Rug Design, origin and History
Design in rugs is, of course, inseparable from design in architecture and decoration generally. The exact origin and early development of design is buried in the dawn of history. The earliest historic ornament belongs to civilizations already well advanced. The vast array of design of all ages and periods appears incomprehensible until we realize that that each style is founded on the one preceding it. The ornament of every age is nearly always traceable to that of some older civilization. There is a clear genealogy of design.The very earliest patterns were undoubtedly geometrical in character and prehistoric in origin. It is generally assumed that the first "woven" designs were copies of the plaiting of the mats made of rushes which preceded the carpets in the evolution of floor coverings. Among these earliest motifs is the "zig zag", a motif of prehistoric origin evidently derived from basketry, occurring frequently in Egyptian art, where it represents the waters of the Nile. Another is the "swastika", thought to have originated as a sacred symbol in the worship of the sun and to have signified time and eternity. Egyptian motifs had their origin in art, such as the "lotus" as it was the first flower to be represented in woven fabrics. The "rosette" also comes from Egypt, and is found in borders, as well as the "palmette" another adaptation of the Lotus shows a cup with fan-shaped leaves. Its meaning is related to the sun rising over the Nile, while others think it may have originated in the tree of life. The palmette, persisting through Greek art, has come down through the ages to our time.
There are six main classifications of Oriental rugs, and less than fifty common kinds. The majority of these are named from which they are imported. The name of a rug does not guarantee quality, as both superior and inferior grades are made in all places. The important essential ingredients in all rugs are design, material, and workmanship, and of these, from an interior designer's standpoint is of course design - which includes color.
The six classifications are Persian, Indian, Turkoman, Caucasian, Turkish, and Chinese.
Persian rugs are profusely decorated with a great variety of flowers, leaves, vines, and occasional birds and animals woven in a freehand manner and considerably conventionalized with purely decorative intent. The generally have an all over pattern, and the ground is almost entirely covered. The colors are soft and delicate, blending with one another in a most pleasing manner. Many of the patterns start from a central medallion. The lines of the patterns are always graceful. Among the most popular of the Persian rugs are the Saraband, whose entire field is covered with a repeating pattern of palm leaves, such as are used on an Indian shawl design, with a rose or blue ground; the Ispahan or Herat, having a coarse pile showing an intricate, stately design on a claret ground; the Hamadan, a camel's hair rug with a coarse weave in light browns, reds, and blues; the Kerman and Kermanshah, with fine pile in soft cream, rose, light blue, and other pastel colors; the Sarook, having a fine pile in dark reds and blues mixed with lighter colors; the Bijar, as thick as two or three ordinary rugs; the Polonaise, a delicately colored antique silk rug; the Sehna, the close woven small rug with a minute pattern; and the Feraghan, usually produced with a small all over design of flowers or conventional forms arrayed in rows.
Indian rugs are those in which flowers, leaves, vines, and occasional animals are woven in a naturalistic manner. In the earlier rugs of which few remain, the weavers drew the flowers as though they were botanical specimens. In the later Indian rugs many copies of Persian patterns were made, but the copies are always easily recognized. The colors in these rugs are often brilliant. In broad generalization, the two classifications of Oriental rugs that are decorated almost exclusively with flowers are the Persian and the Indian, and their style and patterns are so distinct that their identification is comparitavely easy. The leading place names associated with Indian rugs are Agra, Lahore, Kashmir, and Srinagar.
Turkoman rugs, comprising the products of Turkestan, Bokhara, Afghanistan, and Beluchistan, are red rugs with web fringes or apron diamonds, octagons, stars, and crosses. The forms are nearly always of pure geometric linear design. They are closely woven, with a short firm pile. The the wild tribes of these localities should dye their wools in the shades of blood and weave the designs of childhood is fitting and logical.
Caucasian rugs, also the product of a wild section of Central Asia, differ from the Turkoman rugs chiefly in being dyed in other colors than blood red, in omitting apron ends, and in being more crowded, elaborate, and pretentious in geometric linear pattern. The Caucasian weaver's distinction as the Oriental cartoonist, the expert in wooden men, women, and animals is well deserved. He holds the Oriental rug patent on Noah's-ark designs. Incidentally, Mount Ararat and Noah's grave, "shown" near Nakitchevan, are actually located on the southern border of the Caucasus. Some of the design forms resemble snow crystals, others are not unlike the patterns of the Navaho and other American Indian blankets. The eight-pointed star is a great favorite, and forms borrowed from the Persian are sometimes used. Borders are often wide and important. The designs are bold and the colors brilliant and strongly contrasted, imitating mosaic effects. The principal rugs of the Caucasus are those of Daghestan, Shirvan, Soumak, Kuba, Ghendje, and Cashmere, the last generally attributed to India.
Turkish rugs are of both geometrical and floral design, but can be distinguished from Persian and Indian products by their ruler-drawn character of their patterns. The often show quasi-botanical forms, angularly treated. Turkish rugs that contain the patterns common to the Caucasian and Turkoman families can be recognized by their brighter, sharper, and more contrasting colors. The key to the identification of this most difficult rug family is to be found in the Turkish prayer rugs. To know Turkish rugs, one must see many of them; to know the other families, one need see only a few. Ghiordes was famous for making prayer rugs. Bergamo was justly esteemed for its shaggy rugs of individual designs. many rugs actually made in the interior are attributed to Smyrna, a port town. The Anatolian and Armenian rugs are also classified with the Turkish.
Chinese rugs can be recognized instantly by their colors; these are determined by their backgrounds-the reverse of the Persian method, which is to make the design the principal color medium. the Chinese colors are probably best described as lighter and softer colors of silk-dull yellows, rose, salmon-red, browns, and tans, the design usually being in blue. The Chinese were the original manufacturers and dyers of silk, and they applied their silk dyes to their rugs. The older Chinese rugs frequently show designs influenced by the Buddhist, Taoist, and Lamaist faiths. Symbolism was of the utmost importance. The Precious Things, The Hundred Antiques, The Fragrant Fingers of Buddha, the peony, the waves and clouds of eternity, the mythical dragon, the fabulous lion, the heavenly dog trying to devour the moon, the horse, the bat, the butterfly serving as the symbol of Cupid, the temple bells, and other distinctive features are found in the patterns.
The best periods of antique Chinese rugs were the K'ang Hsi (1662-1723) and the Ch'ien Lung (1736-1796). The patterns of these periods have been extensively copied ever since they were originated, but unfortunately commercialism has entered the field, and many of the modern Chinese producers have disregarded the old traditions and created patterns solely to appeal to an uninformed European and American public.
Weaves and Knots
The majority of Oriental rugs are woven with knots, the ends of which are cut off, forming a pile. There are two kinds woven without knots. They are Khilims and Soumaks, the latter sometimes called Cashmere rugs. Khilims are Oriental tapestries. The design is obtained by frequent changes of weft colors. The face and back of this rug appear to be alike. The best of Khilims, known as Sehna, are rightly among the most desirable of Oriental weavings. Khilims are thin and light in weight, but are often quite durable.
The Soumak rug, from Shemakha in the Caucasus, and not from India as is commonly supposed, has three parts to its weave. In addition to the warp and weft, which form only the basis of the fabric, the pattern is made by a stitch woven in and out between the warp threads, back under two, forward over four again, and so on, making a smooth surface. The ends of the threads are left loose on the back, as on a Cashmere Shawl; this has caused these rugs to be known incorrectly as Cashmeres.
The third type, or knotted rug, is the one most generally used. Here the weft is a mere binder, the entire surface, or pile being formed by the ends of threads knotted around the warps. Two types of knot are used, the Ghiordes or Turkish and the Sehna or Persian. The former is used in Turkey, the Caucasus, and parts of Persia, the latter throughout the greater part of Asia, including China, Turkestan, Beluchistan, and most of Persia. To make the Ghiordes knot, a short piece of thread is laid across two warps, and the ends are carried down outside and up between them and pulled tight. Int the Sehna knot, one end is treated in this manner, but the other passes down between two threads and up outside. In either case the pile is of wool, but the warp and weft may be of wool, cotton, or a mixture of the two, or occasionally of camel's hair or silk.
Fibers and Materials
A great variety of materials is used making Oriental rugs. Wool is the all important textile of the industry; cotton, the base and binder; hair and silk, the occasional materials.Hemp, jute, and linen are also used in rug making, but to be a real judge of rugs, one must be a judge of wools. Wool is a modified form of hair, distinguishable from it by softness, curl, and elasticity, and the microscopic overlapping scales of its surface. It is sometimes impossible to determine whether an animal fiber is wool or hair, because the one by degrees merges into the other. Fine wool has as many as 2,800 scales to the inch. Poor wool has not more than 500. This makes a difference in Oriental rugs in the absorption and retention of dye.
The best wool is taken from the shoulders and sides of the young sheep, goat, or camel. Wool taken from old, undernourished or dead animals is of second and third grade. The importance of the quality and condition of the wool in Oriental rugs is accentuated by the possible effects of the processes that are applied to finish them for the market. These processes, known as washing or treating, are the application to new rugs of various chemical solutions that diminish the strength of the raw dyes and colors. If carelessly applied, these solutions that actually consume the fabric. When applied to good wools and dyes, they do little or no damage. As practically all modern Oriental rugs are treated, the buyer must concern himself to secure rugs that have been wisely treated.
Dyes and Coloring
The dyes used exclusively in the East until a comparatively few years ago were vegetable and natural dyes. The vegetable dyes were obtained from leaves, flowers, roots, berries, bark, and nuts. Cochineal is the stock example of a natural insect dye. These were the materials that made Oriental rugs famous, and the recipes were carefully guarded secrets. Substitutes have been found for every dye, however.Alizarin dye is an artificial dyestuff obtained from coal tar. Aniline, invented in 1856, has gradually eliminated the natural dyes. Many of the aniline dyes are as permanent as the natural or vegetable dyes. If the color schemes, designs, and wools of the Oriental rugs woven today were as satisfactory generally as are the dyes used in them, the art of rug weaving would be on a very high plane.
Oriental rugs may have defects resulting from the depredation of heels and moths and from dry rot due to age and salt water; and they may have holes, cuts, and crookedness in weave (which I happen to enjoy sometimes). Old rugs that are worn to the foundation in sections are much less desirable for service than those with the pile of fair depth which is worn evenly. The deep and serious defects of a rug are easily detected by holding it to the light and by examining its back. heavy beating to clean a rug quickly ruins it. Sweeping and vacuum cleaning can do little harm, if not too vigorously applied.
There are three possible values in every Oriental rug: the utility value, the art value, and the collector's value.
The utility value depends entirely upon the durability of the fabric as a floor covering. The art value depends upon the color and design rather than upon the texture. The collector's value depends upon the rarity of the art value. It follows that Oriental rugs are valued and priced according to individual worth, and that the honest dealer can neither ask more than a rug is worth nor confess attempted extortion by radical price reductions. The fairness of the price is proportionate usually to the honesty of the dealer. To judge the quality of an Oriental rug is a matter requiring considerable study, and the amateur will be well advised not to attempt this without the aid of an expert or a dealer whose reputation in unquestioned.