17 November, 2017

The Rich History of the Oriental Rug

An oriental rug is a heavy textile, made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purpose, produced in “Oriental countries” for home use, local sale, and export. Here at East Bay Oriental Rugs we pride ourselves on the great knowledge that we have in order to better care for your precious oriental rugs and carpets. We are proud to be providing Oriental Rug cleaning and repair services in San Francisco and the surrounding area for the past 25 years.

Oriental carpets can be pile woven or flat woven without pile, using various materials such as silk, wool, and cotton. Examples range in size from pillow to large, room-sized carpets, and include carrier bags, floor coverings, decorations for animals, Islamic prayer rugs (sajjadah), Jewish Torah ark covers (parochet), and Christian altar covers. Since the High Middle Ages, oriental rugs have been an integral part of their cultures of origin, as well as of the European and, later on, the North American culture.

Geographically, oriental rugs are made in an area referred to as the “Rug Belt”, which stretches from Morocco across North Africa, the Middle East, and into Central Asia and northern India. It includes countries such as northern China, Tibet, Turkey, Iran, the Maghreb in the west, the Caucasus in the north, and India and Pakistan in the south. People from different cultures, countries, racial groups and religious faiths are involved in the production of oriental rugs. Since many of these countries lie in an area which today is referred to as the Islamic world, oriental rugs are often also called “Islamic Carpets”, and the term “oriental rug” is used mainly for convenience.

In 2010, the “traditional skills of carpet weaving” in the Iranian province of Fārs, the Iranian town of Kashan, and the “traditional art of Azerbaijani carpet weaving” in the Republic of Azerbaijan” were inscribed to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. The beginning of carpet weaving remains unknown, as carpets are subject to use, deterioration, and destruction by insects and rodents. There is little archaeological evidence to support any theory about the origin of the pile-woven carpet. The earliest surviving carpet fragments are spread over a wide geographic area, and a long time span. Woven rugs probably developed from earlier floor coverings, made of felt, or a technique known as “extra-weft wrapping”. Flat-woven rugs are made by tightly interweaving the warp and weft strands of the weave to produce a flat surface with no pile.

The technique of weaving carpets further developed into a technique known as extra-weft wrapping weaving, a technique which produces soumak, and loop woven textiles. Loop weaving is done by pulling the weft strings over a gauge rod, creating loops of thread facing the weaver. The rod is then either removed, leaving the loops closed, or the loops are cut over the protecting rod, resulting in a rug very similar to a genuine pile rug. Typically, hand-woven pile rugs are produced by knotting strings of thread individually into the warps, cutting the thread after each single knot. The fabric is then further stabilized by weaving (“shooting”) in one or more strings of weft, and compacted by beating with a comb. It seems likely that knotted-pile carpets have been produced by people who were already familiar with extra-weft wrapping techniques.
Historical evidence from ancient sources probably the oldest existing texts referring to carpets are preserved in cuneiform writing on clay tablets from the royal archives of the kingdom of Mari, from the 2nd millennium BC. The Akkadian word for rug is mardatu, and specialist rug weavers referred to as kāşiru are distinguished from other specialized professions like sack-makers (sabsu or sabsinnu) While the origin of the oriental goes back many hundreds of years it is clear that their value has remained just as important as it has many years ago.


Photo – Nomads and others at a carpet production center owned by a family of carpet traders outside Shiraz. Credit Newsha Tavakolian for The New York Times

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