Hand-knotted Rugs

This section explains the specific manufacturing steps associated with hand-knotted rugs as opposed to other types of handmade rugs such as handwoven rugs, hand-tufted rugs or hand-hooked rugs. We would ask you to please disregard the fashion sense of the weavers. They don't wear Gucci or Calvin. We would request that you just look at the beautiful works of art that they produce. For an explanation on the general steps associated to both hand-knotted and hand-woven rugs, feel free to consult our "Preliminary Steps" section which covers turning wool into yarn up to the process of the preparation of small and larger tools such as looms before weaving.

1. Reading of the Cartoon

Video clip from "Kashmir Carpet Making: Reading of the Talim". Filmed in Kashmir.
Video published on March 29, 2017 on the Sandeep Sanguru channel on YouTube.

Once the design is decided and the drawing is complete, a loom is set up and cotton is spinned. This set up allows weavers to hand-knot a new rug on the frame called a loom. Columns of thread (called warps) are stretched vertically on the loom. Warps are usually made of cotton, providing an ideal surface for a flat, straight rug. The weaver secures the warps by arranging horizontal rows called wefts (ordinarily made of cotton, wool, or silk).

Once the loom is set up, the reading of the talim by the master weaver to the weavers also begins. In usually a warm homelike setting, the weavers sit with their knees up facing the loom correctly in their position and begin weaving. The master weaver, sometimes called the wasta, pronounced ousta or called talim guru usually leads the weavers by singing. He speaks to no weaver in particular but rather to everyone. In some instances, the master weaver has memorized the carpet to the point that he does not require the talim. He uses the scrolls of his memory to guide the weavers. In this later instance, the talim thus becomes more of a reference guide.

In the absence of the master weaver, new carpet weavers use the talim to guide them. In other instances, if the weavers at hand are experienced in weaving a particular carpet design with a specific set of colors, the talim is not used at all. Just like the master weaver, they use the scrolls of their memory to guide them. This is a common occurrence in designs of smaller tribal rugs which are often handed down from generation to generation, from teacher to pupil.

2. Hand-knotting on the Loom

Clip from "Kashmir Carpet Weaving - Knotting Process". Filmed in Kashmir.
Video published on March 29, 2017 on the Sandeep Sanguru channel on YouTube.

Weaving a hand-knotted rug requires a great deal of skill and often a lot of time to produce. The quality and very often the cost of a hand-knotted rug is determined by the number of knots per square inch. In this case, a higher density means better quality. A complex pattern can require very dense knotting, and thus it can take a long time to produce. An average weaver can tie about 10,000 knots per day. So you can imagine how long it can take to complete one rug, especially if it happens to be a large one. The time involved in making it also accounts for hand-knotted rugs costing more on average than hand-tufted rugs.

When hand knotting rugs, the weaver knots a continuous strand of yarn onto itself. After creating about ten wefts, the weaver is ready to start the bulk of the work. Using a piece of wool or silk, he or she takes one or two warps in the same row and ties a knot around them. The ends of the knot become the pile of the rug. The weaver works meticulously, knot by knot, until the pattern is complete. Hand-knotting is the most intricate, labor-intensive rug weaving process in use today. Below is a brief break down of the types of knots that have been most utilized in the last few centuries in hand-knotted rug production:

Five knot styles used in the handmade rug industry.
Illustrator: de Sá Bashir, Samina (2018, June 5)
Five types of handmade rug knots. Retrieved from the Bashir Persian Rugs Collection

A. Ghiordes Knots:

To make a Turkish knot, the yarn is passed between two adjacent warps, brought back under one, wrapped around both forming a collar, then pulled through the center so that both ends emerge between the warps. This type of knots is also referred to as the Turkish Knot or Symmetrical Knot.

B. Senneh Knots:

The Persian knot is used for finer rugs. The yarn is wrapped around only one warp, then passed behind the adjacent warp so that it divides the two ends of the yarn. The Persian knot may open on the left or the right, and rugs woven with this knot are generally more accurate and symmetrical. This type of knots is also referred to as the Persian Knot or Asymmetrical Knot.

C. Tibetan Knots:

Like the name, this type of knot is used for carpets generally made in Tibet. A temporary rod which establishes the length of pile is put in front of the warp. A continuous yarn is looped around two warps and then once around the rod. When a row of loops is finished, then the loops are cut to construct the knots.

D. Jutfi Knots:

The Jufti knot is used for less finer rugs. This knot can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. The knot is usually tied over four warps making the weaving process faster.

E. Spanish Knots:

Another kind of knotting, which is much less common than the Persian or the Turkish — or the Jufti — is a knot that's tied around a single warp. This method is almost used exclusively in Spanish carpets. and has been since the sixteenth century. The Spanish knot is tied on every other warp thread, and these are alternated with each row.

3. Cutting & Clipping

As the rug being woven, the ends of each knot are roughly cut with a knife when the knot is inserted in the foundation. Sometimes another trimming takes place when each row of knots is completed or after several rows have been worked. After the whole rug is finished, it’s carefully sheared once again to give it a uniform thickness. This final shearing Is done either by laying the rug flat on the ground or by draping it over a beam. In the rug workshops and factories, a special worker is usually trained to perform this job. After all, an expert shearing finishes off the rug- but a botched shearing can ruin months of painstaking labor.

Certain rugs, particularly those from India and China, are also embossed or incised. In the process, a groove is cut partly through the pile where different colors meet. This creates a shadow when light shines on the carpet, accenting certain elements of the design. In finer rugs, these accents are produced by outlining designs with a single row of knots in a contrasting color. However, carpets that are embossed tend to be those with relatively simple designs, rugs that would have a flat appearance if they weren’t given these variations in the depth of the pile.

Indian men perform traditional carpet trimming. Some of the most impressive examples of paramount workmanship on antique rugs are seen on rugs made in Agra, India.
Photographer: Karapancev, Zoran (2017, February 11)
Indian men perform traditional carpet trimming.

4. Final Washing

After the rug is clipped, it's washed to remove all remaining detergent, dirt and yarn particles that may have collected during the weaving and to give the finished rug its luster. The rug is laid flat on the ground, and then fresh water is poured over it. The rug washers then use a wood plank, sharpened on one edge, to force the water through the rug pile. This removes impurities picked up during the creation process. In a great many areas, certain chemicals are added to the water when the rug is cleaned.

This chemical wash, which is also called a reduction bath, removes short, staple pile fibers that absorb light. It also softens the tones of the colors in the rug. Even though today's dyes are colorfast synthetics, they can be harsh and raw without chemical washing, which approximates shades that were once gained only by years of use. Chemical washing may occur in the country where the rug is made or at a regional collection center. It's also often done after the rugs have arrived in North America.

Once the washing is complete, the rug then lies in the sunlight until it is completely dry. The rug is laid outside in either a large courtyard on clean river rocks to dry, or in some cases, hung out to dry. The backs of the carpets are hit with fire to seal the knots and keep them from becoming loose. Once they are dry, the process of getting them ready for sale begins.

5. Finishing

Pakistani rug artisans using their paint brushes to  perform some minor color touch ups with vegetable dyes on a hand-knotted Oushak style rug.
Photographer: de Sá Bashir, Samina (2015, November 1)
Pakistani rug artisans performing minor color touch ups with vegetable dyes. Retrieved from the Bashir Persian Rugs Collection

A. Shaving & Leveling:

Sometimes shaving is done by hand and at other times a special machine is used to shave and level the rug across its entire width and length. This process also brings out the details of the weave and bold colors. Next, the design of the rug is defined using a steel spike to separate the pattern and colors. Lastly, the rug is rolled, packaged and shipped for sale.

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Photographer: Chaturvedi, Vikas (2016, February 23)
Remaining protruding threads of wool are manually trimmed with a pair of scissors.

B. Fringing:

In hand-knotted rugs, the fringes are necessary, as they represent the edge of the “backbone” fibers of the rug. While many people enjoy the look of an area rug with fringe, there are many others who find it to be a nuisance. It makes the rug difficult to vacuum, for example, as the ends get sucked into the vacuum and tangled. The fringe is also easily stained or soiled, and usually difficult to clean. Fringing is usually more expensive than either binding or serging, which are finishing methods applied to machine made rugs.

C. Binding:

Binding is an optional feature which is added by hand to a rug. Not all hand-knotted manufacturers include it in the rugs they sell. The binding is usually made out of leather/leatherette strip. It is hand-stitched under the free edges of the rug in order to provide additional support. This additional support ensures that:

  • the edges of the rug do not curl inwards;
  • reinforcement of the sides is enabled to provide protection against wear and tear;
  • the rug is kept flat on the floor;

High end rug merchants that care about the final finishing steps of a carpet will insist their suppliers add this leatherette strip to the carpet.

Pakistani rug artisans binding leather strips onto the edges of a carpet to reinforce it.
Photographer: de Sá Bashir, Samina (2016, October 17)
Pakistani rug artisans binding leather strips onto the edges of a carpet to reinforce it. Retrieved from the Bashir Persian Rugs Collection

6. Inspection

Once a hand-knotted rug is dry, the process of getting it ready for sale begins. It is inspected repeatedly at every step in the process. This results in finding small errors in the pattern, which are corrected by an assigned team. Each rug is stretched to make sure it is exactly straight and true to measurements. Rows are checked to make sure it lines up the way it is supposed to. It is cleaned after each process.

A hand-knotted Pakistani area rug called the Pende Bokhara and made of pure wool.
Photographer: Tahar, Abdel (2018, May 23)
A hand-knotted Pende Bokhara Rug. Retrieved from the Bashir Persian Rugs Collection

7. Packing

Once the completed flat-woven rug is inspected, the process of getting it packed and sent to overseas buyers begins. It is important to note that packing is not always the same and will vary from one supplier to another. Generally however, most rug suppliers will provide double layered packing. In other words, once the rug is rolled up, it is first wrapped in plastic (usually transparent Polythene) followed by an outer, tougher layer of jute sacking or white fiber cloth. This will allow the rolled rug to be free from the moisture and from getting damaged during the shipment. In the case of more professional and experienced sellers, the rug is rolled with center support of cardboard tube or plastic pipe to avoid wrinkles or bending in transit via sea or by air.