The centuries-old crafts of hand-making rugs
Our rugs are all hand-made, using techniques many of which are over 2,000 years old. The extraordinary and distinctive use of colour and complex designs are only possible through the skilled hand work and craftsmanship that go into them.
Firstly the wool is carded, washed and spun. In the villages of Anatolia, in Central Turkey, and in Iran, women can often be seen in the street, spinning by hand. The quality of the untreated wool sheared from local sheep gives each rug a unique texture and feel - carpets made by nomadic tribes are often woven from wool taken from sheep bred by the weavers themselves. Whilst the vast majority of rugs are made from wool, certain more expensive pieces are woven from fine silk.
Once the wool has been spun into yarn, it is dyed and prepared for weaving. The enormous spectrum of colour in oriental rugs is one of their most attractive and fascinating features. It is an enormously time consuming and complex process to produce such a range of coloured yarns. Traditionally, wool was coloured using vegetable dyes. However, these dyestuffs tend to produce a more subtle effect and for many generations the norm has been to use analine dyes which offer better fastness and more vibrant colours. Modern high-grade dyes retain their basic colour but mellow with age.
Rugs from places like Konya and Shirvan in Turkey are still made with a high percentage of vegetable dyestuffs, but since this adds considerable time and effort to the overall process, it can result in a relatively higher price.
Carpet weaving is often done by women but by no means exclusively so. At Oriental Rugs of Bath, we stock carpets from a range of sources including nomadic tribal pieces, but the majority are made in village workshops, where high standards of manufacture and reasonable working conditions are maintained.
Designs are, in the main, variations on traditional patterns that go back thousands of years. The skilled, time consuming work needed to make them demands a lot of care. The loom is set up with a set of warps - the longitudinal strands of yarn to which the tufts are knotted. Each tuft is attached to the warp by hand-made knots.
Different knotting techniques are used, from the Turkish and Persian knots to the several variants of the Jufti knot. On the one hand you have the single knot as used by the Turkaman weavers of Central Asia, with wefts of equal weight and tension, producing little or no ribbing on the back of the piece, and the double weft, which produces a more durable but heavier ridged construction. The Jufti knot, widely used in India, involves tying one knot on four warp strings as opposed to two. It results in a faster rate of manufacture but a lower quality rug.
When a carpet has been woven and removed from the loom, it has a somewhat raw and crude appearance. In order to give it a good sheen, it needs to be washed. This also removes loose hairs, settles the lie of the pile and helps give the rug its natural lustre. Furthermore, it removes excess dye and assists in defining the appearance of the design. Washing demands a lot of experience and technique and is vital to achieve a high quality rug that will do credit to the care and craftsmanship employed in its weaving.