Symmetry in Size
Is the rug symmetrical? Or is one side markedly longer than the other? While slight variations in symmetry are to be expected, large variations in size indicates the work of a novice weaver.
Symmetry in Image
Compare the back of the rug to the front. Does it look the same? Or are the colors or the patterns difficult to discern from the back? A good weaver’s “picture” will remain the same, and in the work of a truly gifted weaver, there will be so little difference one could even flip a knotted rug over for use! (Although we don’t recommend that…)
Symmetry in Knot Construction
Does the back of the rug feel smooth to the touch? Or can you feel small bumps when you rub your hand over the back? Are the fringe ends of the rug smooth, or do they pucker? Is the surface visually smooth? Or can you see numerous visible breaks in the base structure of the rug? A good weaver’s knots will be smooth, with few bumps, bulges or puckers. Does the edge of the rug generally lie flat when placed on the ground, or do the edges roll under or up? Good quality weaving should lay flat, without rolling or curling along the edges.
Length of Pile
With a few notable exceptions, the longer the pile on the rug, the worse the quality of weaving in the piece. This is true for two reasons: a longer pile renders complex designs “fuzzy” or “muddy.” Long pile is also detrimental to a rug’s durability, in that long pile will “crush” over time, and is more susceptible to developing wear patterns. So, then why would a weaver leave pile long, knowing these two things? One reason: to hide poor technical skill in the actual weaving of the rug.
There are three main classifications of wools used in rug production.
- Natural (or no-dye) Wools
No question about it, natural or vegetal-dyed wools are preferred over wools dyed with chemical substances. The reasons for this are myriad, but the biggest one is this: vegetally-dyed wools are simply more aesthetically pleasing (and therefore more valuable) than their chemical counterparts. 70-85% of our rugs at Rugs by Saga are vegetal-dyed.
The easiest, but the most deceptive of the rug quality indicators, is the concept of KPI, or “knots per square inch.” KPI is calculated by selecting a one-inch area of a rug, and counting the number of knots extending in each direction.
Rugs are often classified according to knot-count as ranging from “coarse” to “super fine.” This is a helpful measurement in terms of evaluating the work that went into creating the pile on a rug. Please be aware, however, that this is but one of many criteria that are used to “grade” a rug, and therefore KPI must be used with caution.
It is easy to get so caught up in counting the quantity of knots on the back of the rug, that one forgets to examine the quality of the rug in general, and the knots in particular.
An “art silk” rug might have 10 times the number of knots present in a simple nomadic piece of similar size, but the first has no value whatsoever, and the second could be worth many thousands of dollars.
Quality of Materials
In rugs, like in most things, one must start with high quality materials to end up with a high-quality product. In rugs, this means first-grade, wools or silks, hand-spun if you can find it. In simple terms, the better the wool or silk, the better the rug.
How can one recognize good wool? It should have a certain luster or sheen. Which helps define the amount of Lanolin in the wool fiber. In general, the best quality wools are also hand-spun, but machine spun wool is acceptable as well.
The makeup of “silk” rugs is actually much easier to test. One simply needs to pull a tiny strand of silk from the rug, and burn it. If it shrivels and smells like burnt hair, it’s silk. Any other reaction means the rug is made of some other substance, most likely mercerized cotton. Silk rugs, unlike their wool counterparts, should be extremely shiny when looking down the nap. High shine means a better chance you are seeing actual silk, as opposed to some other blend of materials. NOTE: Some rug dealers will use the term “art silk” when referring to certain pieces. Please be aware: “art” is short for “artificial,” and is not an indicator of superior quality- in fact, quite the opposite.
The best rugs are designed and woven by adult weavers. These men and women are considered true artists in their own right, and are well paid for the work they do, and publicly-acknowledged for their skill. Interestingly, however, their names are rarely known outside their own circle of friends and other rug makers.
Traditionally, rugs are the product of the work of two groups: the designer(s), and the weavers, who bring that design to life. It is not uncommon to see 4-5 women and/or men working to produce the knots in a single rug.