With artistic vision, great skill and simple natural materials, people around the globe have been creating rugs that are both practical and precious for centuries. Macco’s Floor Covering Center welcomes you to this world, offering the styles, sizes, colors and price points you need for your décor.
Interior designers love area rugs because they add color and texture to rooms. Rugs help define the boundaries of a space (a conversation area, a welcoming foyer), and can add comfort and quiet. As with other forms of floor covering, current materials and manufacturing innovations have created more choices, and help make beautiful rugs available at affordable cost.
You might find it helpful to organize your understanding of area rug options by thinking first about materials.
Silk, Wool and Silk/Wool Blends – These are the premium materials of rug making. Silk and wool rugs have been known to last for hundreds of years. These materials are associated with handmade Persian and Oriental rugs.
Olefin and Nylon – These synthetic materials produce fibers that look like natural wools, but are more affordable. They have great durability and stain resistant properties.
Cotton – Another natural material, cotton rugs are inexpensive, and absorbent, so they are often the rugs of choice for bathrooms.
The processes by which rugs are made provide another helpful way to categorize rug choices.
Whether produced by hand, or by machine, rugs comprised of attaching strands (or weft) to backing chords (or warp) are considered woven. The weft may be tied to the warp, in which case it is a knotted rug. The number of knots per square inch and the style of knots constitute fascinating worlds unto themselves, and are one of the keys to evaluating and understanding valuable rugs. We’ll cover this in a brief sidebar, but it is a rich topic, of great interest to those with a passion for the subject.
In addition to knotted woven rugs, a system of wrapping the weft onto the warp strands without knotting produces a rug type known as flat weave. Your Macco’s Floor Covering Center associate can show you examples of each of these.
Hand-tufted rugs are produces by passing the wool or acrylic yarn through a backing material, creating a “tuft”. Glue holds the finished tufts in place, and a final cloth backing is added to finish the rug. With sufficient skill and care, this method of rugmaking produces beautiful, intricate and durable rugs. Because these can be produced more quickly than hand-knotting, these rugs can be more affordable. They can be a good choice for high-traffic locations.
Braiding is another popular approach to rug making. Braided rugs can incorporate a range of fabric materials, endless colors, and lend themselves to round and oval finished shapes.
Knotting and dying are both essential elements for understanding and evaluating rug qualities.
Symmetrical Knotting – Also referred to as Turkish, or Ghiorde knots, the symmetrical knot is used in Turkey, the Caucasus and Iran by Turkish and Kurdish artisans. To form this knot, yarn is passed over two neighboring warp strands. Each end of the yarn is then wrapped behind one warp and brought back to the surface in the middle of the two warps, forming a beautiful symmetry.
Asymmetrical Knotting – Also referred to as Persian or Senneh knots, the asymmetrical knot is used in Iran, India, Turkey, Egypt and China. To form this knot, yarn is wrapped around one warp strand and then passed under the neighboring warp strand and brought back to the surface. With this type of knot a finer weave is created.
Knot density refers to the number of knots per square inchor square decimeter in a handmade rug. Knot density is measured in the imperial system in square inches and in the metric system in square decimeters. Every decimeter is equal to 10 centimeters and approximately 4 inches. Knot density is measured by counting the number of knots per linear inch or decimeter along the warp and weft (visible on the backside of the rug) then multiplying the two numbers. Since the two numbers are usually the same, one number can simply be squared. KPSI, (knots per square inch), is sometimes used as an indication of value. The higher the number of knots per square inch, the higher the quality, and thus the price, of the rug.
A rug can consist of 25 to over 1000 knots per square inch. A skillful weaver ties a knot in about ten seconds, meaning 6 knots per minute or 360 knots per hour. At that rate (setting aside breaks and interruptions) the weaver needs 6,480 hours to weave a 9×12-foot rug with a density of 150 knots per square inch. If we divide this number by 8-hour working days, it means it would take one weaver 810 days (approximately two and a half years) to weave such a rug. However, a rug as large as a 9×12 is usually woven in a workshop or master workshop setting by two or three weavers, so the above time can be reduced by half or third. Imagine the time and labor if the knot density is even higher! Handmade rugs are beautiful, functional and exceptional works of art created with great patience, skill and deep pride.
The process of changing the natural color of materials such as wool, silk and cotton is called dyeing. There are two types of dyes: natural dyes and synthetic dyes.
Natural Dyes: the result of plants, animals and minerals.
Until the late nineteenth century only natural dyes were used for coloring weaving yarns. Natural dyes include plant dyes, animal dyes and mineral dyes. Plant dyes come from roots, flowers, leaves, fruit, and the bark of plants. Woad, a plant of the mustard family, and indigo, a bush from the pea family, are used for blue dye. Yellow is produced from saffron, safflower, sumac, turmeric, onionskin, rhubarb, weld, and fustic. Madder has been used since ancient times for reds. Redwood and Brazilwood are also used for reds. Browns and blacks come from catechu dye, oak bark, oak galls, acorn husks, tea, and walnut husks. Henna is used for orange. For green, indigo, over-dyed with any of a variety of yellow dyes, is used.
Some animal sources of dyes include insects such as Cochineal, found on cacti in Mexico; Lac, a wild version of Cochineal, found in India and Iran; and Kermes, found on Oak trees near the Mediterranean. All three produce a range of reds. Kermes was used in Europe, and Lac in Egypt and Persia until Cochineal, the cheapest of all three, gradually took their place. Kermes, the most ancient of all three, has been used even before the 16th century. Mineral dyes come from ocher (yellow, brown, red), limestone or lime (white), manganese (black), cinnabar and lead oxide (red), azurite and lapis lazuli (blue), and malachite (green).
Dyers can yield a variety of colors and shades from a single source, depending on the type of material used, the characteristics of local water, and the use of different mordents. Today, natural dyes are still used in some traditional dye-houses and villages where natural sources are readily accessible.
Synthetic Dyes: the market demands, chemistry responds.
In the mid-nineteenth century, as the demand for handmade rugs increased in the West, production increased in the East. The need for easy-to-use and less expensive dyes with a wider range of colors spurred the development of synthetic dyes in Europe and especially in Germany. Synthetic dyes were soon imported to Persia (Iran), Anatolia (Turkey) and other Eastern countries. The first synthetic dye, Fuchsine (a magenta aniline), was developed in the 1850s. Shortly after, other synthetic aniline dyes followed. Synthetic aniline dyes made from coal tar were brilliant, inexpensive, and easy to use; however, they faded rapidly with exposure to light and water. In 1903 Nasser-e-Din Shah, the Persian king of Qajar Dynasty, banned the use of aniline dyes in Persia (Iran). Persian weavers discontinued the use of synthetic dyes until the modern synthetic chrome dyes were developed in the years between the First and Second World Wars.
Chrome dyes are colorfast; they retain their intensity despite exposure to light and water, and are produced in an infinite variety of attractive colors and shades. Today, chrome synthetic dyes are the predominant source for coloring weaving yarns.
Natural dyes are used in places where they are easily obtainable. But one thing is certain: if you buy an area rug made from natural or synthetic dyes, you can be confident that it will only improve with time. In fact, even rugs made with aniline dyes in the late 19th century are valuable today simply because of their age.