There are three main classes of “oriental” rugs sold in the US:
- Machine-made rugs
- Hand-tufted rugs
- Handwoven/hand-knotted rugs
In rugs, this classification is everything.
The designations “hand-woven” and “handmade” are reserved for rugs that are made entirely by hand. In both types of rugs, a set of vertical strings, or “warp” is attached to a loom. Then wool is either woven through the warp strings, or hand-knotted onto the warp strings, to form the “weft” of the rug. At no point are machines used. One way to tell a handmade rug from its machine-made counterpart is to examine the fringes along the edge of the rug. In a handmade rug, the “fringe” is actually the warp strings, and is the “foundation” of the rug, rather than an applied ornamentation. But not all handmade or hand-woven rugs are created equal. Further differences are described below.
Machine-made rugs, even nicer brands such as Karastan are simply that: machine-made. They can be very pretty and functional, but they are not comparable to a hand-made rug of any variety, and like most mass-produced home furnishings, are not generally considered to be works of art. You can tell a machine-made rug by examining the fringe. If it is sewn onto the rug, the piece is machine-made. Also the underside of the rug will have a plastic “sound” when you run your hands or fingernails over it.
Hand-tufted rugs are very deceptively named. A tufted rug is in no way a hand-made rug. Rather, a mechanized “gun” is used (albeit by a person) to shoot pieces of wool through a canvas backing which has a pattern sketched onto it. No knot is tied in the wool; rather a petroleum-based rubber backing is painted over the back of the rug to keep the unsecured strands of yarn from falling out. We have heard from clients that they have had issues with a strong petroleum smell radiating from their hand-tufted rugs, and have ended up discarding them as unacceptable for their needs. Needless to say, besides not being environmentally friendly in any sense of that term, hand-tufted rugs are not considered to be art, and do not have intrinsic value. Also over time, the glue tends to break down and the rug will start falling apart. A tufted rug is easy to spot because of the “backing” on the rug. No hand-made rug will have any sort of backing on it, rubber or otherwise.