Types of Fine Rugs

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Types of Fine Rugs

So many types of hand-knotted carpets are made—from traditional to transitional and modern designs, in wool, silk, and other materials—it can be tricky to get a handle on the variety. One of the best ways to think about rugs is to refer to their country of origin. This is because carpet designs have historically been tied to specific peoples and places, and where a carpet is made greatly affects its value.

The biggest producer of carpets is Iran (ancient Persia), where the history of carpet weaving dates back thousands of years. Other major producers include India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and China. Most of the rugs these countries weave are based on Persian designs.

To categorize the variety of Persian or Iranian carpets produced, experts further classify them as tribal, village, or city made. So from all the variety, a fairly neat taxonomy emerges. First, identify the country of origin. If the rug is Persian, you can categorize it as city, village, or tribal.

Types of Persian Rugs

Tribal Rugs

Carpet weaving is an artform that evolved alongside nomadic pastoralists and their herds of sheep.

The weavings of tribal nomads today are most similar to what the earliest rugs would have looked like. Typically, they feature only a few dark hues and simple, geometric motifs. The patterns generally identify ethnic groups or even clans or families. One family—even one person—may have sheared the sheep, dyed the wool and woven the rug. Tribal rugs have an honest, charming quality. Wool pile and foundation are common, although cotton foundation is seen on more recently produced pieces. Goat and camel hair are also sometimes employed. Silk—expensive and impractical to obtain—is almost never used. Carpets larger than 7’x10’ are rare (they’re too heavy and difficult to haul around). Although some nomads remain in Iran, many tribespeople have settled in villages. The rugs they produce are distinct from those of their nomadic relatives.

rug pattern

Village Rugs

Village rugs bridge the rugged appeal of tribal rugs and the refinement of city carpets.

The colour palette is predominantly dark but more varied than that of tribal rugs, with anywhere from 4–25 colours used in a single piece. Geometric motifs are common, but some floral designs are also produced. Overall, designs are more complex and also more mutable with multiple influences (tribal identity, designs from neighbouring cities, even borrowed motifs from Western tastes such as the gul farang or French rose that is common in Bidjar and Bakhtiar rugs). The knot count is generally higher than in tribal pieces, and the workmanship is, on average, more sophisticated. Some very large carpets are produced.

City Rugs

The best city rugs represent the pinnacle of carpet production in terms of intricacy and refinement.

Colours are often lighter (less practical for nomads but appropriate for grand homes). Curvilinear floral designs, complex geometric patterns and pictorial rugs are all produced with regularity. Patterns tend to represent history or place more than ethnicity. Wool pile on cotton foundation is the most typical material combination. However, rugs with silk foundation, silk highlights or of pure silk (some with more than 1000 knots per square inch) are also woven. City rugs come in all sizes and shapes.

In addition to the weavers, there are loom-makers and loom-setters, dyers, and pattern designers. Most fine pieces are sent to a specialist for shearing before they are ready for market. Unlike among the tribes or in villages – where weaving is mostly a family affair – city rugs may be produced in a workshop run by a master weaver who supervises (and signs) the rugs produced under his name. With few exceptions, master weavers are men.

rug pattern

Country of Origin

The major producers of rugs outside of Iran are India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and China. Most of the rugs these countries weave are based on Persian designs.

Indian Rugs

Carpet weaving may have been introduced to India with the coming of the first Muslim conquerors.

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It can, with more certainty, be traced to the beginning of the Mughal Dynasty in the early fifteenth century. Under the patronage of the Mughals, Indian craftsmen adopted Persian techniques and designs.

More recently, India has begun making carpets with very modern designs and pieces based on Persian motifs. Custom-created carpets are also possible: anything drawn in 2-D can be custom-commissioned into a carpet in India.

Afghanistan and Pakistan

Before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was a distinct Afghan rug type with tribal pieces made by the Turkeman and Balouch tribes and some finer city-type carpets such as those made in Herat.

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We carry some of these lovely older Afghan pieces in our store. But these sorts of Afghan rugs are hardly ever produced today. Instead, most of what is presently made draws on traditional rug motifs with little reference to the people or place they come from. Instead, these carpets are a design pastiche woven with the Western market in mind.

With over 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, it is easiest to talk about a combined Afghan/Pakistani rug convention under which several types or brands are made and marketed. Bokhara and Jaldar rugs use machine-spun wool and borrow designs from Persian Turkeman rugs. Then there are Kazak and Chobi rugs, new pieces made to look like antique Persians. These pieces are knotted using hand-spun wool, then stonewashed and tea-dyed to evoke an antique look. Chobi rugs borrow botanical motifs from the masterworks of Tabriz and Sarough, while older Caucasian carpets inspire Kazak carpets with geometric designs.

Turkish or Anatolian Rugs

Carpet weaving was possibly introduced into ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) by nomadic tribes.

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Others speculate that carpet weaving came with Muslim conquerors in the first millennium CE. We know that carpet weaving evolved into a highly esteemed art form in Turkey, wherever it originated, and that Marco Polo was struck by the exquisiteness of Turkish carpets. Modern Turkey has three major weaving centers: Kayseri in central Turkey, Milas in the southwest, and Hereke in the southeast.

Weaving in Milas dates to the 16th century. The rugs produced there feature distinctive arch shapes and are typically woven in mustard yellow and blue wool. Kayseri produces wool and silk rugs, although Turkey’s finer silk rugs come from Hereke, a weaving center established in the middle of the 19th century. Today, Hereke produces mostly single-knotted silk rugs in Turkish and Persian designs. Although Turkey doesn’t produce many rugs, it is a large marketplace for rugs worldwide, particularly those made in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China.


To talk about rugs in China, we must distinguish between pre-20th century rugs and later pieces.

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Before the 20th century, Chinese rugs were not widely available to the outside world and were made with Chinese tastes in mind. Their designs are unique from carpets made in other regions and are classified according to the ruling emperor of the time, not the people or place from which they were woven. The earliest surviving examples of Chinese carpets were produced under the last emperor of the Chen Dynasty.

However, since the First World War, Chinese rugs have been made for the market in the West. These include the well-regarded Art Deco rugs from China and up to present-day pieces made mostly in traditional Persian designs.

When speaking of Chinese rugs, it is also important to note that the rugs of Turkestan and Tibet form their distinctive rug types, although most so-called Tibetan carpets are woven in India.

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