How Rugs are Classified

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Rugs may be categorized according to various criteria including place of origin, weaving category, age, composition (wool, silk, or a wool-silk mix), size, and dimensions. The broadest classification of rugs is by region: Anatolian, Caucasian, Persian, Central-Asian/Turkomen, and Chinese. Certain generalizations may be made about Anatolian (Turkish), Caucasian, Persian, Central Asian, and Chinese rugs, though obviously exceptions exist. For instance, Turkish and Caucasian rugs tend to be more geometric whereas Persian rugs tend to be more floral and curvilinear. The main category would be subdivided by name, referring to town, tribe, or design. Rugs may also be differentiated by their weaving type, whether they are kilims (flat-woven), soumaks, pile-rugs, or soafs.

Rugs are typically named for their place of origin or for the weaving tribe. Nomadic rugs may be known the name of both tribe and sub-tribe; for example Tekkes and Bokharas are also referred to by the broader name Turkomens. Rugs from small villages may be named for the nearest large rug-manufacture center if enough similarities exist between the rugs produced in the larger town and the surrounding villages. Kerman is both a city and a province in Iran and rugs from either bear the name Kerman. Lavar (Raver), in the province of Kerman, is known for rugs of extraordinary quality, though rugs in nearby towns such as Rafsajan may also be called Lavar Kermans. To add to the confusion, some rugs are named for their design rather than their place of manufacture or the group that made them. This is especially the case for rugs woven in India, China, Pakistan, and Egypt that imitate Persian, Turkish, or Caucasian designs. Sometimes a clarification is made by labeling such rugs as (e.g.) Indo-Isfahan¡, but if in doubt the buyer should always ask if the name refers to the actual place of origin or to the design. Some of the most popular rug types are Tabriz, Kashan, Hamadan, Mashad, Isfahan, Kashmar, Shiraz, Gabbeh, Ardabil, Lilian, Sarouk, Bakhtiari, Nain, Qom, Sabzazvar, Turkomen, Heriz, and Bidjar.

Weaving category refers to the mode of production of the rug: is it a nomadic rug, a village rug, a workshop rug, or a master-workshop rug? Nomadic rugs are woven free-hand from memory by nomadic or semi-nomadic tribeswomen. Usually nomadic rugs display compositional boldness, a simple color palette, and dominant geometric forms. Like nomadic rugs, village rugs belong to “cottage industry”; their weavers work part-time and at home. Village rugs, woven on stationary looms, may be of simple or elaborate design, but they tend to preserve the creative, individualistic vision of the weaver. Workshop rugs may display the same designs and motifs as village rugs, but they differ in the manner of manufacture. Workshops operate as full-time businesses. Weavers are organized under direction of an overseer/supervisor (salim in Persian) consulting a cartoon or template who systematically calls or chants the color of each knot as it is required. Workshop rugs lack the improvisational nature of nomadic or village rugs, but allow the weaving of highly sophisticated, technically challenging, intricate rugs. Moreover, workshops can accommodate large looms (and produce larger sizes). Each workshop in Iran and Turkey has its own style and defining characteristics. Master-workshop rugs come from workshops that have achieved highest standards of workmanship and prestige and are the most expensive. Isfahan, Nain, Hereke (in Istanbul), Kashan, Tabriz, Mashad, Kerman, and Qom are all widely considered to be master-workshop centers of hand-made rug production.

Rugs may be grouped by age, essentially a moving target. Dovar means not brand new, but not old enough to be considered “old”. “Old” is used to describe rugs older than twenty-five years, “semi-antique” for rugs older than fifty years, and “antique” is reserved for rugs older than seventy-five years. Ascertainment of age is to a certain extent a subjective process, requiring knowledge of weaving technique, workmanship and cultural history. Only occasionally does a rug bear a woven monogram or inscription that can be correlated with a specific range of verifiable dates.

Rugs are frequently designated by their size or by their approximate dimensions, which have technical terms in Farsi, often corresponding to the intended function of the rug. For example, jaa namazi is the typical size of a prayer rug (namazlık in Turkish). (In addition to a relatively uniform size, prayer rugs often feature a mithrab, or pointed arch, which can be positioned to face toward Mecca.)