There is an image in many people's minds that buying a rug is like making a trip to an exotic bazaar. In order to acquire a carpet, you must haggle with a merchant who knows much more than you. Worse, after purchasing a rug, you still have many doubts and unanswered questions.

In reality, the process can be very simple and painless. If you know just a few basics, you can avoid making mistakes and select a carpet that will dramatically improve the appearance of your home.

To Dye For

Historically, the art of yarn dying was a cottage industry whose secrets were passed down from one generation to the next. In creating his dyes, the respected, local dyer would have turned to his environment to find his raw materials. It was not until the 1860s that dyers began experimenting with synthetic, analine dyes. While these synthetic dyes produced brilliant colors, they proved not to be very durable, with a strong tendency to fade. In fact, initial results were so disasterous that the Persian government outlawed the use of analine dyes in 1903. When caught using such dyes, the offender was punished by having his right hand removed, a loss that effectively ended his career. Today, however, advances in chemistry have prompted the creation of particularly beautiful and durable synthetic dyes, which are now the industry standard.

Tools of the Trade

After acquiring their dyed yarn, it is the responsibility of the wavers to transfer the envisioned design to the loom. Professional weavers can tie between six-thousand and ten-thousand knots per day, and may require weeks to complete a single carpet. After tying her knots, the weaver uses adaftun (comb) to pound them into place, and atikh (knife) to cut the finished knots. Finally, upon completion, a shearer uses thegaichi (scissors) to trim the pile of the carpet to the desired length.

Knotty, Knotty

It is widely believed that the quality of a rug is a function of the number of knots present per square inch. However, knotcount is actually only one of many characteristics that determine the quality of a carpet. Other important attributes that should be used in the evaluation of a rug include the consistency of its weave and the quality of the materials used in its construction. Therefore, it is wiser to consider the rug as a whole, than to strain your eyes counting tiny knots.

Don't Let Them Pull the Wool Over Your Eyes

Whether they're woven in Afghanistan, China or Pakistan, the one thing all fine rugs have in common is fine materials. However, top-quality silk and wool are hard to come by. For example, the kurk wool used in our best Nepalese rugs comes from lambs that live high in the Himalayas. Getting this wool to the weavers isn't easy though. Blizzards close the mountain passes for up to seven months of the year.

Still, for a rug that wears well and holds its beauty, there is no substitute for the best materials. Good wool has a heavy, almost "oily" feel to it and should not shed or lose its fluff. Any rug with wool that feels dry or lacks springiness should be avoided.

Designed To Last

There are few truly "original" designs in oriental rugs. Weavers usually work with traditional motifs, which date back centuries. These designs are often based on religious or mystical symbols, or drawn from animal, floral or architectural images. Today, however, many weavers are reinterpreting these motifs and using colors in bold new ways.

Take Care

If you give it just a little care, a good quality rug should last for generations.

First, and foremost, you should always use a rug pad. It will protect the underside of the rug, make it softer to walk on, and keep the rug from creeping around the room. Differnt types of padding should be used, depending on the where your rug will be placed.

In addition, you should use protectors on the feet of any tables or chairs that will be resting on top of the rug. This will prevent indentations and wear.

It is important to keep your rug clean. Dirt and grit that settle in the rug work like sandpaper to wear away at the knots. Regular vacuuming should be sufficient. However, be careful of the fringe!

Another problem to avoid are moths, which feed on wool. Most oriental rugs are made of wool, and putting down an oriental rug is akin to setting out a feast. Most moth damage occurs in areas concealed under furniture, so furniture should be moved and these areas vacuumed periodically. Another tip is to put out a bowl of feathers, which moths love even more than wool. By watching the feathers for damage, you can detect potential moth infestations earlier.

If your rug should sustain serious damage - a tear for example - you should talk to your rug merchant and get a recommendation on where to take it for repair. This is not something to be handled by anyone less than an expert. The same thing is true if your rug is stained. Since many dyes are made from organic substances, it takes a great deal of experience to clean a rug without bleaching it.

Finally, you should know that all rugs, no matter how fine, will fade somewhat over time. But in high-quality oriental rugs, this process is much more like the aging of a fine wine. The colors become more mellow, and the pattern more subtle.

Some other tips on making your rug last:

  • A good stain treatment will prevent many spills from becoming stains. Check a local carpet dealer for products, and be sure to let the know the material of your rug (wool, polypropylene, olefin, etc).
  • In order to evenly distribute wear, rotate your rug every two to three years.
  • Potted plants placed on your rug can cause mildew and severe damage. If you must put a plant on the rug, be sure it has a waterproof dish underneath it.
  • When spot cleaning your rug, test a small area for color-fastness.