Selvage, Colours & Condition

The Selvage in Tribal Rugs.

The selvage is the edges of the carpet formed by the turning of the weft threads. These edges are usually over bound as the work progresses with coloured wool or some other material such as goat hair to protect and decorate the carpet. Different carpet weaving areas have different ways of treating the selvage. This often provides a clue to the carpets origin. For example, carpets from the Shiraz tribes almost always have a barber-pole selvage of alternating red and black wools. In some areas, the selvage is not bound into the main area of the carpet, but attached after the carpet is finished. As the selvage often wears out first, this is usually repaired in a similar fashion to the original, or a new selvage is attached.

The Fringe

As noted in paragraph 5 above, a kelim or flat woven section is created at the beginning and at the end of the carpet by simple alternate weaving of the weft and warp threads. When the carpet is finished, the warp strings are cut- leaving a fringe of loose warp threads which is often plaited, knotted or decorated. Some looms are set up differently and no- as often seen in Hamadan carpets may have a small kelim – but no fringe at the bottom end. The fringes- and the Kelims are considered to be sacrificial in terms of long term wear – protecting the pile area. Fringes with large loose knots often break off early at the knot as they take an inordinate amount of stepping on. Fringes with no knots or small knots (or plaited) seem to wear better. Occasionally, new fringes are attached to older or antique rugs suffering from lack of fringes or where the kelims have been fully worn away, and the pile is at risk. This can be done professionally by skilled weavers, but care must be taken not to get a cheap job where the added fringe is really obvious.

Carpet Size And Shape

In this paper, the words “rug” and “carpets” have been used interchangeably. In fact, there is a sort of accepted standard in which erugsi are normally considered those which are 6’6″ by 4’3″, and carpets are considered to be those 12’6″ x 8’3″. In England, a erugi is considered any piece up to 35 square ‘. In the USA, all pile pieces are called erugsi and machine made pieces carpets. These are not hard and fast rules, but it is safe to identify a “Prayer Rug” or a “runner” by its function. A “pushti” is a small pile piece used for a pillow or cushion. Carpets from specific areas usually are limited to several standard sizes for that area. For example a Meshad carpet 13ft. x 10ft. cannot be an Abadeh, because that size is not made in Abadeh. Some areas specialize in large carpets – and some (e.g. Sirjand) specialize in rugs. Circular carpets are made mostly in Turkey, China and India – and very occasionally in Iran (Tabriz / Nain).

Colours in Tribal Rugs

The subject of colours is perhaps the most definitive, yet the most complex factor in carpet identification. Individuals with life-long experience in the carpet business often have the skills to look at a carpets colours and be able to tell exactly where the carpet was made without referring to any other factors. In antique tribal pieces, the weavers normally had to be self sufficient- using only the dyestuffs available to him in his own locale. Today, with vehicles regularly reaching the remotest villages, the availability of new materials and chemical dyestuffs tend to blur the colour distinction between carpet weaving areas.
The question of colour remains a crucial feature in carpet recognition. The following basic factors influence the color of a carpet:
a) the selection of dyestuffs used
b) the wool or other materials to be dyed
c) the kind of wash the finished carpet is subjected to
d) the age and condition of the piece
There are five rough categories into which the dyestuffs can be divided:
a) Natural – vegetable, animal and mineral dyes (properly used)
b) natural dyes badly used
c) fast synthetic dyes
d) semi-fast synthetic dyes
e) fugitive dyes
Natural dyes are without question the best. and are usually subdued and never garish. They are not, however fully fast and are affected by washing and light. The exposure to daylight produces a warm glowing colour as can be seen in many antique rugs. All carpets made before 1870 are made with vegetable, animal or mineral dyes. Many of the better carpets made today still use natural dyestuffs. Natural red dyes for example in Eastern Persia are cochineal based and tend toward bluish, mauve or pinkish shades. Natural reds in Western Persia are usually made from the madder root with shades tending toward the brown, rust orange and rose-brown colors. Natural undyed wool is often used for certain colours – with the sheep selected for their black, brown, gray or white coats. Yarn made from camel hair produces a particularly warm beige colour.
It is almost impossible to tell whether a carpet has natural or synthetic dyes without a chemical analysis. The tendency for certain carpet making areas to use specific colours – and not other colours (regardless of whether they are natural or synthetic), however, can be a strong clue as to the carpets origin. Fast synthetic dyes will not mellow with age or exposure to sunlight. Luckily most of the synthetic dyes now used are semi-fast and do mellow out to some degree. Early synthetic dyes made in the late 1800s were considered efugitivei as they faded so well as to leave no colour at all- or just shades of beige and gray. Some of the strident greens and oranges still used today are fugitives.
Washing methods also affect colours. Some unscrupulous dealers use chemical washes which age the carpet appearance and give the wool a luster, but this practice decreases the carpets value and durability.

Age And Condition Tribal Rus

The determination of the age of a rug is another difficult analysis. Many experts roughly define enewi carpets as those younger than 25-30 years, and “old” carpets from 30-50 years. “Semi- antique” carpets are from 50-100 years and antique rugs older than 100 years. These cut-off dates vary from dealer to dealer, and usually reflect on what he feels he can get away with. In my inventory, I tend to pick an arbitrary date in the middle of one of these periods and assign it to a particular carpet. In this way I dont have to update my categorization as I (and the carpet) get older.
It should be noted that some carpets made over 100 years ago and kept stored in a dark place may look as fresh as a carpet made yesterday, while a 10 year old carpet used daily on the sidewalk in a soak in Jeddah could look 100 years old.
Age seems to be an important factor to many collectors, and the more threadbare and faded they are, the better. However, it seems to a be more logical approach to determine the quality and value of a rug by appreciating the beauty of the design and workmanship, coupled with an assessment of its condition. Rugs are made to be used and admired in ones home, and not to be set aside like some relic in a museum.

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