Persian Carpets have a long history in Iran and its surrounding countries. They once were made for personal need or for Trading. Knotting them by hand is complicated and needs skills, practise and a very good eye for being able to knot complex patterns.
If made for personal need carpets could have served more than one purpose. Nomadic people used them for the floor of the tent, as blankets or wall decoration. Even bags could be made out of carpets, but they were mostly flat woven fabrics – not knotted. For Trading there were special carpets, made very artful and out of valuable material like silk. Those were the ones decorating palaces, mosques and homes of respected citizens of the ancient Persian empire. Also they found their ways into Europe to royal houses and those able to afford a real Persian.
Persian carpets have been a globally respected and valuable commodity for centuries. With their traditional method of production, they belong to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage. Especially honoured for carpets are the famous regions Fars and Kashan.
Returning to the original concept of production with natural colours, integrating modern patterns as well as longstanding production methods, carpets from antique Persia are popular like never before.
Nowadays carpets can be made very fast by machines. In just a day modern fabrics produce a lot of carpets, which in some ways may resemble those famous as the real Persians. But in the end a hand knotted Persian carpet is way different than one made by a machine. The handy work of Persian knotters needs time, inner peace and experience, something machines won’t learn.
Knotting by hand begins with the stretching of the warps on a weaving loom. This loom can be horizontal, vertical, stationary or movable. Nomads like the Qashqai – from the south of Iran – use horizontal weaving looms, which are suitable to the lifestyle of the nomads. The weaving looms have the disadvantage, that the warp cannot be stretched very much, like it can, using the professional, vertical weaving looms in manufactories. That’s why the carpets will not be exact the same as those made with stationary looms. Once the warps are stretched, the weft will be worked in. Then different material like cotton, wool, silk or camel hair will be knotted around the threads. Afterwards a so called comb beater is used to tighten the knots into the threads. Then the arising pile gets a cut and the overhanging threads of the horizontal edge of the carpet are then fixed. They build up the prominent Fringes of the carpet.
Often the edges of the carpets are flat woven or the overhanging threads of the long sides of the carpet are also fixed, so that they build the edge of the carpet.
Traditional knotting needs some tools, that have not changed for decades. On the one hand a knife, needed for cutting the thread. Then there is a comb like tool, the so called comb beater. This is used to tighten the threads. And of course a scissor to cut the threads in a unitary length.
In some regions you can find special tools, letting emerge carpets, different to other Persian carpets. This for example in Bidjar, a carpet province in western Iran, inhabited by Kurdish people. Those make extremely stabile carpets with an almost vertical pile. Dirt can hardly enter the carpet and damage it from the inside. This carpets are made possible by the technique of wet weaving and the use of a metal stick likely to a nail. In combination this technique results very stable and sturdy and tight carpets. If folded, this carpets will be damaged in fabric, because of their stiffness.
Valuable Persian carpets are made out of natural material. Those can be different to its region. Usually cotton, wool and silk are the ones in use. Nomads for example mostly use wool of their self-bred sheep. Whilst Sarab carpets also have special material such as camel hair in use to create a camel hair coloured fond.
The fibres of one single of the material is spun and plied in two different ways. Valuable carpets are made by hand spun, cheaper ones nowadays more often with machine spun wool. The fibres are spun in S- or Z-turnaround. The direction in which they are spun names them. Most of the Persian carpets are spun in Z-turnaround and then plied with an S-turn.
Because the material is so considerable for the quality of a Persian carpet, it is used after its own value for different parts of the carpet. There are very valuable silk carpets, which is made solely with silk. Other cheaper carpets are 100% made out of cotton, which is cultivated in many regions of old Persia. Others are made out of mixed materials, warp and weft made out of cotton, the pile out of silk an sheep wool. Of course there are also differences between each material. In general you can say, the more natural the better.
In order that, the beautiful patterns of the Persian carpets can be formed, different coloured threads are required. Those threads can be coloured by hand with natural colours or with synthetic colours. As it is with the basic material: the more natural the more valuable. When in the mid 19th century colours like aniline came up, the quality of the carpets got a lot worse. When it came to the return of traditions in thread colouring using natural colours, the value began rising again and led to the high quality of the threads with their durability and colourfastness. First off: Ziegler carpets became famous for fast fading aniline colours – more on this later.
Probably the most known and well used colour for Persian carpets is Mordant Red. This colour is obtained from the so called madder, which can be found in the Near East and around the eastern Mediterranean. Even in Germany you can find this plant, but very rarely. Madder really makes the best results on cotton and therefore became very popular. Osmanian dyers invented the art of colouring, which made it possible to colour threads with a constant colour shade.
Other colours are Indigo (blue) from the Indigo plant, which is nowadays used as the basic colour for Jeans. Also camomile is used to get a yellow colour shade and oak apples for a black one. Mixing different colours makes it possible to get nearly all shades of the whole colour spectrum. That’s how colourful carpets can be made simply with what nature hands us.
Alongside this valuable and time-consuming produced colours there are others used in carpet production. Inter alia insect colours. A louse from South America and the Canaries is used to make Brick Red. The female louses secrete an acid, which is the basic of the colour.
Different to natural colours, the production of synthetic colours is pretty easy, which makes the synthetic colours cheaper. The quality cannot keep up with the natural ones. Nowadays modern colours are so good, that even trained eyes cannot make up any difference. A connoisseur though will honour the art of colouring with natural colours.
It should be mentioned that some Persian carpets have the typical characteristic, that their colouring has some deviation in one colour. This so called abrash (from the Turkish word for stained) characteristic in all probability means that the carpet was made in a village or in housework and that the used threads are from different production batches. Because the colouring of threads using natural colours can never result the exact same nuance, colours of different production batches shine in minimally different shades. Manufacturers of Persian carpets sometimes copy abrash to imitate Nomad carpets and t copy that specific characteristic.
Like mentioned before Ziegler carpets are known for their fast fading colours. Properly being a characteristic of bad quality, the vintage look became pretty popular. Manufacturers began leaving the carpets in the sun for a long time, so that the colours of the carpets would bleach out making the carpets look kind of antique. Nowadays the bad colouring of Ziegler carpets comes from the sunlight, and not anymore from bad colour quality.
Basically there are two different knots: the symmetric and the asymmetric knot. First one is also called Turkish Knot or Giordes Knot, second one is also known as Senneh Knot, what is misleading, because carpets from the Senneh province are traditionally knotted symmetric.
The knots vary in suitability for different patterns and in their fineness. Asymmetric knotted carpets allow curvilinear patterns, showing figures or floral elements. The Giordes knot is mostly used for geometrical patterns, like squares rhombi. Also those carpets are more robust. Certainly, it lays in the knotters skills, what is possible. That’s why carpets from Senneh are often full of floral patterns, although made with symmetric knots.
Next to this usual knots there are some others, too. For example, the Jufti knot. This one is, different to the ones mentioned before, knotted around four wefts what avoids a lot of work. This leads to wide-meshed carpets, which are not that robust, because this characteristic makes it easier for dirt to ruin the carpet. Also they do not look that fine, like those made with the Senneh knot. Jufti knots are used in the Khorasan Province.
Talking about the quality of a Persian carpet you cannot forget to mention the knot density. But it’s not the density, that makes a carpets quality. It is much more the used threads. A Gabbeh Carpet has got a low density, the used wool however is very soft, so that the carpets value rises up.
Yet against this fact the knot density is important to differ the quality of some carpets. Carpets from Nain for example can be classified in 4La, 6La and 9La. That means: the tighter a carpet is knotted, the lower is it’s La account and therefore it is knotted finer. A 4La has got a knot density from around 1.200.000 knots per square meter. This density is very rare and therefore exclusive.
Now you may ask yourself how such a high knot density can be determined. It’s easy maths! You just have to count the knots on the backside of the carpet for a length and width from ten centimetres and then calculate this times ten and there you are, you found out the knot density per square meters
Persian carpets differ very much in their patterns. Different provinces have been dividing themselves from another using their own patterns and colours. They still have a lot in common. You can often find a medallion in the midfield of the carpet, which builds up the carpet from the inside. Borders separate the midfield, the fond, and show more detailed patterns as the midfield does. Certainly this is also up to the knotter. Nomad carpets even separate themselves from others, because not having any clear guidelines, they often arise in the knotters mind while knotting.
Persian carpets can be classified in different types of basic design or layouts. Such as:
Geometric patterns can often be found in carpets with symmetric knotting, because this prefers rectilinear patterns. Gross and strong are the characteristics of such a pattern. Carpets made from nomads are often patterned rectilinear.
Some patterns became famous far beyond Iran’s borders. Their unmistakable style marks them clearly. You can find many different patterns. Some used for all-over designs and others for figural presentations.
Very famous is the Herati-Dessin with the all-over-layout. This, named after the city Herat, pattern is typical for Iranian carpets. A rhombus divides a blossom. Yet the four corners of the blossom are decorated with flowers, also known as fishes.
Two similar called, but still very different patterns are Göl and Gül. First one, pictures an octagonal motif, second one a flower motif. Next to those three motifs there the Boteh-Dessin is also very famous. This is a swung almond-motif and is used, just like it is with Herati and Göl as an all-over.
Persian carpets can be found in almost every size, so that they can be used for any purpose. There are very big Palace carpets and in the other hand there are very small ones, made by nomads in domestic work. The size does not always affect the quality, but there are sizes which cannot be made in domestic work, because there are simply no looms. Village and nomad carpets are usually found in smaller variations.
Persian carpets are classified by size. The smallest ones are Poshti, having the form of a pillow (60x40cm). Middle sized carpets are such as the Saronim with side lengths from up to 150x200 cm. There are also very big carpets made in manufactories, those are up to 10 m long. The Kelleghi is one of them, it should be used as a loafer, since it is much narrower with a width of 100 to 200 cm.
Persian carpets are measured in an old Persian length unit, the ‘Zar’. This is about 104-112cm. A Saronim is about 1,5 Zar and a Kelleghi up to 6 Zar.
Most Persian carpets are rectangular. Therefore, there are the mentioned size designations. There are also square, oval, and circled forms, which can have a different effects depended on the room. Further there are gallery carpets, perfectly suitable for hallways. Particularly for this form are the missing fringes on one side, so that they would not get caught on the door. Also stairs are decorated with carpets of this kind. In bourgeois households of the 19th century such carpets where very popular.
Once a carpet was knotted in the desired form and design, it has to go thru some further steps, before it reaches the market. One step is cutting the pile. This step is also called the polish. Also the carpet has to go thru many quality checks and has to be dried, which makes the colours more durable and consolidates the form of the carpet.
The polish was once very time consuming. Nowadays machines easily do the work in a short time. The polish is needed to cut the pile in to a uniform length. That makes the patterns come to light more clearly.
After polishing the carpet is showered with a lot of cold water and then cleaned with special cleaners. After that the excess water is pressed out of the carpet. This step helps to stabilise the colours and to get rid of dirt.
Because nobody would like a wet carpet, it now has to be dried. The used natural colours dry best in sunlight, so you can find fields of Persian carpets around every production. If the carpet dries uneven it may be, that this affects the form of the carpet. That is why one has to make sure, that the carpet dries evenly.
To finally bring the carpet into the market, it will be checked for one last time. If it has any mistakes, the carpet will be improved. After all this the carpet is ready to be sold.
Persian carpets originate in Iran and its surrounding countries. Strictly speaking only from Iran. The carpets from countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan are called Oriental carpets. If you like, Persian carpets are a subtype of Oriental carpets. They are by far the most famous, that’s why usually all carpets of near east are named ‘Persian’.
Particularly in big cities of Iran carpet productions are found, which frequently originate from earlier court manufactories of the old Persian Empire. Tabriz or Tebriz is a place of fine carpet production for decades. Many manufactories lay here and produce carpets like ever before. While Tabriz lay in the North Kerman finds itself in the south east of Iran. Elegant carpets, raked among the best, are made here. Mashad lays in the east of Iran. From Kerman it is 1000km to the city known for big carpets and the soft Khorasan wool. Directly to the south of Tehran you can find the most famous carpet province of central Iran Kashan. The there found carpet knotting art is part of the intangible cultural heritage of humankind. Travelling just a little bit more to the south you will reachIsfahan geographically it is the centre of Iran. Carpets of this province are very fine, made out of silk and therefore very valuable. Also the not far from Isfahan made Persian Carpets from Nain belong to the best carpets of Iran. Nain Carpets are classified by knot density. The northern end of the central Iranian carpet Industry is not set up by Kashan, but rather by Ghom. This city is just like the other central Iranian carpet provinces famous for very fine knotting and the use of silk. In addition to the cities mentioned there are more regions, famous for their carpets. Such asHamedan. The in the north west situated region, with its capital of the same name - one of the oldest cities in the whole world – produces carpets with Herati patterns easy to recognize. Of course there are much more regions, in which carpets are being produced. Some small villages even have their own carpet culture, that much detailed is the world of Persian carpets.
Also Pakistan and Afghanistan are producing carpets, which are not called ‘Persians’. This oriental carpets often imitate Persian originals. But there are also autonomous productions. Afghanistan has its famous Khal Mohammadi, which is characterized by deep shades of the red colour spectrum. Next to this carpet from the north of the country the Afghan Aqche is another oriental carpet famous across borders, which is a bit more gross than its brother from the northern part of the country.
Pakistan produces carpets, which are not very high in quality like those from the Persian cultural regions. This may be referred to the shorter traditions and to the low quality threads. Nevertheless, this country has a very big production, which employed many workers.
Persian carpets are collector’s items. Not without a reason they are this notorious. Iranian carpets are part of the world heritage and have been awarded for that. Finest materials come upon the knowledge of decades. Often copied, never matched. Because simply colouring threads, and knotting them on a loom is not possible. The handicraft, no the art, must be taught and learned. The endless experience and the exact knowledge of the materials allow carpets to be produced at their best. So a Persian carpet is not just a piece of floor covering, it is always a piece of Persian culture.
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