Distinguishing between an Oriental Rug (or Hand Knotted) takes a great deal of experience. The best thing to do is to see as many of both types of rugs, and compare them side by side. Here's our take on an article as found on hgtv.com, which is currently one of the top rankings for how to tell the difference between the two. However, a few of the points made need some clarification. Text in bold and in quotation are as found in on HGTV, text in italics is information which we have added comments to. If you wish to have more information on how to tell the difference between the two, take a look at our entry on how to tell if your rug is an Oriental Rug or Other: Hand Made/Tufted/Machine made.
"Matt Fox explains the basic differences between hand-knotted and
machine-made rugs --it's easier to see the differences when a rug in
placed face down:
- Machine-made rugs are not
actually knotted. The wool fiber is put into place by machine, and then
secured with latex backing. This makes the back rough to the touch and
creates a grid appearance on the back." This is not always the case. It's not uncommon to find a machine made carpet to have a clean, soft reverse side: free of glue or rough surface. Such is the case for rugs powerloomed by karastan, which have very soft knots, free of glue, not unlike that of a true Oriental Carpet. In fact, it's not unusual for hand knotted runners for example, to also have very rough reverse sides, or to have a starch applied to keep the rug rigid, straight and true. Take a look! Lastly, both machine made and hand knotted rugs sometimes use wool and/or synthetic fibers.
- "The image of the
design of a hand-knotted rug can be seen in back created out of tiny
rows of knots. Creating the design one knot at a time allows it to be
more intricate and therefore takes much longer to produce than a
machine-made one. The result is better rug density and a tighter,
higher quality weave. But even hand-knotted rugs come in a variety of
different qualities." While it's true that oriental rugs in general are more time consuming to create, the quality difference between hand knotted and machine made carpets varies to the extend where determining between the two is practically impossible based on density alone. In fact, there probably exists a similar proportion of low quality hand knotted rugs and low quality machine made rugs. While this may have something to do with density, it most often has to do with the quality of fibers used in production. For example, it's not uncommon that a low quality hand knotted rug will implement lower quality wool than wool used in production for a machine made counterpart. The reason for this has a great deal to do with the capacity of machine made powerlooms, which often have significantly more difficulty working with low quality fiber as opposed to an experienced weaver.
"To spot a quality hand-knotted rug, inspect the quality of the wool:
- Look for the length of the wool fiber, its springiness and the luster." This is not an easy thing for a beginner to determine unless several ranging wool qualities are available for inspection. Even this can be tricky, as rug weavers sometimes implement a type of chemical wash known as a "Lemon Wash," or "Luster Wash." For example, to the novice, determining whether or not the wool is a medium grade wool treated with a luster wash vs. a high quality worsted wool is very difficult. So what is the best way to tell the difference? Do a shed test! After giving a rug a solid vacuuming on the reverse and the face, take one hand and agitate the pile back and forth a dozen times with one hand rigorously. Roll excess fibers into a ball. If the fibers released are equal to or greater than the thickness of the rug, you probably have a lower quality wool at hand.
- "The thickness of a rug doesn't matter when determining the quality of a rug." This is partly true. While quality is not a function of pile height, what is important to bear in mind is if the rug is sheared to a proper height given the quality of wool and knot density.
Many novices make the assumption that the more raw materials needed
(e.g. amount of wool) the higher the value. This statement is false.
While the amount of raw materials may have some influence in regards to
investment and weaver expense, this does not necessarily translate to a
"higher quality rug" per se. Conversely, many sellers may make the
claim that a thinner rug is more valuable because this may allude to
the use of higher knot count. Again, this is a false statement.
Breaking down and assessing what makes a better quality rug has little
to no relevance when evaluating the value or worth of an Oriental Rug.
What is important to understand and evaluate in regards to pile height
has to do with proper sheering height. To give some examples: An
Oriental Rug which has a coarse knot count (or low kpsi), which has
been sheared too thin may have a "pixelized" design presence.
Conversely, a finely woven (or high kpsi) Oriental Rug which has a
thick pile may show as having a muddled design. The take-away here is proper balance between knot count and pile height takes expert artisan craftsmanship to fully assess how to optimize characteristics and design execution prior to final sheering.
"When looking at the back of a rug:
image of the rug's frontal design should be clear. A rug that has a
less-defined design on the reverse side has not been as tightly
knotted." While this statement may be true in many cases, there are several additional points which need to be made. There are some very nice quality Hamadans for example (type of Persian Rug) which do not show tight uniform knots, and show a great deal of weft from the reverse side of the rug. However, this is not an indicator of quality per se, as this mainly has to do with the way in which the rug has been constructed. This different construction has to do with both the offset of the loom, and technical aspects of weaving such as the type of knot used in weaving. Also worth noting, is there is a technique which weavers used called "torching." What this does, is after the rug has been woven, the wool fibers often stray from the knot. Literally taking a flame to the reverse of the rug, the weavers burn away stray strands of wool to give the rug a sharper appearance. However, this practice is not always used in all weavings, and when it has not been used, can give the reverse of the rug and the knots, a fuzzy and less defined appearance. While