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Hand Knotted Carpets

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Hand-knotted carpets can be defined as floor coverings, rugs or throws woven by hand on frames (also known as looms). The hand-knotted pile carpet probably originated in Central Asia between the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC. The oldest, surviving hand-knotted oriental rug is the Pazryk Carpet, which dates back to 4th century BC. Excavated from a semi-frozen burial mound in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia, it is now on display in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, Russia.

Traditionally woven with silk, wool and cotton, and today even with shoddy yarn or synthetic yarn, hand-knotted carpets are manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, India, Turkey, China, Northern Africa, the Caucasus, Nepal, Spain, Turkmenistan and Tibet. Carpets from each region are different, reflecting cultural and geographical influences.

Based on the way they are made, carpets can be classified as hand-knotted, hand-tufted and flat weaves, such as kilims and dhurries. There are other variations too, as in the case of hooked rugs, which are made by pulling strips of cloth (usually wool or cotton) through the meshes of a sturdy fabric such as burlap. While hand-knotted carpets and hand-tufted carpets are largely manufactured for commercial purposes, kilims are woven for self use by the nomadic herdsmen of Central Asia and North Africa. Made from the wool of domestic animals—goats, sheep and camels—these colourful flat rugs are dyed with natural substances and woven on narrow portable looms.

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[edit] Methods of Manufacture

Both kilims and hand-knotted carpets are woven on looms or frames. The methods of weaving, however, are different.

In order to weave a hand-knotted carpet, two rows of warps are stretched vertically and closely from the top of the loom to its bottom. The rug progresses as knot after knot of woolen yarn is tied on the warps. After a row is woven, a cotton thread is put between the two rows of warps and is hammered down. This is the first weft, and it gives the rug its body. A second weft interlocks the warps across each row to keep the knots in place. These are then beaten down to ensure they stay even. This is repeated until the rug is entirely woven. The carpet is then finished by clipping off excess yarn from the pile, which also makes its design clearer. Weaving a hand-knotted carpet is a labour- and time-intensive exercise: A 6ft by 9ft carpet can take as much as one year to weave.

In kilims, the design is created by tightly inter-weaving different coloured wefts and warps, thus creating what is known as a flat weave.

For hand-tufted carpets, a tufting gun is used to thread tufts of yarn on a thick cloth stretched on a metal frame. When the entire frame has been filled with the yarn tufts, a canvas sheet is glued on to its back with latex. This keeps the yarn tufts in place and gives the carpet body and strength. Hand tufting is a relatively faster process: A 6ft by 9ft hand-tufted carpet can be made in a week’s time.

Although carpet-weaving techniques are varied, they have a unique, common thread—the bulk of hand-knotted carpets are woven on looms kept in the weaver’s home or in a cottage industry situation. Also, most hand-knotted carpets are produced by weavers who are economically underprivileged. Western buyers have reacted to reports of child labour being used to manufacture carpets, and some have helped by contributing monetarily to the weaver community. Others have actually refused to buy carpets that are not labelled child labour-free. There are two such labels operational in India—Rugmark and Kaleen.

[edit] Carpet Styles

There are several styles of hand-knotted carpets, often classified according to their place of origin.

Persian: Carpet weaving in Persia (now Iran) and parts of Central Asia, including Turkey, dates back to the Stone Age. However, the earliest surviving carpets to be found today are from the 16th and 17th centuries, made during the rule of the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736). These carpets, mostly woven in wool but sometimes also in silk, have intricate motifs like vines, palmettes, medallions and flowers, and geometrical patterns. Very few depict animals or humans, as they were largely woven by Islamic weavers, whose religion forbids the depiction of animals and humans. Today, Persian carpets are woven in places other than Iran, notably India and Pakistan, where this distinctive style was introduced by the Mughals.

French: The two popular styles, Savonnerie and Aubusson, became popular during the early years of Louis XIV's reign (1743-1761). The predominant motifs on these styles are mythological and floral, where rich acanthus leaves are depicted in baskets or vases. Often based on Flemish and Dutch tapestry motifs along with the royal insignia, these carpets are woven using the symmetrical knot, which is also called the Turkish Knot. These carpets are also woven in India, which predominantly uses the Persian knotting technique.

Scandinavian: Made from hand-knotted wool, the traditional Scandinavian and Finnish carpet is called rya. Originally, Ryas were coarse, long-piled, heavy covers that were used for their warmth. In fact fishermen often used these carpets in place of furs to ward off the cold. Over the years, weaving styles became more and more refined, and the coarse Ryas of yore evolved into beautiful tapestries valued for their aesthetics rather than for their warmth.

[edit] A Rough Guide to Rug-Buying

Measure your space carefully so you know what size rug will fit. For stair runners, measure and count the number of risers. Be sure that you measure both, the flat portion of the step and also the rise/vertical height of the stair.

Bring a photograph of the room where the rug will go so you can choose the colours and patterns aesthetically.

Opt for wool for warmth, softness and resilience. Consider less-rugged but sensuous silk for luxury, low-traffic areas and warm climates and wool for cold climates (A hint—if a rug is labelled as art silk, that means it is actually rayon).

Knots per square inch is a good indication of the quality and value of a fine carpet, and the thumb of rule is: The higher the number of knots per square inch, the better the rug.

It is often said that Persian rugs are "perfectly imperfect". Slight inconsistencies are proof that the rug is not machine made, so look out for imperfections.

Test for colour-fastness by rubbing a damp cloth over a dark area of the rug; if the color comes off, keep shopping.

Make sure that the dyes used in the carpet are Azo-free (Azo dyes were commonly used to dye wool, until it was discovered that some of their by-products, such as chlorinated aromatic amines, are toxic and may be potential carcinogens). The European Commission’s directive 76/769EEC bans the use of certain Azo dyes in the manufacture of textile or leather products that may come in "direct or prolonged" contact with the skin or mouth. Insist on a receipt with a detailed description, which should include age, country of origin and materials used, such as silk or wool. Based on this, many stores will accept the rug as a trade-in later.

'Woolmark' is a good label to look out for as it gaurantees that the wool used is 100% "virgin" wool. If a carpet is made 100% New Zeland wool then one should ask for 'Fern Mark', although most manufacturer's do not use it as it is an expensive label, if nothing else it will demonstrate your knowledge on rugs to the seller.

[edit] Maintaining Hand knotted carpets

• Use a rug pad to prolong your carpet’s life

• Nothing can be more damaging to a rug than poor or improper cleaning. It is important to always get your carpet cleaned professionally, your dealer will be able to recommend a good cleaning service. If cleaned or dried imperfectly, a hand knotted carpet could get permanently warped.

• Rotate your rug 180 degrees every year, to ensure it wears out evenly.

• Vacuum at least once a week to keep the pile fresh and free from dust and mites. This actually slows the aging process of the carpet. For hand-tufted rugs, use a vacuum without `beater bars’, as they are less durable than handknotted rugs. Take your time with the vacuum cleaner -- for example a 9x12 rug would require 15-20 minutes to become squeaky clean.

• If you’re using the carpet in a high traffic area, do not forget to vacuum the back of the rug every year. This shakes the dust out of the carpet’s foundation.

• Tackle stains and spills immediately while they are fresh. Basic food stains can be cleaned easily with club soda or seltzer. However, make sure the carpet is thoroughly dry before being replaced on the floor. For information on how to clean specific stains effectively, visit The Rug Cleaning Guide

[edit] References

  • Indian Carpets: A Hand Knotted Heritage, Asha Rani Mathur, Rupa and Co, New Delhi, 2004
  • World Rugs & Carpets, David Black (ed), Country Life Books, London, 1985
  • Rugs and Carpets
  • Hand knotted Carpets