The Persian rug has a long history of prestige, which dates back almost 3,500 years. The first rug ever found was in 529 BC. By its degree of skill required to make and its sophistication, it’s believed that the skill of carpet weaving must have been around 1,000 years old. They were first made for personal use with designs meant to represent small villages or tribes. The skill of carpet weaving was passed down from generation to generation becoming culturally significant to the Persian people, or modern day Iranians. It wasn’t until a few centuries after its inception that the Persian rug became what is now known to be, a great artistic achievement. Their beauty dazzled kings and Emperors, and the Persian rug quickly became a symbol of elegance and wealth throughout the Persian Empire. Today it’s considered to be finest of all hand-woven rugs in the world and it’s still almost exclusively produced in Iran and its neighboring countries.
A Brief History of Persian Rugs
The Persian rug was initially made for the homes of tribesmen in order to cover their feet from the cold and damp, but it quickly became an art form that was appreciated by all those who saw it. The first ever-documented account of the existence of Persians rugs was found in ancient Chinese texts. Moreover, Persian rugs were mentioned in many Greek texts and stories during the same period, often commenting on their elegance and worth. The carpets have been known to be a spoil of war ever since they were introduced. The most famous example of this would be the looting of the “Spring of Khosrow.” This ancient Persian carpet was taken after the sacking of Ctesiphon in 637 AD; it was cut up in small pieces and distributed to the troops. This carpet is considered to be one of the most magnificent and important ever made.
Much like the Medici family financed artists during the Renaissance, the nobility and courts of the Persian Empire funded the production of carpets. It’s important to note that this mainly occurred when the ruler of the Persian Empire was friendly to artists. When the ruler wasn’t friendly to them, they weren’t given the proper resources to practice their art. Furthermore, during times of war, the production of carpets wasn’t a priority for the ruling class. However, it’s remarkable how the skill was never lost even though there were periods when it would have been very possible.
The Mongol domination of the Persian people was quite devastating for carpet makers, as the Mongols did not care for Persian carpets. However, the skill was kept alive by nomadic tribes who continued to produce them.
The introduction of new cultures and practices to the Persian Empire by way of conquering or being conquered brought about new techniques and artistic value to carpet making. A good example is the Turkish knot. When a Turkish tribe conquered Persia, the Turkish women of that tribe introduced carpet makers to their technique of making knots. This technique is still widely used today.
The 16th century AD is thought to be the golden age of carpet making in Persia. The Persian ruler of the time encouraged trade with Europe and used the money he made to build workshops where the most talented carpet makers could work. This allowed artists to truly master the skill and teach it to others.
Today, carpet weaving is a thriving business in Iran. Their carpets are renowned for their quality and exceptional taste. They can be found in homes, mansions, and museums all over the world and to whomever they belong, they are surly to be one of their most prized possessions.
What Are Persian Rugs Made From?
Wool is the most common material in handmade carpet weaving due to its softness and durability; it’s also inexpensive in Iran because of its prevalence as a natural resource. Sheep wool is the most used type of wool because it’s much easier to dye when compared to others, like camel wool or goat wool. The highest quality wool comes from colder climates in high altitudes, which for Iran, is there mountainous area. Sometimes Iranians import wool from other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, as they also produce high quality wool. Some claim that for a Persian rug to be authentic, the materials used must come from Iran.
Silk is also used in the creation of rugs, but it’s less common because of its price. Moreover, silk isn’t as durable as wool. Carpets that are made with silk should be hanged as a decoration as done here or put on the floor where there is little traffic, so they won’t ruin. On some carpets, silk is also used as a tool to highlight designs and patterns. One should know that a silk rug is never to be cleaned at home, as it can quickly be ruined. Instead, it should be taken to a professional who specialize in Persian rugs.
There are two types of dyes used in the making of Persian Rugs, natural and chemical. Today there is a debate among carpet makers and buyers as to which type of dye is best. Natural dyes give a Persian carpet a more traditional look and are known to be more durable than chemical dyes. On the other hand, chemical dyes can be used to create colors natural dyes simply can’t.
Natural dyes are often called vegetable dyes because most natural dyes are made from vegetables. It’s a technique that’s been used for centuries. Long ago they discovered that combining dyed wool creates new colors. For example, there is no vegetable that can be used to make green dye. To dye a piece of wool or silk green, they first dye it blue, followed by yellow. The process for making vegetable dyes is essentially the same as it was centuries ago, but adapted for the modern age.
Chemical dyes were introduced between the first and second world wars. They can be made into virtually any color and are very easy to make. Modern technology has made the use of chemical dyes extremely reliable, however they can be distinguished from natural dyes. That is not to say that chemical dyes are inferior to natural dyes, it depends on what you look for in a carpet.
How They’re Made
Today Persian rugs can be made using automated machinery, but the most sought after rugs are those made using the old technique, handcrafting.
The first step in creating a handcrafted rug is making the foundation. The foundation is the underlying structure on which the rug will be made. It’s made up of the warps and wefts. The warp is the vertical strands that go up and down the rug. The warp is essential because the knots of the rug will be tied to it.
The weft is passed horizontally through the rug in order to keep the knots in place. It’s used to compact the rows of knots, which creates a tight structure.
Once the foundation is made, it’s time to recreate the design made by the artist onto the rug, which is done by creating knots. An artist will use a small design plate to create the design for the rug. The designs are almost exclusively made by hand. Although during their creation, most rugs come with a design to be followed; certain rug designs are made using only imagination.
The knots are then hand-tied to the warp strings. Knot density, which refers to the number of knots per square inch or square meter, is very important. A Persian rug is considered more valuable when it has a high knot density. However, this isn’t always true. Rugs that are made by tribes are not held to the same standards because they don’t have access to the same tools and materials as those in the city. Another important factor in the making of the carpets is the knot type used. There are several different types of knots used; each range in level of difficulty and are usually specific to a certain region.
Once the knotting of the rug is complete, the rug must be shaved and clipped to create the desired form and texture. At this point, the rug is uneven with strings everywhere. The rug must also be thoroughly washed to ensure that there is no excess dye. This process is repeated several times.
The final step is to inspect for quality and add the fringe. During the wash, it happens that the rug shrinks in size, but this happens rarely. To verify, they put the rug over what is called a “blocking” device, which has the desired length of the carpet. If the rug passes inspection, then they add the fringes. The fringes are manually sewed to the carpet.
Tools Used During The Process
Making a Persian rug is a very labour intensive job, which requires specially created tools to make the process more efficient. The comb is used during the knotting stage. The comb is very sturdy with metal rods; it resembles a comb used for hair. It’s used to press the knots in place before a new row is started. The hook is a tool that resembles a knife, but has a very narrow tip. Imagine a very sharp butter knife except with the addition of a small hook. It’s used to separate warp strands, pulling yarn, and cutting yarn. Special scissors are required to cut the strings. These scissors need to be sturdy and sharp to ensure a clean cut. A design plate is a reference for creating the rugs. It’s made on grid paper by artists, then replicated on the carpet.
The two most widely used tools for the actual creation of the rug is the vertical loom and horizontal loom. The vertical loom is more complicated than the horizontal loom. It’s mainly used in small villages and workshops. The horizontal loom is much more simple, and it has the added benefit of being easily dismantled. It’s for this reason that nomads mainly use them. However, using a horizontal loom does come with certain restrictions, with the biggest being that larger rugs can’t be made with it.
The Different Types of Persian Rugs
They are not all the same; there are several different types because different regions make them according to their respective traditions. The tribal cities in Iran are sometimes culturally different and they have access to different materials and tools, which is why there are such a wide range of types.
Ghom (Qum) rugs are named after the holy city of Qum. They have a reputation for using the finest silk with a very high knot density. In some cases, even the weft is made of silk. A Qum carpet often has designs inspired by nature. Common designs are: flowers, gardens, animals, hunting scenes, and medallions. The colors found in these carpets are varied, but it’s almost certain that you’ll find some turquoise in them.
Nain rugs come from the small town of Nain. The carpets produced in this region are known to have very high quality wool. They are known for their fine patterns and beautiful depictions of animals and plants. Branches with flowers are often found in the design of these carpets.
Rugs from the old Persian capital of Isfahan were the first to be recognized by the Western world. They are very similar to Nain carpets. These carpets were often offered as gifts to the leaders of Western countries.
The three carpets mentioned are just a few of the dozens of different types of rugs that can be found. Each small town and tribe in Iran has different ways of making carpets, which is why there are so many. Nonetheless, Persian rugs can be similar, but it’s the artistic value added by different regions that creates the different variations.
How to Interpret Persian Rugs
By understanding the meanings of Persian rug patterns and designs, you’ll be able to interpret them and understand what the weaver wanted to share. They are an art form for those who make them and it’s important to understand what they represent in order to fully appreciate them. No two hand crafted carpets are the same and their meanings also differ.
Most carpet designers believe that God is watching them when they are in the process of creating, which is why you’ll often find religious symbols and motifs. The star is the symbol for spirituality and good luck. It’s one of the most common symbols you can find in carpets; they can be found in many regional types.
A hand represents a prayer rug, the cross is for faith, an iris is for spiritual liberty, and the tree represents a direct path to heaven. These are just some of the many symbols associated with religion.
Animal depictions are quite important as well, as they have several different meanings. A dog is a symbol for trust, defense, and protection, a peacock is a symbol for immortality, an eagle is a symbol for power, and a snake is a symbol for protection. Once again, these are just some of the many animals that appear in Persian rugs.
Colors also have specific meanings. Green means hope, red means beauty and wealth, blue means power and force, orange means humility, yellow means the joy of life, white means purity, gold means wealth, and brown means fertility.
The symbols and motifs found are rarely negative and almost exclusively positive. The reason for this can be traced back to when they were first introduced to the world. Carpet owners didn’t want to have any negative symbols in their homes and carpet weavers didn’t want to add any as they believed God was watching them.
Importance in History
Carpet weaving is without a doubt one of the most brilliant manifestation of Iranian culture and art, and having kept the skill alive for so long is a true accomplishment. So many people from different cultures have admired the Persian rug for 3,500 years. It was admired 1,000 years ago and it continues to be today. The Persian rug is so intertwined with Iranian culture that archaeologist and historians have used them to learn more about the past.
The Persian rug also helped establish trade between Iran and Europe. 500 years ago when they first began trading, the hand-weaved carpet was among the most sought after good for the Europeans. For the Iranians, it was and remains, one of their top exports. Some claim that establishing trade helped both the Iranians and Europeans through the exchange of new methods and technologies.
There are museums all over the world made to display and preserve Persian rugs. For many people and states, owning an authentic and antique Persian rug is an honour. In auctions, a Persian rug can go up to $30 million. They describe it as owning a great piece of human history, which is difficult to argue.