Introduction to Weaving Persian Rugs and Other Carpets
Weaving Persian Rugs
Weaving Persian Rugs – From the earliest times Persia has been famed as a major center of Oriental rugs and carpet weaving. The ultimate origins of the woven carpet remain a subject of debate, but all the evidence points to Persia as the cradle of ancient rug production from the earliest times. Indeed, Persia has been a fountain of oriental art and culture not only in antiquity, but down through the centuries. By Islamic times, Persia had established the standards of architecture design, miniature painting, and textile production emulated by the rest of the Middle East.
In the Safavid period beginning around 1500, when we finally have a substantial body of surviving carpets, it becomes ever clearer that Persia constituted the heartland of Islamic rug production, providing inspiration for the rug maker in the neighboring regions of Turkey and India from the 16th century on.
And since the great revival of Oriental rug weaving in the later nineteenth century Persia has continued to maintain this central role right down to the present time. No other oriental rug-producing region can offer the range and quality of design, the superior wool and dyes, or the highly refined weaving techniques that still distinguish Persian rugs as the finest work of its kind.
Other Carpet Weaving Techniques
The rug weaving process begins with the preparation of the wool, cotton or silk fibers. In the case of wool, it must be washed after being shorn. Then it is ‘carded’ to untangle the fibers. Once they are processed, the wool fibers, like the fibers of cotton and silk, must be twisted or ‘spun’ into longer lengths of ‘yarn.’ They may be ‘Z-spun,’ twisted clockwise, or ‘S-spun,’ twisted counter-clockwise. Two or more spun yarns may then be ‘plied’ into thicker, more substantial yarns by spinning them in a direction opposite to that of the component yarns.
Whether they are pile or flatwoven kilims, rugs are produced on looms like all other textiles. A rug loom is essentially a framework that enables the yarns making up the rug to be arranged horizontally and vertically under tension. Looms may be of either horizontal or upright vertical type. Horizontal looms, which are favored by nomadic weavers, are arranged parallel to the ground some six to twelve inches above it, often outdoors. Upright vertical looms must be set up permanently indoors in a home or workshop.
The production of tapestry or flatwoven kilim rugs begins with the placement of the plied yarns or ‘warps’ vertically on the loom in closely set parallel rows. Once these are in place the weaver then inserts un-plied yarns horizontally through the warps in an over-under fashion. Whether vertical or horizontal, more elaborate looms utilize a ‘shed’ apparatus that maintains space between alternate warps in order to pass the wefts through more quickly with the aid of a ‘shed stick.’ The design is achieved by introducing weft yarns of different color through the warps. Once the wefts are in place the weaver compresses them vertically with the aid of a weaver’s comb until they entirely conceal the warps, producing a ‘weft-faced’ tapestry.
Pile or ‘knotted’ carpets are an elaboration of this process. The warps are set up in the same fashion along with a few initial rows of wefts. Then the rug weaver inserts a horizontal row of knots,’ actually only loops, made of un-plied yarns wrapped around successive pairs of warps with the yarn ends left hanging long. These knots may be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. For symmetrical knots the yarns are inserted between two adjacent warps and then wrapped around them both so that both yarn ends come up together between both warps. For asymmetrical knots the yarn is inserted and wrapped around only one warp to pass under the next warp before emerging.
Asymmetrical knots may be ‘open left’ or ‘open right’ depending on whether the weaver works from right to left or vice versa. Here too the design is achieved by inserting knots of different colors. Once the entire horizontal row of knots is complete, the weaver inserts one or more passes of wefts to secure the knots and the process is repeated. Periodically the weaver will use a comb and sometimes a mallet to compress the knotting and wefts vertically. Collectively the warps and wefts comprise the ‘rug foundation’ while the trailing ends of the knots comprise the ‘pile.’
During the weaving process, the ends of the knot yarns are left long and shaggy so that they do not come undone. After the weaving is complete the shaggy ends of the knot yarns are then cut or ‘clipped’ to a uniform length to produce the surface of the pile. The fineness of the weave depends on several factors – the relative thickness or thinness of the component yarns, how closely the weaver sets the adjacent warps, and how much the wefts and knotting is compressed vertically. The finer the weave, the greater the number of knots per square inch, which is the product of the average vertical and horizontal knot count within a square inch.
Finer weaves, as opposed to finer woven rugs, would be between one and two hundred knots per square inch or more; a coarser weave would be less than one hundred. On more finely knotted rugs the pile tends to clipped relatively short to maintain the clarity and crispness of the more detailed, delicate rug designs and patterns. More coarsely woven rugs tend to have bolder, less intricate designs that in turn allow the pile to be left longer or shaggier. Coarser ‘high pile’ rugs of this kind also tend to have broader bands of multiple wefts separating the rows of knots giving the rug a more flexible, supple handle. More finely and densely woven rugs tend to have a firmer handle that makes them lie flat.
Rugs known as ‘soumaks’ represent intermediary technique between tapestry kilim and knotted pile. In rugs of this kind the process also begins with the placement of the warps on the loom and the initial insertion of wefts. But instead of introducing yarns of various colors in knotted loops with cut shaggy ends to produce the rug design, the yarns are looped continuously over the warps in various configurations, placing the yarns largely above the level of the warps with a cabled-texture more like pile. Soumaks are therefore thicker and more substantial than tapestry kilims.
Whether in flatwoven or knotted pile technique, the sides and ends of the rug are given a special finish to bind and reinforce the weaving. The sides are strengthened with coiled woolen binding added after the weaving process or sometimes made as part of the wefts. Once removed from the loom the long warp ends may be knotted or braided to prevent their unraveling. Pile rugs will typically have narrow bands of kilim tapestry left at either end as protective reinforcement in addition to the knotting or braiding of the warps. Nomadic rugs, with pile weaving, often extend and embroider these kilim ends as ‘skirts’, sometimes up to a foot in length, to decorate and protect the ends of the carpet.