Learning About Machine Made Rugs
Since the earliest days of western industrialization, beginning in the 19th century, many rugs have been manufactured (or mass-produced) by a wide variety of machine loom processes. Such rugs – which are commonly referred to as “machine made rugs” – are generally made from the same materials as hand-made rugs. These include wool, silk, and high quality cotton, with a small number of pieces being woven from other materials.
In addition to an emphasis on high quality weaving materials, the standards of fabrication for machine made rugs may also be high. After all, machine made rugs are consumer-end products that are manufactured with the express purpose of selling a very large number of them. High quality weaving materials are important for mass-production, as they ensure fewer problems will arise during manufacture. However, this utilization of high quality materials is unfortunately the most that one can expect to celebrate about most machine made rugs, which are mechanical in their execution, and often in their design as well.
Machine made rugs are programmatic and contain no surprises, no idiosyncrasies, and none of the little bits of magic that add up to make a great hand-made rug. In other words, machine made rugs simply lack the personality that one finds in authentic hand made rugs. As mass-produced items, machine made rugs are almost always less valuable than their hand-made counterparts, although there are some examples of machine made rugs, such as the perennially popular Wiltons or Karastans, that will command a high price. Of course, while cost is certainly an important factor, the most important distinction between machine made rugs and hand-made rugs is the simple and inescapable fact that hand-made rugs are almost always more expressive, more adventurous, and more exciting than machine-made rugs, which may be artful, but are not art the same way that hand-made rugs are.
Machine Made Rugs vs. Hand Knotted Rugs: Know the Difference
One of the questions that we often get is what makes a hand knotted carpet so special. An antique hand-knotted Persian carpet from the 18th century can cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Yet, you can get a carpet with a somewhat similar design for a few hundred dollars at a department store. There is often a big difference in price range between a hand knotted antique and a synthetic machine-made carpet. You may be wondering what justifies the price of the rug and whether it is worth it. Let’s explore what the differences really are.
Look and Feel Of Machine-Made Rugs
In a side by side comparison, the beauty of the hand knotted carpet will stand out in contrast to the machine made rugs in a way that is obvious to the eye. Hand knotted carpets have colors produced from natural plants that blend in a way that synthetic dyes can never reproduce, even when using the same materials and colors. Authentic hand knotted carpets feel soft and plush. Synthetic fibers can only go so far in achieving softness, regardless of the pile type or structure.
With a hand knotted carpet, the design of the rug is produced by each of the knots being hand-tied individually. The weaver carefully places the colors according to a rug cartoon that serves as a reference pattern. Machine-made carpets are sometimes stamped after the carpet has been woven. The designs are stamped or painted on and are not an integral part of the weave. This is especially true when it comes to carpets with a low, uncut pile.
The Speed of Machine-Made Rugs
One of the biggest differences between a hand knotted heirloom treasure and machine made rugs is the time and care that goes into it making it. A hand knotted rug takes months or even several years to produce. It is an intentional work of art. By comparison, machines can create carpets at a rate of about 200-250 woven rows per minute. This translates into about one and one-half inches per minute. A power loom can produce about seven to eight feet per hour. This means that in an eight-hour production day, one loom can produce about eight room-sized carpets. Many manufacturers have multiple looms in operation at a time.
By comparison, one fine, high knot count hand knotted carpet can take over a year to produce. Another significant difference is in the materials. Hand knotted carpets are made of natural fibers such as wool, silk, and cotton. Machine-made rugs are typically made of synthetic fibers such as nylon, acrylic, polyester, and imitation silk. They are dyed with synthetic, chemically-based dyes. It is easy to see the difference visually. If the carpet is hand knotted, the dyes will be even all the way through the pile. Synthetic carpets using chemical dyes will show fading at the open end of the pile and will be darker near the base. This is because chemical dyes break down quicker in the sunlight than properly dyed natural colors do.
Manufacturers of machine-made carpets work hard to develop techniques that mimic hand knotted carpets, but they can only come so close and can never match the beauty and artistry of an authentic hand knotted carpet. Many of the designs are computer-generated and based on Oriental rugs, but they have a mechanical look and feel that can be distinguished from a natural carpet.
Manufactured pile carpets are produced by using an automatic power loom, but sometimes, the pile is left as loops that are then cut all at once at the end of the process. With hand knotted carpets, the pile is cut as each individual knot is tied. A final trim is performed after the pile is complete.
Spotting A Machine-Made Rug
One of the key differences between machine-made and hand knotted carpets is lifespan. Some hand-knotted carpets produced as far back as the 17th century still look as bright and beautiful as the day they were produced. You can expect a hand knotted carpet to last about 150 years or longer when given proper care. The best that you can expect to get from a machine-made carpet is about 20 years maximum. Synthetic materials are not as durable and break down under UV light quickly as compared to natural fibers.
From a collector’s standpoint, machine-made carpets have no value. Only an authentic hand-made carpet has value from an artistic and collectible standpoint. Unfortunately, some in the world will try to pass off a manufactured carpet as an authentic knotted one. It is especially important to be cautious in general marketplaces on the internet. There are many reputable dealers with authentic carpets out there, but you must be able to tell the difference. Fortunately, some telltale signs will be a giveaway that the carpet is manufactured, even when only the pictures are available.
1. Feel and texture.
Of course, if you can see the carpet in person, you can tell by texture and feel of the carpet. There are some relatively convincing synthetic materials available that may be difficult to spot at first. However, a synthetic fiber can never mimic the softness of wool or cotton. Artificial silk is quite soft and shiny, but it still cannot come close to the luster and feel of the real thing.
2. Look at the back.
If you cannot see the back of the carpet in person, pictures can tell you what you need to know. Some manufactured carpets have the pile sewn onto a backing. You will be able to see the lines of stitching in these carpets. Others are created with a power loom and the back and look quite similar to a hand knotted carpet. You will see little bumps where each knot was placed. With a hand knotted carpet these little bumps will be a bit unevenly spaced, and there may be little imperfections. In a manufactured carpet, these little bumps will be perfectly even without variation, as only a machine can produce.
3. Look for a backing material.
If the carpet has a rubber backing, it is a more than likely a machine made rug. If it has any other type of backing, it should be suspect of being manufactured. Some manufacturers will glue the stitches on the back to keep them in place. They will then cover the glue with some type of backing. To find a hand knotted pile carpet with a backing is exceptionally rare. The only time when a backing may be applied is if the piece is a valuable antique where a backing has been applied for historical preservation purposes.
4. Examine the edges.
Hand knotted carpets can have many different edging styles. These styles differ regionally. However, they are all some type of weaving. Machine made rugs may have binding applied to the edges, or they may have an overcast stitch applied. An overcast stitch may look like the serged edge that you find on clothing seams. A hand knotted carpet will not have one of these binding techniques applied.
5. Check the colors.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if the colors of the rug are synthetic or natural dyed to the untrained eye. However, even a beginner can learn some telltale clues. Ask for a picture of the carpet front with the fabric bent to expose the pile. If the color fades at the tips of the pile, then it is probably synthetic. Even when natural fibers fade, they fade evenly across the length of the pile. One can find some bright colors in authentic rugs, but if you happen to see hot pink or fluorescent orange, it is most likely synthetic. Natural colors will always blend together in a way that is pleasing to the eye.
Although you may be tempted to buy a cheap imitation of machine made rugs because of the price, there is nothing like the look and feel of a hand knotted rug. Each hand knotted rug is a work of art and a piece of the heart and soul of the weaver. Each piece is a deliberate creation and can take up to several years to complete. This love and care is something that a machine can never reproduce. Each hand knotted rug is the result of the artistic choices of the weaver, and a little bit of them is woven into each knot. The human touch is the most important part of an authentic Persian carpet.
Any reputable dealer will not hesitate to send you pictures of the edges, back, depth of pile, or any other photos of the carpet that you want to see. These pictures are worth a thousand words, and you should always be cautious of a person who hesitates to let you examine the carpet further, even if only through additional photos.
Nazmiyal Collection has been around since the 1980’s and has built a trusted reputation in the industry. Our selection of carpets includes many different styles and types. We are always happy to answer any questions that you may have on any of the carpets that you see, and if you find one that you are interested in, you can always ask for additional photos. You are encouraged to come and visit our gallery if you are in the New York City area and see these magnificent pieces for yourself.