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Grounded in Tradition: The History of Handmade Rugs

Hand-knotted rugs are made using a process that’s been largely unchanged over thousands of years, understood only by skilled craftspeople in select regions of the world. The result? An intricate, complex work of art that will last for generations. Read on to learn more about how these one-of-a-kind rugs are made.

What Is It?

For a rug to be considered an “Oriental” rug, it must have been hand-knotted in Asia, with the largest exporters being Pakistan, Iran, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Tibet and Nepal. Though Oriental rugs are crafted in Iran, they are the only rugs that can be considered “Persian.”

Early Beginnings

Some scholars believe hand-knotted rugs pre-date the Egyptian pyramids. While the exact origins are unknown, it’s likely that the first rugs were made several thousand years ago in the Central Asian Plains. Nomadic tribespeople would use rugs to shield themselves from the bitter cold of winter, on surfaces in their homes for warmth and on parts of their tents to protect from elements like snow and sleet. They’d even use rugs as surfaces for eating and for transporting goods. Because of the wool’s extreme durability and versatility, rugs were utilities that could be successfully repurposed again and again.

Above: The Pazryk carpet is the world’s oldest known rug. It was found in Altai Mountains in Siberia in 1948, in the tomb of Prince of Altai.

Radiocarbon testing revealed that the Pazyryk carpet was woven in the 5th century B.C., thus approximately 2500 years old. However, the construction of the rug uses techniques that are believed to be 4000 years old.

How They’re Made

The process starts with either hand-spun or machine-spun wool, each variety with its own characteristics: hand-spun is touted for its luster and shine, and machine spun for its traditional, sophisticated look. Once a wool is selected, it’s on to the dyeing process.

All of Solo’s rugs are colored with natural vegetable dyes; as opposed to chemical dyes that give you an artificially perfect look, natural dyes yield and organic, grainy texture that complements the wool itself. From here, the weaver pitches a pattern to a designer.

Weavers and designers communicate through Taalim: an ancient language handed down from Iran, that is only used in Iran and Pakistan (though weavers in other countries and regions have their own, comparable language). The Taalim is essentially a map of the entire rug, and notes everything from the pattern to the colors that are to be used. Using the Taalim as a guide, the designer then sketches out the entire design on graph paper. Once the design is completed and approved, it’s sent to the loom to be created.

The craftspeople at the loom then use Taalim to translate the graphed pattern onto the actual rug. Once this is completed, they’ll wash the raw carpet to achieve the right texture and look. The washing process can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks and requires multiple washers.

Lastly, the rug goes through one final QA process to ensure it’s absolutely pristine and ready to go out into the world.

In total, from concepting through weaving and finishing, it takes about 12 full months to craft a single, beautiful finished piece.

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