Monday, January 17, 2011

Oriental Rugs 101

A couple of months ago, I decided I needed a change in my life.  Actually, I needed a part time job to supplement my design work since the economy was not cooperating with my need for shoes and pocketbooks.  So I got a job at an Oriental Rug store.  A great job to supplement my design knowledge!  Only problem was, I was doing the bookkeeping instead of selling or learning about rugs.

Orientals (they should actually be called Middle Easterns since most of them come from that area) come in all sizes, colors and designs. They come from Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and Persia.  (Is Persia still around?? Today it encompasses the area around Iran.  I like "Persia" better - it conjures up a world of luxury and mystery.  Iran - not so much.)   Our showroom is filled with beautiful rugs - Kazaks, Tabriz, Heriz, Paki's....  But why is an Oushak (oo-shak) an Oushak??  What makes a Kazak a Kazak?   Is a Heriz better than a Tabriz?  An Afshar better than a Kirman?  They all looked the same to me.  (Sorry Ralph!)

Kazak - internet photo

Tabriz - internet photo

 Time to get an education.  What I found out was that the name of the rug has nothing to do with its quality or value.  There are good and not so good Heriz's.  An Afshar is not necessarily better than a Kirman.  (I bet the Kirman is relieved!)  In an online article by Penny Krieger (owner of Paradise Oriental Rugs in CA), Orientals are named in the following ways: 1) The name of the city or town where it was woven.  2) The name of the city or town where it was sold.  3) The name of the area in which the weavers lived where the design was first created, although now could be woven somewhere else.  4) The name of the tribal group known for using that particular design and  5) The name of the country it was woven in.  Well, that totally clears it up for me!  (Not!)  So what you are telling me is that the same rug can actually have five different names!  Who gets to choose??  Is this why there is so much unrest in the Middle East?

Let's try another source.  Peter Pap of Peter Pap Oriental Rugs in San Francisco, describes the rugs in three categories: Nomadic Rugs, Village Rugs and Workshop Rugs.

Nomadic Rugs were woven from memory and were originally for personal use rather than for sale.  They had a practical use and a ceremonial use.  They were woven with traditional and sacred patterns handed down through generations tracing the culture of that particular people.  They feature simple, powerful designs and primary colors.  Examples are Bakhtiari's, Afshar's and Qashqai's.

Ashfar Rug - internet photo

Village Rugs were woven by women working at home in their spare time to create rugs for sale.  They are more creative, brightly colored and contain tribal influences.  They were either woven from memory or with the aid of a drawing.  Examples are Kazaks, Bidjar's, and Kuba's.

Bidjar's - internet photo

Workshop Rugs were the beginning of standardized rugs made to be sold.  Weavers were paid to copy predetermined designs.  They are known for their minute ornamentation, sophisticated colors and faultless workmanship.  Examples of Workshop rugs are Tabriz, Oushak's (yeah, that explains it!) Heriz's and Kirman's.

Heriz - internet photo

So what I still want to know an Oushak a city, town, country, pattern, tribe or method of weaving????

Oushak - internet photo

I guess I'd better keep hitting the books.  I am just as confused now, as I was before.  I know what I like in a rug - the color, the feel the pattern.  This education process will take time.  But I did discover the quickest way to tell one Oriental from another.....READ THE TAG!

"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance." - Will Durant


  1. It is so exciting that you are working in an area... Oriental rugs & carpets... that you are at one point very knowledgeable about (incorporating the motifs, colors, etc. into a beautiful room design) yet at another just learning about what makes them what they are! Isn't it fun to always expand your knowledge about new things? I have to admit that I too find that the more I learn about Orientals, the more confused I get! It is indeed a complex product to get your ams around. I look forward to you passing along what you learn as you continue to study this exotic subject.

  2. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u

    Designer Rugs


I welcome any and all comments!