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Aside from color and design, the type of raw material used will help tell you what kind of area rug you’re looking at. These factors are essential to know and remember if you want to get the most out of owning an authentic one-of-a-kind hand-woven Persian carpet.
The term ‘Persian rug’ is no longer exclusive to handmade wool carpets produced in Iran and other Middle East countries where they originated. One reason for this is the misconception that the ‘Persian’ part refers solely to design patterns used in carpets. It’s why there are thousands of machine-made synthetic rugs that look ‘Persian’ but don’t share the finer qualities of genuine pieces made out of prime quality wool, silk, or cotton.
Before carpets became symbols of opulence and luxury, they were basic implements nomads used for protection against harsh mountain and desert weather. They looked to Mother Nature for inspiration which came in the form of fleece that allowed sheep to survive for long periods of time in such extreme conditions. It didn’t take long before they became household items of extraordinary beauty that eventually caught the fancy of Mesopotamian royalty. This was about 2,500 years ago and to this day the process of rug weaving still remains the same which is why a real Persian or Oriental rug can only come from animal and other natural sources.
Common Materials Used in Persian Rugs
Wool, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t only come from sheep. It is also sourced from other mammals such as goat, camel, or alpaca. This natural fiber is ideal for textile production because of its incredible insulation properties that allowed ancient nomads to survive brutal climates in mountainous regions. In addition, wool does not absorb liquid and is fire-resistant which allowed many antique Persian rugs to survive centuries intact.
Silk comes from insect larvae and this protein-rich fiber is highly sought after in textile production for its natural shine and durability. Compared to wool, silk has poor insulation which is why it’s a common practice to blend silk and wool in rug production. It’s also for this reason that silk carpets are often used as wall decor unlike wool rugs that can withstand a high volume of foot traffic. But the fine and smooth properties of silk make it a fantastic choice when it comes to selecting a one-of-a-kind Persian rug.
Cotton is a common material used for making carpets and area rugs since it is more affordable than wool and silk. It’s made of plant fibers that absorb dyes pretty well allowing rug makers to produce more designs and use a wider spectrum of colors. However, compared to silk and wool, cotton rugs don’t age well and don’t last for as long as those made from animal fibers.
The demand for area rugs is growing steadily and rug companies are trying to innovate using modern alternative materials like sisal and jute that are both plant fibers. They offer more flexibility in production costs and are easier to procure compared to their older, more famous siblings. However, wool and silk have proven their value over time which is why they are considered heirloom pieces that can be passed down from one generation to the next just like the ancient art of loom weaving.
In addition to techniques applied by weavers, the kind of fiber used for making a rug often dictates its overall value and beauty. It’s what you’re actually paying for – the durability and ability of the Persian rug to stand the test of time.