Understanding Traditional Rugs

Understanding Traditional Rugs

This guide is designed to simplify your purchase of an Area or traditional rug to make your home more beautiful. There are many things to consider when investing in a traditional rug. Here are some tips and guidelines for judging the quality of any rug.

Machine or Handmade?

The fringe is your first clue that a rug made be machine made. If the fringe is sewn on and not woven, the rug is probably machine made. Also, the pile of a handmade rug is made of tufts of yarn that have been individually tied into the carpet. These show up as little individual squares. Machine made rugs lack this kind of definition.

Wool Quality:

An important factor in judging a rug will be the quality of the wool. The quality is determined by the breed of sheep, as well as what they eat, drink and altitude from which they are raised. Massage the wool between your fingers. Does it feel strong, subtle and rich? Or is it dry and crisp to the touch? Watch out for dead wool or “tabatchi”. This is wool shorn from dead sheep and is very brittle and will wear out in a very short time. Rub your hand firmly over a spot on the carpet a few times if you have more then a tiny bit of loose wool fiber, it is a likely that the rug is made of “tabatchi” wool. Avoid this rug because in a few years it will lose all its pile and be worthless. Good wool comes from lamb’s neck and under the arms. It feels almost like velvet, but is exceptionally strong.


Are the colors pleasing to your eye? Will they work with the other furnishings in your home or office? This is a subjective matter, but remember, you will have the rug for a long time. Choose colors that will work for you.

Knot Count:

Many dealers try to sell knot count as the only measure of quality. It is true, the higher the knot count a rug has, the longer it takes to make. But there are many other factors that determine quality. Knot counts in rugs can vary from as low as 40 per square inch to high as 1200. Think of knot counts as pixels on a screen. The finer the knot count, the higher the resolution. So higher knot counts work best for rugs with a great amount of detail. Curvilinear designs need higher knot counts. Geometric designs can often do with far lower counts. An average weaver can tie between 4,000 and 8,000 knots a day. This means that a 9×12 carpet woven at 350 knots per square inch can take over two years to make.


Pile density varies from one rug to the next. The thickness can affect the longevity of a carpet. Usually, the tighter and denser pile is, the better the rug will wear. Though some rugs today have thin pile, as long as a rug has good body, your purchase should be sound. Take your fingers and try to wiggle them into the pile. Is it difficult to work them all the way to the bottom of the pile? If so the carpet is dense and likely to wear well.


Look carefully over the front and back for repairs, worn places, moth damage or other signs of trouble. If a rug has repair, is it obvious, or does it blend almost unnoticeably? Turn the rug over and pinch the back of the rug in several places. If you notice spots that are dry and crackle when pinched, they probably have dry rot from improper drying at some point in the carpet’s past. This weakens the foundation of the rug, leading to repairs later on.