(The following is an edited excerpt from Warp, Weft & Weave: A Life Collecting and Investing in Handmade Oriental Rugs by Sam Ramazani)
There are a multitude of countries that produce rugs, but only four produce what I refer to as “real” rugs; the rugs produced in these areas are of a caliber that is unmatched by any others. I’d like to help you get familiar and comfortable with these countries and the kinds of rugs they produce. This information is extensive, so we will cover it in two posts.
In addition to there being four countries that create Oriental rugs, there are three different “kinds” of rug within each country. “City” rugs are made by weavers with sophisticated skills, access to a panoply of materials and dyes and generally feature complex patterns that are curvelinar. “Village” rugs are less complex in design, usually made in a family home and while they may contain some curvilinear elements, they are mostly geometric in their patterns. “Tribal” rugs are the simplest in pattern, always geometric, and often uneven in shape because they are made by nomadic tribal people and their loom tension will change as they pack up a partially finished rug to move on to their next place.
Let’s start with one of the largest producers of Oriental rugs, and of course, the country I come from. Iran has a long history of creating some of the finest rugs on earth, and to this day, it still has some of the most skilled and creative pattern makers and weavers to be found anywhere. There are literally hundreds of different kinds of rugs from Iran, too many to include here. Instead, here is a short list of some of my favorite kinds of rugs and their characteristics.
A very fine city rug, often featuring intricate floral design and a center medallion. Tabriz rugs are densely and tightly woven. This city has produced some of the most esteemed masters of the craft in the 19th century.
An extremely high-quality city rug, Ghoms are made from silk or Kork wool (wool spun from the first shearing of wool off the neck of a baby lamb) and finely knotted. They feature the more complex curvilinear designs of city rugs.
A village rug that features brilliant and deep colors such as cobalt and scarlet. The Hamadan pattern is a satisfying blend of the sophisticated curvilinear city style and the tribal geometric.
Another village rug, known for exquisite vegetable dye coloring. In Heriz rugs you will find some of the best examples of the blending of sophisticated curvilinear city-style patterns and bold tribal-style geometric design.
A tribal rug often featuring a repeating geometric pattern and in a darker color palette of browns, dark blues and even black. Because these rugs are made by nomads, they tend to be quite small for portability. The square size, usually difficult to find in Oriental rugs, is more prevalent in Baluch.
Made by a number of different tribes, a Gabbeh is truly a nomadic style of rug. Wool thread is usually hand spun from the tribe’s own sheep, and features very simple designs. No patterns are used creating these rugs, it’s all from the weaver’s imagination.
Former Soviet Union
The former Soviet Union has a number of regions that produce exquisite handmade rugs that are very worthy of collecting. While Iranian rugs, especially city-produced, can tend toward complex and lush patterns and colors, many rugs from this area will have brighter colors and bolder, more geometric designs.
These are varied and often complex rugs woven by the regions on either side of the Caucasus Mountains. Patterns and color can differ greatly based on location but still be considered “Caucasian.” Likewise, the weaving can vary from fine to coarse, depending on where a rug is made. The decorative elements in the rug range from geometric to curvilinear, simple to complex.
These rugs are still plentifully made in the Caucasus region. These rugs are brightly colored and feature designs that are strikingly geometric. The region is primarily Armenian and nomadic Kurds. The rugs are usually small, often with stars (eight pointed) or crabs and other geometric shapes in repeating patterns. Antique Kazaks in good condition rival antique Persian rugs for beauty and value.
These rugs are excellent examples of the “all over” design pattern. This region is known for the Bokhara design. Bokhara rugs are actually traded in Bokhara rather than being made there. The tribes that make these rugs are solitary and private people, generally not wanting others in the areas they live in. Each tribe has their own “Gul,” an octagonal pattern that resembles an elephant’s footprint.
The Baluchi are tribes that travel through the Turkoman region. These rugs reflect the tribal lives of the people who create them. They are less fine, but no less beautiful than city rugs. They can be irregular in shape because of the horizontal looms they are woven on, and because they are often moved from place to place while being woven.
Soumak is a Caucasus region and the word “Soumak” refers more to a style of weaving than a particular design. A Soumak is a flat weave that is more durable than the flat-weave of the Kilim. The Soumak technique wraps colored weft yarns over and under the warp, forcing the threads to rise up from the rug, making something that looks a lot like embroidery and does not have the holes or slits that can be seen in a kilim weave. These rugs usually have a simpler, geometric tribal-style pattern to them. True antique Soumaks are rare.
I’ll leave you here for now. Please join me again when we’ll go over the other two authentic rug making countries and learn a little more about them. I sincerely hope this inspires you to learn more and create your own collection of these exquisite treasures.
Sam Ramazani is an Oriental carpet educator, appraiser, broker, and skilled repair craftsman. With his daughter Sara, he owns Sara’s Oriental Rugs in Louisville, KY, providing beautiful handmade rugs, as well as expert rug cleaning and repair.