All About The Back / Underside Of A Rug

What You Should Know About The Underside / Back Of The Rug

All the Questions You May Have About Rugs and Carpets | What Are The Different Parts Of The Area Rug?

We constantly see rug dealers and “carpet mavens” flipping the corner or even the entire rug over to it’s back and examining the underside. But why do they flip it to see the back of a rug? Why do they even look at the underside of the rug in the first place?

As we explain below, when shopping for a rug, turning a portion of it over to examine the underside is extremely important.

For starters, what is the back of the rug called?

The underside of a rug is simply called the “back” of the rug. It is also typically referred to as the “reverse” side or the “underside.” It is the side that is not intended to be visible and is usually in direct contact with the floor.

Back of the Rug Nazmiyal

Back of the Rug

What valuable insights can we gain by inspecting the back of the rug?

Inspecting the back of a rug can provide valuable information about its construction, quality, and origin.

Here are some details you can learn from the underside of an area rug:

  • Weaving Technique: The back of a rug reveals the weaving technique used. Common techniques include hand-knotting, hand-tufting, flatweave, and machine-made. Hand-knotted rugs often have a more intricate and irregular pattern on the back.
  • Material: You can, sometimes, identify more easily, the materials used in the rug by examining the back. This includes the type of fibers (wool, silk, cotton, synthetic) and the quality of the materials.
  • Knot Density: Counting the knots per square inch on the back can give an indication of the rug’s quality and craftsmanship. Higher knot density often corresponds to a finer and more detailed design.
  • Pile Height: The back may provide insights into the pile height or thickness of the rug. This information can be important for understanding the rug’s texture and feel.
  • Origin and Design Elements: Some rugs have specific design elements or marks on the back that can indicate their region of origin or the weaver’s signature. This is particularly true for handmade or artisanal rugs.
  • Quality of Finishing: Examining the edges and corners on the back can reveal the quality of finishing. Well-made rugs usually have secure bindings and neatly finished edges.

Remember that these details might not be applicable to all types of rugs, especially machine-made ones. Additionally, while inspecting the back can provide insights, it’s also essential to examine the front to appreciate the overall design and coloration of the rug.

What is a rug backing?

Some area rugs will have fabric sewn to the back of the rug. This would typically be added for stability and to help the rug “stay together” and avoid getting new damages, or exacerbating old preexisting issues such as holes, wear or unraveling. Others may have adhesive that is applied to the underside to hold the fibers in place – as in the case of machine made rugs.

When you look at the back of a handmade area rug, what is that you are actually seeing?

When you look at the back of a handmade area rug, you are typically seeing the reverse side of the rug, which can provide insights into its construction and craftsmanship.

Picture of the back / underside of an antique Persian rug from Nazmiyal Antique Rugs in NYC

Picture of the back / underside of an antique Persian

Here are some key features you might observe:

  • Weaving Structure: The back of a handmade rug reveals the weaving structure, showcasing the knots and foundation of the rug. For example, hand-knotted rugs will have individual knots visible on the back.
  • Knots and Knot Density: You can see the arrangement of knots and count the number of knots per square inch. This information indicates the knot density, and higher knot density is often associated with finer quality rugs.
  • Pile Height: The back can give you an idea of the rug’s pile height, which is the length of the fibers from the base of the knots to the surface. This affects the overall texture and thickness of the rug.
  • Material Identification: You may be able to identify the materials used in the rug by examining the back. Different fibers such as wool, silk, or cotton may have distinct appearances on the reverse side.
  • Design Clarity: In some cases, the back of the rug may provide insight into the clarity of the design. Well-made rugs will often have a clear and defined pattern on both the front and back.
  • Finishing Details: The back can reveal the quality of finishing, including the edges and corners. Handmade rugs usually have secure bindings and neatly finished edges.
  • Weaver’s Signature or Markings: Some handmade rugs may have unique markings, signatures, or design elements on the back that can indicate the weaver’s identity or the rug’s origin.

Keep in mind that the level of detail you can observe on the back may vary depending on the type of rug and the weaving technique used. Additionally, the front of the rug is crucial for appreciating its overall design and aesthetics.

Reasons for examining the underside of a rug:

  • Diagnostic point of view: Viewing the back of the rug is what allows one to see the actual technical aspects of the weave / rug knots or “structure”. This, in turn, will aid in determining the place of origin of the rug.
  • Determining the quality of the rug: The reverse side will reveal the relative quality / fineness of the weave itself as well as the knot density.
  • Rug repair and restoration: Many time, rug repairs and restorations are not easily detectable when viewing the face of the rug. But when you turn the rug over, the underside of the rug may show more clearly where the restoration took place.
  • Examining the carpet dyes: The back of the rug can also reveal something about the dyes that were used. Especially if there is a big disparity between the color on both sides of the carpet. The front of the rug will usually be lighter than the underside. This is mostly due to sun fading as the face gets exposed to light while the back rarely does. The early synthetic dyes are fugitive on exposure to light and the light does not reach the back of the carpet. This is unless the rug had been deliberately flipped over and exposed to fade the underside as well. The only reason this would be done would be to try and conceal the fact that it is faded. If the front is darker than the back, you may want someone to look it over as it may have been artificially re-colored or painted.
  • Helping to determine how old the rug is: The texture of the underside also helps indicate the age of the rug. A relatively smooth or “hairless” back surface takes time to develop. Most new modern rugs will have a more fibrous, fuzzy texture. Examining the back of the rug may be the key to discovering the great age of an antique carpet whose front looks relatively new.
  • Design: In some cases, you may be able to see the rug’s design and pattern on the underside, albeit in a less detailed and more muted form compared to the front. This can help identify the rug’s style and design elements.
  • Labels or Tags: Some rugs may have labels or tags sewn onto the back that provide information about the rug’s maker, origin, materials, and care instructions.

Examining the back of a handmade rug can be useful for assessing its quality, authenticity, and provenance. However, it’s essential to handle the rug with care and, if necessary, consult experts or specialists for a more detailed analysis, especially when dealing with valuable or antique rugs.

This rug blog about about the back / underside of a rug in our Rug Q&A’s series was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery In Manhattan, NYC.

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