What distinguishes handmade Persian rugs from machine-produced versions are the intricate processes used to design and craft them. There are three main types of handmade Oriental rugs: knotted, tufted, and hooked.
Hand-knotting is the most intricate, labor-intensive rug weaving process in use today. As a result, knotted rugs take much longer to create and are more expensive than other types of rugs.
- Plotting the design: Before weaving begins, an artist draws the rug's full-scale design on special graph paper. Each square on the paper represents a knot of the rug.
- Looming: Once the design is drafted, the rug is placed on a frame called a loom. Columns of thread (called warps) are stretched vertically on the loom. Warps are usually made of cotton, providing an ideal surface for a flat, straight rug. The weaver secures the warps by arranging horizontal rows called wefts (ordinarily made of cotton, wool, or silk).
- Knotting: After creating about ten wefts, the weaver is ready to start the bulk of the work. Using a piece of wool or silk, he or she takes one or two warps in the same row and ties a knot around them. The ends of the knot become the pile of the rug. (More knots per square inch result in a more defined, intricate pattern and enhanced durability.) The weaver works meticulously, knot by knot, until the pattern is complete.
Edging: When the knots have been created end-to-end, the weaver may use several different methods to secure the edges of the rug:
- Edge bindings are made by wrapping several warps at the edge of the rug with yarn. This reinforces the edges and prevents unraveling.
- End finishes keep knots and wefts from separating from the rug’s warp strings.
- Fringes are the ends of the warp threads at the top and bottom of the rug. They’re usually gathered together in bundles of strings and knotted at both ends of the rug.
Hand-tufted and hand-hooked rugs are generally less expensive and easier to make than hand-knotted rugs. Tufted and hooked rugs essentially undergo the same method of construction; the only difference between them is the pile used to form the surface of the rug. Tufted rugs have a cut pile surface and hooked rugs have a looped (rounded) pile surface. Often, rugs will combine both cut and loop techniques.
- Preparation: The rug’s pattern is stenciled on the primary backing material. Once the design has been drawn, the rug’s cloth backing (usually cotton) is attached to a frame.
- Tufting: The craftsman inserts tufts of wool, silk, or another type of yarn into the backing using a hand-held, single-needle tufting tool (often called a “gun”).
- Secondary Backing: After the tufting is complete, the primary backing is covered with a latex material. A secondary backing is then attached to protect and anchor the stitches.
- Shearing (tufted only): The surface loop pile is sheared to produce a flat surface, creating a dense, plush pile. (For hooked rugs, the yarns are left uncut to retain their rounded appearance.)
- Edging: Bindings may be attached to the edges of the rug to add strength and prevent unraveling.