- Credit: Archant
Clare Jennings tells us what to look for in a quality oriental rug, and how to distinguish quality hand-knotted rugs from those that are mass-produced
By definition an oriental rug will be handmade and come from the East, countries such as Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan Pakistan, Indian and as far as China. They will be hand knotted with pile, or woven, without pile such as a kilim. Oriental rugs are made entirely from natural fibres such as wool, cotton or silk which are largely vegetable dyed achieving wonderfully vibrant and exotic colours. However, there are processes that can tone down the colours to give more subtle hues, often seen in the increasingly popular Ziegler rugs from Afghanistan. Although a lot of the designs may be similar every country, town, village and tribe have their own designs and colours that they use. The prices vary considerably depending on the size, where it comes from, how finely knotted it is, what it is made of and sometimes the age of the piece. Not all rugs are sold as new; the ageing process can be a benefit, particularly helpful in toning down the colours.
Oriental rugs are still very much part of a cottage industry with the whole family taking part in the weaving often within the home or for nomadic pieces such as Persian Qashqai rugs which are still produced in the wild. Although in the 21st century some production from Turkey, India and China will be machine made and tufted. These technically will still be classified as oriental (due to origin) but of course bear no resemblance to the traditional hand-crafted pieces. These imitations can easily be identified simply by looking at the back; recognising that the image is very blurred by contrast with the quality hand-knotted pieces, the design is very evident.
It would be unfair to suggest that the ‘oriental rug trade’ is stuck in the past; the traditions of production are usually preserved while the influences in design can reflect the great European appetite, as previously mentioned. The designs that are currently sought after are produced by the Afghans who have a very keen desire to produce high quality marketable pieces. The influential Anglo Swiss designer Ziegler collaborated with the weavers in the Arak area producing pieces that reflected the ‘William Morris movement’. This trend started in the late 1800s with much success with his early pieces commanding very high prices at auction. These designs have more recently been picked up by the Afghans with great success, they suit most homes with sufficient variation on the loosely based ‘Morris’ theme to fit all tastes. Interior designers are particularly fond of this style of rug as the colour pallete is considerable with colours usually limited to one main colour (either on the border or in the middle) and a contrasting or tonal colour in the reverse, other colours used to make the design are often very subtle.
The term oriental rug defines its origin, the materials from which it is made and the use of vegetable dyes, not forgetting that they are usually handmade. It is very difficult for the inexperienced traveler to make a distinction between low-grade inferior rugs and the superior, opulent, traditional crafted pieces. Many people have experienced while on holiday the ‘joys’ of eastern trading: tough negotiating and hit and miss results. For those who prefer safer buying options, using a specialist independent business will protect them from potentially costly mistakes.
Clare Jennings is from family-run oriental rug specialists J W Jennings, based at 10 Church Street, Tewkesbury, GL20 5PA. Call 01684 292033, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.jenningsrugs.co.uk