Rugs 101 – Mind Your P’s and O’s
For those in the know, the terms “Persian” and “Oriental” are not interchangeable when it comes to carpets from the far side of the world. Authentic Persian rugs are only made in Iran, and are hand-knotted. These rugs are characterized by their rich colours, distinctive patters and thick pile (maximum 160 knots per square inch). Patterns were initially named after their city of origin, and have retained these names to this day, even if they are now produced in other parts of Iran. The country remains the world’s top producer and exporter of hand-crafted carpets.
Oriental rugs, on the other hand, are hand-knotted solely in Asia, notably India, China, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Nepal, Cyprus and Tibet. Essentially, Persian carpets qualify as Oriental as well, but not the other way around. Oriental rugs can further be divided into their area of origin, such as Kurdish, Arabian, Anatolian, Turkestanian and Chinese, for example.
Hanging by a Thread
Silk is a fine yet durable thread, allowing for more knots per inch, which results in a much sharper and clearer image. However, because 100% silk rugs are incredibly expensive, numerous variations have occurred. Some carpets are made from silk but with a cotton foundation, or wool based on a silk foundation. Treated cotton is also an alternative, and gives the carpet a shine. Artificial silk has been developed for use in creating imitation rugs. This synthetic fiber is created from rayon or cellulose, and is far more affordable. Although artificial silk is not bad per say, many carpet dealers try to pass off artificial silk carpets as pure silk, and charge exorbitant prices.
Testing the Goods
There are a few tests one can perform in order to establish whether your rug is pure silk or not. The burn test is probably the most efficient. One will need to remove a knot of thread from the reverse side of the carpet to use as a test sample. The next obvious step is to set one end of your sample alight. If your rug is made of 100% silk, it should smell like burnt hair, and ball up when it is on fire. The ash should be crispy. If artificial fibers have been used, your burn sample will smell like charred paper or wood, and the ash should be much softer, almost chalk-like. The threads on the burnt end will become brittle and break right off. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between wool and silk using this test – the only indicator being that wool is harder to set alight.
It is important to keep your rug’s material in mind when making plans to clean it. In synthetic rayon carpets, the dye tends to run during the washing process. It is best also to check if your rug is colour safe – add a small quantity of detergent to a spot on the reverse side of the rug and rinse it out to see what happens. It is better not to risk cleaning silk rugs by yourself – professional carpet cleaners are your best bet. However, wool rugs are extremely durable, and can be cleaned at home with some mild detergent and cold water. A small deep cleaning machine can be extremely handy. Mercerized cotton Persian rugs are also easy to clean, but if you are unsure as to what artificial fibers have been used in your carpet, then its better not to risk it yourself.
Grace Matthews is a London-based lifestyle blogger who knows all about carpet cleaning, thanks to her lovable but molting pets.