We ALL love a unique, hand-made rug. Whether antique or newly made, statement piece or a backdrop to your room, hand-made rugs have adorned homes around the world for centuries. But, we all especially love a hand-made rug with an attractive price tag. Don’t we?
I am sure you have seen the many hand-made rugs for as little as $300 on big, international websites. At the same time, there are machine-made rugs that cost $5000 or more. Why? Did you just strike a great deal, are you paying for brand reputation, or is there maybe something not very kosher about the entire business? In this article, I expand in great detail on why hand-made rugs can be so cheap, while the most expensive hand-made rug was sold for a whopping $33 million. Most importantly, I lay out all the different things to watch out for next time you buy yourself a hand-made rug.
The nature of price differences
It is important to know that rugs, just like any other object in the homewares category, have many different levels of quality. To illustrate, a solid wooden wardrobe and an MDF one fulfill the same function, yet one will likely last 5 generations while the other might not survive a single move to another house or even another room! And, you can be sure, the solid wooden one will cost you more as well. With rugs, this is exactly the same. The quality of the wool, cotton and dyestuffs play a big role in determining the price of a beautiful rug. In this article, you can read more about rug materials and why it’s important to know. With antique rugs, there is a whole different array of price determination that is also linked to popularity, rarity, age and origin. This is wholly market-based and therefore not something I will expand on in this article. Read more about antique rug pricing here.
Polyester and other synthetic materials
Traditionally, rugs are made of wool or silk pile, with a warp and weft that is made of either wool, silk or cotton. When buying a rug, this is often mentioned as “wool on wool”, “wool on cotton” or “silk on silk”, for example. To temper costs a little bit, there is an increase in the use of polyester thread, or a thread that is a mix of polyester and cotton/wool for both the pile and the warp. It might seem like a minor inconvenience, but the impact is profound.
Not only does it not make the rug 100% bio-degradable, it also release micro-plastics into the world every time the rug is washed. The rug will be noticeable less soft than a wool on wool rug, and might even irritate your skin when walking on the rug without socks. Additionally, the polyester in the thread does affect the durability of the rug, and you will have a higher chance of ‘breaking’ a rug when folding it, and thus a need for repairs. This is the case because wool and cotton fibers are a lot more bendy than polyester. Lastly, while wool is a very fire-retardant material, the usage of polyester makes your rug a lot more susceptible to fire damage than if it were completely polyester-free.
How to check if the rug you wish to buy has polyester bits in it? Ask the shop owner if you can burn part of the warp that has been braided at the ends of the rug. If it catches fire fast and soe thread seems to remain after burning, you are sure it is some kind of polyester fibre that has been added.
Synthetic, Hazardous Dyes
Fake Antiques + Chemical Treatment
Have you ever wondered whether those antique rugs on sale are truly antique? Or how a website can have several of the same antique rug in stock? Is your skepticism justified? The answer is YES, your doubt and skepticism are completely valid. ‘Antique washing’ is a very common practice, and I have often received (and always declined) requests from traders around the world to send them the cheapest, semi-broken, thrown-out rugs that they can wash with acidic solutions to create a vintage look and then sell it for 4-figure sums in a boutique shop in New York City (or anywhere else, frankly). These rugs are often not older than 30 years, which is not considered antique in the oriental rug world. What also happens, is that rugs are knotted with cheap materials and then also being washed with acidic solutions, treated with razors to make them look worn or even run over by a car multiple times to make them seem antique. I wrote an entire post on how to recognise real antique rugs from fake ones if you want to learn about how to recognise them yourself. If you don’t want to bother or you’re not sure you will judge the rug adequately, make sure you buy your rug from a trusted seller with good reviews and transparancy about their work.
Forced & Child Labour
This is one of the very dark and unfortunate realities of the Oriental rug industry. Admittedly, historically children did use to weave rugs, but in a communal nomadic setting, often together with their parents. This is not in any way comparable to the forced child labour we see particularly in India, Pakistan and China today. Children, due to their small and flexible hands, are very much in demand in the fake-Persian rug businesses and especially when it comes to silk rugs, which are extra fine. What’s worse, often times it is even bonded labor, with kids barely able to leave the room where they sleep, eat and weave all day. Although there are certification programmes like Goodweave that reassure the customer the rug they are buying is child labour-free, these unfortunately rarely reach the many production companies that sell cheaper-tier rugs. So, it is unfortunately rather difficult to trace back whether a specific rug is tainted with children’s rights abuse, but buying from a trusted seller with a transparent record, is a good place to start.
Hand-made vs hand-finished
If you should do one thing when buying a hand-made rug is to turn it and check out the back-side. First of all, they might be lying to you and it could be a machine-made rug. Especially if buying from private sellers through places like Facebook Marketplace, be aware that sellers don’t always know what they’re talking about. There are several established brand that make high-quality, wool rugs with oriental designs, but that are machine-made. Examples are Karastan and Louis de Poortere. These are excellent options if you want high quality but don’t have the budget for hand-made, but they are really not the same and thus caution is required! You’ll also sometimes see ‘hand-finished’ as a label on a rug. This does not mean hand-made, but is often used as a smart trick into making you believe it’s a hand-crafted product. It often means that only the braided ends at the end of a rug are braided by hand, or that out of every so many knots, one is done by hand. Remember, true hand-made rugs always have a certificate of origin. And if the certificate contains knot count, date of production and place of production, even better.
Are you wary of buying a hand-made rug by yourself and need advice? Do not hesitate to book a one-on-one call with me where we discuss your personal rug needs and help with sourcing the perfect rug from a trustworthy source.