Oriental Rug Buying 101

Somehow, somewhere I was taught that the addition of an oriental rug added depth and richness to a room- and in between that somehow and somewhere, I fell in love with them. With real hand-knotted rugs, I understood the amazing work that goes into creating this art. They are as important as a well-loved bookcase or fine desk from your grandfather. They add richness to a room- even when it is a setting full of Ikea  furniture. It creates an ambience, and there will never be two of the same. They are what I search for at tag sales, neighborhood yard sales and on ebay and Craig’s list.

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First- the name “oriental” seems to include all rugs made in Asia, Turkey, and Iran- those from Iran are still called Persian rugs. Dictionary.com defines it as a handwoven carpet or rug produced in Iran and characterized by fine warp and filling yarns, a usually tight, even pile made with the Sehna knot, and a variety of floral, foliate, animal, and avian designs woven in rich, harmonious colors. Turkish rugs use a different knot and are often geometric  patterns, usually reflective of regional tribe.

Oriental rugs are not made in the United States although many machine made copies are produced here. Their title should be "Oriental design" rugs.  

Handmade you say?

An average 9 x 12 hand woven rug takes a minimum of 3000 hours of weaving, to say nothing of the time spent on design, dye preparation, spinning the wool and setting up the loom.

Someone once suggested taking a picture book to study which designs you immediately find appealing. I like this idea and can’t recommend this enough. Go to your library and take out a few books.
I like this Oriental Carpet Book- a complete guide, a classic reference.  I have gone to a dealer just once and for my first rug purchase for a specifically sized carpet, it was a success.  It is so thrilling to see the carpets rolled back and opened for studying. If you have time to go to a dealer, do so, but do not buy on your first go round. The come-on-sales and going-out-of-business sales are a mainstay of some dealers- buyer beware.

Let me tell you a bit about what you should consider. I always look to see if the rug is machine made: faux oriental or hand knotted: the real deal. I like to buy a handcrafted rug. Woven on a loom & hand -knotted. Machine made carpets are fine and less expensive to purchase- sometimes. You need to know how to tell, because there are dealers out there who want to sell you a machine made rug which is a fake oriental.

The fringe is where to look

The fringe is part of the body of the handwoven rug itself. It is formed during the weaving process and looks like an extension of the rug body. In machine made rugs, the fringe is not created during the manufacturing process. It is in fact rather sewn onto the rug after the rug is completed. Take a closer look at the part where the fringe is attached to the body of the rug. If you can see that is has been sewn to the rug then you know the rug is not authentic.


Check out the backside this is the  best way to see the difference between the two types of rugs. Look underneath.  If the weaving and the knots are not perfectly uniform, you know it is a handmade rug. In addition, you can actually distinguish the individual knots when you look at the back of a real handmade rug.

This is because, in making those handmade rugs, weavers manually insert the knots into the foundation of the rug and tie each knot by hand. Not surprisingly, because it is a fully manual process, this results in the unevenness that you can see on the underside of the rug.

Machine made rugs on the other hand are manufactured by large, heavy-duty power looms that are entirely automated. The underside will be smooth & even.

You cannot see individual knots at the back of a machine made rug because there aren’t any. The pile is held together by an over stitch construction and this smooth over stitch pattern and attached scrim is what you can see on the entire back of a machine made rug

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And the color- it’s not perfect

Handmade rugs are more likely to have slight variations in color. This is because the process is entirely manual including the dyeing process. Using wool that has been dyed in different batches with vegetable dyes, will often result in slight color

changes. With machine made rugs, the materials used are typically dyed in a single batch and the colors will be uniform throughout.

So you’ve found your favorite rug, the right size and the right color. And it is time to determine the quality of what you are being sold, just to confirm that the price is fair.  Once again, check the rear of the rug. Pricing is determined by stitches per inch. The more stitches per inch, the finer the rug- generally.

Knot knot- who’s there?

Knot density (for strength) and fineness (for clear design definition) are important indicators of quality for which some countries use different terms. To test knot density, push your fingers down to the base of the pile; if the knots feel tightly packed, the rug will be extremely durable. To determine fineness, compare the backs of different carpets. Each "bump" is a knot. Small knots allow for well-defined curves and fine lines in the pattern, but you'll also pay a premium for them.

 So you want to try buying on ebay? Ask for information, get your questions answered. I often ask questions just to know with whom I am dealing. And look for the tag/country of origin on those carpets. If not visible, ask.

And back to those reputable dealers- I think it is well worth building a relationship with a dealer. If only to learn, and to find colors of rugs that might work with your aesthetic. And if you are in pursuit of a special size rug, often in their network, they are friendly with other dealers who may have what you want.  And you will learn and absorb the knowledge they share.

Need more reasons to buy an oriental rug?

  1. Last a lifetime

  2. Always in style

  3. Well constructed

  4. Beautiful to look at

  5. Good investment

  6. Support artists

  7. Full of history

  8. Environmentally friendly

  9. Status symbol

Thanks to another Rose (that’s Shadkem) for her input.