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Fibers: Is your Rug Real Silk?

If you have arrived at this page, it is dual purpose information intended for education and the use of our Rug Estimator Pro

Also See: Wool Quality Explained: Qualities Used in Production of Oriental Rugs and Carpets


In most cases it takes the keen eye of a professional to assess the type of wool used in a rug.  If after reading this posting, you are still unsure of what selection to use for the rug estimator pro, take your question and photographs to our rug forum.  As a consumer, it can be difficult to discern the type of wool without making a comparison. The fibers of your carpet are an important part of appraising the value.  It is best to is buy your rug from a trusted and reputable dealer and take his word for the type of wool used.  Be aware, there are sellers who throw terms around loosely and make false claims to the type of wool used.  If you do not remember the fibers or question the dealer's word, you can to test them yourself via the methods below.

NOTE:  The majority of oriental rugs are made with wool pile and cotton foundation.  

Artificial (Art.) silk Vs. true silk

Artificial silk comes in many forms including synthetic and plant based fibers.  For purposes of rug estimator Pro, your main goal is not to distinguish what type of artificial silk was used, but to decide whether the fibers are artificial or genuine silk.  To distinguish which silk is in your carpet, take two small test samples one from the fringe and a knot from the back of the rug.  When taking a fringe sample, find a stray strand in an inconspicuous area and clip a tiny piece.  For a sample from the pile, remove a knot from the reverse side of your carpet.  To do this, use a fine needle to scoop under one of the knots then pull up firmly to release one side of the knot.  Then pull the rest of the knot out with your fingertips.  NOTE: when removing a knot from the back of your carpet, do it in an area where there are many knots of the same color (such as the field) so as to not disrupt the design showing through on the face. For a detailed description please see "How do I remove a knot?" in the FAQ section. 

Artificial Silk vs. Real silk

The photograph above shows artificial silk on the left and genuine silk to the right.  The samples were taken from two separate rugs by pulling out single knots.  Although in this particular example you can see distinct differences in the characteristics of the fibers, do not base your conclusion on the appearance alone. Some artificial silk can look very much like the real thing even under close inspection.  A simple burn test gives a fairly conclusive answer to whether or not your carpet fiber is composed of or has silk in it (weavers sometimes blend real silk with artificial).

A WORD OF CAUTION - the proposed testing involves using an open flame.  Always use care in doing a burn test.  Clear your testing area free of all flammable material!

Artificial silk fails burn test

The above photograph shows how one type of artificial silk reacts to a flame.  Notice how the tips of the fiber are still sharp with practically no ash (purple arrow).  The yellow arrow shows how the fiber has become brittle from being exposed to the heat and cleanly breaks away from the sample.  Genuine silk reacts differently when burned.

True silk passing "burn test"

As you can see above, 100% silk melts onto itself causing bunches/nuggets at the end of the fiber (shown by the yellow arrow).  Because silk is a protein based organic matter similar to that of hair, it has a similar reaction in both appearance and odor.  

Qum silk Fringe

Qum silk fringe passes true silk burn test

The photograph above shows with more clarity how silk reacts to flame.  This sample was taken from the fringe of a silk Qum [Iranian] carpet.  Notice the black bunched formation at the tip and the small bit of white ash left behind. 

Testing the Endurance of your rug! (Low Quality Wool)

Again, for the average consumer, wool quality is difficult to assess without comparison.  However, if your carpet has a thick wool pile (5/8" high; such as examples from India or China), the next test will be a good indicator of the quality of wool used.  The purpose of this test is not so much to determine what type of wool your rug is made of (Qurk / Kork wool, textile wool, Manchester, worsted, etc.) but to check the quality.  A fairly accurate test is the "agitation technique."  Take a firm and hard hand (see below) to the face of your carpet.  In an approximately 10" x 10" area, agitate the pile vigorously back and forth a dozen times with both the tips of your fingers and palm using heavy and steady pressure forward and backward lengthwise on the carpet (with and against the pile direction). FYI: shedding is a natural occurrence in many rugs. However, if your rug continues to shed for an extended period of time (several months or more) an inferior wool was most likely used in production.  Note: As a general rule, if your rug was purchased at a home improvement center or an mass producing outlet store, there is good possibility the wool is of lower quality.  The quality of mass-produced rugs (handmade or machine made) is often far inferior to special import by for specialized retailers and wholesalers.  More often than not, multi-oriented Outlet stores and Department stores spend more money trucking the&nb

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March 6. 2008 18:07


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December 20. 2008 03:07


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May 4. 2009 12:23


Send in a photograph to We'll let you know if we may be able to consult with you on this piece.

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