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Persian Rugs in Iran

The Persian carpet or Persian rug 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 exquisitely intricate patterns and natural dyes have rendered it the most sought after hand- made weave in the world with acknowledgement of superiority in every aspect.
Persian carpets can be divided into three groups: Farsh/ Qali (sized anything greater than 6 × 4 feet and smaller), and nomadic carpets known as Gelim (including Zilu, meaning "rough carpet"). Zilus are flat weaves but carpets or rugs are pile weaves. The pile can be from silk, wool, or fine wool (kork). Persian carpets and rugs are mainly made on a vertical loom. Nomadic weaves however, are made on a horizontal loom, which can be folded and carried from camp to camp.

History

The art of carpet weaving existed in Persia in ancient times. The first documented evidence on the existence of Persian carpets comes from Chinese texts dating back to the Sassanid period (224-641 AD). Thid 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.
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 remaind from early times as evidence of carpel-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 (13 th and 14 th centuries AD) in Persia. The oldest known surviving carpet in the world is the Pazyryk carpet discovered 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 5 th century BC. This carpet is 283 by 200 cm (approximately 9.3 by 6.5 ft.) and has 36 symmetrical knots per cm2 (232 per inch2). The advanced technique used in the Pazyryk carpet indicates a long history of evolution and experience in weaving. The Pazyryk carpet was thought, by its discoverer Sergei Rudenko, to be a product of the Achaemenids.

Weaving of Persian rugs

The wool of the sheep is shorn by hand, and then washed in particular manner to take off dirt and fat. After drying and classifying, it is carded and then spun. In recent years several washing, dyeing and spinning machines suitable to the Persian carpet weaving techniques, have been introduced.
The wool is treated with vegetable and animal dyeing material. In each district, there exist special methods and formulas for dyeing the wool. After dyeing, the wool is washed in clear water and hanged to dry. Vegetable dyes are obtained from madder- root, walnut peels, grape leaves, weed, pomegranate peels and gallnut. Animal dyes come from cochineal, acidulated milk, qaraguroot, etc. Minerals and chemicals are also used in conjunction with the dyeing formula such as caustic soda, critic acid, hydrosulphide and alum. These chemicals are required to make the dye fast and prevent the colors from washing away. The designer draws the pattern on pieces of paper side by side to make one quarter of the area of the carpet. The design is colored and handed over to the operator sho places it before him in front of the loom and uses such wool in his weaving that matches exactly with the colors in the drawing. A loom is basically a frame of wood on which the warp threads are stretched tightly between the upper and lower cross beams. The warp consists of threads lying close together and running the length of the loom. Onto these warp threads is knotted the woolen yarn which forms the pile of the rug. When one row of knots is completed across the against the knots as firmly as possible to give the knots and the fabric strength and firmness. The process is repeated row after row until the pile of the carpet is completed. Then follows the last part of the operation, namely the shearing of the pile which has to be trimmed to the desired length for a thick mass of woolen threads is still hanging on the front. The tighter and closer a pile is knotted, the shorter it can be cut. Close knotting has the advantage that the outline of the design shows clearly and is not hazy. It has the precision of a painting. But loose and coarse knotting gives indistinct and vague contours.
The knotting must be even and regular for the design to show clearly. If one looks at the back of a well-knotted carpet, the design and colors stand out clearly. In the machine- woven carpets, the pattern appears only very hazily. This is a sure sign that it has not been hand-knotted. One rug can take months or even years to complete, ensuring the owner gains a unique work of art, which is not only beautiful but also practical and often extremely durable. Various materials, tools and knots are used in the weaving of Persian rugs, each explained in detail below as well as a description of the foundation and dyes use in handmade rugs:

Wool

Wool is the most commonly used material in weaving handmade Persian rugs, mainly because it is soft and durable but also due to the availability of the natural resource to the people of Iran. Although camel or goats hair is sometimes used, in excess it is undersirable. While they may add sheen to a carpet they are very difficult to dye and the rug may loose its color faster than if woven with sheep wool. Kork or Kurk wool is regarded the best type of wool, this is shaven from only the shoulders and under- belly of a lamb on its virgin cut. This is when the wool is at its finest and is oftern used in conjunction with silk.

Silk

Natural silk is extremely expensive and therefore used in rugs. Silk has the advantage over other natural fibers of being both fine and extremely strong. If is were as thick as wool there would be no contest in durability however as the intricate detail, work and high expense goes into making silk rugs it is recommended that they are used as wall hangings like tapestries or in rooms with low traffic. Some rugs use small amounts of silk together with an all – over wool pile to highlight details and add depth to the character. Under no circumstances should a wholly silk rug be cleaned at home! If the rug does need cleaned, it should be taken to a professional Persian rug specialist and dealt with on their recommendations.

Cotton

Cotton is generally used in the foundation of rugs. However, some weavers (such as the Turkmen) use it to introduce white details, creating a contrast in color and texture. Mercerized cotton is cometimes used to create an "art-silk" appearance.

Persian Rug Dyes

The wool or silk is treated and dyed prior to the rug knotting process. There are conflicting views about rug dyes with the more traditionalist believing only vegetable dyes should be used and the counter argument saying that chemical dyes have been used for over 100 years and many shades and designs simply could not be achieved using only the natural dyeing process. It is believed that both types of dye have their own merits. Natural dyes often provide a more muted, and indeed natural, palette. Whereas rugs using chrome dyes can be brighter, more vivid and lively than their plant and vegetable counterparts. It really depends on the look someone is trying to achieve. Some chemical dyes are more colorfast than vegetable dyes while some vegetable dyes are more colorfast than chrome dyes.

Natural Dyes

Some of the most beautiful colors are obtained from natural dyes, not only do these colors appear more natural but their durability tends to be greater than chemical dyes. The most commonly used vegetable dyes are indigo (originally obtained by extracting and fermenting the leaves of the indigo plant and used to dye wool blue), madder (produced by boiling the dried, chunked root of the madder plant in the dye pot to produce a red color), and larkspur (produced by boling the crushed leaves, stems, and flowers of the larkspur plant). These dyes produce dark navy blue, dark rusty-red and multed gold. Expensive Saffron flower is used to create rare shades of yellow. Long ago dyers realized that as more wool was dyed in a single dye pot, colors became weaker and weaker. Dyers use this notion of depleted dyes to their advantage. The first dyeing produces a deep, strong colors. Subsequent dyeing in the same dye pot produces lighter, softer colors. Dyers also quickly learned to combine colors to produce different hues. There is, for instance, no "vegetable" dye material that yields green, which is an important color if you're interested in weaving a floral design. To procuce green the wool is first dyed blue and then dyed again with yellow. It you look closely at the green color in a vegetable-dyed rug, you will commonly see that the color is uneven, blue, green in some areas, and more yellow- green in others. This is because of the double-dyeing technique. So, by using the notion that depleted dyes produce different hues, and by combining some dyes through over-dyeing wool, dyers can produce a surprisingly large palette of colors from a very limited variety of materials.

Chrome Dyes

Aniline dyes were introduced into the Persian region in the late 19 th century, early dyes proved to be unsuitable for rug yarns as they produced crude colors that were prone to rapid fading. At the beginning of the 20 th century the Persian government banned the import of these aniline dyes and passed laws, which were strictly enforced, ordering dye houses found producing them to be burnt to the ground. Any weaver caught using the illegal dyed yarn could face severe punishment. Needless to say, these measures proved effective, and Persian weavers went back using natural dyes until the more reliable chrome dyes were introduced between the first and second World Wars. Modern chrome dyes are extremely reliable, colorfast and made in a wide range of attractive colors and shades.

The Meaning of Colors

Across all cultures there are meaning to colors and to an extent these art important in rug design. While green in Muslim countries is the color of 'Mohammed,s coat' and considered sacred, therefore used less ofteh, it is widely used in Chinese carpets. The reverse is true of yellow in China as it is typically seen as the Emperor's colors. Red is more universally viewed as a sign of power and richness. Of course commercial demand largely negates these cultural differences with modern pieces.

Persian Rug Design

Before knotting, the rug is designed by hand by a skilled artist. City rugs are produced from detailed design plastes or cartoons, a life-sized paint by numbers showing which color of wool to use for each knot. Tribal and village rugs may use this method to create standard designs, however, many tribal pieces are created from the imagination of the weaver. For this reason, tribal rugs have more "errors" than their city counterparts, these of course are an indication of authenticity and some collectors prefer the raw art form of tribal rugs to the more uniform appeal of city items.

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