When were Persian Rugs Introduced to Americans?

December 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Experts

By Mehdi Abedi and Lisa Slappy,
Rice University educators and owners of the Pride of Persia

Pride of PersiaPersian rugs were among the household items brought by colonists as they settled into this hemisphere in the late 1600s.  Europe has been familiar with Persian rugs from at least the time of Shah Abbas I of the Safavids. Perhaps the first guns-for-rugs deal was negotiated when Britain’s Shirley brothers sold 10,000 guns and 500 cannons to the Persians. Rugs were included in the exchange and there after became more widely available in Britain and Western Europe.

In Walden (1852), Henry David Thoreau does without Persian rugs in his simple cabin, but mentions that his Concord neighbors have them.  Texas, too, has its share of wonderful antique rugs.  Some fine Texas-size pieces from Heriz to Bijar to Saroukh have been right here for generations.

Why is Persia the Mecca for rugs?

Although good rugs and bad rugs are woven in many places, Persian rugs continue to enjoy the finest reputation.  Iran – formerly known as Persia – has long been a crossroads of many cultures and civilizations.  Within Iran’s own borders, many ethnic groups create a complex culture that is in turn reflected in a complex cultural product:  the Persian rug.  Historically, Iranians have engaged in trade, war, and cultural exchange with India, China, Mongolia, Turkey, and the Arab world.

As a trade good disseminated throughout the world, the rug has become an iconic symbol of Persian culture.  Weaving rugs by hand depends upon the availability of raw materials and a cheap labor force combined with a rich cultural tradition.  Some regions in Iran produce very few rugs because people there earn more money by working in such industries as fishing, agriculture, or oil.

In other parts of Iran – and this is especially true for women in rural areas – weaving remains a major economic activity as well as a source of cultural pride.

What materials are used to make rugs?

First, we have to mention the rug’s structure.  In general, a hand-woven pile rug consists of knots woven on a foundation.  The foundation has two parts:  the warp (vertical line, on which the knots are woven) and the weft (horizontal line between rows of knots).  The vast majority of hand-woven pile rugs feature wool knots tied on cotton foundations.  Beyond that, many combinations of materials are possible.

We may see 100% wool rugs or 100% silk rugs.  The pile may be mostly wool with silk accents or metallic threads.  It may be made of cotton or mercerized cotton posing as silk.  The foundation could be made of wool or silk or goat hair or a combination of materials.  Perhaps the warp is cotton and the weft is wool.  Be aware that handmade rugs may even contain synthetic materials in the pile or the foundation.  If you are purchasing a rug, be sure to ask the seller about the materials so that you will know what kind of rug you have and how to take care of it.

What are the benefits of having a rug rather than just a bare floor?

Considering the many wonderful types of flooring available these days, that’s a great question.  Some types of hard flooring feature such intricate designs, like mosaic tile work or elaborate wood inlays, that covering them with rugs just makes no sense.  On most hard surfaces, though, rugs are absolutely appropriate.  They fulfill aesthetic and functional needs in the room.  In the first place, they are beautiful and welcoming.  Placing the proper size rug on a lovely floor makes both look even better, like a painting in a frame.

Rugs add warmth, color, and texture.  They absorb sound and diminish echo.  They even protect your hard floor from scratches and other signs of wear.  In our view, rugs make a house a home.

What is the best way to transport rugs when moving to a new home?

Rugs can be heavy and unwieldy, but with the proper methods they can be moved safely.  The simple response is to visit your rug dealer for a quick demonstration of proper folding techniques and for specific advice based on the types of rugs you own.  Your rug dealer will probably be happy, for a small fee, to send a crew to your home to inspect and pack up the rugs.  Be sure to take care of cleaning and maintenance issues at this time.

If you are moving a long distance or if the rugs will be in storage for a few months, make sure that they are wrapped in plastic and treated against insects.  When you move into your new home, your rugs will be clean and beautiful.

For more than a decade, Mehdi Abedi and Lisa Slappey have taught “The World of Persian Rugs” through Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. They are the owners of Pride of Persia Rug Co., which specializes in older Persian rugs along with high-quality newer rugs from around the world.

Pride of Persia Rug Co.
7026 Old Katy Road, Ste. 164
Houston, TX 77024
(713) 522-7870

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