Buying Oriental Rugs – A Beginner’s Guide

From Casablanca to Canton, carpets have been woven for a thousand years or more. Nomadic peoples, roaming the wilds of Central Asia's mountains and high plateaus, developed techniques of knotting wool to make rugs. As the yarn was twined together, magical designs and symbols, as well as the natural beauty tribes would see around them, would be blended to create a unique array of pattern, texture and color. These wandering clans, roving the wilderness of North Africa and Asia, extracted their rich hues of brown and red from walnut shells and pomegranate skins. Other craftsmen, working in the tranquil backstreets of fabled cities such as Fez and Istanbul, would experiment with exciting schemes of motifs.

Why an Oriental Carpet?

A handmade Oriental carpet is as much a piece of furniture as a fine desk or a loved bookcase. A simple carpet can lend to a drab room a magical glow, creating a particular mood and ambience. Each carpet different from the next, has the own intrinsic character, its own special feel and unique design. However, purchasing a carpet has always been something of a risky business. The experience is all too frequently shrouded with guesswork and luck. Questions such as: "Is this carpet good quality?", "Is it synthetic?" or "Am I paying too much?" tend to crop up just as you hand over the traveler’s cheques. Unscrupulous dealers with their smooth sales talk, baffling technical terms and unorthodox methods can transform what should be a pleasurable buying of a carpet into a frenzied nightmare. You can't learn all there is to know in a few minutes, but we can certainly help you to become at least a little "rug‐wise". Pick up a few facts, act in a certain way in negotiations, and you will automatically sidestep many of the pitfalls.


There are so many thousands of different carpet varieties, that it is useful to sub‐divide them into a couple of more manageable divisions. Two very different kinds of carpet are made. One is made with the Turkish knot, and the other is formed with what is known as the Persian knot. Hundreds of thousands of knots are tied side by side to form a tufted pile. Generally speaking, the closer the knots are together, the higher the quality.

Tribal or Workshop?

Many tribal carpets bear the precise name of their tribes such as Bakhtiari, Baluchi or Afshar. Their designs are frequently rougher, more angular than those of city carpets. They are often, and until very recently especially, made to be used only by the members of the clan or tribe. Only in hard economic times was a carpet sold to outsiders. Carpets made in a city are crafted to a much more rigorous system of specific styles and designs, using more measured motifs and regular colors. Their lines are generally more rounded, the patterns more flowery, than those of the tribal clans. The weavers are normally paid by the hour, or by the week: a fast weaver can tie somewhere in the region of 1000 knots an hour, yet a medium size carpet still takes up to eighteen months or more to complete.

Get the feel first

Before you set off to buy a carpet, you must prepare. One good method is to get a book about carpets. Flick through the pages and see what immediately appeals to you. If you are not in a great hurry, try leaving the book open for a couple of days at a certain page to see if the picture of a particular style fits the room. In any case, look at the pictures with great care. Examine the varying systems of pattern: you will immediately see that a carpet made in Baluchistan is very different from one crafted in Istanbul.

Posing as an expert!

To avoid making the wrong choice you must make the seller think you are a serious expert. He will conclude your knowledge and level of expertise from the way you explore a rug, the questions you ask and even from the questions that you don't ask. A few facts and figures are handy to know. A crafty dealer will try to trip up by slipping baffling words into the conversation in an attempt to fluster you.

Baffling words

For instance, Pushi, Zaranim and Dozar are words that indicate the size of the rug. Kaba describes a coarse carpet, while Kurk is very high quality wool. The popular octagonal shape, called Filpai (pronounced Feelpoy) means "Elephant Foot". Herati is a very common Persian design, which usually has a central floral pattern with symmetrical floral corner pieces. It is also sometimes known as Mari, the fish pattern. Gul simply means "Flower" in Persian: it’s often a stylised octagonal flower shape. Boteh is Paisley, and has great significance throughout Asia: it’s seen as a harbinger of good fortune. Mihrab is the Central Arch, which is very common in smaller rugs, used for kneeling in prayer. Be careful of terminology and don't be taken in by it. I once heard a tourist in Middle East being told that the carpet in question was a genuine Khalis Baftagi, which in Persian means "entirely woven"!

Don't get carried away

The first golden rule of getting rug‐wise is not to buy anything on the first visit, or from the first shop you come across. Check out what everyone has to offer: look through their stocks and ask prices. Go home and sleep on it before committing to making a definite choice. Most importantly: don't be sucked in by the dealer's tricks. He may bring you endless cups of tea, pull dozens of rugs down for you to inspect, or imply you can't afford them. One expert of rug‐lore I know insists that when a salesman uses such ploys you must react accordingly!

End note

After the first visit to the dealer's "den" you will begin to look like an expert. Remember to always act with aplomb: use a cool, dignified approach. Learn from the salesman. Look at the way he turns the carpets over, how he examines the underside, watch the movements he makes when he appraises it. Another golden rule is, never buy a carpet from someone who insists extravagantly about the favor he is doing you. Fly by night rug dealers will cause problems later. Be sure to get a certificate of origin [we provide certificate of origin] for the carpet, and the check that the import taxes of your own country aren't overly bothering. If you take into account all those points mentioned above, you'll definitely catch a good deal and not to mention an exciting carpet buying experience. Wish you luck hunting down the great carpet for yourself!