When shopping for rugs online you’ll see a vast range of styles at various price points that use the term handmade. At first glance, this can be confusing because some rugs are really low priced while others are through the roof. So how does a handmade rug at a low price point actually compare with a high priced rug?
The answer to this can be fairly complex as there are many permutations, however, the main factors are the quality and amount of the material used per square meter, and the hours of labour it takes to produce the rug. Put simply, some rugs use a cheaper grade of material, some rugs use less material in their construction, some take an hour to produce while others can take several months to weave.
Material costs vary, generally, the most expensive component of the rug is the pile or decorative surface. The traditional material for a pile surface is woollen or synthetic yarn, however there are many other materials that can be used to produce a handmade rug, for example, silk, cotton, sisal, seagrass, jute, coir, hemp, linen, leather, rope and even shredded clothing can be woven to make rag rugs.
Usually, rugs are made with either a soft cut pile surface with a secondary jute or integral woven backing, or they’re flat woven and the reverse of the rug can look similar to the face and feel like a heavy blanket. However, there are several variations to these textures such as shaggy piles which are longer and more open in construction or loop piles which is a continuous uncut texture.
The material is important because it often depicts the style of rug that is being produced. Sisal and seagrass are courser natural fibres that are more suited to flat woven techniques, whereas softer more pliable yarns like wool, cotton and synthetic fibres are suited to both flat weave Kilim rugs and softer cut pile rugs.
So, I’ve used the words “generally” and “usually” quite a lot because there are always exceptions and innovations in rug production. Some designer rugs will often mix different materials to create interesting textures, for example, the Calvin Klein Canyon rug uses a combination of viscose with suede. Of course, the designer element can add another modulation to the price. Buying a new rug with a “designer name tag” will add more than an innovative and exclusive element, the prestige of a designer label will always drastically reflect on the finished price.
I’ve briefly established that the additional cost of a rug can differ because of the quality and quantity of material used, the labour hours it takes to produce and the label that you may be paying a premium for.
Because of the work entailed in producing handmade rugs, the majority of new handmade rugs are produced in countries like India and China where labour is inexpensive. If we focus on the most popular of these, rugs made from wool, we can take start to understand the process.
With a rug produced in wool fibre, there are three main methods of making the rug. The most timely and expensive method of producing a rug is hand-knotting, This method requires the weaver to create a frame and attach the vertical threads, this is called the warp.
While there are many methods of hand weaving the one common factor is a warp. The warp is the threads that run the length of the rug, it is these threads that allow the construction and design of the rug to exist. Some rugs are produced with a pile surface while others are produced flat woven.
The weft is the threads interwoven into the warp to hold the construction of the rug together. In the case of hand knotting, each yarn is physically tied and knotted to the warp and the weft is inserted to hold the rug in place, in case of kilim or flatwoven rugs the weft and the surface yarn can be on in the same.
To make a hand-tufted rug the pattern is first drawn onto a base cloth and the yarn is inserted using a gun. Some of these guns are electric or compressed air while some are hand pulled. Either way the colours are added to the cloth in much the same way as you would paint by numbers.