Located on the plateaus of Zagros ,Persia (Now modern day Iran) was an ancient and powerful empire which stretched from Africa to India. The time period between 1500 and 1736 A.D. was considered by many to be its artistic pinnacle similar to the European renaissance. The ruling class at the time, referred to as the Safavid Dynasty, encouraged arts of many kinds, including painting, calligraphy and intricate waving. During this period, the modern day Conventional and modern designs and the combination of them is the reason that through centuries, Persian carpet comes on the top of the art of rug weaving .cities of Tabriz, Kerman, Herat and Isfahan became the pioneer source for rug weaving. Hand-made rugs with intricate designs inspired by Persian culture were so well crafted that many have survived for hundreds of years. Passed down from generation to generation, they have become a living history. Evidence of a rich heritage and culture, each antique Persian rug has its own story. During the 16th century these carpets were exported all over the world, and in the 1850's, especially to European countries like England and Germany. These Europeans encouraged the development of additional rug producing factories in the major cities of Tabriz, Kerman, Mashed and Sultanabad. The ruler at the time, Reza Shah Pahlavi, built royal carpet and rug factories to produce the highest quality rugs in the region. Persian rugs are an important part of the modern Iranian culture. Passed down from ancestors, and representing a dying art form, they are priceless heirlooms cherished more than any other possession. Today the Persian rug industry is currently experiencing a rebirth, with production rivaling that of any time it its history. Although, the craft has moved from large industrial factories to small work-shops and homes, some believe this method of production is much more detail-oriented and adds to the uniqueness of each hand-made rug. This uniqueness is what separates Persian rugs and carpets from all others. The intricate designs and colors a are exotic to say the least, representing the rich history and origins this art form has evolved from over the past two thousand years. Not only is each rug unique, but each region has its own color palette, recurring themes, and weave pattern stemming from a mixture of its indigenous and nomadic ancestry.
There are 3 different styles weaved as follow:
Tribal Weavings (Shiraz, Gabbeh, Belouche, etc.)
These rugs are usually of primitive design, and possess a limited colour range: reds and blues predominating. Such rugs are still obtainable in reasonable quantities, and are therefore relatively inexpensive. Tribal weavings are made on a horizontal loom, and usually made of coarse, (although not necessarily poor quality) yarn. Tribal rugs are made by nomadic tribes-people, who weave a wool pile onto a wool warp and weft, on a ground (horizontal), loom. As these wandering tribes move from pasture to pasture, the loom is collapsed then re-pitched at the new camp. Because the wool is inclined to "recover", having been under tension, it is difficult to re-create the same loom settings, so the rugs made on such primitive looms often feature an irregular shape. Many buyers view this imperfection as a pleasing change in our modern Western World with its perfect symmetry and accurate angles.
Village Weavings (Hamadan, Afshar, etc.)
Village-made rugs are usually of finer quality than nomadic pieces, and because they are made on a permanently rigged loom they tend to be of a more consistent shape. These rugs often employ a cotton warp and weft, which add stability and resistance to shrinkage. The ground colours are often blue and red, but with easier access to modern dyestuffs village weavings now often incorporate lighter and brighter colours such as beiges, golds, and yellows. This category includes some very prestigious and expensive rug types. Persian rug collectors know well that heavy rugs such as Heriz, Bijar, and Sarab are some of the toughest of all hand-made rugs. Although initially expensive, these wonderful rugs will provide several generations of use and pleasure, and they therefore offer the best value of all.
Town Weavings (Tabriz, Nain, Isfahan, etc.)
The finest Persian rugs are all town-woven in workshops under the guidance and skill of a ‘master weaver’. They are made on a fixed vertical loom which allows far greater knot density, and a much more consistent weave. These rugs are usually very detailed in their design, and often incorporate complex multiple borders. The colours of town-woven rugs are much more diverse than the coarser rug types. Most Persian rugs mellow with exposure to sunlight, and look much more attractive as they age.
Rug Foundation (Warps & Wefts):
The strings used for warps and wefts are made of wool, cotton or silk and are prepared through the spinning process. (Tribal weavers usually use goat hair as their base material for weaving). For better firmness, two or more spun strings will be twisted together. The directions of twisting rotations and spinning rotations are vice versa. Strings made of wool, cotton or silk that are horizontally woven which go through the warps to make a steady foundation. Strings made of wool, cotton or silk that are vertically woven and wefts go through them and make a steady foundation. Short strings made of wool or silk which are knotted to warps (in some areas cotton is also used, for example in the area of “Torkumans” in north-eastern parts of Iran). Knots are the main function to make the design and formation of a rug, and they guarantee the steadiness and firmness of the whole foundation.
There are 2 different technique of weave as follow:
Turk Knot: A short string is twisted around a couple of warps and its both ends should be remained out of the warps. This type of knot has a symmetrical structure. Fars Knot: The short string here is also twisted around a couple of warps, but a full spin around one and a half spin around the other. If the curl of the knot is a right hand one, it is called asymmetrical knot
The fine weave of a rug can be examined by counting the number of its knots in a particular area of it. Depending on the country, the unit for measuring the area differs. For example, in United States, Canada and England the area is measured in square-inch, so they count the number of knots in one square-inch of area (KPSI=Knots Per Square Inch) but in Iran this would be the number of knots in one square-decimeters. The counting of the knots in the units of area is difficult so there’s another way to count the knots and to recognize the fine weave of a rug. This new unit is called “Raj”. The number of knots in a length of 7 centimeters would be counted and the rug would be a 30 “Raj” rug or 40 Raj or more. For instance, a rug with the Raj of 50 or 60 is a full fine weaves rug and a 30 Raj rug is a common one. So it can be concluded that the replacements of the warps in weaving a rug help in the fine weave of it. And also it can be seen that the number of knots in a flat rug is approximately half of the number of knots in a pipe-like rug and also two-third of the number of knots in a half-pipe rug in a same length. There’s another way to increase the number of knots (Raj or KPSI), and that is the pounding of the rug. Pounding would be done with an iron comb. There are two reasons to pound a rug. One is to make warps tight together and the other is to increase the number of knots and consequently the KPSI as told before, and so give a harmony in weaving a rug in its length and width. Condition of pounding depends on the rug fine, meaning that the weaver tries to equalize the number of knots in length and width of a rug, (there’s an exception in the style of “Gabbeh”). There’s another parameter that has effect on the witness and elegance of a rug, and that’s the “pile level”. According to the usage of a rug the level of its pile on the surface differs. For instance, tribal weavers and villagers weave rugs of high pile for their daily usage.
Both ends of a finished rug will be woven in a special way that is called “Gelim Bafi”. This type of weaving is applied for better tightness and better protection of the rug so the warps won’t come out of the rug or get loose in case of sweeping the rug. This “Gelim Bafi” can help in quality and the identity of a rug and has three different types:
The texture of the wefts is exposed. Balanced texture.
The texture of the warps is exposed.
Sometimes in the middle of “Gelim Bafi” the weavers use some trimming designs. These designs are usually woven with strings of dyed wool, but the other parts of the “Gelim” endings remain just white. The strings go through warps in different ways and with different knots.
In pictorial carpets or rugs there are two different designs for “Gelim Bafi”; one is the design of “Honnaghi” and the other is the “simple” design with a twin-weft texture. The simple one is usually used between nomadic tribal weavers.
after the endings of the rug, the “fringes” come. Actually, fringes are the both ends of warps in a rug. Fringes also would be woven in different ways. Sometimes they would be left simply the way they come out of the main rug, or sometimes maybe they would be twisted together.
To make the rug tight and firm, weavers always twist the both side margins of the rug (both ends of the warps). This traditional way makes the rug tight and firm, and is called “Binder” weaving (Shirazeh). This may be done after the completion of the rug somewhere else. Binders may be single colored or mix colored. In addition, the number of warps to be bound together is optional. The weaver would twist the binder textile around the chosen warps, after weaving one, two or more “Raj”s. if they twist it parallel it would be a “parallel binder”. If the binders go through each other and two colors are used, it would be called ”hostile binder”. Sometimes the weaver twists the binder around the warps, two or three times or more and in an inverse direction, like a multiplying cross. This is called “cross binder” or “intersecting binder”. Usually, city woven rug binders are single colored and parallel, where tribal woven binders are multi-colored and intersecting. Sometimes the weaver uses more than one group of multiple warps and twists the binder around two, three or more groups of multiple warps. This is called multi-row binder. In some rugs the weaver does not weave binders but he/she, instead, twists the wefts around the warps on the margins of the rug, so the rug would be tight and they call it a “non-binder” rug. These are mostly high-pile rugs that the tribal weavers make them for their own usages and usually these rugs are thick but very soft rugs. In comparison, “Khersak” is almost very much like “Gabbeh”, but the quality of gabbeh rugs are better. Also, gabbeh rugs have tiny and little knots but the knots in khersak rugs are mostly bigger and of less quality. Somehow, the weavers compare the knots of gabbeh rugs to the rugs in Kerman and Kashan styles. Gabbeh is a modern style that nowadays has a good popularity between rug users and collectioners. Some designers believe that gabbeh rugs have two different styles; first group contains common gabbeh with simple designs and without pictures or flowers and leaves on them. Second group includes lactic gabbeh that has some specifications as below:
1. Warp: the main common characteristic between all gabbeh rugs (simple or lactic) is the number of the wefts, which sometimes goes up to 12 rajs between every two knots. These wefts are hidden under the rugs high pile.
2. Knot: in gabbeh rugs the tail of the knots, that is called “pile”, is a bit longer. After a knot is done the wool string will be cut. This is called “finishing”. In gabbeh rugs the weavers do the finishing less than other styles. So the style of gabbeh is a high-pile style. Finishing is the process of cutting the wool string remaining on the surface of a rug so it would be smooth and flat. In gabbeh style the wool strings (rug pile) have the height of about 4 cm that would cover all the wefts all around the surface of the rug.“Loom” is a wooden tool to make warps fixed and immovable while the process of weaving. There was at first horizontal loom (ground looms) and it is still being used in some areas in Iran. Nowadays, weavers usually use vertical looms that are separated to these three groups: Tribal (village) looms, Tabriz looms and rotating looms.
Looms have very simple structure that helps weaver to separate every other warp into two groups so he/she can pull the warps and pass a weft through them and reach the next weft. Usually, looms are made of the wood of aspen trees. The reason is that they are not expensive trees and mostly are straight and stiff. If curved woods are used the rugs may get distorted.
1. Horizontal (ground) looms
The first and most important benefit in using these looms is that they are not heavy and can be moved so easily, so that the tribal weavers usually use this type of looms. Also, in some parts of the districts of Kerman and Fars weavers still use them. Horizontal looms are constructed of two wooden beams that are separated by two rolling pins stuck to the ground. While weaving, a weaver tightens the knots by pounding on them between these two groups of wooden beams and rolling pins, and when they want to move out, they pull out the rolling pins out of the ground and wrap up the rug around the beams and again when resuming weaving they open the wrapped rug and stick the pin to the ground.
2. Vertical looms
a. Tribal (village) looms
b. This is the first and most simple loom ever used. It is made of two beams, one is the immovable upper beam (“Sardar”) and the other is the movable downer beam (“Zirdar”). Both ends of the two beams are fixed in the splits that are made inside beams (“Bahoo”). Usually, end of the warps are connected to a string at the downer part, and this string is twisted around the downer part. The other end of the string is connected to the upper part. Warps would be fixed and tight by pounding a wedge into the splits (“bahoo”). The weaver sits on a flat board that its both ends are placed on the last steps of a ladder, and as the work goes on, he/she places the board on the next downer step. Sometimes his distance to the ground is more than a meter, at this time he/she pulls out the wedges and opens the upper skeins, and then he/she releases the rug and pulls the woven part down, and wraps it in width to a string in downer part of the loom and sews it. Then the weaver wraps the free end of the warps in shape of skeins to the upper beam and fixes it by pounding the wedges into the splits (bahoo), and he/she would sit on the first step of the ladder.
3. Tabriz looms
For the first time this type of loom was used in the district of Tabriz, that’s where its name came from. Because of its simplicity and cheap cost in most areas of north-west Iran, weavers use this type of loom. The benefit of using this type of looms in comparison to tribal looms is that in Tabriz looms there’s no need to do exhausting work such as making skeins and wrapping or twisting them around the upper beam. In case of releasing the rug and pulling it down, just by pulling out the wedges out of the splits (Bahoo), the warps would be released. So the rug is released and simply the woven parts can be observed and checked.
4. Rotating looms
This is the most improved type of looms. In this type, both beams rotate in holes prepared for them. An iron bar would be passed through the warps and then it would be connected to the downer beam, and the other end of the warps would be connected to the upper beam and then the bar would be rotated with a lever so the warps would be all tight enough. As the weaving process goes on the woven parts of the rug would be wrapped over the downer part of the loom and the warps would be smoothly released from the upper parts.
The benefits of this type of looms are as follow:
a. The weavers can weave any rugs of any size. There’s no limit to the size of the rug.
b. The warps can be moved tightly with the help of the lever that rotates the bars.
c. The margins of the rug will be very straight.
Besides loom, there are other weaving tools that are so simple in structure but very much necessary to use. There are types of knives to cut the excess strings after knotting, types of combs (“Dafteh” or “Daftin”) to comb the wefts to decrease the size of knots and tide them, and scissors (“Meghraz”) to cut the strings. According to the area that the weaver lives in, these tools differ in shape and size.
For example, comb is a simple tool that the weaver draws it through warps so that the wefts sit between them. It has a heavy wooden body and its teeth are made of metal. Wool, cotton and silk are the three basic materials used in weaving rugs. Some tribal weavers also use goat hair in form of warps and sometimes they use camel wool. Hemp is also used in some Indian rugs.
In Iran the dyes used for rugs and carpets are separated in two groups:
1) Artificial dyes.
2) Natural dyes.
1) Artificial dyes: these are divided in two groups. The first is the inky dye that is mostly called “Ateline”. The second group is the combined dye that is of better quality comparing the other, and the chemical solution “Potassium Bicarbonate” is added into it that makes it stable, and these are commonly called “Chrome dyes”. The first group of dyes (inky dyes) is cheaper in price and easy to use but they would fade in front of the sun. The second group (Chrome dyes) is more expensive and using them needs much experience but their stability on the rug is extraordinary. In the last years of the king “Naser Aldin Shah” artificial dyes came to Iran (that’s why sometimes they are called imported dyes), but after a few years it was forbidden to use them because of their poor quality. In the ages of the king “Mozaffar Aldin Shah” all these dyes were expired, and again after 1302 A.H. artificial dyes were allowed under cover of taxes. In most dyes, that are mostly the red colors, the major element is “Ateline”. The most important element of these dyes is “Ronas”, a rare and expensive natural element that is the basic part of natural dyes. Dyeing the strings is a work done by a dyeing master and it needs years of experience to make smooth and congenial dyes.
2) Natural Dyes: the most important element used in natural dyes is “Ronas” that is the base material to make red dyes. “Ronas” or “Rubin Tinctorium” is a wild plant grows in most parts of Iran specially in districts of “Yazd” and “Kerman” but is cultivated in “Mazandaran”. It has a green-yellow flower and stable and tough root that is full of a liquid which can absorb oxygen from the air and change itself into a red colored liquid. To use ronas as a dye for strings, dyers follow these rules: at first, they wash the strings in hot water for about half an hour, and if it was too greasy or oily they add about 3% its weight of alkali soda or alkali soap to it. Then they put them in a solution of water and ”white vitriol” for about 12 hours, then for the second time they prepare the same solution and they boil them in the solution for about an hour. Now the strings have the potential to take and absorb dyes. At this time, they need a “Ronas” solution as the major dye. To prepare such a solution, at first, they boil the soft and sifted Ronas due to the weight of the strings to be dyed, so that the dyeing material gets off the root and be dissolved completely. Then, they separate the refusing and due to the darkness or brightness of the color they want, they add water into it. Now, they put the strings in the dye barrel, and heat it again. After half an hour of boiling, a little sour grape juice will be added to it. And again for the third time they boil it for about an hour. Then, the strings will be left in the cooling dye for about 12 hours, and at last they put the strings in a carrier of dyes and rinse it. There’s a strange way for dyeing the strings with “Ronas” that is used by the people of “Mehraban” village, near the city of “Hamedan” and the people of “Bidjar” in “Hamedan” neighbor. At first, they soak the strings in a solution of water, yogurt and white vitriol. This will be done exposed to the sun. They will wash it carefully and will boil it in a pot of liquid roans. After the dyeing material (Ronas) was completely absorbed by the strings, they’ll take the pot away from the fire and add a little cow urine into it and the strings will remain in it for about 15 hours. Then, they wash the strings carefully and dry it in the sun. The very famous red dye of “Arak” or “Sultanabad” that is called “yogurt red” is produced this way. After the dye is steady on the strings with the help of white vitriol, they soak the strings in a solution of water, yogurt and “Ronas” for about two days. When they pull out the strings from this solution they would have an orange color. Then for about 24 to 48 hours they put the strings in flowing water. This will give the strings a little light blue color. There’s another popular way in “Arak” to give color to strings. After the strings are ready to accept the dyes, with the help of white vitriol, they soak them in solution of water, yogurt and “Ronas” for about 5 days, and after this time they expose the strings into the sun for a few hours. This is a kind of fermentation that firms the dye on the strings. The beauty of both these two methods is even more than the effect of them, because the red dye that has been produced is unsteady in alkali environment. “Sperk” is a very cute and tiny plant that grows wildly almost in every part of Iran, and is planted in “Khorasan”. Its stem and its flower release a yellow colored substance that can be used in dyeing the wool and strings for rugs. And if the strings are dyed by “Sperk” and after that by the peacock feather that gives them an indigo (blue) color, they can gain a various range of beautiful green colors. The method for dyeing the strings with “Sperk” would be as follows:
At first they boil the strings in a solution of water, and white vitriol, so it will be ready to accept dyes. Then they boil the sperk and then slowly they pour the solution over the strings in a barrel and again boil them together for about half an hour. The whole process will slowly cool down in about 12 hour. The amount of the sperk used is about 5 to 40 percentage of the strings weight, due to the darkness or brightness of the desired color.
Grapevine leaves are also used to get yellow dyes. This dye is almost brighter than the dye produced with “Sperk”, but the dyeing way of the strings is the same in both. Another way to make yellow dyes is using “pomegranate” peel, since pomegranate is abundant and not expensive. The dye took from the pomegranate peel is not steady enough and not attractive as much as the grapevine leaves but much darker. The dyeing process is the same as the others above. “Walnut shell” is an extraordinary material to get “camel”, “beige” and “brown” dyes. Unfortunately, the dyers put and soak the strings in lime for two or three days before they make the strings ready to absorb and accept dyes. This would not be necessary if the strings were completely and carefully washed. Then they wash the strings in flowing water, and with white vitriol, as was said about “Sperk” and “grapevine leaves”, they make the dyes firm and steady, and for an hour and a half they boil the strings in a barrel filled up to one forth to one third of the strings weight, with walnut shell. The combination of “roans”, “sperk” and “walnut shell” makes beautiful and elegant spectrum of colors. In the district of “Lorestan” and around the cities of “Hamedan” and “Kordestan”, the skin of the oak tree is used to gain brown dyes. The process of gaining a steady dye is the same as the process explained before.
There are two natural materials that came to Iran centuries ago. One of them is named “Peacock feather indigo seed” and the other is the “red seed”. For years they planted “peacock feather indigo seed” in the districts of “Kerman” and “Khuzestan”, but today there’s a chemical exchange for it that is much simple and faster. This chemical product is “sodium sulfide”.
“Red seed” is mostly used in eastern parts of Iran. This very dark red colored dye is called “lak” or “burgundy”. “Burgundy” is an insect that lives in wild areas of Mexico and was used by “Aztec” tribes. Mexican paid special attention to it, and the usage of this material was a secret for many years, so this dyeing element never came to Europe until the 19th century. Because of the great amounts of “Ronas” that is planted, “red seed” is not used in Iran