So you want to buy an oriental rug


Easy. Just trot down to the rug place and pick one up, right? Uh, no. When you get to the rug place (if it's the right rug place) you'll see literally thousands of rugs, and tens of thousands of choices. The rug guys will start showing you hundreds of rugs, talking about hand hooking and tufting, knot numbers, vegetable and synthetic dyes, wool, viscose, and silk until you just want to go back home, take an aspirin, and lie down. Like Scarlett, you'll think about it tomorrow.

However, if you do just a little pre-planning, research, and education, you can actually have fun finding your new rug. That's the purpose of this little piece. In it you'll find an overview of how rugs are made, what they're made of, and how to pre-plan your shopping trip.

Hand what?

First, let's talk about how they're made. It's not easy for an untrained eye to tell the difference between hand knotted, hand tufted, machine tufted, and other kinds of rugs, but there are some simple clues.

Hand-knotted rugs are made on a specially designed loom. The thread for each knot is inserted, tied, and cut by hand. This is an ancient art performed by skilled, patient weavers, and is extremely time consuming. That's what makes them so special, and why they are more expensive than other types of area rugs. A hand-knotted 12' x 15' rug might take a year or more to complete. They are one-of-a-kind masterpieces and you'll never see another one exactly like it.

Hand-tufted rugs are also made on a loom, but without knots, using a specially made "gun" that inserts the pile into the cloth backing according to the design imprinted on it, creating a "loop" pile. The pile is then sheared, or cut, and a latex coating is applied to the back to hold the "tufts" in place. A canvas type fabric is then laid over the latex coating to finish the back.

Hand-hooked rugs are made in a manner similar to crocheting. Loops of yarn or fabric are pulled through a stiff woven base such as burlap, linen, or rug warp using a crochet-type hook. They do not have a pile. Instead, small bumps or knots appear on the surface, giving them the appearance of needlepoint. They can have very colorful and delicate patterns.

Hand-woven rugs are also made on a specially designed loom. The threads are woven together, much as they are in tapestries or needlepoint, so they have no "pile." Hand-woven rugs are often reversible. A proper rug pad is almost a necessity, to prevent slipping, provide more cushioning and prolong their life.

Machine made rugs are made on "power looms" which are controlled by computer. Unless you know what to look for, it's difficult to tell the difference between a hand knotted and a machine knotted rug.

Which type is best for you? Only you can answer that. It's a function of design, beauty, texture, longevity, and price. Just be sure and shop where they have knowledgeable, patient rug experts (like Mathis Brothers Furniture), who will work with you to find your best answer.

Know how to talk rug talk. It will help if you know what your rug expert means when he uses "rug" terms. The background inside the borders, for example, is called the "field." It may have a "main" border, which would be the widest decorative design around the outside of the rug, and also might have one or more "guard" borders, which are narrow strips "guarding" the main border. Some rugs have a defined center object called a "medallion" within the field. Others may have an overall design.

Bring your measurements. Measure the space you're intending to fill and bring a diagram of the room. Decide how much floor you want to show, and/or decide how you want to arrange your furniture on it: all on, all off, or something in between.

In a dining room, for example, the rug should be big enough to hold the dining table and all the chairs when they are pulled back for seating. As a rule of thumb, add five feet to the width of the table, and six feet to the length to find a good size. All your other dining room furniture - buffet, china, etc. - should rest on the floor.

In your bedroom, if the bed is going to be on the rug, figure you need a 12x15 to 12x18 size area rug.

In the living room, decide first how you want it to be set up - as one large room, or with several "conversation areas," such as in front of the fireplace, a reading area in a corner, or grouped around a panoramic window. If you will use more than one rug, vary the scale, color, and/or design, but make them complement each other.

Plan ahead? Or prepare to fall in love? There are two ways to shop for your new rug. You may want one that meets some specific requirements, like size, color, and texture. So bring your measurements, and perhaps a rough drawing of where you want your furniture. If you're matching or complimenting colors in a room, bring a sample - color swatch, pillow, etc. (You may find a rug you love so much it overpowers all your plans; be prepared.)

Maybe you're in the early stages of designing or redesigning a room. Some people feel the best way to do that is to fall in love with a rug. To make that happen, just start looking at rugs. You may love the first one you see, but don't stop there. Keep looking until you find one you love even more, or until you're sure the one you chose first is THE one.

The importance of knots. You may hear rug "experts" say the quality of a rug can be determined by the number of knots per square inch. That's correct up to a point. The truth is the rug should have the appropriate number of knots to adequately define the kind of pattern it's presenting. When there's minute detail in a rug, more knots are needed. In broad areas of color, it takes fewer. The right number of knots to define the pattern, plus the way they are tied, is a better measure of quality.

What's it made of? Oriental rugs are made of many different materials, including wool, silk, cotton, rayon, synthetic fibers, polypropylene, and viscose. Each has its own characteristics, and is used for specific reasons. There are also many variations of each material. Silk, for example, may be the silk that comes from the silkworm, from the banana plant, and from other sources, including Sari silk, which comes from Indian silk Saris that have been turned into threads. Cotton, however, is rarely used as part of the pile; ordinarily it is used as the backing material into which the threads are inserted.

How is it colored? There are basically two types of dyes: natural and synthetic. Natural dyes are usually made by boiling the leaves of a plant to produce a color, such as indigo (from the Indigo plant.) This is a very complex and labor intensive process. Synthetic dyes, which have actually been used since before the turn of the century, are made in the laboratory. Surprisingly, the structure and properties of many dyes are the same, whether they're natural or synthetic. One characteristic of natural, or vegetable, dyes is often slight gradations or variations in a color used throughout the rug, since the entire rug may not have been dyed at the same time.

The bottom line. First, shop where you trust the people you're dealing with. Second, shop where they have thousands and thousands of rugs. Third, bring your specific requirements with you (measurements, color swatches, etc.) or come prepared to fall in love. Fourth, print this little piece out and take it with you, so you'll be familiar with all the "rug" talk, and know what you're getting. Fifth, have fun.

We hope these few guidelines will help you find a rug you love that fits, works in your space, and will make you happy for many, many years.