows exactly when or where the first hand-knotted oriental rug was woven. The oldest example was found in southern Siberia, and is approximately 2,500 years old.
For years Persia (Iran) was the largest producer of hand-made orientals. The different designs and weaves can be identified to the town or village where the rug was woven. India, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Romania, and other countries also produced hand made rugs in smaller quantities.
Crusaders who traveled to the Middle East during the AD 1100’s and 1200’s brought rugs back to Europe. In the 1200’s, Spain became the first European country to produce rugs. England started making pile rugs in the 1500’s. In the 1600’s, France began to make a style of rug called the savonnerie, which had a deep pile.
During the 1700’S, England was the centre of the European carpet and rug industry. An English inventor named Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom in the 1780’s. The first carpet mill in the United States was established in Philadelphia in 1791.
Oriental rugs are considered valuable because they have intricate designs and take a long time to weave. The value of an Oriental rug depends upon the size and closeness of the weave. Tightly woven rugs cost the most because they have the greatest durability.
An Oriental rug, is not as perfect as a mass produced rug. The size and shape may not be exact, and the color in various areas may differ slightly. Such characteristics, rather than being considered imperfections, are regarded as evidence that the rug is an Oriental.
The three materials used most commonly in the weaving of oriental rugs are wool, cotton, and silk. The majority of Oriental rugs are woven using wool for the pile. The warp and weft threads of most rugs woven in Iran, China, India, and Pakistan are cotton. Silk rugs are mostly woven in Iran and China.
There are three types of dyes used in the dyeing of wool for Oriental rugs. They are natural dyes, aniline dyes, and chrome dyes. Natural dyes are expensive and difficult to match dye lots.
Aniline dyes are easier to match but they are strongly acidic, which destroys the natural oils of the wool. Chrome dyes are easy to use and cheaper, and they do not destroy the oils in the wool. These dyes are now the most commonly used.
Oriental rugs must be pre-inspected prior to cleaning. All hand made oriental rugs are knotted on a webbing, formed by the warp and weft threads. Warp threads run vertically through the rug, and during the weaving process, are attached to the top and bottom of the loom. A strand of wool is tied around a pair of warp threads, forming a knot. The loose ends of these knots make up the pile or body of the rug.
Weft threads run horizontally through the rug, and are used to secure the knots. The fringe of a genuine oriental rug is an extension of the rug’s warp threads. The manner in which the fringes are finished vary from one weaving center to another.