From Hand-knotted to Power-loomed: How Construction Shapes a Rug’s Character

Just as the details shape the timeless character and appeal of fine furnishings, so it is with area rugs. Whether you’re seeking a hand-knotted heirloom or dimensional design, the construction is a clue to how a rug will look, feel and perform.


The incomparable quality of hand-knotted rugs rests on an intricate, labor-intense construction process. Using a loom, a master weaver carefully knots yarn around one or two warps (columns of thread). The end of the knot creates the pile of the rug. More knots per square inch delivers a more defined pattern and enhanced durability, while looser weaves – often found in Oushak, Tibetan and Soumak designs – produce a storied, artisanal look. Not just for aesthetic effect, the fringe found at the top and bottom of a knotted rug is crucial to the construction. These are the ends of the warp threads, which serve as the foundation of the rug, and are tied to prevent the knots from unraveling over time.

Hand-knotted Rug

Hand-tufted wool rugs, Anatolia Pastures, Genoa and Addison

Hand-Tufted and Hand-Hooked

Well-crafted rugs that are hooked and tufted by hand also deliver excellent resilience and captivating designs. Using a single-needle tufting tool or hand hook, an artisan wraps – rather than knots – yarn through a canvas backing, which is then protected by a layer of latex and a secondary backing that helps anchor the stitches. In hand-hooked designs, the looped yarn creates the surface of the rug, and can be manipulated to achieve different effects. Larger loops deliver a plush, heavily textured rug, while smaller loops allow for intricate detail. Some of the most intriguing designs utilize two or three different loop heights to create dimensional patterns. In the construction of tufted rugs, the looped surface is sheared to create a flat, dense pile that is plush and soft, yet extremely durable. Many rugs incorporate both tufted (or “cut”) and looped pile, resulting in a sculpted surface with visual depth. Both hand-hooked and hand-tufted rugs offer a more moderate price than hand-knotted designs, and can last up to 10 years or more.

Handwoven Flat-Weave

Kilims, dhurries and other flat-weave rugs often have a casual, worldly ambience, and can last 20 years or more. Unlike tufted and hooked rugs, the yarns of a handwoven flat-weave rug are braided or woven directly on a loom. This produces an extremely tight, long-wearing weave with a flat, low profile that won’t obstruct doorways or create a tripping hazard on hard flooring. Because they don’t have a backing, flat-weave rugs are reversible, but should be secured with a rug pad.


Woven by computer-controlled machines, powerloomed rugs often feature extremely precise designs, and generally are the most affordable. As with tufted and looped rugs, yarns are inserted into a thin mesh backing, and latex is applied to secure and protect the yarns. When properly maintained, a power-loomed rug from a quality manufacturer can last up to 10 years.

Vintage Wash Rugs

When it’s time to invest in a new rug, keep these construction basics in mind and you’ll bring home a design that won’t disappoint. And be sure to use a rug pad. Not only do they help hold the rug in place, rug pads also help reduce wear over time. For more information on rugs, read “Decorating with Rugs: Softness and Style Underfoot.”

February 12, 2015