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Starched Oriental Rugs: The Straight Truth

What is a "Starched Rug," and Why is this Procedure Done? 

A starched rug is basically a carpet which has undergone a corrective procedure to fix irregularties such as a curvature of a piece, or a rug with one end narrower than the other.  In this process, the rug is soaked in water, then stretched onto a bed of needles (in the practice known as blocking), after which the rug is then subjected to the starch treatment.  This starch treatment makes the new shape of the rug rigid, so it may be removed from the blocking setup yet maintain its newly formed shape.  Starch itself is in essence a thin viscosity glue which dries and reinforces the desired result.

The objective of weavers in general is to weave a straight and true rug right off the loom.  While weavers don't necessarily use the process of bedding and starching a rug as a "crutch" to rely upon, it certainly helps accomplish the task of correcting inconsistencies which otherwise may not have been seen until after the rug is cut from the loom.

How to Identify when this Procedure has Been Implemented: The Look and Feel of a Starched Rug

Adding starch has an adverse affect on one "quality measure" as noted by many rug purists.  That is, the desire to see a rug which is as sharp design-wise and color-wise on both the front and the reverse sides.  However, in the case of a rug which has been subject to heavy starching practice, you will note the reverse side as having a convoluted back, and also feel the rug is stiffer, rougher and especially abrasive to the touch. In some select areas around the perimeter of the carpet, you may also note small punched holes with the appearance of a small bit of rust surrounding them.  These marks are from the nails which the carpet had been stretched upon.  More often than not, this process is applied to runners with lengths exceeding 15' of today's imports, although can be found in almost any size rug.

Compared in the photographs below are both starched and un-starched rugs of the same design, origin and condition

Below: the reverse side of an un-starched (Normal) carpet showing a true and sharp back as should be expected. 

Reverse side of un-starched carpet

Below: the reverse side of a carpet which has been subjected to starching practices.  Notice the clear difference in coloring, which are significantly more subdued, and lack the clarity of the carpet above.

Reverse side of carpet which has been starched

Below:  The reverse side of a Normal Rug up close.  Notice again the tight knotting and clear design.  Colors are rich, true and healthy. 

Reverse side of a normal rug up close

Below: The reverse side of a starched carpet.  As opposed to the rug as photographed above, this rug has less clarity, and colors are not as energetic as they were intended to be.  The back of the rug is also very abrasive due to the application of glue.  Note the green arrow which shows the mounting point of a nail, which run along the perimeter of the rug.  This is due to the blocking technique which is used in conjunction to the starching practice.  The rust around this hole is due to the oxidation which had occurred while the rug had been resting on the bed of nails for stretching. 

Reverse side of a starched carpet

Below: The reverse side of a rolled, normal rug. 

Reverse side of a rolled, normal rug

Below:  The reverse side of a starched rug.  Again, note the color differences, and also the additional mounting points which the green arrows show.

Reverse side of a rolled starched rug

Is Starching a Rug an Acceptable Practice?

It is an acceptable practice in the sense that it meets the needs of the Western markets to have straight rugs, however, from the perspective of a rug purist, starched rugs are certainly not considered the "cream of the crop," but they're not quite seen as a "seconds good" either. Some would venture to say that if a rug has not been corrected properly, it would be considered a "seconds good."  However, some rugs are starched so heavily, they certainly lose one of the most important characteristics of a hand knotted rug: To determine (when looking at the back of a carpet) that the design is as sharp on the front as it is on the back.

What Happens to a Starched Carpet That Has Been Washed?

In regards to the washing of starched rugs, it completely depends upon how good of a job the weavers did with correcting the problem as well as the types of application used. As stated above, the rug is set on a bed of needles, wetted, stretch ed, then starched.  However, depending also on the severity of the problem and the length of time it had been set for, you never know if post usage washing will render this procedure as being "secure" or not. The more thorough and slower the process, the better. Often rugs which have mild shape problems can be fixed with a simple wetting and stretching repeated maybe one or two times, although often the case is that starching accelerates the process for mildly affected rugs foregoing the repeating process, and simply jumping to a quicker, final, solution. Rugs with severe curve or irregularities, weavers may find the need for starching as the only option.

My Rug has an Abrasive Back, But Doesn't Show Signs of Glue!

There are other instances where you may encounter a hard or stiffer back to a rug without the visual presence of starching. This can be attributed to torching methods which are mainly used to facilitate the previously mentioned "quality measure" of having the rug appear as sharp on the back as it is on the front. The torching method is used to literally burn away loose wool fibers from the knots woven, which often can muddle the appearance of sharp, tight knots on the back of the rug.  There are instances where a carpet has been subject to too hard of a torching application, which subsequently dries the wool giving it a coarser feel. One way to see this is in some of the newer imports with hard twisted wool for example. If you look very carefully, not only can you see the remnants of singed fibers, but you can also smell the burned hair if you get close enough to the rug: Literally put your nose to it.


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May 4. 2008 04:11

Nilima Rugs

Great information....its so detailed, i really appreciate all your posts and love to read all of them

Nilima Rugs

August 31. 2008 13:58


Thanks for your comment, glad you're enjoying our site!

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