Iran is universally known as the birthplace of the hand-knotted rug. The word carpet comes from the Latin tapetum, which in turn derives from the Greek tapis-tapetos, of probable Iranian origin tabseh, tabeh, tabastah, tabidan. Today in Farsi it is indicated with the expression of Arab origin farsh or ghali, from Turk.
The rut was born as an object on which to lie down or sit away from humidity and cold and only later does it become an element of furniture.
What gives a rug value? The fineness and density of the knotting. A square meter of carpet can contain from one hundred thousand to two million knots. Abadeh, Qom, Isfahan, Kashan, Kerman and Tabriz are the most famous Iranian centers in the world for the art of carpet weaving.
The oldest known carpet dates back to 2500 years ago and was found in the Pazyryk valley, in the Altai Mountains, in central Asia, but is originally from Persia.
The largest carpet is Iranian: it is four thousand square meters and is located in the United Arab Emirates.
The peculiar feature of all oriental rugs is hand knotting. The carpet fabric consists of three parts: the warp, the fleece and the weft. The warp is the set of threads, usually of cotton, parallel to each other and arranged vertically between the two ends of the loom. The fleece is the visible surface of the carpet; it is made up of short threads, generally in wool, knotted on the warp. The nodes are lined up in rows across the width, never the length. The weft consists of one or more threads, almost always of cotton, arranged between one row of knots and the next.
The materials used in the knotting of the rug are three: wool, silk and cotton. The wool used is mainly sheep, but camel wool is also very common; the use of goat’s wool is rarer. As far as sheep’s wool is concerned, long fiber is naturally preferred; the qualities also vary from area to area. Khorasan wool is also very popular. The wool that is obtained by combing the sheep’s fleece in the winter and shearing it in the spring is known as kurk, and is of excellent quality. Before being used, the wool must be carefully washed in order to remove all residues of grease; the more it has been washed, the more the dye will give bright and pure colors. Some particularly refined rugs have a silk fleece. Cotton, on the other hand, is used exclusively for the warp and weft threads. In antique rugs these were almost always in wool. In current production, with the exception of the nomadic rugs which are entirely made of wool, the warp and weft are made of cotton.
The dyeing operation is very delicate and is preceded by an alum bath, which acts as a mordant; then the yarn is immersed in the dyeing bath where, depending on the colors, it remains from a few hours to a few days. Finally it is left to dry in the sun. Until the advent of artificial dyes (aniline was discovered in 1856 and the series of its colors arrived in Persia in the last years of the last century), the dyes used by the dyers were exclusively natural, almost all of vegetable origin. The Persian dyers gained considerable fame over the centuries, managing to obtain an inexhaustible series of dyes from vegetable substances. However, when artificial dyes appeared in Persia, they gradually abandoned the tradition, preferring the much cheaper new colors, all this to the detriment of the quality and in the long run also the fame of Persian carpets, as the aniline colors gave tints which did not agree with each other and which, moreover, tended to discolour. Today, with the development of chemistry, while nomads tend to dye exclusively with natural dyes, artisans and large city laboratories use many synthetic chromium dyes that do not have the defects found in aniline colors.
In Persian carpets, what at first glance may seem, depending on the case, a defect or a quality and that instead is only a curious feature often occurs: certain designs or backgrounds, started with a color of a precise shade, then continue with the same color but a slightly different shade, or even another color. This change in nuance in the coloring is called abrash. His presence is a proof that the carpet was dyed with vegetable colors; in fact with these it is very difficult to obtain the same color in two separate dyes.
The frame and tools
As already mentioned, oriental rugs are entirely handmade. The frames can be of two types: horizontal and vertical.
The horizontal loom is simply composed of 2 wooden beams between which the warp threads are stretched lengthwise. During processing these are kept in tension between the 2 beams by 2 sticks, tied to the ends of each beam and planted in the ground. This type of frame is used almost exclusively by nomadic tribes because it is easily transportable.
The fixed vertical frame consists of 2 parallel beams supported by two vertical supports. The warp threads are stretched between the two beams and the knotting of the carpet always starts from the bottom. The weavers work sitting on a wooden support which is raised as the work proceeds. On this type of loom carpets no longer than three meters are usually knotted. Longer carpets can be obtained by rolling up the work performed on the lower beam and stretching the warp threads previously fixed on the upper beam a second time.
The tools used in carpet processing are few and very simple: the knife, the comb and the scissors. the knife is used to cut the threads of the knot and may have a crochet hook at the ends of the blade which is used to make the knot. The comb is used to clamp the weft thread or threads against an alignment of knots.
The flat and wide scissors are used to trim the fleece of the rug.
It must be kept in mind that the rug is almost always born (with the exception of some nomadic manufactures) from a precise project prepared by specialized personnel who creates the design on a millimeter paperboard in which each square corresponds to a knot. The carton is placed on the frame in front of the eyes it has to make the knot.
Hand knotting is the essential feature of all oriental rugs. The nodes used are of two types: Ghiordes o turkibaft e Senneh o farsibaft .
Il turkibaft or Turkish or symmetrical node, it is used mainly in Turkey and the Caucasus and in the neighboring Iranian regions (Azarbaijan East and West).
Il farsibaft or Persian or asymmetrical knot, is used predominantly in Persia.
The manufacture of the carpet always starts from the underside. A certain number of weft threads are passed over the vertically stretched warp threads in order to create a robust margin that always keeps the carpet intact, avoiding fraying and loosening of knots. The knotting of the fleece wool threads on the warp threads then begins. Each wool thread is fixed on two contiguous warp threads, according to the two main techniques, knot turkibaft and knot farsibaft. It is evident that the cost of a rug depends on the time taken to manufacture it and the number of knots it contains.
This is why crafty and hasty artisans knot fraudulently. For example, the practice of the so-called “double knot”, called jofti in which the wool thread, instead of being knotted on two warp threads, is knotted on four. This technique has the effect of diminishing the value of the carpet and even worse, of making the pile of the fleece less dense and the design and decorative motifs less precise and defined. All the knotting work is done by hand by very trained and fast weavers. On average, a good worker performs from ten thousand to a maximum of fourteen thousand knots per day. A truly immense job: just think that to make a rug of medium quality (with a density of 2500 knots per square decimeter) and measuring two meters by three, it takes a good five working months at the rate of ten thousand knots a day.
Oriental rugs, depending on their design, can be divided into two large groups: geometric-patterned rugs and curvilinear-patterned rugs, known as floral rugs.
Geometric pattern rugs
All carpets decorated with linear elements composed of vertical, horizontal and oblique lines belong to this group. The whole design is often formed by the repetition of the same motif. Geometric patterned carpets are mostly those knotted by nomadic tribes, but geometric pattern is also used in some villages where carpet pattern has remained more primitive. The first rugs were in fact with geometric designs, while the first examples with floral design date back only to the beginning of the sixteenth century. The motifs of the geometric rugs are practically handed down by heart.
Curvilinear or floral pattern rugs
The beginning of the Safavid dynasty also coincides with the rise of the real handicraft of oriental rugs. In fact, the rugs knotted by nomads and peasants could not satisfy the refined taste of the Safavid rulers. Thus the first craft centers were born where floral design carpets were knotted which in a few years conferred further prestige to Islamic art. The major difference between nomadic and artisanal processing consists in the function performed by the master draftsman. In fact, while the designs of the nomadic carpets are handed down by heart or spring from the imagination of the person who makes the carpet, the design of the floral carpet is performed on a cardboard and meticulously reproduced by the artisans involved in knotting. In this case the artistic merit must be attributed to the master who designed and colored the cartoon.