Posted on February 19 2016
In an age where an abundance of low-cost, ready-made products are accessible to everyone, it can be easy to overlook quality for the sake of convenience and availability. The same is true for rugs. What was, for many centuries, an item produced by a small number of specialized artisans who were influenced only by their local customs, geography and ancestry, the modern version of the carpet can take on any shape, color, texture or pattern that the end-user desires. With the advancement of machinery and technology, virtually anything is possible.
So, what then, is the advantage or benefit of purchasing a high-quality handmade carpet over, say, inexpensive carpet tiles or the newest “signature” line of rugs from any major retail chain?
We will begin with quality. A handmade rug is just that, made by hand. It starts with the wool which is manually sheared from sheep that have been grazing on open rangeland for generations. Genetics, terrain, and climate have all worked to create a wool that is hearty and resistant to the elements. When this wool is spun by hand, if forms an incredibly strong fiber that is rich in lanolin. When woven together and knotted on a loom, these fibers become a fabric that is as durable as it is beautiful.
The high quality of the wool gives the carpet its appealing texture and shine. In some varieties of rugs, the longer pile adds a luxurious touch and softness which further adds to the appeal. The lanolin that is present in the fiber gives the carpet a natural stain barrier which easily out-performs any chemically-based stain blocker. Lanolin rich wool is also a highly effective flame retardant. A common practice in the modern rug industry is to completely remove the lanolin from the wool as it gums up and damages machinery. This is achieved through a chemical process which not only removes the beneficial oils but also damages the integrity of the fibers. This is done to increase productivity and bring costs down. Any low-cost, mass-produced “handmade” rug uses this degraded wool. The end result is a rug that may look nice, but will wear unevenly, is susceptible to permanent staining and requires replacing after 10 years or so, often times sooner. Handwoven rugs using hand-spun fibers, on the other hand, are nearly indestructible. Case in point is the Pazyryk rug which is over 2,500 years old and, for the most part, still structurally intact (If you are interested in learning more about the Pazyryk rug and other rug history, come visit us. I can talk about it endlessly!). No one will be handing down the top-selling rug from a chain retailer to their children and grandchildren. On the other hand, a hand-knotted Mamluk from Eastern Turkey or a South Persian Gabbeh will retain its beauty, color and texture for generations.
All-natural handmade rugs are simple to care for as well. Water and soap take care of most spills and a regular hand-washing by an experienced professional will restore the luster and beauty time and again. This kind of performance would not be possible without the presence of lanolin in the hand-spun yarns.
On a more subjective note, there is an inherent beauty in a handmade rug that cannot be denied. Patterns and designs come in and out of style and same holds true for rugs. However, there is a rich history of the human story associated with rug making, which makes many classic rug patterns timeless. Whether it is a pattern ensconced in rigid geometry (yet still maintaining a graceful flow) or a more open, interpretive “landscape” inspired by rugged hills and grasslands, there is no denying that these “classic” design elements are part of our DNA. These aren’t designs and patterns derived from focus groups or market trends, they are human designs inspired by nature, family and folklore.
With all that being said, why is it worth spending considerably more for a genuine handmade rug versus a lower cost/mass-produced “handmade” rug? To start, you will only need to buy it once. The longevity that comes with a real handmade carpet easily justifies the price. High-quality, unblemished, un-processed materials easily outlast any fibers compromised by machinery and chemical processing. They are, indeed, "heirloom quality."
Second, genuine handmade rugs are woven by highly skilled craftsmen with experience and understanding of their art. They are focused solely on the details and the quality of their work and not on some quota or arbitrary bottom line. This is skilled labor which earns a living wage for the weavers and their families. The price associated with these pieces of art pays for fairness and dignity for the people who create them.
Living with a genuine handmade rug has a healthy side effect as well. Natural wool is considered by many to have healing properties. Wool does an excellent job of trapping and holding airborne particles so it’s almost like having an additional air filter in your home. And, there is no off-gassing associated with an all-natural handmade rug. Lower-cost rugs come laden with chemicals, adhesives and other synthetic elements which can release toxins into your home for years.
Finally, there is general livability. Run your hand over a carpet made from hand-spun yarns and all-natural dyes, then run your hand over a rug made with synthetic blends. There is a notable difference in texture. Which rug do you want to kick your shoes off and relax on? Which rug do you want your child playing on? The quality is obvious. Inherent with the workmanship comes beauty and character. There are no straight lines in nature, so why would there be laser-etched perfection in a handmade rug? It’s the subtle variances in color, design and texture that bring a rug to life. It’s the personal touches that the weaver includes – the trees and animals or rivers and mountains – that can inspire creativity and imagination in a child. And it’s the deep wisdom of history, art and beauty within the rug that kindles reflective thought over a glass of wine at the end of a long day. True handmade rugs sing with life and echo the beauty of human nature.
A SELECTION OF NEW RUGS IN THE SHOWROOM