Brief history of handmade rugs

Introduction to the mysterious and fascinating world of handmade rugs.

What exactly are handmade rugs or carpets and why are they so much sought after and cherished?

This seems an obvious question,  before going into great details about the many varieties. Fortunately it is not difficult to answer. When people speak of handmade rugs and carpets they generally mean the hand knotted pile rugs, made by village and nomadic craftsmen and women in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, Turkmenistan etc.

The term, however, also encompasses non-pile rugs and carpets as the Killims and the hand knotted rugs of India, Tibet and China.

The range is vast.

The appeal of the handmade rug lies in it's individuality, in it's combination of subtle colours and design and in the fine craftsmanship, which places it above a simple floor or wall covering and into the field of art.

The origin of handmade rugs is lost in the midst of time. Archaeologists and historians have uncovered evidence to show that the techniques and even some of the designs used are extremely old. It has been suggested that the tradition originated in the tents of the nomads in central Asia. Evidence to support this was discovered by Russian archaeologist, who in 1947-9 uncovered a tomb in the Pazyryk valley in the Altai range in southern Siberia. This tomb proved to be extremely important, for not long after the burial, water had seeped into the tomb. The result was that the entire contents became frozen and preserved. When carefully excavated and melted, a superb woollen rug was found almost perfectly preserved. Excavation also revealed that the tomb had been robbed, but fortunately the robbers had paid no attention to the rug.

Now known as the Altai or Pazyryk rug and carefully kept in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, it measures some 6' x 6'6" (1.8 x 2 metres). Although the colours have slightly altered over the years the design is clearly visible. Although the tomb was of a Scythian chief, the archaeologist who discovered it thought it to be Persian. However, some years later he found further examples of knotted carpets in another tomb that seemed to prove otherwise. Close examination of the rug also reveals other clues to it's Scythian origin. Whoever made the Pazyryk rug, it is of superb workmanship- a fact that indicates the tradition of rug weaving was already well established at this time. The design itself is of interest, for it uses motifs reminiscent of those found on rugs some two thousand years later.

The centre of the rug is composed of a rectangle of squares arranged in four rows. In all, there are twenty four squares; in the centre of each is a cross like that of St. Andrew and very similar to that used on Sejur rugs. Around this central rectangle of squares are bands of elks and mounted horseman, each band separated by either griffons or St. Andrew's crosse. The knots are very well executed, about two hundred and seventy to the square inch.