How to Choose an Oriental Rug

An Afgan rug in situ

An Afgan rug in situ - Credit: Archant

Promotional Feature Oriental rugs make a stylish addition to your home but there are a few things to consider before making a purchase.

Machine-made rugs tend to have thick backing

Machine-made rugs tend to have thick backing - Credit: Archant

Joy Pryor, owner of Oriental Rugs of Bath, shares her tips and advice on what to consider when choosing an oriental rug.

How do I know it’s hand-made?

The easiest way to identify a genuine handmade rug from a machine-made one is to look at the underneath and check if the pattern is just as visible as it is on the top. The finer the rug, the clearer the pattern. Obviously with coarser rugs you will still be able to see the pattern, but it will not be as distinct. Machine-made rugs usually have a very thick backing, so you will most likely not be able to recognise the pattern. The second stage would be folding the rug back on itself and exposing the base of the pile. If you can see the rows of knots – you are looking at a hand-made carpet. On a hand-made rug you can also find occasional knots on the back side and the knots will never be as even and perfect as they are on a machine made rug, the same applies to the binding.

Hand-made rugs have visible rows of knots

Hand-made rugs have visible rows of knots - Credit: Archant

How do I judge a rug’s quality?

A great deal of intense work goes into making a fine rug. The number of knots per square inch varies from 40 to 400, so that more coarse rugs will have a less defined pattern and will simply look chunkier. They take less time to weave, but a considerable amount of work goes into them and in some houses they can look more sophisticated than the finest pieces. It all depends on the style you prefer, the design of the room, your colour scheme and furniture in your house.

People sometimes think a thick rug is of a higher quality than thinner ones. But it all depends on how you are going to use the rug. Finer rugs usually are thinner, due to the greater number of knots per square inch. If a rug is going to get a lot of wear, it will need to have more body to last longer. If you want to check the knot density, just push your fingers down to the base of the pile, if the knots are tightly packed, the rug will be extremely durable. One of the options for thinner rugs that get a lot of wear and are not on top of fitted carpets is to use underlay.

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Designs passed down through generations of family carpet weavers, hand spun wool, vegetable dyes, a natural dying process, and these are the ingredients no machine-made rug can give you.

A great deal of work goes into making a fine rug

A great deal of work goes into making a fine rug - Credit: Archant

Yes, synthetic dyes can produce dramatic effects, and will take a lot longer to fade, but, talking about Persian rugs specifically, natural dyes are considered more authentic, and thus, more sought after.

How do I choose the colours?

The colours of a rug should always be in balance, no matter if it’s a bold statement rug or a faded antique piece that adds character to the house without shouting or clashing with other items of décor. Make sure you look at the rug carefully and check that there is no “colour run”, which is very difficult and costly to get out of rugs and may be a sign of the rug having been in a flood or not dried properly after the first wash made by the weavers.

It’s always a good idea to take fabric samples (curtains, upholstery material, cushions, fitted carpets) when you go looking for a rug. Pictures of the room, floor and the furniture could also help you make the right choice.

Look at as many rugs as you can and you’ll find what works for you. Compare the prices on similar designs and sizes, which should not vary dramatically. If you can’t see why one is more expensive than the other, don’t be afraid to ask.

What about the measurements?

When looking for a piece to suit your home you should have the exact measurements, the minimum and maximum sizes that will work in the room. But don’t limit yourself to just one specific size; it’s best to be open to different options. If the floor is wood, stone or a fitted carpet, you may want to consider leaving a significant part of it uncovered by the rug.

Sometimes people worry about having furniture on the rugs. It can work very well as long as you protect the rug from getting worn out by the legs of the furniture. You can put felt pads on the legs to protect the rug. You can also move the furniture slightly every few months to make sure that the pile doesn’t get worn down in a particular spot. More importantly, if you want to put the rug under a table or chairs, especially if it is partially covered, it could be better to choose a rug with an all-over design rather than one with a medallion in the centre.

Finding a trusted dealer

It is important to go to an ethical and reliable dealer for your rug, one who sources their rugs thoughtfully and ensures the weavers get paid properly for their work. When choosing a rug in a shop, it is very difficult to imagine what it would look like in your house, just by seeing it on display. It can be difficult to judge the colours and size of a rug when confronted with so many choices. The spaciousness of the showrooms can affect how you see the actual size of the rug. It is also very important to consider the lighting in your house; it is likely to not be as bright as the spotlights in the shop.

A dealer you can trust will always let you take rugs on approval so you can see them in situ before you commit. You shouldn’t feel any pressure about trying a rug at home; rugs look completely different in different houses.

There are a lot of modern designs around that are adapted from traditional Persian, Afghan and Turkish rugs. You should be wary of buying a machine-made rug for the price (or near the price) of a hand-made piece; it will not add character or value to your home. Buying machine made rugs makes it less likely that oriental artisan rug weavers can make a living with their traditional, thousands-of-years-old craft. But above all else a machine-made rug will not and cannot make a sound investment.

Listen to yourself

Everyone has a view about what makes a good rug. You can have a designer, a friend, a dealer or a sales assistant on the high street help you choose a rug, and they will all be right from their own perspective when they help you choose the best colours, quality or size that will work in your room. But the final choice should always be made by your heart, because it always makes the right decision.

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