A Persian rug or carpet is one that is produced in Iran (previously known as Persia) using traditional hand knotted techniques. It can also be referred to as Iranian or Oriental. The definition of Oriental carpets being one that is produced in Asia, with the main rug exporters being Pakistan, Turkey, Russia, India, China and Tibet.
The characteristics of Persian rugs differ from other Oriental rugs in a number of ways, the knotting style, the type of hand washing process followed, as well as design and patterns. They are made using high quality wool and silk and generally have a high knot count, leading to intricate and detailed patterns. Persian textiles have long been considered high quality luxury items and are some of the finest and most elaborate examples of floor coverings.
There are regional areas in Iran that are long known for their rug production. These areas are organised in their processes and operate with foreman, weavers and distinct patterns / designs that have been handed down over hundreds of years (excluding the Qum rugs which are much more modern and only started being made in the 1920s). These rugs are generally intricate and of high quality. Many of these towns have helped to revive ailing rug traditions after years in decline and have re-established the traditional weaving that contributed to Persia having such a thriving art movement in the past.
This list is by no means exclusive but covers some of the main cities that produce rugs:
Tabriz– The patterns are often not so well defined, but generally of trees, floral designs palmettes and medallions. Made from coarse knotting, the knot count is generally only between 100 and 200 knots per sq inch. The texture is a thick, medium, soft pile. The earlier versions of these were well defined and often hold much more character than those from modern production. Colours tend to be blues, indigo, rose, off whites and yellow.
Ispahan – Very high quality in design and they have over the years maintained an unwavering excellent standard of quality. Considered to be some of the finest Persian rugs, they have very fine knotting, rarely less than 300 per sq inch (and often higher in older pieces). The texture tends to be dense, smooth pile. The layout tends to be a medallion surrounded by palmettes and vines. Colours tend to be ivory with pale blues, rose, indigo and reds.
Nain – This is very similar in both it’s high quality and area of production to the Ispahan rugs. One of the only details that is actually distinguishable between the two is the extremely fine wefts that give the Ispahan rugs a dot dash dash dot appearance that doesn’t occur in the Nain rugs. Colours tend to be blues with off white. They are somewhat simpler and lacking in ‘depth’ than the Ispahan rugs. Rarely less than 300 knots per sq inch and no higher than 500 knots per sq inch.
Kashan – A familiar type of Persian rug, they offer dense patterns, with a central medallion and heavy patterning. Colours tend to be deep reds and blues and give an intense pattern with few paler colours. The texture is close cropped and not as soft as many other Persian rugs. The knotting is around 200 – 300 per square inch. Kashan are typically quite large rugs.
Qum– A modern variety of Persian rug, production did not start until the 1920s. They are thought of as high quality items and have gone through periods of great popularity. The designs tend to be of flowers and trees with animals on an open background. Mainly made of silk, with some wool and silk combinations. They tend to be 300 – 500 knots per sq inch and if made solely in silk the knot count is much higher.
Kerman – The older versions of these rugs were considered high quality but tend to have become cheaper and less well made over the years. They consist of medallions through the centre of the rug on a mainly plain background with bouquets and flowers around the edges and corners. Colours are bold reds, green and blues. They have a medium/thick pile and the knot count is around 100 knots per sq inch.
The Persian rugs woven in the villages and away from the towns are recognised by their bright colours, fine wools and traditional patterns. They are generally considered to be the traditional rugs of Persia.
Gabbeh- this can be distinguished by its brown, fawn, chocolate and oatmeal colours, although in more recent years they have been made in brighter colours. They are thick and soft and have a low knot count of 50 – 100 per sq inch.
Heriz– These are considered very desirable rugs. They are mainly made in reds and blues with some beige, ivory and yellow and are around 100 knots per sq inch. Often they are large floor pieces and can be found in square designs as well. The older Heriz rugs are often of better quality than some of the newer ones. They can reach very high prices and are consistently in fashion.
Persian rugs can be found in many other village and tribal areas of Iran. The list of well known village and tribal rugs is endless but includes: Afshar, Bachtiari, Bidjar, Ferraghan, Hamadan, Maslagan, Sarouk, Senneh and Seraband to name just a few.