Oriental rugs are woven by hand. They are made of three main materials: wool, cotton and silk. In very rare cases, threads of silver and gold are also used.
Wool is the most widely used material for Oriental rug making. It is soft, durable, and easy to work with. Historically, wool rugs were needed by nomadic tribes and villages in the colder, highland regions. In the golden era of rug making, Persian farmers raised sheep with the intent of maximizing the quality of wool for rug construction. This dedication to improving the quality of wool resulted in longer lasting, more durable rugs. Wool rugs were needed by nomadic tribes and villages in the colder, highland regions. To achieve these masterworks, wool is generally taken from the shoulders and flanks of high-mountain lambs. Called Kurk wool, it is regarded as the finest wool for making Oriental rugs, and is almost as costly as silk.
Cotton is the second most common material found in the construction of Oriental rugs. It is typically used as the foundation for rugs, because it is strong and retains its shape longer than wool. Cotton can be spun into very thin threads, which allow for finer weaving. An exception to the use of cotton exclusively as a foundation can be found in the Kayseri region of Anatolia, where a mercerized version of cotton is used to create these pile rugs.
Silk is the final fiber found in Oriental rugs. Silk is produced from the larvae of silkworms, a form of moth. Native to China, the silkworm has been cultivated by a number of countries such as Iran, Turkey, India and the former Soviet Republics surrounding the Caspian Sea. Since silk is the most expensive fiber used in Oriental rugs, it is more often found in the pile than in the warp and weft. Silk rugs are the finest and most intricately knotted, and the very finest rugs are sometimes woven on a base of pure silk.
Dyeing is such an important part of the rug making process that it is considered by many to be a science. There are a number of techniques that go into proper dyeing that have been passed down through generations as respected traditions. In some nomadic villages, the art of dyeing is taken so seriously that no one, save for another dyer, can talk to a person while he is working.
The wool has to be cleaned before it can be dyed. The cleaning process is usually achieved by soaking the wool in a weak soda and soap solution. Then it is soaked in potash alum for about 10-15 hours, a process that helps the wool absorb the dye.
After the yarn has been treated, it is dipped in dye. Between each of these stages, the yarn is left out in the sun to dry naturally.
Natural dyes come from animal or mineral sources. They are generally referred to as vegetable dyes. Many large rug-making groups use chemical dyes but some smaller communities still use vegetable dyes. They also have an ability to soften over the years, which is regarded by some collectors as invaluable.
Chemical dyes are very commonly used today. They have been improved over the years to be much safer and to hold their color longer. The advantage of using synthetic dyes is that they are cheaper and can be manufactured in many different colors, much more quickly than natural dyes.
Oriental rugs are woven by hand on horizontal or vertical looms.
This is where the warp and weft come into play on the loom. The yarn that is wrapped vertically around the loom forms the warp threads. These may also be exposed as fringes on the rug. The weft threads are inserted between the warp, across the width of the loom. The pile is created by knotting wool into this foundation, with or without a pattern.
There are two types of knots used in Oriental rugs: Turkish knot (Symmetrical knot) and Persian knot (Asymmetrical Knot). The knots are all hand tied, and it may take months or even years to complete one rug. Sometimes, several artisans will work together to complete a large rug utilizing a cartoon, or a graphical representation of the pattern that indicates how many knots are to be made in each color. In the golden age of rugs an older, often blind, master-weaver could communicate these patterns through song.
When the weaving is completed on a rug, it is removed from the loom so the finishing can begin. The loose warp ends are knotted and the sides of the rug are reinforced by creating the selvedges.
Washing: Most rugs are washed before they are exported. Washing doesn't harm the rug in any way but rather removes dirt, dust and scraps of wool that may have been left during weaving. After the rugs are washed, they are laid out in the sun to dry. The sun helps to soften the colors naturally.