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what is a persian rug?

The Persian carpet or Persian rug (Middle Persian: bōb,[1] Persian: farsh, meaning "to spread"; sometimes qālī)[2] is an essential part of Persian art and culture. Carpet-weaving is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished manifestations of Persian culture and art, and dates back to ancient Persia.


The art of carpet weaving existed in Persia (or Iran) in ancient times, according to evidence such as the 2500-year-old Pazyryk carpet, dating back to 500 B.C., during the Achaemenid period. The first documented evidence on the existence of Persian carpets comes from Chinese texts dating back to the Sassanid period (224–641 AD). This art underwent many changes in various eras of the Persian history to an extent that it passed an upward trend before the Islamic era until the Mongol invasion of Persia. After the invasion, the art began to grow again during the Timurid and Ilkhanid dynasties.[1]

With the passage of time, the materials used in carpets, including wool, silk and cotton, will decay. Therefore archaeologists are rarely able to make any particularly useful discoveries during archaeological excavations. What has remained from early times as evidence of carpet-weaving is nothing more than a few pieces of worn-out carpets. Such fragments do not help very much in recognizing the carpet-weaving characteristics of pre-Seljuk period (13th and 14th centuries AD) in Persia.

Early history

The Pazyryk Carpet, the oldest known surviving carpet in the world, 5th century BC.

The exceptional Pazyryk carpet was discovered in 1949 in an archaeological excavation in 1949 in the Pazyryk Valley, in the Altai Mountains in Siberia. The carpet was found in the grave of a Scythian prince. Radiocarbon testing indicated that the Pazyryk carpet was woven in the 5th century BC.[14] This carpet is 283 by 200 cm (approximately 9.3 by 6.5 ft) and has 36 symmetrical knots per cm² (232 per inch²).[15] The advanced technique used in the Pazyryk carpet indicates a long history of evolution and experience in weaving. It is considered the oldest known carpet in the world.[16] Its central field is a deep red color and it has two wide borders, one depicting deer and the other Turkish[citation needed] horsemen.

The Pazyryk carpet was thought, by its discoverer Sergei Rudenko, to be a product of the Achaemenids.[17][18] Currently, whether it is a nomadic product with Achaemenid influence, or a product of the Achaemenids remains the subject of debate.[19][20]


So-called Salting carpet, wool, silk and metal thread. about 1600.

Wool is the most common material for carpets but cotton is frequently used for the foundation of city and workshop carpets. There are a wide variety in types of wool used for weaving. Those of which include Kork wool, Manchester wool, and in some cases even camel hair wool. Silk carpets date back to at least the sixteenth century in Sabzevar and the seventeenth century in Kashan and Yazd.[citation needed] Silk carpets are less common than wool carpets since silk is more expensive and less durable; they tend to increase in value with age. Due to their rarity, value and lack of durability, silk carpets are often displayed on the wall like tapestries rather than being used as floor coverings.

Techniques and structures

Long weaving process

The weaving of pile rugs is a difficult and tedious process which, depending on the quality and size of the rug, may take anywhere from a few months to several years to complete.

To begin making a rug, one needs a foundation consisting of warps: strong, thick threads of cotton, wool or silk which run the length of the rug and wefts similar threads which pass under and over the warps from one side to the other. The warps on either side of the rug are normally combined into one or more cables of varying thickness that are overcast to form the selvedge.

Weaving normally begins by passing a number of wefts through the bottom warp to form a base to start from. Loosely piled knots of dyed wool or silk are then tied around consecutive sets of adjacent warps to create the intricate patterns in the rug. As more rows are tied to the foundation, these knots become the pile of the rug. Between each row of knots, one or more shots of weft are passed to tightly pack down and secure the rows.

Depending on the fineness of the weave, the quality of the materials and the expertise of the weavers, the knot count of a handmade rug can vary anywhere from 16 to 800 knots per square inch.

When the rug is completed, the warp ends form the fringes that may be weft-faced, braided, tasseled, or secured in some other manner.


Looms do not vary greatly in essential details, but they do vary in size and sophistication. The main technical requirement of the loom is to provide the correct tension and the means of dividing the warps into alternate sets of leaves. A shedding device allows the weaver to pass wefts through crossed and uncrossed warps, instead of laboriously threading the weft in and out of the warps.

Horizontal looms

The simplest form of loom is a horizontal; one that can be staked to the ground or supported by sidepieces on the ground. The necessary tension can be obtained through the use of wedges. This style of loom is ideal for nomadic people as it can be assembled or dismantled and is easily transportable. Rugs produced on horizontal looms are generally fairly small and the weave quality is inferior to those rugs made on a professional standing loom.

Vertical looms

Vertical looms are undoubtedly more comfortable to operate. These are found more in city weavers and sedentary peoples because they are hard to dismantle and transport. There is no limit to the length of the carpet that can be woven on a vertical loom and there is no restriction to its width.

There are three broad groups of vertical looms, all of which can be modified in a number of ways: the fixed village loom, the Tabriz or Bunyan loom, and the roller beam loom. The fixed village loom is used mainly in Iran and consists of a fixed upper beam and a moveable lower or cloth beam which slots into two sidepieces. The correct tension is created by driving wedges into the slots. The weavers work on an adjustable plank which is raised as the work progresses.

The Tabriz loom, named after the city of Tabriz, is used in North Western Iran. The warps are continuous and pass around behind the loom. Tension is obtained with wedges. The weavers sit on a fixed seat and when a portion of the carpet has been completed, the tension is released and the carpet is pulled down and rolled around the back of the loom. This process continues until the rug is completed, when the warps are severed and the carpet is taken off the loom.

The roller beam loom is a traditional Turkish village loom, but is also found in Persia and India. It consists of two movable beams to which the warps are attached. Both beams are fitted with ratchets or similar locking devices and completed work is rolled on to the lower beam. It is possible to weave very long rugs by these means, and in some areas of Turkey rugs are woven in series.


In order to operate the loom, the weaver needs a number of essential tools: a knife for cutting the yarn as the knots are tied; a comb-like instrument for packing down the wefts; and a pair of shears for trimming the pile. In Tabriz the knife is combined with a hook to tie the knots which lets the weavers produce very fine rugs, as their fingers alone are too thick to do the job.

Some traditional tools of the craft.

A small steel comb is sometimes used to comb out the yarn after each row of knots is completed. This both tightens the weave and clarifies the design.

A variety of instruments are used for packing the weft. Some weaving areas in Iran known for producing very fine pieces use additional tools. In Kerman, a saber like instrument is used horizontally inside the shed, and in Bijar a heavy nail-like tool is used. Bijar is also famous for their wet loom technique, which consists of wetting the warp, weft, and yarn with water throughout the weaving process to make the elements thinner and finer. This allows for tighter weaving. When the rug is complete and dried, the wool and cotton expand to make the rug incredibly dense and strong.

A number of different tools may be used to shear the wool depending on how the rug is trimmed as the rug progresses or when it is complete. Often in Chinese rugs the yarn is trimmed after completion and the trimming is slanted where the color changes, giving an embossed three-dimensional effect.


Two basic knots are used in most Persian Carpets and Oriental rugs: the symmetrical Turkish or Ghiordes knot (used in Turkey, the Caucasus, East Turkmenistan, and some Turkish and Kurdish areas of Iran), and the asymmetrical Persian or Senneh knot (Iran, India, Turkey, Pakistan, China, and Egypt).

To make a Turkish knot, the yarn is passed between two adjacent warps, brought back under one, wrapped around both forming a collar, then pulled through the center so that both ends emerge between the warps.