Hand woven rugs, a dying art form in a changing world

The one thing you can say with certainty about the world today is that it is changing so quickly that very little is truly certain. The last hundred years have seen significant changes in nearly every industry. Modernization happens fast and with it comes great benefit to our society. Unfortunately, this benefit is often coupled with the loss of skilled labor, hand crafted goods, and traditional techniques. As sad as we at Serafian’s are to say it, weaving is proving to be no exception to this.

Right now, the question is not “Will traditional hand-weaving die off?” so much as it is “When and how will hand-weaving die off?” In the last ten years alone, we have seen significant dropoff in production from China, Persia (Iran), and India. The internet has changed the game of retail in ways few could have predicted. The impact of globalization is being felt keenly by the weaving industry. War, politics, and economics have created vast changes and challenges and there is little doubt that weaving has been heavily impacted by these factors. By far, the biggest factor in this change is the blooming and modernizing economies of the Middle and Far East.

Woman working at the loom. Oriental Muslim national crafts. Focus on the fabric.
Hand weaving is one of the most time consuming and labor intensive art forms on the planet..

Economic realities change fast. This is doubly true for countries with emerging economies. As an art form, weaving is very time consuming. Rugs are built literally one knot at a time, each thoughtfully placed and tied in by hand. A large hand woven rug can easily take over a year to make. By contrast, that same rug may only ever command a top price of a few thousand dollars. When you take into account the markups of various retailers and wholesalers, for an entire year’s worth of work, a skilled weaver may end up taking home less than one thousand dollars. It becomes easy to see how in a burgeoning economy the job of weaving eventually makes less and less sense.

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Every step in the weaving process takes both time and skill.  Even the “simple” act of dyeing wool is an art form in and of itself.

On the other side of the coin, but equally devastating to the hand weaving industry, are machine woven rugs. A large machine woven rug can be finished in a matter of hours instead of months or years. A machine woven rug will easily cost a third or less the price of a similarly sized hand woven rug. While the quality is not the same, their rapid, repetitive, and commoditized production actually lends itself to our modern internet driven marketplace. This creates even further pressure on the hand weaving industry, forcing many weavers to look elsewhere for employment.

While it is difficult to predict exactly when hand weaving will die out, it is easy to see its end on the horizon. There aren’t many art forms out there that are as time consuming and labor intensive and weaving. With so much time and effort behind the weaving industry, modernization, simplification, and change become inevitable. While it will be sad to see these treasures of the middle East disappear, it is easy to understand the forces behind this change. Time keeps moving forward, the world keeps changing, and one thing that is certain certain is that the weaving industry will change with it.


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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

 

Know your fibers! – What to look for and be aware of when shopping for your ideal rug.

When you are looking to buy an oriental rug, is your first thought, “What material is this rug made out of?”. If not, it probably should be. For centuries, the standard has been to weave rugs out of wool or silk. Both of which are great fibers. Here at Serafian’s, we have seen how the industry has been changing in big ways. Over the course of these last years new fibers have found their way into the marketplace. In additional to wool and silk, we are seeing a lot more rugs made of both olefin and viscose.

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Knowing how long a fiber will last under traffic is an important questions when buying an oriental rug.

 

Wool and silk are by far the best fibers for rugs. Both wear incredibly well over time, insulate and protect your floor, and are even stain resistant on their own. Wool in particular has been has been the weaving standard for centuries. An average wool fiber has lanolin, the sheep’s natural oil, present in it. This helps to give the wool both body and pliability. A wool fiber can bend and flex hundreds of thousands of times over its life. This flexibility is key to its durability as a fiber. When properly cared for, good wool in a rug will last a century or more.

In the middle of the spectrum is olefin. Olefin is plastic that has been refined to look and feel like carpet fiber. The upside to this fiber is that is often comes from post consumer plastic, essentially recycled materials. The empty water and soda bottles that clog our rivers and oceans can be stretched, spun, dyed, and reused to make colorful decorative rugs for your floor. The downside is that it just doesn’t have the lifespan of good wool rugs. Where wool remains flexible for its whole life, olefin eventually begins to become stiff and will more readily start to break down. Where a wool rug will last a century or more, a good olefin rug is usually made to last 10 to 15 years. However, olefin rugs tend to be very inexpensive and while not as long lived as wool rugs, are generally a very good value for the money.

Lastly, at the bottom of our list, is viscose. Unfortunately, viscose fibers are a recent and very popular trend. Viscose is treated plant fiber that has chemically been made to look and feel like silk, but beware as this imposter is anything but! Silk is much more difficult to make in quantity and much higher in quality than viscose. Like wool, silk is a protein fiber that will last for years. By comparison, viscose breaks down quickly, losing its luster and plushness. This is due to the fact that plant fibers in general tend to lack the flexibility. Where protein fibers such as wool and silk will bend and flex, plant fibers such as cotton, jute, and viscose will much more quickly break down. This leads to an average life span that is much shorter.

Let the buyer beware. It is very common to see viscose rugs called silk by unscrupulous or even unknowing retailers, but there is a sure fire test to know which fiber you are looking at. Cut and take a small amount of the material in a set of pliers, burn it, and smell the smoke lifting off it. Viscose and similar cotton fibers smell like paper when burned where silk smells like burning hair. Where good wool and silk rugs can last for a century or more and olefin will last for a decade or two, I expect that most Viscose rugs will have an average life span of 5 to 10 years before real problems start to develop.

Two rugs on the floor
A Good wool rug can last for generations.  Olefin rugs will tend to wear out after ten to fifteen years and viscose rugs with likely wear our within five to ten.

For this reason, when you look to buy a good rug, it is always important to ask what it is woven with. Knowing what material your rug is made out of will quickly tell you a lot about its longevity. By no means is this the only factor in durability, but it is without a doubt the most important.


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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

 

Keep your favorite rug looking its best for decades.

In our modern world, not much is built to last. Most furnishings are made to last between 5 and 15 years, after which they start to look a little worn and ragged. Fine Oriental rugs however stand out as a shining exception and can last for generations. This is especially impressive when you consider just how rough the traffic most rugs receive really is. Like most things, proper care plays an important role in preserving the life and value of your oriental rugs. Here are some quick tips to keeping your favorite rugs in great shape.

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When properly cared for, a rug can look great for decades.  Believe it or not, this rug is about 125 years old.

Keep your carpet clean
Dirt is the worst enemy of fine Oriental rugs. Dirt is abrasive, and when it gets packed into the base of the knots it will actually cut off the fibers from the pile. We recommend vacuuming your rug at least weekly. Your vacuum should have an agitator or beater bar, set so that it beats the surface lightly. Excessive pressure of the beater bar can cause extra wear. Also, we recommend every two years having your carpet professionally washed. Proper washing removes all dirt that has collected in the carpet, restores the original colors of the rug, and rehydrates the wool in dry climates. Professional washing can only be done outside your home, so never allow anyone to come to your house and do a surface cleaning on your rug. Most services that come to the home are set up to clean wall to wall carpets, and your Oriental rug is very different. It is especially important that you never allow anyone to “steam clean” your Oriental rugs as this can cause the colors to bleed, and strips vital lanolin from the wool.

Walk on your carpet (Barefoot if you can)
Oriental carpets are made to be walked on. In the Middle East, most people remove their shoes when they enter a home, leaving the dirt on their shoes outside. In America we generally don’t do this, so timely cleaning becomes essential. Rubber soled shoes are hard on rugs, and tear at the wool fibers, wearing them prematurely. Bare feet or stocking feet are best for the rugs whenever possible. Walking on the carpet massages the lanolin through the wool, giving the carpet a beautiful luster. It also discourages moths from laying eggs on the carpet.

Moth Resist vulnerable areas
Moths look for dark, moist places to lay their eggs. It is actually the larvae which do the damage to any wool garment or rug, not the moths themselves. At Serafian’s, we spray a colorless, odorless solution that discourages the moths from laying eggs on any susceptible areas. Whenever a wool rug is hung on the wall it needs to be sprayed with this moth repellent.

Rotate your rug to even out wear
It is common that we walk through rooms in certain ways, establishing traffic pattern that receive more wear. With time, this can cause uneven wear patterns to form in your rug. Rotate your rug 180 degrees every six months to keep the wear and tear looking more even and less pronounced.

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Eventually, a hole can wear right through the foundation of your rug.  Rotating it 180 every 6 to 12 months helps to prevent this.

Prevent Sun Fading
The desert Southwest has particularly harsh sunlight which can fade the rug. Many rugs get exposed to sunlight unevenly, causing fading only on part of the rug. Turn your rug 180 degrees in the room periodically to avoid uneven fading. This also helps your rugs wear more evenly. Close shades and blinds when you are not in the room to reduce the direct sunlight on your rugs. There are also window films available that reduce the ultraviolet radiation from sunlight. These films are applied to the window surface, and help block harmful rays. Look for “Low-E” films.

Blot up spills with clear cold water
Spills and stains are an inevitable part of a rug’s life. You should clean spills immediately, as many drinks can permanently dye the rug. Blot up the spill with a fresh towel, and use a little clear cold water to dilute the stain. Keep rinsing (not too much water) and blotting until the stain is gone. If someone spills milk on the carpet, it is probably a good idea to have the rug professionally cleaned, as the milk can sour and leave an unpleasant odor. Coffee, red wine, blood, and dark sodas can all leave permanent stains, so get to them as quickly as possible. If you have a “wet/dry” vacuum you can use it to suck out excess water from the rug.

Pet stains
Our beloved pets sometimes have “accidents”. Urine is particularly bad about staining, because it is acidic, but becomes alkali when it dries, which can cause dyes to bleed. Also, left untreated, urine will leave an odor that is very hard to remove. For urine stains, use the same procedure as above, but mix in about 50% white vinegar and be sure to rinse thoroughly. A thorough professional washing is required to sanitize the rug after a urine incident.

Repair any damaged areas quickly
Most repairs are very simple when they first appear. Attend to any tears or damage quickly. When we wash rugs at Serafian’s, we often see major repairs that would have been very minor if they had been attended to just six months sooner. Left unattended, many simple repairs become major repairs.

With these simple guidelines nearly any rug can last for decades if not generations. It is not at uncommon for us to see rugs come into our store that are over 100 years old and have been in use for their whole life.


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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

Rugs of the World – Kashan

When you think of rugs from the Mid East, what is the first image that pops into your head? For me, the image is magical flying carpets of legends and fairy tales. I picture Aladdin flying through the air on his magic carpet, the sprawling desert expanse unfolds below him as the horizon is dotted with the rooftops of ancient Persian castles and homes. It is a pretty fantastic visual, I know, but inextricably, I always picture him riding a specific type of rug, Kashan, one of the most classic Persian rug designs. One steeped in tradition from the city of its namesake.

In truth, Kashan is one of the oldest cities in the world. The city is thought to be one of the primary centers of civilization in prehistoric times. During the 11th century Sultan Malik Shah I ordered the building of a fortress, Ghal’eh Jalali, that still stands. The Sialk ziggurat, a man made structure over 5,000 years old is nestled comfortably in the suburbs of the Kashan. Even the name of the city comes from it original inhabitants, known as Kasian, whose remains date back as far as 9000 years.

In more modern times, the city of Kashan has become a major center for textile production, and rugs are one of its leading exports. Since the city of Kashan is one of the main weaving centers in Iran and its design traditions date back well over a century, the patterns found in Kashan rugs are considered to be among the most classic of Persian designs. They are defined by flowing, connected floral motif. Long, rounded tendrils, known as Islimi, span the body of the rug. These draw ornate curves connecting groups of large flowers, known as Palmettes. Many Kashan rugs have a strong central medallion, usually oval in shape. Some, however, lack a central motif and opt for an “All Over” design.

As with most weaving centers, many different levels of quality come from the city of Kashan. However, a common trait among most Persian Kashan is the use of high grade materials. As such, Kashan rugs are generally woven to last for generations. Persian Kashan use specific and traditional colors sets. Red or Ivory fields are offset with Navy medallions and borders. This creates a striking pattern where the body of the rug is sharply framed in contrast to its border.

One of the more recent trends in weaving is for other countries to adopt the designs of Persian rugs. Weavers in India and China will often copy the Kashan motif, working these classic Persian structures into into their more modern and mass produced rugs. This is not to say that these rugs are always of lower quality, but they are different. Kashan patterned rugs from India or China are often woven using non traditional colors sets. Blacks, browns, golds, and even greens will usually distinguish these rugs from their true Persian counterparts.

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Many rugs from both India and China copy the Persian Kashan design.  They are woven in different colors than their Persian counterparts, but are often just as high quality.

Whether you have a traditional Persian or copy from India or China, a good, hand woven Kashan is the type of rug that will last for generations. It is not uncommon at all for us here at Serafian’s to see such rugs come in for cleaning still looking good after a century’s worth of use. Steeped in tradition and classic motifs, Kashan rugs look great in nearly any space. Unfortunately, even with the best Kashan available in the marketplace, you probably won’t find yourself magically flying over ancient Persian ziggurats or expensive desert vistas, but you will have a little piece of Persian history in your home.


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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

A Buyer’s Guide to Hand Woven Rugs: How to Quickly Judge Quality in Hand Woven Rugs

When it comes to hand woven rugs, it can be tough to know exactly what you are looking at. In truth, while there are many factors that go into determining the quality of a rug, there are four to focus on.

First is knot count, or knots per square inch. In a hand woven rug, each not is tied one at a time, and much like the pixels on your computer screen, the number of knots per inch affects the resolution of the design in the rug. Most rugs are woven at 100 to 150 knots per square inch. Some of the finest rugs in the world are woven at 1,000 knots per square inch. The number of knots in a square inch tells you not only how fine the rug is, but also, how much time and work went into the rug. If a rug has twice as many knots, it took at least twice as long to weave. For this reason, knot count, more than any other factor, affects the price of your rug.

So how can you tell how many knots per square inch? To count the knots, use a ruler and examine the backside of the rug. In most rugs, each square you see is an individual knot. Simply count the number of squares both horizontally and vertically across the length of an inch then multiply the two numbers together. It’s important to note there are two types of knotting common in hand weaving. Asymmetrical (Or Persian) knotting leaves a single square on the back for each knot. However, the style of knotting known as symmetrical (Or Turkish) knotting leaves two squares on the back for each knot. If you notice that every single knot seems to have a twin, you are probably looking at a rug that uses the symmetrical knotting techniques. For these rugs, simply take whatever knot count you came up with and cut it in half.

The second factor to look at is thickness. As a general rule, the thicker the pile on a rug, the longer it takes for the rug to wear out. This is the easiest of all the factors to judge. It is simply defined by the heights of the pile. As a nice side benefit, thicker rugs tend to be softer underfoot and much more comfortable to walk on.

Third on our list of factors is weave density. Like thickness, this factor greatly affects the durability of your rug. Density is determined by how tightly packed together the fibers of your rug are. When a rug is more densely woven, the fibers provide each other with more support which helps to prevent excess wear from use and also keeps dirt from settling into the foundation of the rug where is grinds at the roots of the weaving. To test density, take your fingers, and try to run them into the foundation of the rug. The more difficult it is to do this, the more densely woven the rug is.

The fourth and final factor is wool quality. A good wool has an oily and supple feel, where a poor quality of wool will feel dry and “brashy” to the touch. A good wool will be more able to bend and flex though years of heavy use, where a bad wool will break apart under traffic and tends to wear out much more quickly. This is probably the most difficult of the four factors to judge, but the general rule is that a good wool feels good to the touch, while a bad wool, not as much.
Just remember to look out for the four big factors, knot count, thickness, density, and wool quality. Generally speaking, as long as you keep these in mind, you will have a good idea of what you are looking at when buying a hand woven oriental rug.


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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