Rug School: A Brief Introduction to Persian and Oriental Rugs

What is an oriental rug?

In order to be classified as an authentic oriental rug, the rug must be hand woven or hand knotted of natural fibers, usually wool, but sometimes cotton or even silk. Depending on the size of the rug it can take several months or even years to complete. An oriental rug's pile makes it unique.

Pazyryk Carpet


Weaving is one of the most ancient arts in the world. The specific origin of rugs are unknown but rug fragments have shown that weaving existed as early as the 5th century BC. Evidence of this is the Pazyrk carpet. In the Summer of 1949 a team of Russian archeologists, led by Sergei Rudenko, opened an ice tomb in a highland valley in the Altai Mountains in Siberia. There, they discovered what was to become the worlds most famous pile rug. Today this rug is kept in the State Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.

Persia became important in rug trading in 16th century because of commerce passing though the famous Silk Road; a 7,000 mile trade route that spanned China, central Asia, North India, and the Parthian and Roman empires.

There are two prevailing theories regarding the origin of Persian rugs: Nomadic peoples providing a means of protection from the elements; and craftsmen creating works of art for decoration.

Geography and Design

We can categorize weavers into three groups:

Nomadic: Typically these rugs are made of wool with few colors, patterns are either geometric or simple, stylized floral design. Horse hair or goat maybe used on these edges, which are usually irregular in shape.

Village: Those who live in agricultural communities are usually female weavers who weave a Persian rug as a supplementary income to their families.

City: Urban rugs are generally woven in large workshop settings with numerous looms, and more than one weaver work per rug. These rugs are the most intricately designed rugs. Up to 50 colors may be used in these rugs.

Designs of a Persian rug are named after the city and the locale in which they were made. Here are five sections of geographical divisions:

Northeastern: Khorasan, Turkaman, Balush, Birjand, Mashhad

Northwestern: Heriz, Tabriz, Serapi

Central: Bakhtiar, Isfahan, Kashan, Lilihan

Western: Bidjar, Kermanshah, Sarouk

Southern: Kerman, Laver, Qashqai, and Khamseh

Persian knot Persian knot

Persian knots
In a Persian knot, the supplementary weft yarn passes behind one wrap yarn, and the two ends emerge on either side of a wrap yarn. The Persian knot is also known as "Senneh" knot. These knots have an asymmetrical structure.

Turkish knots
In a Turkish knot, a weft yarn passes around both wrap threads, and the loose ends are drawn tightly. The Turkish knot is also referred to as the "Giordes" knot. These knots have a symmetrical structure.

Price Factors

There are several factors that contribute to price of a Persian rug.

Knot count
One way to measure quality of the workmanship on a Persian rug is by counting the number of knots per square inch. A rug that has 80 knots per square inch and under is to be consider a course type of rug. Any rug between 80 to 150 is to be considered medium quality. Any rug above 150 is considered a fine carpet.

Quality of wool and cost of materials
There are approximately 1000 breeds of sheep, but only a few types provide the wool used for carpet weaving. The shoulder wool is the longest and most expensive. It provides superior strength, resilience, softness, and durability. Often the wool from different breeds of sheep is blended together to reduce the cost of carpet.

The type of wool used in the rug has a profound effect on durability. A drier wool (market wool) tends to wear out faster and absorb stains more readily. On the other hand wool rich with lanolin, which is oil found naturally in the wool, will last longer, is more resilient, and absorbs the dye better to produce a wider variety in color. It also cleans much easier than a drier wool because the lanolin acts as a repellent; the way oil does with water.

Design has a direct affect on a price of Persian rug. The more complex the design is, the more time will consume to make it. It also requires more highly skilled weavers.

Persian rugs tend to have around 18 to 50 colors. A rug with more color tones will likely cost more than a rug using a few colors. There are three types of dyes used for dying wool yarns. Natural dyes are the oldest and derive from animal or vegetable sources. Natural dyes are very expensive today and are hardly used anymore. Aniline dyes were very acidic and faded in sunlight, and are no longer used. Chrome dyes are synthetic and were developed to give a wider range of color as well as to produce a colorfast products. These modern dyes are bonded to the wool with potassium bicarbonate, which makes the wool resist fading and does not harm the wool.

Cost of Labor
Since Persian rugs are handmade and require several months to weave, cost of labor is the biggest factor in pricing of the rug. Village rugs tend to cost less than city rugs due to cost of living. Similarly, rugs made in different countries have different prices. For instance, a Persian design carpet copied in China is considerably cheaper than the original Persian rug.

Another big factor on pricing the Persian rugs is the age. For example in, 1920's the cost of an 8 X 10 Sarouk rug from Persia was between $300 - $400. The same carpet kept in a good condition today has a value of $15,000 - $20,000.

Hand-knotted rugs are more expensive than any other type of rugs due to the time and skill required to produce them.

Protecting Oriental Rugs

It is always good to use padding between the rug and the floor. A good quality pad reduces the wear and tear on the underside of the rug, makes it almost impossible for the rug to slip and slide beneath your feet, and makes the rug much softer to walk on. When choosing a pad, one must consider several factors such as if furniture will be placed on top of the rug.

Use a high-quality, non-skid, underlay pad if your rug rests on hardwood, tile, or hard-surfaced flooring. This will keep your rug in place and allow the rug to breath. When using rugs over wall-to-wall carpeting your Oriental rug starts wrinkling or bunching up, a special pad can be placed between your rug and the carpeting. This will correct the problem.

Vacuuming the rug once a week will restore life to the rug fibers. When vacuuming the rugs, one must be careful not to vacuum against the nap of the rug because this presses dirt back into the foundation. Avoid vacuuming the fringe unless you are using the floor attachment, not the beater bar; continued catching of the fringe in the suction of a vacuum causes it to break or tear. For best results, always vacuum with low-level suction and use a new bag.

Sweeping and Blotting
Sweeping oriental rugs with a broom is the best way to remove loose dirt. It should be swept at least once a week to help bring out the natural patina in the fiber. To care for rugs that are displayed on walls, simply brush them lightly once or twice a month. Blotting is the best way to prevent a spill from turning into the stain. Always attack spills immediately, using clean towels to blot as much moisture as possible. Begin at the outer edge of the spill and work inward. Never rub the spill because that will make it spread. Solid spills should be scooped up before blotting the area. Whenever you clean a spill, it is essential that you finish the process by brushing the nap back in the direction of the other pile, otherwise, that area will always be noticeable.

Spills of virtually any kind may be removed without permanent stain if they are treated immediately. Particularly in the case of pet urine, be sure to dilute the spill by saturating the area with water. Then, use towels to blot the area. After cleaning is complete, be sure to use a fan to dry the underside of the rug as well as the pile.


Has your rug been cleaned in the past three years? Wool rugs vary due to the amount of traffic received and the location that they are used in. Some need cleaning sooner than others. Remember, lack of proper maintenance will contribute to a potential loss in the value of your investment.

After five years of use, all Oriental wool rugs are ready for professional, thorough deep washing. For special cleaning of a wool rug, send your rug to us. We will clean it on both sides including the fringe. We will moisturize, rejuvenate, and revive the wool. We also inspect your rug for needed repairs and notify you of any damage or problems that you may not have noticed. Learn more about our cleaning services...

Never use standard carpet cleaning companies to clean fine oriental rugs! Commercial methods of cleaning use steam and chemicals that may damage or destroy rugs. Steam will melt and strip essential lanolin from the wool fibers, and dry chemicals will burn the wool and damage the colors. In addition, most of the damaging dirt remains deep in dense wool piles because commercial cleaning companies do not vacuum effectively. The remaining dirt, combined with foot traffic, will causes the rug to wear out from the bottom up.

To insure even wear; the oriental rug should be rotated about once a year. Depending on the traffic, the rotation may vary from six months to two years. You should rotate your rug from sunny areas of the room to the other side of the room to equalize the effect of the sun. Continual exposure to direct or even indirect sunlight can cause fading of the dyes used in your rug.

Moths can cause permanent damage to the rugs. Not only do moths eat the pile, but they also eat the knots on the back of the rug. Moth problems are usually caused when rugs are in damp areas with limited air circulation. Adequate air circulation, elimination of excess moisture, and proper storage are the best safeguards against moth damage.

Before storing an oriental rug be sure that it is moth-free, otherwise, permanent damage can occur to the stored rug. Then select a dry, cool place where you can store the rug, either rolled or flat. If you opt to store the rug rolled, don't leave it rolled for more than a couple of weeks because deep creases may result. If your rug will be stored flat, place it on a piece of plastic large enough to encase the entire rug. Sprinkle the rug with camphor powder and then seal the edges once the plastic is wrapped around the rug.

From time to time, one may wish to move a rugs to another room. If furniture has left indentations on your rug, all you need to do is spray the area with water and lift the crushed pile by brushing it upward. Be sure to end the brushing process in the nap direction of the rug. Use a brush with coarse bristle instead of a fine, sharp-bristled brush so the ends of the pile will be less likely to fray.