When Grant Martin of Gadling asked me if I would be interested in doing a short video interview about tips for rug buying abroad
I jumped on it. How cool, I thought, and started writing up some
points I could make. Those quick off the top of my head details became
five full pages of facts, all of which could never fit into a 3 minute
film. The video is great, and covers a lot of valid information in it’s
short duration, but I thought I might just elaborate a bit on some of
the points made in it.
1. Types of knots
The first thing you might want to think about when buying a rug (new
or old) is the knot type used in its construction. The earliest rugs
produced were flatwoven rugs such as kilims. Building upon the kilim
are rugs such as soumacs which are a flatwoven rug that has been knotted
over. Early pile rug construction would have used a Persian (single)
knot. The Turkish (double) knot which came along later tightens itself
as it is walked on. A Persian (single) knot will show a vertical line
going up the rug, and a Turkish double knot will show a horizontal line
going across the rug.
2. Types of dyes
Natural dyes are made from organic (natural) elements such as
saffron, tobacco, berries, roots, and flowers. The process for dying
wool with natural dyes is quite long, as the color is set by placing
yarn in the sun. The set time varies from color to color, and place to
place. Chemical dyes are a much quicker process.
“The first human-made (synthetic) organic dye, mauveine,
was discovered serendipitously by William Henry Perkin in 1856. Many
thousands of synthetic dyes have since been prepared” – wikipedia
While the first natural synthetic dye was discovered in 1856,
chemical dyes were not widely used until sometime in the early 1900s.
Today, quality rug makers are moving back towards a use of natural
materials, processes, and dyes.
Natural dyes tend to glow with an iridescence that chemical dyes to
not get over time, as though with age they become more lustrous. There
is no easy way to distinguish natural and chemical dyes by eye – unless
of course there are indicative factors such as a corrosive brown or
colors like “hot” orange. Metals were used to create the natural brown
dyes used in antique rugs, causing oxidation (and therefore corrosion to
Silk is one material which does not take natural dyes, only chemical.
“Antique washing” rugs is a process done to rugs whose colors are not
so desirable (mainly red and blue rugs) – the reds tend to fade out to a
neutral color, while the blues remain. Making a palette that is more
pleasing to the eye. Sometimes, however, pieces that have been antique
washed may not look as expected once out of the wash. Also, styles are
cyclical, and when color started coming back in, many rugs that were
antique washed could have fit the bill prior to altering.
Wool is the most widely used material in antique rugs. This is
because Sheep, and therefore wool, is what was most readily available to
people. If a rug has all wool construction it can be indicative of the
age. Wool on wool is generally a much older carpet, though the
material continues to be used more often in foundations of tribal rugs
Cotton was used in the warp and weft of most rugs in the latter half of the 19th
century, except in more tribal areas of production. All cotton rugs
are fairly rare, except for in the case of Indian “jailhouse” rugs / AKA
cotton Agras, or Indian Dhurries.
Silk is the least popular material here in the states. Silk rugs
tend to be very refined, and very formal – not such an American taste.
Silk rugs should be constructed on silk foundations. The reason for
this is that the silk is stronger than cotton or wool, and can be tied
tighter, causing the foundation to break if not silk. A bursa silk rug,
from Turkey, can be placed on a light box, and will appear to be a
completely different rug. Silk on cotton or wool exists, but is not
recommended for a high traffic area. The finer the silk used, the
smaller the knot, the higher the knot count, and the harder to keep a
piece straight and even. For this reason, more refined silk pieces are
usually small in size.
Newer silk rugs are being made with recycled silk on cotton using
much chunkier knots, so as not to cut the material of the structure.
Cotton wefts give the rug a “body” not found in 100% silk rugs. The
Turkish (double) knot is better when using silk because of the slippery
nature of the material.
Newer rugs also contain other materials such as jute, rattan, bamboo,
el paca, etc. A large number of workshops now are experimenting with
materials and processes in ways never seen before, bringing new life and
texture to the industry.
4. When and where to buy
antique rugs that are of value or have popularity are already here in
the States or Europe. Many of these pieces were initially designed by
European designers who had workshops in Turkey or Iran, and made for
export to America or Europe. These pieces remain what are of interest
and value here today. Much of what is purchased by dealers today is
found at auction or via private sellers.
Most of the people weaving these rugs at the time they were made were
quite poor, and couldn’t afford to hold onto the rugs produced in their
country. Because of this 99.9 % were exported. The same practices
continue today, as the cost of production is a major concern in the
Buying at auction can be a good place to get a good rug at a good
price. However, once a rug starts to go quite high over the estimate,
chances are you are bidding against another private client who also
wants this particular rug. Dealers will stay closer to the estimated
price, but often are willing to take rugs that need servicing and
repair, whereas a private client will not want that hassle.
“antique” – over 100 years old.
“semi-antique” – 50-75 years old.
6. Condition / Repairs
Condition” is a term used referring to antique rugs in perfect
condition. This is due to fact that rugs in Europe seem to age less
quickly, and people there are more interested in collecting pieces that
have little to no wear. It may be due to the temperature or climate
that these rugs seem to keep very well, or it could also be that they
are used in show rooms with little to no traffic.
Rugs that have worn down so that the warp and weft show
through are often painted. One way to test for this is to lick your
finger and rub the area in question. If it is painted, the color will
rub off on your finger. The main reason you will want to know if a rug
is painted is so that you don’t try to clean it and cause color run.
Repairs and cuts are better seen in the back of a rug, and on the
face are usually better felt than seen. Remember that if you’re buying
an antique, perfect condition will cost you a pretty penny.
Some people like the worn look, others don’t. It’s all a matter of
preference. Every antique in my house shows age, use, and repairs…I
like to look at them and think that there’s a story or history that
comes with each piece, and that each repair is a part of that story.
One major factor to watch out for is dry rot, as the rug will forever
crack. This is usually seen in Indian and double wefted rugs such as
Bijars. Also, older rugs woven on jute suffer this fate. One way to
test for this, if the rug is not already cracking, is to fold the rug
and pinch. If you hear a snapping noise, there is a possibility of dry
7. Buying Overseas vs Buying in America/Europe
Many have the misconception that buying overseas will save them
money. Almost 90% of the time, it will not. The reasons for this, are
A. (as previously mentioned) the good stuff is already in the
States/Europe. B. Most are buying in tourist centers, where the prices
are adjusted to fit the tourists’ wallet. That’s not to say that there
are no good pieces to be found, nor is everything you buy overseas going
to be overpriced. But there is a high probability that it will be. If
you’ve bought a rug overseas, chances are when you got it home and
searched out something like it, you found a nicer piece for less money.
Everyone knows the tout and haggle game exists in eastern markets.
Knowing this, if you are still set on buying a rug overseas, well,
that’s where the fun comes in.
off, remember that you are NEVER obligated to buy a rug…even if the
tout has shown you around town, and gotten you free into every
attraction in the city…you are still not obligated. Let them serve you
tea, let them do their song and dance. If you are interested in
something, ask the price, but never let them ask you to offer how much
you think you would pay for it. As a tourist your perception is skewed,
and you will almost always offer much more than the carpets value.
Once they have offered you a price, most overseas vendors will expect
you to immediately counter with half of what they’ve told you. You can
do this back and forth, knowing its part of the game, but you should
also understand that with this practice you will end up halfway between
his initial price, and your offering – which may or may not be a good
price. Probably the best thing to do is not feel bad about offering too
little, offer waaayyyy less than the initial price put out there, and
then haggle from there.
Number ONE rule when buying overseas – unless you’re ready to make a
purchase NEVER shake a dealer’s hand. While not legally binding, a
handshake means a lot in many cultures.
8. Collectable Items
Pretty much any antique rug (or weaving) type can be collectable, as
there are people who love many different types of rugs and therefore
there is a collector for everything. Some more collectable items
include caucasian rugs, tent bands, bag faces, vagireh (samplers), and
fragments; but there are also collectors of styles such as French or
Chinese Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, Balouch, American Hooked Rugs, Navajo
9. Most Importantly
At the end of the day, the most important question after everything
is said and done is; do you love the rug? You are going to live with
it, so you better love it.
*all photos in this post courtesy of Rahmanan Antique & Decorative Rugs.
*to view this post in it's original format, with all photos, please see DOTS.connected.