Technically there are three types of rug production in the world. Everything else is a variation on these three with technological advances simply making the delivery of the basic principle more sophisticated and faster.
Generally rug qualities are defined by the materials used and the amount of labour used to produce them, so a machine loomed product is likely to be low cost whilst a hand knotted rug using silk is very expensive.
This is one of the simplest forms of weaving and although today's industry has been transformed, the basic principle of production remains the same, using a very simple technique.
Typically a cotton gauze is stretched out over a frame then a sharp instrument with a small hook on the end is used to push yarn through the front of the gauze pulling it back on itself creating a loop on the front and the back of the cloth. This technique is repeated several times to create a block area of colour.
Many different colours may be used and a traced pattern lay over the gauze to guide the weaver. Once the desired pattern has been created, a fixing compound (latex or glue) is applied to the back of the gauze and a backcloth is added which locks the fibres in place.Finally, the top loops are cut creating a pile. The pile may then be cut into or carved to provide a final finished surface design.
Further advances in technology over the last five years have replaced the operator with a gun loaded on a robotic arm, which has speeded up production and is now driving consistency when used with finer yarns
Today, throughout the world, hand tufting has been replaced by electric gun tufting, which whilst still operated by hand, requires a more skilled operator.
Hand knotted rugs, in both traditional and contemporary styles, produces some of the finest quality carpets in the world. This process cannot be reproduced electronically and is totally reliant on the expertise of the artisan making the rug.
This can be very confusing, however there are actually only two kinds of knots used in rug making: ‘Persian’ and ‘Turkish’. There are lots of variations on these two but basically all forms of rug production stems from the principles involved in these two structures. Both Persian and Turkish knots are usually tied around pairs of warp strings and form a very sturdy knot, which will not slip.
All hand knotted rugs start by a lattice of vertical warp threads being laid out over a grid being constructed on a simple loom. The artisan will then hand knot across the width in layers pushing down the weft to produce the design. Typically the materials, number and type of knots determines the quality of a hand knotted rug.
A knot density is an important indicator of a rug's quality –the higher the knot count the better the quality. Most rugs are measured by counting the number of knots per linear inch along the warp and the number of knots per linear inch along the weft. If you multiply these two figures together you will get the number of knots per square inch.
It is important to understand that in any rug construction it is not possible to directly recreate some effects found in art. For example grading or blurring is very difficult, as the knots have to vary from one colour to the next over a grid to create the effect. (Again, simply think of a pixelated grid)
It may be simpler to understand this if you think of a knot as a pixel on a computer screen. At low resolution (low knot count) an image is blurry, having large pixels, often being undefined or crude. At high resolution (high knot count) the pixels are smaller and finer, creating a clear image with beautiful definition.
When a knot is not a knot
There is a third type of knot called a ‘Jufti’ or ‘false’ knot, often used in lower quality construction. A rug made with Jufti knots uses half the material and takes only half as much time to make. This type of knot is common with products commonly known as Bokharas. Most weavers west of the dotted line on the map use the Turkish knot whilst east of the line they use the Persian knot.
Tibetan rug making in Nepal
It would be wrong not to identify one of the largest and most productive rug making regions in the world today and explain why. In fact, today some of the finest rugs in the world are made in Nepal where time honored techniques are still practiced.
When the Dali Lama fled to exile from Tibet in 1959, many Tibetans followed, settling in Nepal. Today there is a large Tibetan community in the Kathmandu valley, and Tibetan culture and folk art flourishes. Many of these artisans have carried with them generations of rug making expertise, which is now a thriving industry.
The reason why Tibetan rugs are superior is simple – in all elements of design and construction Tibetan rugs are distinctly different from rugs made in other weaving areas.
Tibetan artisans weave by wrapping a continuous length of yarn over a rod laid across the warps stretched on the loom. When the rod has been wrapped for its entire length, a knife is slid along the rod, cutting the wrapped yarn into two rows of tufts. This provides a dense pile which when combined with a high knot count produces stunning effects.
Man has been using a loom to make textiles from the beginning of time. From the very early stages of our civilisations, the making of simple structures by the lifting and lowering of warp and weft threads has been part of our culture. The rug industry is no exception – from simple Bedouin blankets to highly sophisticated loom made carpets.
In India simple looms are commonly used to produce deep pile or shaggy rugs where the quality of the backcloth is not an important factor. This technique is quick and simple and can be used by un-skilled labourer. Unfortunately,this is also open to abuse and sometimes this type of construction can encourage the use of child labour.
If you want to produce something quickly, making multiple units with a consistency of quality, a loom will do this very efficiently. Rugs made on mechanised looms throughout the world tend to use the same technology as wall-to-wall carpets, being made on a Wilton or Axminster loom. Rugs made on mechanised looms typically need an additional finishing process.
Mechanised looms can produce an array of qualities and styles depending on the designs and materials used. At their worst, mechanised looms make a multitude of low cost, synthetic rugs, which flood the bottom of the market. At their best, Axminster looms make some of the finest carpets available, of high quality and durability.
During the weaving process the pile is locked into the backcloth so loomed rugs do not need latex backing like tufted products. Loomed products sometimes have the appearance of being thinner, however the pile depth is often slightly deeper than that on tufted products.
There are two basic types of carpet looms used throughout the flooring industry in Europe. Both are actually based on the simple principles of dobby & Jacquard Looms found in the textile industry. Wilton looms are made from simple patterns based on a grid format like a Dobby. Axminster looms can make intricate patterns and structures like a Jacquard.