Agra rugs emulate fine Persian weaving

NEW YORK – The city of Agra in northern India is known for being the home of the Taj Mahal, but the area’s rich tradition of carpet weaving makes Agra equally famous.

Agra was one of three major carpet centers in India. Today’s collectors seek out 19th century and early 20th century examples as a high point of the genre. Emerging in the 16th century, Agra was focal point for Indian culture, known not just for carpet weaving but also miniatures, textile design, inlaid stonework and architecture.

One of the finest styles of Mughal carpets, Agra rugs trace their origins to the Mughal emperors’ reign, which began in the 15th century. Having an affinity for Persian arts and culture, the emperors especially admired Persian carpets that proliferated in the “Golden Age of Persian Weaving.”

This Agra has a pattern of 10 large diamonds in the center field, only two of which are full diamonds on the center axis and not cut by the border. It achieved $26,237 + the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Rippon Boswell & Co. International Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Rippon Boswell & Co., International Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

When Mughal Emperor Babur (1483-1530) vanquished India and took Delhi in 1526, he first imported fine rugs from Iran for use in his court. Soon after, however, Agra emerged as a carpet making center. Babur brought in master craftsmen from Persia to demonstrate the art of pile weaving to Indian artisans, who were more accustomed to lightweight textile weaving. The new style of Agra carpets served as a tribute to the finest Persian rugs while having their own style. Agra carpets became known for their durability and high quality.

An Agra palace carpet, late 19th century; 27ft x 18ft 10in, realized $16,000 + the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Grogan & Co. Photo courtesy of Grogan & Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Agra rugs can be challenging for the casual buyer to categorize and are sometimes confused with other styles. Amritsar rugs are one example of a rug type commonly confused with Agra. Agra rugs are best identified by their “allover” decoration or they can feature large expanses of open fields intersected by smaller design panels and medallions.

This Agra rug, India, late 19th century, 10ft 4in x 14ft 9in, brought $4,750 + the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Material Culture. Photo courtesy of Material Culture and LiveAuctioneers

The heaviest of all Indian rugs in their day, Agra rugs boasted a long pile and were usually constructed with an asymmetrical (or Persian) knot. They were also densely woven, having up to 2,000 knots per square inch. They clearly are inspired by their cultural heritage while their color palette and design styles distinguish them from their Persian ancestors.

Typically boasting a delicate palette using dyes made from vegetables, Agra rugs feature decoration motifs that are historically influenced or original. Common motifs include rows of flowers in vases, vines, local wildlife and animals native to India, hunting scenes and elegant borders of leafy vines and palmettes or rosettes. Instead of abstracted designs, natural depictions are common and among the most seen botanicals are the lotus flower, roses, vines and the cypress tree.

“Antique Agra rugs present elegant allover designs alongside medallion or centralized patterns … they have the rich pungent palette of classical Indian and Persian carpets as well as soft, cool earthy tones,” according to Nazmiyal Collection in New York City.

The antique rug gallery website notes that the color fields are often in earthy tones of greens, blues or muted yellows, saffron and beiges, but can come in a rusty red and other pale greens. Agra rugs are most commonly found woven with wool, though sometimes the rugs are made with cotton. Local crafters’ mastery of vegetable dyes allowed them to create desirable and unique colors, including lavender and gold.

A circa 1910 example, 11ft 10in x 15ft 6in, sold for $11,000 + the buyer’s premium in September 2019 at Nazmiyal Auctions. Photo courtesy of Nazmiyal Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While the market for Persian rugs has waned a bit in recent years, the best examples in any genre of antiques will continue to do well. Nineteenth century Agra rugs in particular remain a solid investment as well as a beautiful addition to one’s home. Later Agra rugs tend to be produced to meet high demand, so earlier examples are usually better quality.

An Agra wool rug, early 20th century, 15ft 10in x 12ft 2in, fetched $6,000 + the buyer’s premium in February 2021 at Hindman. Photo courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Made of organic materials, however, these rugs can be expected to show their age and experience wear and tear over the centuries. Older carpets dating to the Mughal era are hard to find, with many having been cut or deteriorated and restored over the years. Full-size versions in good condition are growing scarce and quite valuable.

Originally made for use in Mughal courts in India, antique Agra rugs are elegant and found in a wide variety of sizes although quite common are 9 feet by 12 feet examples. Arguably, they are perhaps the most sought after of Indian rugs and make a strong design statement in the home.

Antique rugs ideal for hanging comprise Feb. 21 sale

One-hundred handwoven rugs from the Antique Knot Collection will be offered in an online auction hosted by Jasper52 on Friday, Feb. 21. All pieces are antique, ranging from the 19th century to the early 20th century. The Antique Knot’s passion for exemplary rugs and Kilims and tribal weaving has yielded a vast trove of tribal treasures.

Antique Caucasian Karagashli rug, 3ft 8in x 4ft 11in, mid to late 19th century. Estimate: $3,000-$3,500. Jasper52 image

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Getting hooked on folky rugs

NEW YORK – Hooked rugs have been described as the comfort food of antiques with collectors coveting them for their artistic qualities and homespun nature. Rug hooking dates back several centuries and ranges from simple rugs hooked out of fabric scraps by thrifty crafters or elegant designs.

Hooked rugs come in all sorts of designs from abstract and geometric to whimsical and floral. Karen Swager, decorative arts and textile specialist at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., says that elaborate floral wreaths and bouquets, farm scenes, cats and dogs are common motifs in the designs of hooked and sewn rugs.

A rare hooked and shirred floral rug, circa 1860-80, possibly Maine, made $25,000 in March 2010 at Brunk Auctions. Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Lions became a popular theme with hooked rugs due to the peddler Edward Sands Frost (1843-1894) who created an industry of stenciled rugs patterns,” she says. “There are few examples of people on 19th and early 20th century rugs. The most well-known hooked rugs with people were designed by James and Mercedes Hutchinson in the mid 20th century.”

Kimberly Smith Ivey, senior curator of textiles at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Williamsburg, Va., said rug-hooking techniques originated in North America, specifically Maine, and grew from their 19th century origins to become a national pastime. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, part of Colonial Williamsburg, presents the 2018-20 exhibition “Folk Art Underfoot: American Hooked Rugs”  surveying the art of hooking and sewing rugs, featuring some 20 hooked and sewn rugs.

“By the early 19th century, sewn rug work was among the special sewing projects a young schoolgirl could create while attending one of the many day or boarding schools that specialized in sampler making, wool embroidery and other female accomplishments,” she said. Jan Whitlock, in her 2012 book American Sewn Rugs: Their History with Exceptional Examples, notes that 40 schools advertising rug work had been identified. Several schools as far south as Virginia also included rug work in their curriculum.

This early 20th century ice skating hooked rug sold for $7,000 in January 2019 at Brunk Auctions. Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Among notable areas known for hooked rugs is the distinct style of hooked rug that originated in Waldoboro, Maine, a shipbuilding community originally settled by German immigrants.

“The rugs are characterized by a deep pile that is clipped and sculptured creating a design that stands out from the background,” Smith Ivey said. “The finest Waldoboro rugs were crafted between 1860 and 1880 and were intended as decorative showpieces rather than floor coverings to be walked upon. Today, hooked rugs with raised motifs are referred to as Waldoboro-types, whether they are actually made in Waldoboro or not.”

Hooked rug attributed to Lucy Trask Barnard (1800-1896), Dixfield, Maine, circa 1850; wool and cotton on linen. Photo courtesy of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg/Joseph and Linda Caputo Collection

The most desirable rugs are ones that showcase the inventiveness and artistry of the maker, Swager says, noting that whimsical designs featuring animals are very sought after. In March 2010, Brunk Auctions sold the collection of prominent collector Tom Gray, including a number of fine hooked and sewn rugs. Among them was a bias shirred rug with a whimsical farm animal scene that hammered at $30,000.

“Some collectors also seek rugs made with a distinct technique. For example, bias shirring, where fabric strips are cut on the bias and stitched to the foundation lengthwise in the center of the strip, is one of the most time consuming and difficult techniques of rug making. This technique also allows for subtle shading and the incorporation of wavy designs that can enhance the artistry of the rug.”

A folk art pictorial hooked rug depicting a portrait of lamb amid geometric designs earned $10,000 in January 2017 at Hyde Park Country Auctions. Photo courtesy of Hyde Park Country Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Smith Ivey explains that designs for early sewn and hooked rugs echo motifs found in other home furnishings including woven rugs and quilts.

“Rug makers found inspiration in published sources as well as in the details of everyday life,” she says. “Houses, birds, floral arrangements, and animal motifs, especially household pets, were the most popular designs. During this period, house cats were a major family pet and the most popular design for hooked rugs. Geometric patterns, which are the easiest designs to draw and produce in a rug, are also common.”

She said four hooked rugs created by Lucy Trask Barnard (1800-1896) in Dixfield, Maine, between 1850 to 1860 are some of the best and most striking forms of hooked rug work for a number of reasons.

“First, it is rare to find a rug with a known maker. Four hooked rugs attributed to Lucy Barnard feature a large white house on a hill with attached outbuildings,” she said. “Her rugs display an unusual sophisticated awareness of perspective through the use of oversized flowers in the foreground and two-sided buildings. Landscapes such as these require greater skill and appear less frequently than floral and geometric patterns.”

Hooked rug, New England, 1875-1925, wool and cotton on burlap (jute). Photo courtesy of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg/Joseph and Linda Caputo Collection

Highly collectible today are Grenfell hooked mats, which became a cottage industry in Newfoundland and Labrador in the first half of the 20th century. Dr. William Grenfell established “the industrial” to help provide a source of income for the local women, Swager says. “Designs for the mats were inspired by regional scenes and animals. Polar bears, owls and winter landscapes are found on a number of Grenfell mats.”

While the market for hooked rugs has softened a bit in recent years, the best and most artistic examples continue to bring strong prices while the beginning collector still has the opportunity to enter the field at affordable prices.

Some of the attributes that collectors should consider, Smith Ivey says, include:

  • Condition: Does it have its original binding? Are the colors bright or faded?
  • Materials: Is it worked on burlap, which degrades easily and indicates a later date? Is it worked on cotton or linen, which are more stable ground fabrics and indicates an earlier date? Are there mixtures of fibers in the pile that create interesting textures?
  • Design: Is the design original to the maker, and if so, is it an important expression of American imagination and ingenuity? Is the pattern derived from a published design? Did the maker customize the publish pattern to express some of her personality?
  • Maker: Is the maker of the rug identified? Does the rug have a known provenance? Is it dated or signed in any way?
  • Technique: Is it hooked or is it an example of a sewn rug, such as yarn-sewn, bias shirred; chenille shirred, or patch? Are different hues of one color used to create a shading effect?

Jasper52 auction presents premium antique rugs June 26

Jasper52 will conduct an online auction of 180 premium antique and vintage rugs Wednesday, June 26, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern time. Sizes of these fine hand-knotted textiles range from prayer rugs to palace size. Estimates range from $1,000 to more than $10,000.

Unusual Caucasian Kazak rug, 55in. x 84in., all wool, 1920 or earlier. Estimate: $11,000-$13,000. Jasper52 image

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Colorful patterns run through Jasper52 rug auction April 3

Jasper52 will present a fresh selection of 178 vintage handmade
rugs – primarily Persian – in an online auction on Wednesday, April 3.

Antique Bakhtiari rug, southwest Iran, circa 1890, 6ft. 5in. x 4ft. 7in. Estimate: $2,000-$3,000. Jasper52 image

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Warm and casual Southwest style enjoying revival

NEW YORK (AP) – A desert storm is brewing in the design world. Renewed interest in earthy color palettes, rich textures, tribal patterns and rustic elements has sparked a revival of Southwestern decorating style, long associated with homes in New Mexico and Arizona.

The look is interesting and exciting but also warm and casual, designers say.

William Acheff, b. 1947, AOA, NAWA, ‘Pueblo’s Pottery,’ signed l/r: © WM. Acheff, 1982, oil on canvas,16in. by 26in. Image courtesy of Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

“The overarching trend for 2019 is all about being real. It’s about surrounding yourself with nature, including natural fibers and earth tones,” said Dayna Isom Johnson, a trend expert with, the online marketplace that focuses on handmade and vintage goods. That’s a change from 2018, she says, when “it was fantasy, celestial and unicorns,” design inspired by mythology and science fiction.

Southwestern decor – distinguished by colorful, geometric prints and a palette that includes periwinkle, terra-cotta, cream and tan – often evokes a desert feel, said Maggie Lydecker, a designer for the online home-goods store,

Large Navajo pictorial rug, circa 1930, native handspun wool, aniline dyes, 74½in. x 107¼in. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Southwestern looks feature natural elements that bring the outdoors inside even in a small space that could otherwise look stark,” she said. “For those who are hesitant to pinpoint one particular style, Southwestern can be a nice compromise, as it encompasses many different elements such as batik, leather or relaxed linen. It is easy to mix and match with this style – so what’s not to love?”

Since many homes are in styles or regions that don’t automatically scream “Southwest,” start with small touches, Isom Johnson suggests. “When a trend happens, you don’t have to deck out your entire home,” she said.

Frank Peshlakai (1903-1965) Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry box, marked ‘FP’ with the artist’s arrow hallmark on inside of lid; 1.75in. high x 3.75in. wide x 4.75in., mid-20th century. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Consider adding a throw to your bed, a rug in your foyer, a piece of pottery on a living room table or new knobs to your kitchen cabinets, she said.

Linda Robinson, who works as an interior designer in Arizona, says that even there she adheres to the principle of blending Southwestern pieces with other elements. “It can be beautiful – the mixing,” she said. “Mixing gives character. It’s very today.”

Navajo Third Phase Chief’s Blanket, finely woven in aniline dye; nine stepped diamond anchor points, 77in. x 58.5in, circa 1880-1885. Image courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

She routinely combines Southwestern items with European antiques or Persian rugs. Two or three antique Apache baskets on a French secretary desk would create “a real focal point,” she said. She often uses wood or metal tables as pedestals to display eye-catching Southwestern pottery, baskets or art. She also gravitates to furniture with clean lines because it allows such special pieces to pop.

Traditional terra-cotta tiles are another mainstay of this style and can be interspersed throughout the home, Lydecker said. “Bathrooms, kitchens and stairways are great spots to have some fun with tile and clay elements,” she said.

Acoma Pueblo four-color pottery water jar, circa 1900, painted with birds and foliage, 7in. high x 9¼in. diameter. Image courtesy of Westport Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Osa Atoe, a potter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, incorporates geometric patterns and neutral colors with a Southwestern feel in her pottery. The look is classic, she says, and easily fits in different homes. Her pieces are “colorful and neutral at the same time.”

Vanessa Boer of Portland, Oregon, designs Southwestern-inspired housewares. “My shop’s focus is on textiles, primarily pillows, so people are able to add a pop of color or bold pattern on a couch or chair,” she said. “This adds some fun or character without having your entire living room covered in patterns, or feeling so entrenched in a specific style that you feel compelled to redecorate a year later.”

Western Apache pictorial olla basket, 16in. high, 12in. diameter. Estimate $5,000-$7,000. Image courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

When done right, Southwestern pieces will gel with elements already in your home, Lydecker said.

“The textiles are often layered, which creates a relaxed, inviting ambiance,” she said. “With white being popular for walls and overall room palettes, Southwestern decorative elements provide a playful juxtaposition that doesn’t feel forced.”


Copyright 2019 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Tabriz carpets pile on the quality, colors

Fine carpets have long symbolized wealth, status and majesty. King Henry VIII of England, for example, not only graced his walls, tables and cushions with precious Turkish weavings. In his famed portrait by Hans Holbein, the monarch actually stands on one.

Though Persian carpets first reached Europe in the 16th century, most on today’s market date no earlier than the mid-1800s. Their creators not only employed age-old methods of design, dyeing and weaving. Like their forefathers, they also had access to high-quality, moist, glossy sheep fleece.

Fine, high quality Tabriz carpet (70 raj), northwest Persia, circa 1940-1950, wool/silk, 11 feet 11 inches x 8 feet, realized $15,944 in 2016. Image courtesy Henry’s Auktionshaus AG and LiveAuctioneers

These works of art were woven on traditional handlooms featuring horizontal silk, cotton or wool strands, called wefts, along with adjacent vertical strands, called warps. Interweaving warps with dyed wefts produced patterned flat-weave carpets. Tying dyed, single-looped knots between the wefts, then compacting and cutting them, produced patterned pile-carpets, those with perpendicular surface yarns. Since this looping process was so time consuming, creating a narrow runner might take months. Creating a room- or palace-size piece might take years—even if worked by teams of weavers.

Characteristics of Persian carpets, like designs, color combinations and knotting techniques, are often specific to certain towns, villages or tribal regions. These are named for their ethnic creators or places of origin.

Fine Tabriz carpet (50 raj), northwest Persia, circa 1920-1930, wool/cotton, 11 feet 5 inches x 7 feet 12 inches, impressive colors with green tones, realized $9,680 in 2016. Image courtesy Henry’s Auktionshaus AG and LiveAuctioneers

Carpets produced in Tabriz, one of the oldest weaving centers in modern-day Iran, however, are among the finest. Whether simple or complex, geometric or pictorial, pale or vivid, pile or flat-weave, all feature harmonious, formal designs, balanced use of color and exceptional quality.

Many depict delicate, detailed, overall repeating patterns of stylized palmettes, vines, florals or arabesques framed by dominant borders in complementary shades and patterns. Others feature round, ovoid, pendant, blossom, star or diamond-shaped medallions filled with kaleidoscope-like bouquets of flowers. These dominant forms, set against rectangular fields of overall floral motifs, may be flanked by bold, rectilinear outlines or complimentary architectural, artistic adornments. Whether wool or silk, they are edged by geometric or floral work borders in varying widths and complexity.    

Magnificent Tabriz palace-size carpet, cool palette with lace-like border, 11 feet x 17 feet, circa 1900, realized $11,000 in 2009. Image courtesy of Nazmiyal Auction and LiveAuctioneers

While the usual measurement in judging the quality of a Persian rug is knots per square inch, Tabriz pile carpets are traditionally rated according to raj, a term that indicates their knotted density. Raj represents the number of knots across 2¾ inches (7 centimeters) of a Tabriz rug. Pieces labeled 40 raj, for example, feature some 400-500 knots to a 2¾-inch span, 50 Raj feature 500-600 knots, 60 raj feature 600-800, and 70 feature 800-1,000 knots. Because carpets with high-knot densities allow exquisitely minute detail and shadings, they often display attractive, intricate designs.   

Carpets with exceptionally high knot-density, like those by Haji Jalili, a master weaver and innovative designer based in the Tabriz region in the late 19th century, feature exquisitely detailed motifs and hues in traditional, curvilinear patterns. Moreover, some say, they shimmer like fine porcelain.

Hadji Jalili Tabriz carpet, Persia, circa 1900, fine mansion size: 17 feet 10 inches x 27 feet 9 inches, excellent condition, weight: 205 pounds, realized $25,000 in 2018. Image courtesy of Material Culture and LiveAuctioneers

Jalili’s carpets are famed for exceptional craftmanship, finest vegetable dyes and exceedingly lustrous materials. Many, instead of classic Tabriz deep reds and blues, feature distinctive, finely drawn overall design elements in pale gold, gray or pink palettes, some with traces of indigo blue. These are often set against subdued ivory, wheat, terra-cotta or sand-colored fields scrolled with subtly toned vines and arabesques. Other Jalili rugs feature surprisingly bright, vibrant central medallions against muted, flowered fields.

Though Haji Jalili, or his workshop, created masterpieces in limited numbers, various sizes occasionally appear on the market. Since many tend to vanish into private collections, however, they are increasing difficult to find.

Rare high density, wool/gold Tabriz carpet with 3-D weaving. impressive central medallion with floral design with highly impressive colors, 7 feet 10 inches x 9 feet 6 inches, realized $5,900 in 2015. Image courtesy Tiroche Auction House and Live Auctioneers

While rarity is important in evaluating an antique Tabriz carpet, its designer, pattern, color palette, uniqueness, dye source, knot density, age, condition and size also affect its worth. Though these carpets may prove costly, they are finite in number. So, as time goes by, each tends to hold or even increase in value. As a result, many collectors, decorators, dealers and private clients treasure these creations as long-term investments.

Moreover, Tabriz carpets, like fine paintings or other works of art, are exceptionally beautiful. Those who appreciate their fascinating blend of art, culture and design find that they enhance all decors. Many, as of old, display them on walls, or draped across sofas, chairs, or tables. Others, like royalty, place them beneath their feet.

Jasper52 auction decks the halls and floors with 200 rugs Nov. 13

More than 200 handmade rugs—antique, vintage and modern—will be offered in a Jasper52 online auction Tuesday, Nov. 13. Sizes range from prayer rugs and runners to palace-size carpets. Estimates start at $800 and rise to nearly $100,000.

Persian handmade oversize antique Lavar Kerman rug. Estimate: $35,000-$41,000. Jasper52 image

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Anatomy of an Oriental Rug

Originally intended as utilitarian objects that provided warmth and comfort, Oriental rugs evolved to become elaborate art forms for kings and commoners alike. Pleasing in symmetry, color and design, the Oriental rug is as ancient in purpose as it is modern in comfort. Yet, little is known about its origins.

We do know that the oldest surviving rug with the handwoven symmetry that has become the trademark of Oriental rug design was uncovered at a burial mound near Pazyryk in Siberia, and that it dated to the 5th century B.C. Handcrafted with natural dyes and painstakingly crafted with heavy wool thread to create a story of color and culture, an early Oriental rug is an art form worth collecting, but if it has been properly cared for during its life, it can continue to serve the original purpose for which it was intended while enhancing a living space.

An example of a Persian Karadja rug, circa 1900, sold for $2,700 plus buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archives and Copake Auctions

Here are some frequently asked questions about Oriental rugs to help you make an informed buying decision:

Where is an authentic Oriental rug produced?

Oriental rugs have been made in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, encompassing Morocco, China, Tibet, Turkey, Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, India and Pakistan. Early fragments of Oriental rugs have also been found in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, dating to the first century A.D.

What sorts of materials are usually used to produce an Oriental carpet?

All Oriental carpets are made from natural fibers, such as the wool from sheep and goats’ cotton and silk. Some locally produced carpets in the Far East, e.g., China and Russia have even produced carpets using yak and horsehair. Camel wool can also be found in some local Middle Eastern rugs. Cotton is stronger than wool and is used as the foundation of the warp and weft threads since wool tends to shrink over time. Silk is usually reserved for more decorative wall hangings and tapestries.

Strands of fibers are stretched and spun into single strands or multiple strands known as “ply.” One strand is one ply, two strands are two ply, etc. The more ply, the stronger and more durable the carpet.

Are some rugs actually hand-woven?

Yes. It could take up to a year to produce a completely hand-woven Oriental rug of a particularly elaborate design on a loom.

What are some terms to know?

Horizontal yarn is called the warp; vertical strands are called the weft.

Pile is made by threading individual yarn around two or more warp strings and tamped down to form a row. Upon completion, the threads are cut to create a raised surface. The pile is made using either a Turkish (Ghiordes) knot, which is more symmetrical and the more common knot; or the Persian (Senneh) knot, which is more asymmetrical and used to form more elaborate designs.

Left: diagram rug knotting shows Persian (asymmetric) knot, which is open to the right. At right: symmetrical, or ‘Turkish’ carpet knots in a double-wefted foundation (wefts shown in red). Arie M. den Toom images, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

A Jufti knot is wrapped around four warp strings, which saves on material but doesn’t last as long as the other knots.

Variants of the Jufti knot woven around four warps instead of two. Arie M. den Toom image, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

The more knots per square inch (kpsi) in a woven rug, the more durable and long lasting it will be. It is easier to count the number of knots per square inch by counting them on the reverse. Rugs with knots per square inch lower than 80 won’t last nearly as long as one that has at least 330 kpsi. However, kpsi is only one measure of quality; the intricacy of design and where it was made also affect a rug’s value.

The reverse of this Qom rug shows a high knot density. Image courtesy of Arie M. den Toom, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

What are the elements of an Oriental rug?

From the outside in, an Oriental rug’s design basically consists of an outer secondary border (sometimes called selvedge, where the warp is tied off to prevent raveling), the larger main border, and the inner secondary border that frames the central design element.

The central medallion draws one’s eye initially for its distinctive design, usually with a pendant design above and below the central medallion. These are placed on the field with additional elaborate designs on each of the four corners.

Image courtesy of HajjiBaba, own work, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

How can I know which type of Oriental rug would work best in a particular space?

There are two basic types of Oriental rugs: kilim and pile woven rugs. Kilim is a flat rug that doesn’t show any knots but does show a space in between the warp threads. A kilim can be used as either a floor covering or tapestry.

Diagram of the Kilim slit-weave technique. Image by Chiswick Chap, own work, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Kilims aren’t as durable as pile rugs and traditionally served as prayer rugs and horse blankets.

A Senneh kilim rug from Persia, late 19th century, 6ft 3in x 4ft 3in. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Austria Auction Co.

Rugs with more pile last longer especially if they are to be placed in a high-traffic area. Remember: the higher the kpsi, the more durable the rug.

What are the dyes used in an Oriental rug?

Aniline dyes, or chemical dyes, came into use in the 1860s. If the dyes in a rug are natural, it may have been made anytime in the past 3,000 to 5,000 years. Natural dyes might have been made from plant roots — onion for yellow, oak for black, and other colors from the madder plant or cochineal insects like the ladybug. Sometimes byproducts from different sources were combined to create a particular hue. Most rugs are made from synthetic dye, but modern-day Turkish rug makers are reviving the natural-dye process, so it may be difficult to know the difference between natural or synthetic dye without a chemical analysis.

Abrash is a term that means the fading of one color within a given rug. This occurs when there is a shortage of a type of yarn during a rug’s production and another, newly dyed yarn is used as a substitute. It isn’t possible for yarn to be dyed exactly the same color each time, so in such cases where a different yarn lot is used as a substitute, discoloration can occur naturally.

What must I do before choosing an Oriental rug?

Measure the area where the rug will be used. Oriental rugs are not usually wall to wall. Allow at least a foot of space from the wall itself. Rugs range in size from 2 by 3 feet to more than 10 by 14 feet. Runners measure 30 inches wide. It’s best to take a photo of the area where the rug will be placed to compare and contrast with the rugs you are considering.

As a rule, an 8-by-10-foot Oriental rug will cost between $1,000 and $5,000. A pattern that is clear and distinctive is, at times, more important than the kpsi. Geometric designs need fewer knots to create fine detail than a more elaborate floral pattern does, for example, and therefore might be more useful if placed under a large dining room table. Also, the rug’s age, quality of the wool and type of dyes used are all important factors.


Don’t be afraid to ask questions about where a rug was manufactured, whether it was hand-woven or commercially produced, and whether synthetic or natural dyes were used. Ask about the seller’s guarantee and if a certificate of origin will be provided.

Finding a vintage Oriental rug requires more in-depth knowledge than buying a more contemporary one for home use. For example, rugs from Turkey differ in quality and design from those produced in tribal Iran or China. There is really just one simple rule to follow: Go for the best quality you can afford and buy what you like.

Something plush is underfoot in Jasper52’s Sept. 4 Premier Rugs sale

Jasper52 will roll out a wonderful selection of antique and vintage rugs on Tuesday, Sept. 4, in an online-only auction featuring more than 100 lots. Bid absentee or live online exclusively through LiveAuctioneers. Any rug purchased in the sale will be shipped free of charge anywhere in the contiguous United States.

Rare antique Persian Serapi rug, 1910s. Est. $30,000-$36,000

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