Uncle Bobs Tips: Rug Guide

Antique rugs

Antique rugs

Antique rugs have longtime been the objects of fascination, desire, and status for rug owners worldwide. Here are some real rug facts about authentic, antique rugs. There are three different age designations of antique rugs. For a rug to be called an antique rug, it must be at least 100 years old. Semi-antique rugs range from 50 to 100 years old. Rugs newer than 50 years old are considered modern or contemporary rugs. Most authentic antique rugs were made in the traditional weaving regions of the Middle or Far East. The most expensive antique rugs on the rug market, in past times as well as today, are antique Persian rugs.

Except for the 2500-year-old Pazyryk antique rug found in Russia many millennia ago, almost all antique rugs that exist today have their roots in the Persian Safavid dynasty that lasted from 1501-1722. This was the golden age of Persian art, and antique rug weaving was perhaps their greatest art form. Under Safavid royal patronage rug factories were established exclusively for the production of hand-woven antique rugs. Still today, antique Persian rugs and carpets set the gold standard for rug excellence, and antique Persian rugs are the origin of most motifs, patterns and colors featured in rugs throughout the world today.

Antique rugs consist of primarily of 3 major designs: all over patterns without a central medallion, patterns with a central medallion, and asymmetrical patterns. The most common motifs found in antique rugs are floral, vase, garden, hunting, arches, borders and geometric designs.

Every antique rug is a unique, magnificent creation that weaves together not only threads, but a rich legacy of history and culture. Antique rugs are categorized by their place of origin or the tribe that made them. Each antique rug's particular pattern, colors, motif and weaving technique are characteristic of its geographic area or tribal origin. Antique rugs are precious family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation and still today antique rugs are considered a prized possession.

Having withstood the test of time, there is a renewed interest in antique rugs among rug consumers today. Although the source of genuine antique rugs is limited, the demand is high. To make sure you are getting the real deal when looking for antique rugs, here are some authentic guidelines to help you select the right piece of history for your home!

To value an antique rug, the important factors to consider are rug material, fineness of knots, colors, method of production, and condition.

The best quality antique rug material is wool. High quality wool is fine, soft and shiny; inferior wool is coarse and lacks luster. Some antique rugs are also made from silk or cotton. Flat-woven, or pile-less antique rugs are known as kilims.

While antique rug designs may capture the heart, antique rug quality is determined mainly by the knotting of the rug. Specifically, the higher the knot count, the higher the quality of the antique rug. The number of knots can vary from 64 to 400 to the square inch. Of the two knots in use, the Ghiordes (or double knot) is regarded as Turkish and the Sehna (or single knot) as Persian, although both are used in present-day Iran.

Color is one of the most important factors in assessing antique rugs. Colors made from natural vegetable and insect dyes are considered the best. Of the blues and reds frequently found in antique rugs, warm reds usually derive from the madder plant, while blue comes from indigo. Crimson is created from insect dyes such as chineal.

In the evolution of antique rug colors, chemical or aniline dyes came next. Introduced around 1890, these antique rug colors were harsher in tone and not colorfast. With the introduction of chromatic, colorfast dyes in the early 20th century, antique rugs benefited from a wider color range. While at times difficult to distinguish from natural dyes, modern chromatic dyes lack the subtlety of earlier dyes.

Genuine antique rugs should be handmade. It is not easy to discern hand-woven rugs from machine-made rugs. Look for antique rug attributes such as obvious signs of age, earthiness in color, and artistic inconsistencies in weave and design (hand-made rugs are not squared off as properly as machine-made reproductions). Further, check the back of alleged antique rugs. If the fibers are stiff and run straight up and down, it's a machine-made rug. Part the pile and look at the knots. If you see loops rather than knots, this indicates a machine-made rug. Fortunately, many machine woven rugs are actually labeled as such underneath.

Check for wear and tear on antique rugs. One of the floor facts of life is that antique rugs are rarely in perfect original condition. Inevitably, antique rugs will require some restoration or repair. Pre-1800 antique rugs and carpets almost always show wear and damage -holes, tears, fraying - that have been more or less skillfully repaired or restored at some time in the past. In the antique rug restoration debate (to restore or not to restore: that is the question...), the wrap on pre-1800 antique rugs is that these antique rugs ought to be conserved only. It is argued that the very enchantment of antique weavings is often in their mellowed colors and surfaces that naturally reflect the difficult lives of ancient nomads or villagers. Old rug repairs are an integral part of an antique rug weaving's history. Hence, it is considered reasonable to reweave antique rug distracting holes, however replacing missing ends or frayed fringe is deemed extreme. In the case of eroded yarns, (most often browns, magentas and pale gray-greens naturally corrode by iron oxides in the dye materials), reweaving may be favored if the antique rug design is obscured.

For restoring antique rugs of moderate age, a carpet-by-carpet judgment is recommended. Hence, rugs from this group may be restored to the extent that a dealer or collector finds reasonable and makes the owner happy. When it comes down to the restoration or repair of more modern rugs, however, the dye is clearly cast. The consensus is that these rugs are readily restored and repaired. In fact, with late 19th or early 20th century rugs, it is critical that weak or torn areas be rewoven or stabilized immediately to prevent further damage. Unlike antique rug restoration, modern restoration work should be invisible.

To avoid rugs that might be falsely (and illegally) sold as antique rugs, you can obtain a Certificate of Authenticity that will validate the origin and materials of your antique rug and certify that you are the owner for insurance purposes. Should you wish to sell your rug, a Certificate of Authenticity will enhance its value. When buying antique rugs, avoid 'going-out-of-business' sales and auctions where sellers aren't likely to be around later if you encounter problems with your antique rug.

To properly care for antique rugs, follow these age-old guidelines:

Depending on the amount of traffic antique rugs will receive, a professional cleaning is recommended every one to three years. To even out wear and exposure to light and sun, it is recommended that you rotate antique rugs every 6 months or once a year. Always move antique rugs with great care. There's less chance of damaging the pile if you roll them up with the pile facing outwards. Do not use adhesives on antique rugs. Do not use nails or staples to secure antique rugs.

Antique rugs should be vacuumed on a regular basis to remove dirt and restore life to the fibers. Be sure not to vacuum the fringe. When vacuuming antique rugs, don't scrub but use a gentle action. Use a regular rather than a rotary head and work only in the direction of the pile. It is recommended that you use a quality rug pad under your antique rugs to protect them from wear and slippage.

When spills occur on antique rugs, work quickly and blot up excess spills with a clean, white, absorbent cloth or paper towels. Do not rub or soak. For solid spills, take a spoon and carefully scoop up the material. Always work from the edge of the stain inward, and scrape in the direction of the pile whenever possible. Try to remove any residual stain with clean, lukewarm water. If water fails, a solvent can be used. (Common cleaning solvents include mild non-bleach liquid detergent, vinegar solutions, or you can purchase a spot removal kit from antique rug dealers). Apply the solvent directly on the stain without soaking and blot thoroughly. Repeat the process until the spot no longer transfers to the cleaning cloth. ALWAYS pretest the solvent on a small area of the antique rug by applying a few drops, then blotting with a clean, white, absorbent cloth or paper towel to see if the colors run. When dry, restore pile with a clothes brush or vacuum. If you cannot remove the spot, call an antique rug professional.

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