Rug Making – Techniques, Materials & Dyes
Persian carpets are usually made of wool. The most sought after wool is called "Kurk". It is long, soft and silky, and is sheared in the spring from the bellies of sheep and goats. In the Hamadan and Kurdistan region, camel hair is sometimes used. Silk is frequently employed to make very finely knotted carpets. Although silk is expensive, and does not wear as well as wool, it has the advantage of not attracting moths.
The preparation of the wool has much to do with the appearance of the final product. Proper shearing guarantees the maximum length of fibre . Then the fibres are washed, sorted, teased, fluffed and combed to be ready to be spun on a spindle or spinning wheel. After the spinning process the year can be dyed.
Most rugs contain either natural or synthetic dyes. Natural dyes are made from vegetable or mineral sources. Synthetic dyes are made from either aniline or chrome.
The dyes used to colour the wool are of the greatest importance in completing the effect and lengthening the life of Persian carpets. Innumerable raw materials have been used in the past for dying wool and dyers have always been greatly respected. Most of the traditional raw materials were of vegetable origin: roots, flowers, barks, and leaves. However, some animal products and various insects were also used. The popular belief that vegetable dyes in contrast to chemical dyes, do not fade is unfounded. Yet, when vegetable dyes fade, they become softer and more attractive. In 1900, the government even forbade the use and import of chemical dyes; however, this law has never been strictly enforced.
The two most common agents used for natural dye were madder for red colour (extracted from roots of 3-9 year old plants grown over the Near East and Central Asia), and indigo for blue (extracted from indigo plant imported from India. Saffron produces the brightest and also the most expensive yellow. Sumac, turmeric and pomegranate also supply various yellow dyes. Green can be made from a dying of indigo followed by a bath of yellow.
The art of dyeing has had a tradition of prestige and mystery. Practically every family has its own special formula, which is carefully guarded and passed on through generations.
This wool preparation takes many weeks, before continuing with the natural dye process. The use of traditional natural dyes was a hereditary skill and many women would pool their resources and expertise to ensure a lasting and radiant range of colours. Colours were normally specific to the local environment of the weaver and she could use any number of natural base materials that would include plants, berries, roots and other vegetation.
The enormous spectrum of colour in oriental rugs is one of their most attractive and fascinating features. Although synthetic dyes are often used with greater frequency in modern rugs, the varying tones and hues of natural dyes give so many carpets, not only their individuality, but their high intrinsic value.
Many of the vast range of colors used in rugs are understood to have intricate meaning, combining with the weaver’s personal designs to give a unique symbolism to her rug.
Blue - Woad
Dyers Woad. From this plant the whole myriad of blue tones emerge, from dark to light, depending on the length of time, which the plant is boiled. Dyers Woad and other plants are used to yield Indigo, which is the oldest and most important of all blue dye.
Red - Madder Root:
The roots of the madder plant yields the dye used for most red colours. Depending on both the age of the roots and the length of time that they are boiled, the range of colours can vary from the deepest of reds to pinks and purples. Red signifies assion and is the colour of happiness and success.
Bright Yellow - Ox-Eye Chamomile
Ox-Eye Chamomile. The flowers from this plant, fresh or dried, are used along with alum mordant to produce a bright yellow. Yellow used in rugs indicates plenty, riches and power.
Brown - Walnut
Walnut Tree. The fruit is covered with a thick green rind, which along with the leaves is often used by villagers for a green or blackish-brown dye. The effective colouring agent is the brown dye Juglone that adheres directly to wool fibers without a mordant (fixing agent).
Yellow/Brownish-Black - Pomegranate
Pomegranate Tree. The fresh or dried skin of the fruit is used for dyeing and if used with an alum mordant a yellow brownish shade will result. If an iron mordant is used, a brownish-black shade will result. In Oriental carpets and kilims, the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility and abundance because of it's many seeds.
Deep Yellow/Green - Buckthorn.
The Buckthorn plant grows only in Turkey on slopes with altitude of up to 3000 meters. The unripe fruits, fresh or dried are used to create a deep yellow dye. This versatile dye is often used to obtain secondary and tertiary colors.
Fixing Agent - Mordant
The use of a mordant as a fixing agent prevents bleeding or running of colours. The choice of mordant determines the variance in the colour of dye.
There are two basic knots used in Oriental rugs: the Ghiordes or Turkish (symmetrical), and the Senneh or Persian (asymmetrical). The Turkish knot is sturdier than the Persian knot, but produces a less fine weave. The Turkish knot can be found in almost all village or nomad carpets in Persia. The Persian knot with very few exceptions is used only in carpets woven in the larger cities of Persia.
In the Persian Knot, the wool thread forms a single turn about the warp thread. One end comes out over this thread and the other over the next warp thread.
Persian or Sinneh Knot
In the Turkish knot the yarn is taken twice around two adjacent warp threads and the ends are drawn out between these two threads.
Turkish or Ghiordes Knot
Professionals in the towns usually make finely knotted Persian carpets, while nomads make coarsely knotted ones. The most coarsely knotted carpets come from Kurdistan, and the finest from Kashan. There are between 65 and 330 knots per square inch in finely knotted carpets. These can come in all sizes. A nomadic weaver can tie around 8000 knots each day, and a professional weaver up to 12000 knots.
There is no advantage or disadvantage of using any of these knots. Knowing the types of the knots in your rugs it's a good indicator of the region that your rug was made. The main important issue in knots is the number of them in specific length. In IRAN, they use metric system so the number of knots in 7 cm is called RAJ is one of standard of quality of the rug. In the US and England that are using English units, the number of knots per square inch (KPSI) is getting used to define the quality of a rug. There are flat-woven rugs that you cannot count the number of the knots due to the way the weaver make those knots. Most probably the majority of tribal rugs such as Qashgai, Bakhtiari and some Kurdish rugs belong to this family. Some village rugs also use flat-woven structure.
Symbols of the weaver.
The question of symbolism has always fascinated connoisseurs of Persian carpets.
Key elements of the carpet design are found in the timeless symbols of Persian culture. The familiar "Tree of Life" for example, dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, while other images are attributed with great symbolic power. Animal motifs are frequently found in Persian carpets, from the nomadic rugs to the finest silk masterpieces.
Survival in the after-life Tree of Life
Eternal Life Pomegranates
Riches in abundance Camels
Wealth and happiness Peacock
The sacred bird Dove
Peace and good omens
The peacock appears in the mythology of a variety of Eastern cultures as a sacred bird and is often included in rug design; the rooster represents the devil, woven into the rug to protect its owner from the evil eye. Beasts and birds of prey, such as lions and falcons, indicate courage, victory and glory; the heron symbolizes long life, and the hawk victory. The comb means cleanliness, while the sword stands for supreme power. The pomegranate brings abundance, the carnation happiness, and the Botah, a type of palm tree, is interpreted today in the paisley pattern, as fertility.
One of the best rulers of Iran, Shah Abbas (1586 - 1628) was a great patron of the arts and established large workshops in Isfahan where rugs of marvelous beauty and texture were made. Various patterns bear his name and are familiar to all weavers, whether in Kirman, Kashan, Isfahan or Tabriz.
Examples of Shah Abbas patterns
More examples of Shah Abbas patterns
Every rug tells a story, however, it is important to remember that the Iranians are an art-loving people who regard a pattern as a work of art in its self. The artists have often chosen the patterns because they like them and they have become traditional features in the weaver's design repertoire.
For centuries, collectors in the West have avidly sought the rugs and carpets of Persia, knowing that a genuine Persian carpet creates a unique atmosphere and represents a valuable investment. Their richness in design, their symbolism, their delightful colours an the weaver's imagination all combine to form an unmatched gift of timeless beauty.
In the world of Oriental carpets, the Persian carpet is acknowledged as superior in every aspect. Like a child blossoming into young adulthood, or a vintage wine, your Persian carpet will be a continuing source of pleasure, while its investment potential increases as it ages.