Hand weaving is much more labor intensive and time consuming than most folks realize. It can take months and in some cases even years to make a good hand woven rug. Today, we’ll talk a little bit about the processes weavers go through to bring you these beautiful works of art.
The first step is materials prep.
Weaving a rug isn’t as simple as plopping down and tying knots. Long before the weaver even sits in front of the loom there is intensive work put into preparing the materials used in the carpet. Proper preparation and grade in materials can make all the difference in a rug’s quality, so care and time are taken.
First the wool is harvested from the sheep. Believe it or not, proper harvesting along with the sheep’s diet and climate factor into wool quality in a big way. The age of the sheep, the part of the body from where the wool was harvested can also make a big difference in the feel and durability of the rug. Generally speaking, sheep from colder climates have thicker coats with softer wool while sheep from dry hot climates have shorter denser coats.
Once harvested, the wool is cleaned, carded, then spun. Cleaning is as simple as it sounds. It eliminates dirt and grime from the freshly harvested wool.
Carding is the technique by which the wool is separated and straightened in its texture. To do this, the weavers take two brushes with many small metal bristles and work the wool between them.
Once carded, the wool is spun. It can be spun either by hand or by machine. Hand spun wool will tend to absorb dye at uneven rates and can give the rug a variegated look in the color. Machine spun wool is much more consistent in its tone and thus often used by larger production houses. In terms of quality, neither technique is superior to the other.
From there, the next major step is pattern planning and wool dyeing.
Some rugs are woven without a pre-planned design. A lot of tribal rugs are done from memory or even as a free flow pattern that evolves as the weaver progresses. However, most rugs are planned knot by knot in advance. Their patterns sketched out on graph paper or written out in detailed instructions. As a general rule, the more colors a rug uses, the more difficult it is to weave and the more time went into the planning of it.
Once planned, the wool is dyed to the proper colors. Generally speaking, the weavers don’t dye their own wool as dyeing is a process that is reserved for masters. One could study dyeing techniques and methods for years and still not know everything there is to know about dyes and how to properly set them into the wool. If a rose color is too bright, it will look pink and garish. If a blue is too deep, it will read as black and overwhelming in a dark room. Getting the color right makes all the difference in how the rug looks.
Once these processes are finished, it is time to start weaving.
The first step in this is stringing the loom. There are different types of looms, but the basic concept is similar from one to the next. The weaver starts with the warp threads. Warp threads run from end to end on the rug and generally are the thicker stronger threads onto which the knots are tied or wool is woven through. They need to be strung at set intervals and put under tension in order to keep the rug in proper shape, so while it sounds simple, it is a very important step for the weaver to get right.
Once the loom in strung, the weaving process can finally begin.
Most rugs are either “Knotted” or Flat woven”. Knotted rugs are tied, one knot at a time, building slowly from the bottom of the loom toward the top. Each knot wraps around two warp fibers, ensuring a strong hold and creating tremendous strength and durability in the rug. Knots are added one at a time, horizontally across the width of the rug. Once a whole row has been tied, a weft thread is worked zig zagging between the warp fibers. This is then pounded down to hold the knots in place. Some rugs have multiple wefts between each row of knots. Most traditional Persian and Turkish rugs use this technique.
Flat woven rugs don’t have knots at all. Rather their pattern is created by the wefting. In most flat woven rugs, the colored wool is strung zig zagging through the warp threads. These interweaving strands of colored wool creates the pattern in the rug. Much like knotted rugs, flat woven rugs are usually woven one line at a time, though there are techniques that don’t require this. Kelims and Native american rugs are the two most common types of rugs woven using this technique.
This step is by far the most involved. The more finely woven and complicated the rug, the longer it takes. Some of the finest Persian rugs can easily take upwards of a year or two to weave. Once the weaving is complete, the rug is cut down from the loom and the finishing processes can begin.
Lastly the rug goes through the final finishing steps.
Finishing includes three major steps, shearing, detailing, and washing. Shearing is done to make the surface of the rug nice and even. Once taken off the loom, the weaver will slowly go over the whole surface of the rug with electric clippers, specialized scissors, or in some cases even curved knives. Using one or more of these tools, they will lightly trim the surface of the rug to ensure the fibers are all even and the surface of the rug is flat.
Detailing is simply the process by which the weaver slowly goes over the surface of the rug checking for any additional work or attention that the rug may need. Is this phase, the weaver may put extra work into the finish or fringe. They may decide to tie extra tassels onto the end, braid the fringes, or even use bits of colored wool to add some depth to ends or sides. Details like this can make a rug stand out as a little more unique and individualized.
As the rug is woven on the loom, it gathers dust, odors, and small bit of debris from its surrounding. As such, it is always important the rug be cleaned before it is taken to market. Cleaning is usually done by a specialist as a final step. Once all of these steps are done, the rug is finished and ready to take to market.
By: Matt Gabel
Matt Gabel is the Retail Manager at Serafian’s Oriental Rugs. He has been working closely with rugs for over 25 years. Serafian’s offers free pick up and delivery in the Albuquerque metro area. For more information, call (505) 504-RUGS or go to serafians.com