Rug Buying Tips

Rug making is an ancient tradition that dates back at least 3,000 years. Purchasing a handmade rug can be daunting, yet rewarding: an instant heirloom. Here are some tips to guide you through the rug buying process.

  1. The Portrait of Excellence.


    While some irregularity is part and parcel of being hand-made, a good rug lies flat and straight on the floor and is reasonably regular in its shape. It has lively, lustrous wool or fiber. Its colors are in balance, having neither faded nor bled. It has been intelligently "finished" so that it is not washed out, unnaturally shiny, or unpleasantly bright and harsh. Above all, the rug has a certain sophisticated quality, an elan that speaks of its having been designed and woven by skilled artisans.

  2. How to Find a Quality Rug.

    Perhaps the single most important step in buying a good rug is to find a rug dealer you can trust. Some of the finest, most ethical dealers in the country can be located on this site. The best rug dealers are born educators who love to share their knowledge with you and guide you without bullying. They will encourage you to take rugs home on approval without obligation. They are very concerned about child labor in the rug industry and carefully avoid rugs made under suspect conditions. Trust yourself. If you feel uncomfortable with a dealer, move on.

  3. Do Prep Work.

    First, measure the area the rug will cover. Remember, you should probably have a border of flooring all the way around the rug. Allow for a range of sizes; the greater the range, the more choices you will have. Consider whether you prefer traditional rugs or those with contemporary designs. To guide your decision, one option is to retain an interior designer. Designers can be wonderful allies in finding the right rugs. But remember, their focus is likely to be on "the look." The rug dealer’s focus will be on quality. Yours will be on what you like. Listen to all, but mostly to yourself.

  4. Buy Rugs Made By Adult Artisans.


    The rugs most likely to have been made from child labor are the cheapest Indian, Nepalese and Afghan rugs. Rugs of exceptional quality are the least likely to have been made with child labor. The best way to assure that your rug is child-labor-free is to look for the GoodWeave® label. Click here to explore the full range of GoodWeave buying options.

  5. Additional Points to Consider.

    Besides the considerations above, there are also questions that are more controversial, more subjective or more difficult to answer.

    Are Finely Knotted Rugs Better? Rugs are available in myriad densities, typically ranging from up to 30 knots per inch (very coarse) to 290 knots per inch (very fine). Finely knotted or finely woven rugs are usually the most desirable. Curved lines in a rug’s design can be "drawn" more smoothly and gracefully in a rug with many knots per square inch, just as a lot of pixels in a television screen allow for more natural looking lines. And rugs that are very finely knotted have such dense surfaces that light is attractively reflected from them.

    Modern or Traditional? If you’re interested in traditional Persian or Tribal rug designs, you may consider purchasing an antique rug through a respected dealer. You may also find new rugs that look old, at a lower price. Contemporary designs are widely available, many of which have been adapted from old techniques and styles.

    Hand-Knotted, Hand-Tufted or Flat-Weave? Hand-knotted rugs tend to be higher in quality because of the intensive labor required. Hand-tufted rugs, which involve stenciling a pattern on the backing of the rug and then threading yarns into the design, are less expensive. Flat-weave rugs are also less expensive because they require less labor.

    Natural or Synthetic Dyes? In antique rugs, natural dyes are more desirable than synthetic. Natural dyes add roughly 30 percent to the cost of a rug, but they also add to its charm and its value. However, the synthetic dyes used today are available in an infinite array of colors and shades and hold their color well over time. It is impossible without expensive laboratory analysis to be certain whether a given dye is natural or synthetic.


    Hand-Spun or Machine-Spun Wool? Though some prefer the uniformity of machine-spun wool, most collectors and connoisseurs value the effect produced by hand-spun wool. When spun by hand, yarn absorbs more dye where it is loosely spun and less dye where it is spun tightly, thus producing pleasant variegation in the colors of a rug.

    Can You Judge Quality by Height of the Pile? Inexperienced rug buyers sometimes mistake a thick pile for quality. In fact, the finest rugs often are the thinnest. Still, if a rug is going to take significant traffic, it should have plenty of body.

    GoodWeave thanks Emmett Eiland for his significant contribution to this guide. Emmett has operated an Oriental rug business in Berkeley, California, since 1969. He has staged exhibitions of Oriental rugs, made films on the art of Oriental rug repair and on rug weaving in Afghanistan, traveled extensively in Central Asia, published a book on Oriental rugs and written a number of articles for Oriental rug journals. More in-depth information on these and other issues surrounding the purchase of rugs may be found in Eiland’s book Oriental Rugs Today (Berkeley Hills Books, 2003).

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