Pazyryk Rug

History of Oriental Rugs

The origins of rug weaving are literally ‘lost in antiquity’ and cause for much speculation. Because the materials used in weaving are not as durable as materials used in other art forms, such as buildings or paintings, and the function of rugs subject them to harsher wear, the number of extremely old pieces that have survived is very limited.

The oldest, nearly complete hand-knotted rugs dates from the 4th or 5th century B.C. and is known as the Pazyryk rug. This rug was discovered in 1949 by soviet archaeologists inside the burial tomb of a nomadic tribal chief near Pazyryk in southern Siberia. The rug was protected from disintegration in the permafrost. The rug’s design and construction is relatively sophisticated indicating that rug weaving had been developing for hundreds or even thousands of years. This rug measures 6 feet x 6 feet 6 inches (180 cm x 195 cm) with a wool pile/ foundation and has 225 symmetrical knots per square inch. The Pazyryk rug is currently housed at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In Turkey and Persia, no surviving rugs can be accurately attributed prior to 1500 A.D. This date corresponds to beginning of Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) in Persia. The best known rug from this period is the Ardabil rug which is 17 feet 6 inches by 36 feet 6 inches (530 cm x 1110 cm) and housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Turkish rugs are depicted in 15th and 16th century paintings most notably by Hans Holbein of Germany and Lorenzo Lotto of Italy. Again, one can assume that rug weaving in Turkey Persia, India, the Caucasus Mountains and China dates back many centuries before this time.

Rug weaving in the 18th century suffered from wars in Persia, Turmoil in the Ottoman Empire, and corrupt government. This instability disrupted foreign trade and diminished the affluence of the middle-class. Under these adverse conditions, commercial rug production could not flourish beyond local needs.

In 19th century, the industrial revolution resulted in an elevated quality of life for many people. Rapidly expanding prosperity combined with the new cost-efficiency of machines gave bankers, entrepreneurs, and merchants new-found wealth. As the middle class became better educated, enjoyed better health, had more leisure time and greater mobility, the demand for ‘luxury’ goods increased. Merchants sourced the countryside in the Middle East looking for rugs to import to the United States of America and Europe. Because production was limited for may years, the number of rugs available for purchase was soon exhausted. Entrepreneurs from the United States and Western Europe saw an opportunity to revive the rug weaving industry in the Middle East and Far East. By the late 19th century, rug weaving as we know it today was thriving industry.

Ardabil Rug

Rugs Today

Today, hand-made rugs are produced from north Africa and Europe to China with many different styles and weaving techniques. Rugs can be hand-knotted, tufted, flat-woven, or machine made. Major rug producing countries include the United States, Afghanistan, the Caucasus region, Central Asia, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, Spain and Turkey. Today the majority of rugs imported into the United States & Australia are from India and China.

The United States produces machine-made rugs, which are mainly woven or tufted. 18.1% (Floor Covering Weekly) in 2005 if soft floor coverings purchased were areas rugs. This percentage represents sales of 2.72 billion and that figure may be on the conservative side. Rugs have been much more popular in Europe than in the U.S. for many years.

How does this history relate to rug cleaners? The majority of rugs that will be brought to a cleaning plant will have been made after 1950 Rugs made from 1920 to 1950 will be the second most common type, and rugs made before 1920 will make up the smallest percentage of rugs brought for cleaning. Since the late 19th century, specific types of oriental rugs have changed styles, design, construction and materials as demand and fashion have changed and as other external influences dictated these changes. In the study of rug identification, one has to learn the myriad of names and how each type has changed in the past 100 years.

Rug Cleaning can be very challenging because there are so many variables and manufacturers are continually creating new types of rugs that have their own special set of problems. When visiting 10 different rug cleaning operations, you will find 10 different methods of cleaning a rug, though the basic principles of cleaning are the same.

To clean rugs safely and effectively, you need to have a good working knowledge of fibres, construction, cleaning principles and procedures as well rug identification and what look for during the pre-cleaning inspection. This challenge is not an easy task but can provide a lifetime of fun, a sense of accomplishment, reward and satisfaction that comes with operating a successful business.