A Guide to Choosing the Right Rug

Tips on Buying Hand Made Area Rugs

What should a buyer be aware of when shopping for a hand made area rug? First of all the perfect rug is the one whose design and colors are perfectly balanced and set the desired mood for your room. Besides the color of the walls, nothing can enhance or detract from the environment you are trying to create like a hand woven area rug. Buyers need to try different things out in their homes before buying (any reputable rug store allows this). In short, you shouldn’t buy a rug until you find one you love. When you take home the perfect rug you will know it as soon as you roll it out and step back to take a look. When you’re serious about buying, measure your space and bring any paint or fabric samples that you may want to coordinate with your rug.


When you start your search it helps to know what style is best for your room. Do you want a traditional Oriental style rug? These are generally classical Persian and Turkish designs. Do you want a modern, contemporary design or something transitional? (in between traditional and contemporary). Tibetan rugs can fall into traditional, transitional or contemporary categories. Likewise Gabbehs are an ancient form of nomadic weaving from Southern Iran. The designs are often characterized by simple, open patterns which make them suitable for traditional or modern décor.

Go to an established, reputable dealer who is willing to patiently answer all your questions and spend time to help you learn what you need to make an informed decision. Do not be pressured into buying, especially at “going out of business” sales, or auctions. Beware of huge discounts and deals that sound too good to be true. Unfortunately the Oriental rug business still suffers from a handful of dealers selling poor quality rugs at inflated prices.


The most important factors determining a rugs quality are the wool and dyes used. The quality of the wool and how it is handled from start to finish (shearing, carding, spinning, dyeing, weaving, finishing, washing) determine how long it will last. The best wool comes from cool, moist, high altitude climates. Tibetan wool is some of the highest quality. The Himalayan sheep living under extreme conditions and altitude produce extremely long wool staples with a high lanolin and natural oil content. These substances are what protect a rug from most stains and keep it strong over time.

There is a tremendous amount of work and craftsmanship that goes into a handmade area rug. The various processes are usually performed by separate artisans who specialize in the following tasks: After the wool is sheared and washed it must be carded by hand or by machine. Then the wool must be spun into yarn. Again, this process can be done by hand or machine, each imparting a different look or character to the finished rug. Hand carded/spun wool will take dye unevenly, creating a varied color called abrage. When done by skilled artisans the result is often a richly colored carpet full of depth and one of a kind character. And remember, good wool feels good to the touch.

Natural vs. Chrome Dyes

There has been a renaissance in the hand made rug business in the past 20 years. This was brought about in the eighties by a handful of people who wanted to revive the old methods of making natural “vegetal” dyes and using handspun wool. Vegetal dyes are colors made from plants, bark, insects, etc. Today approximately 5% of the world’s rugs are made with natural dyes. Natural dye rugs are approximately 30% more expensive than chrome dyes. They have a rich look enhanced by the use of handspun wool that ages beautifully over time. Vegetal dye rugs usually hold their value fairly well.

Synthetic dyes have been used in the Middle East and China since the late 1800’s. The older dyes were aniline dyes. These early dyes gave synthetic dyes a bad name and many experts blame their use for the decline of the rug business and the loss of the ancient natural dye recipes. You may recognize some of these aniline colors in “antique” rugs by the telltale electric blues, harsh oranges and reds that bleed when a rug gets wet. In the past 30 years chrome dyes have come a long way. With an unlimited color palette to choose from, many experts today cannot distinguish a natural dye from a synthetic one.