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Understanding Vintage Rugs

This January, I led a four-week Rug Education series to help provide more transparency to the allusive and often confusing vintage rug industry. You can catch up on the series in my Instagram Story Highlights, but I’m providing a more comprehensive explanation here on the blog. To help find your perfect vintage rug, you'll need to understand the basics like identifying the age, understanding the pile, and learning how vintage rugs are made (by hand!). This fundamental knowledge will help ensure you are investing in a quality piece that will transition throughout your home for years to come.

How to spot a great vintage rug

Foundational Refresh: Basics of Vintage Rugs

When is a rug vintage, antique, or just used?

The most frequently asked question when it comes to shopping for vintage rugs is “What makes a rug vintage?” Vintage rugs are at least 30 years old. These rugs are the most commonly found in the “vintage rug” market. “Antique” rugs, however, are at least 100 years old. Not all used rugs are vintage, not all vintage rugs are antiques, and not all vintage rugs are special. These terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably in the world of online rug stores, but actually have a definitive 70 year (or more) difference!  Most of the vintage rugs you'll find in my shop are semi-antique: rugs sourced from the 1920s to 1930s, roughly 100 years from now.

Understanding the age of your rug

Mislabeling a rug's age is a widespread issue both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. I see it most frequently in Etsy or eBay stores from overseas, intentionally misrepresenting a rug's age to drive traffic and sales based on current design trends. Additionally, rug age is commonly mislabelled in designer-owned stores that carry rugs (versus a dedicated rug shop). In designer-owned stores, I am confident this is unintentional, and due to aesthetically-informed purchasers getting some bad or misleading information from their suppliers.  To combat this in my own shop, I meet biweekly with a certified rug appraiser to ensure I’m always listing accurately with fair pricing. As you shop for the perfect vintage or antique rug, make sure to look for a rug store with a certified appraiser available to help you invest with confidence.

How can you tell if a vintage rug is handmade?

This is actually one of the easiest steps in Rug 101. Look at the back of the rug. The same pattern should appear on both sides. If you see a cloth or canvas backing, that rug was not hand-made. (Hand-tufted rugs, made using a tufting gun, will have a canvas backing, too. This is a different technique that glues tufts of wool to a rug; it is not truly hand-made and is not at all the same process used for hand-knotted vintage rugs like the ones in this shop.)

What makes a rug vintage

How were vintage rugs made by hand?

Hand-made pile rugs are knotted on a loom and the width of that loom determines the maximum width of the rug. Before the weaving of the rug even begins, parallel threads are attached to the loom lengthwise and pulled tightly. To create the rug's pile, the weaver ties knots around these threads lengthwise, referred to as the warp. This warp is also what creates the rugs fringe on either end.

Then, the pile threads (most often made of wool) are knotted around the warp strings. Between each row of knotted pile, the weaver threads 1-2 rows of thread called weft across the rug. Using the loom’s “shuttle”, the weaver pushes these threads down against the pile so the construction is tight and even in perfect rows. In all, weaving one 8x10 rug can take a professional weaver months to complete, averaging 10,000-12,000 hand knots per day.

Understanding the Pile of a Rug

Generally, vintage rugs' pile were clipped at the time of construction to make the pile even and the rug's design crisp and clear. The length of pile that the rug has been trimmed to varies by rug styles, with tribal rugs often having longer pile than city or village styles. Many rugs made by manufacturers today are replicating the same concept, shaving down their pile to make the rugs appear older than they actually are.  Beware that wear does not necessarily come from age, and may not be a fair indicator of the rug's age, history, or worth.

Understanding vintage rugs

What are the different piles of a vintage rug?

Descending from most plush to flattest weave, vintage rugs fall into the following rug pile categories. Examples of those styles are below, but there are hundreds of styles -- this is just a smattering!

High Pile Rugs: Morrocan berber rugs, beni ourain rugs, Turkish Tulu rugs (like The Lazo)

Medium Pile Rugs: Serab, some caucasian rugs, some heriz rugs, and some sarouk rugs

Low Pile Rugs: Mahal rugs (like The Diana), malayers (like the Penn, Lennox, or Howard), ferehans, dorosh (such as Eloise), kermans (like the Truxton), Turkish oushak rugs and some kurdish rugs

Shaved Pile Rugs: Tabriz rugs (like the Brita), Turkish Sivas, Turkish Burdur rugs

No Pile Rugs, also known as flatweave: Turkish, Persian or Moroccan Kilim rugs and Soumak rugs


How “low” is a low pile rug?

Low pile rugs are a very popular style right now in design. Mahal, malayer, ferehan, dorosh, kerman, turkish oushak and some kurdish rugs are examples of low pile rugs. Low and shaved style pile rugs will not be cushioned underfoot, but are often still soft to the touch from their soft wool pile. You can add a quality rug pad to protect your low pile rug, add more cushion, and help keep it in place. All Passerine Home vintage rugs are now available with an option to add on a custom rug pad with your purchase to guarantee the perfect fit.


Understanding vintage rug pile

 To understand and identify the origin of your vintage rug, please refer to my rug origin guide here in the first part of my rug education series. You can always tune in on Instagram for a  more in depth understanding of vintage and antique rugs, my passion for them, and my shared knowledge! Shop my carefully curated collection of vintage and antique rugs here or inquire about our custom vintage rug sourcing services to let me assist in finding the perfect piece.

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