Think about a rich-looking, luxuriously decorated room, and chances are a Persian rug is present in that vision. An area rug lends warmth and softness to a hard floor, and a Persian carpet in particular gives an exotic look to a living space with its colouration and intricate designs. Ironically, such rugs have become such classics that they are chameleons in terms of decorating styles and can work in formal, global, and even eco-chic homes.
Making a wise purchase when it comes to Persian rug requires a good amount of knowledge up front. Due to the cost, many imitations are on the market, and sometimes these are passed off as genuine articles, either overtly or subtly. Knowing the difference between a real Persian rug and a fake is essential, and understanding how to discern quality and the difference between Persian and Turkish carpets is also important. Buyers should know what materials to look for, be educated about the design formats, and also have some idea of what size rug they want.
Background Information on Persian Rugs
The oldest known Persian (Iranian) carpet in existence is the Pazyryk Carpet, which dates back to the 5th century B.C. The carpet was discovered in a royal grave in Siberia in 1949 and was analysed using radiocarbon dating. It is likely that the natural cryogenic preservation of this treasure was the key to its extraordinary longevity. Unfortunately, most rugs cannot survive this long, since the natural fibres used to make them are prone to decay.
Handmade rugs are one of the primary exports of Iran after petroleum. While similar-looking rugs are made in other nations, Persian rugs are generally considered to be the most sought-after. Different tribes may be known for different rug patterns, and some designs are passed down orally and memorised by weavers.
Discerning Authentic Handmade from Machine-Made Rugs
The first order of business when purchasing a Persian rug is knowing how to tell if a particular rug was indeed woven by hand or was sewn by machine. Ignorance in this area can lead to a very costly and disappointing mistake. The good news is that it is actually fairly easy to tell the difference if one knows what to look for.
100 Percent Natural Fibres
Synthetic fibres are almost never used in hand-woven rugs. Machine-made rugs sometimes bear tags that indicate their fibre content. Persian rugs are primarily woven from 100 percent wool, which is quite durable. Cotton is used as well, although not as often. Persian rugs of silk are more fragile and costly, and they are likely to be displayed as wall hangings rather than used in a utilitarian fashion.
Made in the Middle East or Asia
True Persian carpets are literally made in Persia (now Iran) or in the surrounding area. Similar rugs classified as Oriental rugs may be made in India or China. Any rug that comes from western European nations is almost certainly machine-made.
Unfortunately, going by the country of origin is not always a clear-cut indicator of the production method. Many Central and Eastern European countries and even Egypt are known to produce fair quantities of both genuine and imitation Persian rugs.
Specific Features to Look For
To a novice, it may be hard to tell a real Persian carpet from a machine-made one by looking at the front, but by turning the rug over, one can begin to make some distinctions.
Richness of Colour
A Persian carpet is fairly colourful on the back side, and the individual knots are visible. On a machine-made carpet, the back is covered uniformly with a neutral-coloured overstitch pattern which holds the fibres in place. This has the effect of laying a fine mesh over the pattern, thereby muting the colours.
On a machine-made rug, the fringe is applied separately as a finishing process. On a Persian rug, the fringe is literally the extension of the warp threads used while weaving the carpet. The fringe is, in effect, part of the entire rug, not an afterthought.
Machine stitching should be clearly visible on the long sides of the factory-made carpet, whereas hand stitching binds the edges of a genuine Persian piece.
Assessing Persian Rug Quality
Even among genuine Persian rugs, there can be a disparity as far as quality is concerned. As with any artist or craftsman, some weavers are experienced masters, while others are novices, lack finesse, or knowingly put out just passable work in order to increase production volume. There are a few ways to check a rug to get an idea of its quality.
Knots per Square Inch
When a handmade rug is being woven, the pile fibres are knotted onto the warp (lengthwise) threads, the same threads that form the fringe at each end of the rug. The more knots per square inch or KPSI, the more detailed the design and the greater the value of the piece. Knot density may also be measured in the metric raj, which is the number of knots in 7 centimetres. It is virtually impossible to count knots from the fuzzy surface of the rug, so the knots are counted from the back. These knots are tied by hand, and it takes several months for an artisan to produce one Persian rug.
With typical wall-to-wall carpeting, buyers tend to think of the deepest pile as being the most luxurious; however, this concept does not necessarily translate to Persian rugs. In fact, some of the best Persian rugs tend to be quite thin.
Persian vs. Turkish Carpets
Buyers may be familiar with the existence of prized Turkish rugs but not understand the difference between them and Persian rugs. The primary difference is in the knotting style. Turkish weavers generally use a symmetrical knot, whereas Persian weavers use the asymmetrical knot. The asymmetrical knot, while resulting in a slightly less sturdy carpet, allows for far more intricate designs. The Persian knotting technique allows for more KPSI and smoother curved lines, much like smaller pixels in a computer-generated image results in a higher resolution.
Persian Rug Designs
The design of a Persian rug consists of two primarily elements: the layout and the motif or motifs. Most rugs follow a standard pattern of primary and secondary borders and some corner design elements.
Persian Rug Layouts
The layout refers to the overall look and design as a whole. There are four basic types of layouts seen in Persian rugs, as described in the table below.
Persian Rug Layout Type
A pattern is distributed evenly over the rug, with no single focal point
A central and roughly round, oblong, or diamond-shaped medallion forms the focal point
Different motifs are separated into distinct blocks
The carpet depicts an image that is not symmetrical from all sides
Central medallion and one-sided rugs look best when the carpet is fully exposed and on display. If the centre of the carpet is to be covered by furniture or is not placed in the middle of an area, an allover or compartment rug may look better.
Persian Rug Motifs
To the untrained eye, a Persian carpet is an abstract pattern, but in truth, these rugs feature complex combinations of motifs. A motif is a specific image or symbol that is repeated in a pattern or design. Examples of motifs used in Oriental rugs include flowers, stars, and animals, all of which may be difficult to identify in their graphic interpretations.
Traditional Sizes of Persian Rugs
Genuine Persian rugs are sized by craft-specific nomenclature, but these names may be confusing to the buyer. Most sellers can tell the buyer which standard sizes they carry and can also assist with choosing the right size for an area. Normally, the carpet should not extend to the walls but should be framed by a border of bare floor on all sides. As with any rug, the larger ones are more expensive. Persian rugs may also be available in runners and small mat sizes.
Where to Find Persian Rugs
You may be able to find Persian-style rugs at a variety of locations, but where you buy your rug from ultimately depends on whether you want an authentic Persian rug or a lookalike. Genuine Persian rugs are typically sold by importers, not chain stores that deal in mass merchandise. Rug dealers can be found in some urban areas as well as online. Be sure to find a dealer who is reputable and takes time to work with you. Some other terrific ways to obtain a Persian rug include estate sales, auctions, classified adverts, and online auction sites. Whatever your source, always ask for a certificate of authentication from the dealer. You may also wish to look into having the carpet appraised and insured.
How to Buy a Persian Rug on eBay
eBay makes it quite easy to browse through thousands of Persian rugs and find exactly the one you are looking for within a matter of minutes. One way to shop for such rugs is to navigate from the homepage through logical categories until you find the category for rugs and carpets. You can then enter the keyword "Persian" to narrow down the results. You might also try the keyword "Oriental", which is an older term that is still used by some sellers.
The second way to shop for Persian rugs on eBay is simply to type "Persian rugs" or "Persian carpets" into the search box on any page. You can then use category filters to click your way to a very specific group of rugs.
Because carpets are both heavy and bulky, you may be interested in filtering your selections to include only those that come with free postage and packaging. You can also specify the ship-from location to reduce mailing costs, or you may be able to find a local seller by entering your postcode and a desired radius in order to physically pick up the item.
A Persian rug is an exquisite addition to anyone's home and may become a cherished heirloom. Persian rugs have been woven for more than two millennia and have always been considered prized possessions. One of the most important factors in buying is being able to tell handmade from machine-made rugs; this is usually easier to do by inspecting the backside of the surface of the carpet, the fringe, and the edge stitching. Persian rugs are almost always woven from 100 percent natural fibres, whether they be wool, cotton, or silk. Rugs with a greater number of knots per square inch have smoother and more intricate designs.
Anyone shopping for a Persian rug should choose a basic layout and a primary colour in order to narrow down their choices. They should also have some idea of the desired rug size or at least know the dimensions of the area to be covered.
Probably the best advice for buyers is to take their time before investing in a Persian rug. With so many colours and designs available, there is no need to settle for one just to have one. The right carpet stands out far above all others and "speaks" to the buyer, much like the right wedding gown. Anyone in the market for a Persian carpet should keep looking until they find the perfect one to take home.