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A Brief History of Rugs: Where Did They All Come From?

A Brief History of Rugs: Where Did They All Come From?

Rugs are probably some of the trendiest home decor items out there, especially on the Western side of the globe, but did you know that people from the East have been using rugs since the 16th Century? Yes, approximately 500 years ago!

Rugs can be made of wool, animal hair, silk, cotton, jute, coconut fiber, man-made fibers and sometimes even a mesmerizing combination of multiple fibers. Some rugs can also make use of fur strips, textile scraps, gold, silver and other metal threads. They can be real pieces of art!

Depending on the type of production, rugs can be classified into these three categories:

  • Handmade Area Rugs
  • Hand-Knotted Rugs
  • Machine-Made Rugs

So that’s rugs 101 for you! Now let’s get back into our main topic of discussion: the history of rugs. And for that, we’ll have to go back in time.

Medieval Origins of Rugs


The nomadic tribes of what we consider today as South Asia needed better protection against the harsh winters than what sheepskins offered, and this eventually led to the invention of rugs. Over time, these rugs became very commonly used for decorating living room tents. The material for warp, weft and pile came from the herds of sheep and goats of the nomads.

The looms consisted - in their simplest form - of two wooden beams that were attached to the ground with a chain stretched between them. These traditional looms, which are still in use today, have the advantage that they can simply be folded up and moved from one place to another. The patterns used on rugs have always stayed the same: geometric or stylized motifs.

In the mid of the 16th century, the art of rug knotting was developed in the so-called ‘court knotting workshops’ of the rulers of Persia and India. The magnificent Ardabil carpet dates back to the 16th century and can be viewed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This is probably the most famous carpet in the world. It measures 534×1,152 cm and is believed to have been from the city of Kashan in Persia, knotted by the weaver Maksud al Kashani. The rug also bears the Islamic year of its creation, namely 946, which corresponds to the year 1539 in the modern calendar. It is believed that five weavers worked on this rug over the course of three years by order of Shah Tahmasp of the Sheikh Safi Mosque.

The original carpet was made as a set. You’ll find the best preserved piece in London. The second piece is only partially preserved and can be admired in the Los Angeles County Museum (USA). Both carpets can be clearly seen to have been tied with a Persian knot. The pile is made of wool, while the warp and weft are made of silk. Knot density: a whopping 518,000 knots per square meter! It was sold in the 19th century and the profits were used to renovate the great mosque of Ardabil in northern Persia.

History of Oriental Rugs


The term oriental rugs includes hand-knotted and hand-woven rugs from the Orient region. They differ in motif, pattern, color and their origin, for example from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, West Turkestan, Pakistan, India, Central China, East Turkestan and Tibet.

Provenances are essential for oriental rugs as they denote rug origin and type in more detail. They are derived from places (Kashan, Kerman, Bukhara), provinces (Fareghan, Khorasan, Shirvan) and tribes (Bakhtiars, Turkmen).

Non-Oriental Origins of Rugs


A real, hand-knotted rug does not necessarily have to come from the countries of the Orient.

In addition to these traditional areas of origin, there are also works from North Africa and the Balkan countries which also meet the high-quality standards that are placed on a real oriental rug.

These countries include China, Russia, Tunisia, Turkey and even Vietnam, among others. Countries of origin are best differentiated through their own weaving tradition and countries in which rugs are modeled on original designs.

How to Shop Oriental Rugs Today?

As charming as their history may be, authentic oriental rugs are not easy to find in North America. However, there’s one online store that lets you shop true oriental area rugs in Canada from top global brands: The Rug District! You can shop through a highly curated range of the most exquisite rugs from top global brands, all in one place.

Why are you still here? Go shop now!

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