Persian Carpets: How to Pick the Best Threads

23 May, 2016 Zahra Roghaniha Travel Stories 3295 Views 30 Shares
Persian Carpets: How to Pick the Best Threads

A handmade Persian carpet is the ultimate travel trophy, but it helps to do a bit of research if you don’t want to get ripped off! Here’s how to pick the best threads.


Photo: Tehran Grand Bazaar





The Art of Buying a Persian Carpet

Iranian’s have had over 2500 years to master the the art of carpet weaving – and just as long to master carpet selling. But ‘knowledge is power’ as they say, so it’s worthwhile researching a bit before you travel to Iran.

There are just as many patterns as there are ethnic groups around the country. Usually the name of the carpet indicates where it was made, or at least where the design originates.

A handmade carpet means many things to a Persian family. It's a display of wealth, an investment, a family heirloom, and a source of energy - full of spiritual and cultural spirit.


Persian Rugs: How to Pick the Best Threads



100% Handmade

To check if a carpet is handmade turn it over. Handmade carpets will have more distinct patterns on the underside, which is generally proportional to it's quality. Many novice carpet buyers don't check this and bring home a machine carpet - but don't you agree this misses the point of buying an artisan carpet in the first place?


handmade-persian-rug-frame Persian Rugs: How to Pick the Best Threads



Step 1 : That's Not a Knot 

Lay the carpet on a flat surface to check for bumps and other imperfections.

Small bumps in handmade carpets are common and generally wear over time to compact flat, ultimately giving it character. However larger knots are probably there to stay especially in traditional village carpets (like Kilims').

Otherwise machine made knots will be suspiciously uniform so watch out for this.

The knot count often signifies quality however some valuable and contemporary designs are very coarsely knotted. A good rule of thumb for traditional village carpets, for example, will have around 120 knots per square inch.


handmade-persian-rug-cleaning - Persian Rugs: How to Pick the Best Threads



Step 2 : The Essence of the Fiber 

Here's a simple trick for finer silk carpets. In the old days a 'flame test' would be performed to ascertain not only the type of fiber but also, hopefully, to make the dealer think you're professional! 

Ask the dealer to burn an unpicked knot or fringe snippet. Silk and wool will smolder then go out, whereas cotton will catch fire. Keep in mind most savvy carpet dealers will probably whip out a pack of matches as soon as you first mention the word fiber.

Don't feel sad about that - you can still act like a professional.


burn-test-carpet Persian Rugs: How to Pick the Best Threads



Step 3 : Down to Earth  Colors 

Traditional Persian carpets are based on natural dyes from plants and insects. The proto-fabric is often washed in tea to soften the texture, giving it a unique quality. Artificial dyes can never match the earthy feel of the natural ones.

Among them: Cochineal RED (crushed dried insects), Gallnut BLACK (native plant), indigo BLUE (native plant), fine henna ORANGE (native plant), hollyhock PURPLE (native plant), pomegranate YELLOW (native fruit).


natural-colors-persian-rug-kashan Persian Rugs: How to Pick the Best Threads



The difference in dyes lies in the way they penetrate the fiber, so bend the carpet to expose individual threads. The synthetic dyes will color very evenly, whereas natural dyes will show minor variance but only gradually.

Natural dyes should be rich in colors, just make sure you avoid ‘hot’ colors such as bright reds, orange and pinks. If these colors are bright, then it’s most likely a chemical dye.





But Before you Buy!

While knots and fiber types are the most important features when determining the quality and value of carpets, the natural colors are symbolic of traditional village carpets. Otherwise you might end up buying a knock off Persian design from India or China. 

As with all art : buy because you love it! Finding a bargain can be daunting unless you know what you’re doing. Investments can be made on historical and artisan carpets, however unless you’re an expert you're better off buying for yourself or as a gift for a loved one.

And if you're wondering 'why would I put such an expensive carpet on the floor'? Not to worry - Iranians frame the most luxurious ones on the wall. They often glow brilliantly with silk highlights and last for many generations.


persian-carpet-wall Persian Rugs: How to Pick the Best Threads


Caring For Your Persian Carpet

Once you've made your purchase and start wondering about caring instructions. Here are some tips on how to keep your Persian carpet or rug in good condition for years to come.

  1. Use a rug pad beneath your carpet. This not only maintains alignment but also prevents wear and tear, especially if it's antique or simply expensive;
  2. Avoid putting permanent furniture on your carpet, unless you use furniture slides to prevent depressions and localised damage;
  3. Air your carpet outside during Spring. An annual airing of the carpet will avoid dampness, smells, and moths; and
  4. Regularly clean your carpet or rug. Inspect the underside for damage, then give it a good vacuum or beat it to remove embedded dust.




Further Information?


If wanting to find more information about Persian carpets, including where to buy them, we recommend Boustani® Co.


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About Author

Zahra Roghaniha

Tehran Travel Consultant

Zahra has broad experiences in writing, translation, film making, tourism, and handicrafts. She is a registered Iranian tour guide with the Iranian Cultural Heritage Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHTO). She was a Travel Documentary Presenter for Tina Rahavard and Press TV, has volunteered for several Iranian organisations to reduce homelessness, and supported the Iran cheetah conservation program for World Cup 2014.

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