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Get to Know Gabbeh Rugs!

Gabbeh Rugs are some of the most versatile, original, and durable handmade rugs that we carry at Christiane Millinger. But many clients are unaware of the origins and benefits of these unique rugs and carpets.

What are Gabbeh rugs? 

Gabbeh Rugs are a subset of the larger Persian Rug and Carpet making world. Made since time immemorial, Gabbehs only really captured the attention of the larger rug appreciating community from the late 70's onwards. Originally produced as utilitarian bedding rolls or impromptu flooring for tents of the semi-nomadic herders weaving them as they migrated with their flocks, Gabbehs typically feature designs that showcase the individuality of the individual weaver, or simple and stylistic depictions of landscapes and other scenes of life seen by the weaver along the annual migration routes extending from the Persian Gulf in the south to the Shiraz region in Western Iran. Elements may also be symbolic representations manifesting protection, prosperity and abundance for the person making or possessing the Gabbeh. 

 What is the look of a Gabbeh?

If one word was to summarize the look of a Gabbeh it might be whimsical. Unlike many other subcategories of rugs with recognizable looks and themes, there is a vast variety of imagery that can be seen in Gabbeh rugs. Some are minimalistic while others are spontaneous and almost frenetic in their designs. Landscapes are popular subjects, depicting rolling hills and symbolic images of animals like deer or camels. Trees are also a very common design element seen in Gabbeh rugs. These may be expressive and detailed or reduced to symbolic representations. Patchwork looking blocks of colors with sporadic elements or a series of frames alternating color for a portal effect are also common.

How are Gabbehs made?

The wool used in the production of Gabbeh rugs is some of the most durable, yet supple available in the rug producing world. Collected from sheep that have grazed along migration routes used for centuries, often traversing higher altitude peaks, results in a hearty, dense wool that is rich in lanolin and possessing high tensile strength in the individual fibers.

The process to turn the wool into the yarns used to knot Gabbehs is done entirely by hand, which preserves the lanolin in the fibers that more mechanical means of spinning and carding would remove. Gabbehs knotted in a spectrum of natural wool tones, ranging from ivory whites and rich browns to warm greys and bluish blacks, are not uncommon. 

The dyes used in authentic Gabbeh rugs are produced using naturally sourced plant, fruit, and vegetable dyes from the region the nomadic weavers inhabit. Using real indigo plants to produce a range of blues, milkweed thistles and onion skins to tint yellows, and then dying the wool these colors in steps to produce jewel-like green colors. The red dyes are made from the root of the madder plant, harvested once the plant has grown for minimum of five years. From this blue, yellow, and red base an entire spectrum of color is possible to be seen in Gabbeh rugs that rivals many synthetic dyes in its intensity and vividness. 

Where are Gabbeh rugs made?

As mentioned before, authentic Gabbeh rugs are produced in Southern Iran. We are proud to work with the renowned Zollanvari Family, who have brought fine Persian rugs and Carpets to the world for over 75 years. The word Gabbeh is Farsi for "cut" or "raw" reflecting the rugged origins of these rugs. Gabbeh is also a term synonymous with a bedding roll due to the utilitarian beginnings of these hearty carpets. The producers of Gabbehs are descendants of the Tribal Qashqai peoples and several of the tribal names for individual groups are associated with particular types of Gabbeh rugs. Kashkuli and Amaleh are just a few examples. 

Are Gabbeh rugs durable?

Gabbehs are some of the most durable and hard-wearing handmade rugs available anywhere. The retention of much of the natural lanolin along with the use of more gentle natural dyes in the production makes for a fiber that has surprising resiliency to whatever life may throw at them. Smaller Gabbeh rugs are ideal for entryways and incredibly resilient to dirt and mud. We often suggest them as accent pieces in kitchens due to the amazing ability of these textiles to resist staining and bounce back after an annual cleaning by a professional. I myself am in the early years of rearing a particularly energetic (80 lb.) puppy and can personally attest to the inability to stain or soil the gorgeous Gabbeh I own, with a light sea green patchwork style pattern framed by a border of natural ivory-toned wool. 

These are also some of the most holistic textiles you can bring into the home. The all-natural fibers and dyes produce no toxic off-gassing and wool itself is resistant to dust mite inhabitation. In a home with children, a Gabbeh is often my first recommendation for clients. The perfect merging of whimsical imagery, timeless craftsmanship, ability to weather any storm, and materials to create a heathy environment, in a textile that can last decades with a minimum of care and maintenance.