The Art of the Knot: A Guide on Hand-Woven Rugs Around the World

November 18, 2020 9 min read

The origins of handmade rugs shape design, colors  and make of a rug. In this article, we outline the main areas of the world that are known for their elevated hand-made rugs,  and what elements that geographical area does to make their style unique.

 

AFGHAN RUGS

Rugs from Afghanistan originate from Turkmen, Kazakh, Baloch, and Uzbeks. These rugs share a common theme of traditional and tribal designs, and are made of vegetable carpet dyes. The use of dark, bold red colors is what makes these rugs unique to the Afghan region. And the two most distinct designs that come from Afghanistan are Khal Mohammadi and Aqcha.

 

 

The Khal Mohammad, pictured below, named after the creator of the design, are warm and welcoming. They can be distinguished by dark reddye used throughout the rug, with blue or black thread used to detail the design. The main theme of this style is the repeated pattern of ‘gul’ or ‘fil pai’ also known as “elephant prints”.

 

 

The Aqcha rug, pictured below, does not stray far from the Khal Mohammadi rug in style or make.  In fact, it is just a simpler version of them. The Acha rugs have a lower knot count and are less intricate, making them an option for those who are looking for a nice hand knotted rug, without breaking the bank for it.

 

 

ARMENIAN RUGS

The oldest pile rug ever found originated from Armenia, making Armenians the earliest known weavers of oriental carpets. The 2,000 year-old-carpet reflects the culture, rituals and beliefs of that particular region and it is believed that rugs were used for decorative purposes, coverings, and horse saddles. Sometimes, the materials used would include gold and pearls for the nobles. 

 

 

 

The design of Armenain carpets are very diverse since each weaver tells their story through their art. Here are the most popular symbols:

  • Wheel of eternity - Similar to the sun, the wheel of eternity consists of eight curved winds that symbolize the eight Amenian Gods in the Pagan period 
  • Cross- Armenia was one of the first countries to adopt Christaninty as the state religion back in 301 AD making the symbol very popular in antique rugs
  • Dragon -  The dragon symbolises victory and is believed that the dragon will protect the home from evil. 
  • Squares -  Represent the four parts of the world.
  • Folar / Animals:  these symbols are widespread with specific names such as “artsvagorg”, meaning Eagle cape, “Otsagorg” (serpent Carpet),vishapagorgs (dragon-carpets)

 

 

 

AZERBAIJANI RUGS

There are four main regional groups known for the production of hand-made rugs in Azerbaijan: Quba-Shirvan, Baku, Karabakh, and Ganja-Kazakh. Each region has its own technology, patterns and colours. These rugs are usually made from sheep or lamb wool, and include designs that are inspired by nature.

 

 

Every carpet pattern created represents a story, normallyarticulating elementsof the simple and everyday homely life: a flock of sheep, horses, flowers, and birds. 

The main colors used in these carpets are red, blue, green, yellow, and cream. 

 

 

 

CHINESE RUGS

Chinese rugs are the Originally, regions of Gansu, Mongolia and Ningxia were the leading locations for rug production in China until industrial production took over. However, Chinese rugs are still the most distinct from all other carpets due to their unique style and look.   As such, weavers have categorized the history of these rugs into two periods: the Traditional and the Deco periods.

 

The traditional period contains designs related to the culture. These rugs were simple and symmetrical and included colors such as cream, tan, blue and gold. Often, dragons, flowers, plants and birds were woven on the carpet with the main design being a medallion. 

 

The second period was introduced due to industrialization and the influence of french and Japanese artists. Because of the social change, rugs from that period were described to be ‘Art Deco’ Rugs  The most recognizable examples of these rugs were by a man named Walter Nicols. Walter Nicols’s  designs often included trees, clouds, dragons, exoctic flowers, and mountaintops,  and used vibrant rich colors such as blue, emerald, and ruby. 

 

 

INDIAN RUGS

Many rugs from India were produced in Lahore, Kashmir, Amritsar, and Agra. The making of rugs in the hot Indian climate made historians believe that rugs were made for decorative purposes, as there was no need for protection from the cold climate. As such, it makes sense that, initially, the style of Indian rugs is very similar to Persian rugs. Yet, later, Indian rugs started to develop their own sense of identity. 

 

 

The most elaborate of Indian rugs were woven during the Mughal Empire, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.Most carpets that come from the Mughal period show leaf and blossom patterns, floral motifs, all of them appearing on a red background. There can often be a theme of patterns being organized on these rugs. For instance,  some rugs use palmettes as the main decorative pattern while other rugs can have a main theme of floars.

 

Indian culture lives boldly and confidently, which shows in the rugs. The main colors used include different shades of blue and red, as well as yellow and green. 

 

 

Another design pattern known for its unique features is the millefleurs design, which are designed using wool and silk material. The colors in these designs are bright and varied,  and the patterns come together to form a “rainbow” band that goes across the rug. The reminder of what can be classified as empty space gets covered by flowers and gets surrounded by trees which can be seen in prayer rug designs. 

 

 

PAKISTANI RUGS

High-quality materials used by Pakistani weavers are massively produced in the areas of Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi that contributed from Persia's strong industry wrestling many Pak-Persian designs.

 

 

Rugs from Lahore typically feature Mughal patterns, while other regions focus more on  large-scale Persian arabesques and Ziegler-style rugs. Each Pakistani rug is a bit different than the next depending on the region and time period, featuring medallions, paisleys, and other geometric patterns.

 

 

PERSIAN-IRANIAN RUGS

The main locations for Persian-Iran rug production include Hamadan, Shiraz, Tabriz, Heriz, Mashhad, Herat, Kashan and Kerman. These rugs are cateogrized and named by the area they are weaved in, or the tribe they were woven by.

 

The themes of Iranan carpets are gardens, flowers, medallions, and animals, and weavers use them as symbols to express strong emotions. Not only do the symbols have meaning, but the colors also have hidden meanings. 

Below is a chart defining the meanings of the symbols and colors used in traditional Iranian weaving: 

 

 

Dragon – emperor

Phoenix – empress, immortality

Camel – wealth, happiness

Lion – victory, power

The eagle in flight – good fortune

The resting eagle – the high-mindedness of the spirit

Bat – happiness

Dog – protector of noble places

Hunting dog – glory and honor

The tree of life – understanding, truth

The sun – radiant light, lucidity

Duck – faithful marriage

Dove – peace

Tarantula – prevents from bad luck

Stag – long life

Fish – undying love

Cypress tree – life after death

Blue-s power force and solitude

Red -beauty, wealth, luck, courage, faith and joy

Green - the  prophets favorite color

White - purity

Gold -power 

Brown - fertility 

Yellow - related to the sun and joy of life.



 

Here are some examples of Irain-style woven rugs: 

 

 

SCANDINAVIAN RUGS

When it comes to the rugs, when mentioning Scandinavia, people take it as “weaved in Sweden, Norway and Denmark”. In this area of the world, the most famous types of rugs are the Rye designs, which are the traditional designs, and the Rollakans, which came into existence during the centuries that followed the industrial revolution and the two world wars.

 

 

The ‘Rye”, meaning  rugs, are simple patterns, stripes and geometric designs that are most similar to art deco. These rugs, which  are rich in texture, bold in color, and abstract in design, were sometimes made as dowries, and to be featured in wedding ceremonies. Other times, they were displayed in the home. 

The ‘Rye”, meaning  rugs, are simple patterns, stripes and geometric designs that are most similar to art deco. These rugs, which  are rich in texture, bold in color, and abstract in design, were sometimes made as dowries, and to be featured in wedding ceremonies. Other times, they were displayed in the home. 


 

The Rollakans rugs are a simpler design with geometric patterns being the most dominant. They symbolize post-modern industrial designs, thus in today’s world, falling more so into  the contemporary design theme

 

TURKISH RUGS

Going into a rug store and finding a rug that is not made in Turkey is near impossible. Areas that are strongly linked to carpet weaving  include Sivas, Konya, Kayseri, Oushak,Milas andGhiordes

 

 

Currently, the rugs made in Turkey portray patterns that include medallions, flowers Safavid-Persian style arabesques, and carefully chosen colors that can fit in every room. 

 

It's not surprising to hear about rugs that were inspired by artists, however, for the Turks, their weavers inspired artists around the world. The designs of Turkish rugs such as the iconic guls, prayer rugs and small repeating patterns found their way into the iconic paintings of the European masters, including Memling,Hans Holbein and many others. 



The rulers of Turkey had an important significance of the styles and designs of the rugs, to the point where they defined the rug designs of their eras. We will delve into the Seljuk style, Timurid, and  the Memling Gul, three different styles in three different eras. 



The Seljuk style is generally characterized by a pattern that is repeated throughout the entirety of the rug. This style often stacked medallions, or  small compartmentalized areas that were occasionally decorated with floral designs  elements. These unique carpets offer great insight into a distant point in time. By the fourteenth century, however, the power of the Seljuks had vanished.

 

 

During the next wave of rulers, the Timurid era saw the birth of the centralmedallion pattern, which would go on to become one of the defining styles ofOriental rugs along with the special interest in carpet production. The Timurid era did not last long and Turkey was seized by the Ottoman Empire.

 

 

By the end of the fourteenth century, the Ottomans governed Turkey and the patterns from their influence include the Memling Gul pattern and the so-called “Small Pattern Holbein.” Another important development was the introduction ofanimal designs in carpets which feature medallions decorated with animal motifs and designs.The early Ottoman period also introduced the Crivelli Star and Ghirlandaio styles that also played on the popular central medallion format.

 

Memling Gul pattern:

Small Pattern Holbein:

 

Medallion Rug decorated with animal motifs: 

 

Crivelli Star:

 

Ghirlandaio styles:

 

Later on the innovation of star-shaped and circular medallions grew  Further, elaborate arabesques and complex vine scrolls soon became common in the finest Turkish Oushak carpets.

 

Arabesque Rug: 

 

 

SPANISH CARPETS

The rugs that came from Spain can be categorized by the invasion by the Muslims of the 8th century: Rugs before, during and after the Muslim Invasion.Before the invasion, only isolated historical findings of rug making could be found in Spain. The rugs discovered were heavily influenced by Jewdisim in the sense of style and color.During the Muslim rule, the rugs heavily resembled the tile work of Islamic Architecture. The patterns would include christian inspirations that were interrupted by islamic carpet designs. After the reconquest of Spain, rug design shifted towards the resemblance of French and European rugs but the traces left by the Muslim rule was not eraised. The influence of Muslim rule could still be seen in the rugs by the widening of color selection.

 

Spanish Rugs: A prominent feature is the use of yellow which could be seen in every design. Yellow would be paired with blues that were later used to produce green and often featured geometric shapes. The reign of Muslims allowed the red to be integrated into the rugs and introduced designs of the ottoman Empire. The knots were different from the Muslim influence in that the method of staggering knot arrangements allowed the Spanish rug weavers to produce rugs that are softer, lighter and more flexible while creating a more detailed design.



 

 

FRENCH CARPETS

 

The history of French rugs began from the reign of Henry the Great to the 20th century, spanning more than 300 years making it one of the younger rug styles.In France, the manufacture of rugs and carpets was initially undertaken by those in service of the King. Out of France came two popular and distinctive collections: the Aubusson and Savonnerie Collection. 

 

 

The Aubusson Collection produced knotted and flat pile carpets known as Tais Ras that were done in rococo style by using light motifs and delicate colors. The romantic pastel colors, architectural designs and floriferous style of Aubusson rugs are still in demand today and used in modern rug design. 

 


The first Savonnerie carpets imitated Persian designs themes, but quickly changed to reflect French elements such as architectural framed medallions, dense bouquets and elaborate scrolls. Many Savonnerie carpets were adapted from painters such as Charles Le Brun.

 

 


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