Wool is certainly the most used material to produce knotted handiworks. Being able to choose and work with it is very important as the quality of yarn strongly affects the softness and the resistance of the carpet and it also determines the brightness of the colours and patterns. It is always better to use a fleece that is not too curly, otherwise it is frequently necessary to treat the fleece with artificial substances that can alter their resistance.
Furthermore, it is important to carry out the shearing at a specific period during the year ideally spring or the end of summer.
Once sheared, the wool is submitted to a washing process, necessary to remove all impurities and to degrease it.
The most expert craftsmen know this treatment does not have to be too drastic as the correct percentage of grease makes the yarns particularly soft. Once washed, the wool is dried with care, possibly through exposure to the sun, and then it is teased and spun. In modern processes, it is very common that this operation is done mechanically.
However, spinning by hand is always the best as this allows the elimination of any irregularity of the fibre, making it very compact and suitable for each kind of weaving.
Silk, an animal fiber made from the cocoons of silkworms, is an extremely costly and luxurious material for textile and rug production. Silk cultivation began in ancient China where it was a jealously guarded secret.
Eventually its use spread to Persia and then to Byzantium and Europe.
The expense notwithstanding, silk pile rugs, even those with silk foundations as well, are not uncommon, although they tend to be high quality pieces in the tradition of court art.
Extremely luxurious nomadic weavings will also have some of the pile made in silk. The attraction of silk resides in the fineness of its fibers which are remarkably soft, as well as in it's luminous, reflective quality.
Because of this the effect of color on silk is far more intense and brilliant than the effect of the same dye on even the finest wool.
Silk, however, is much more delicate and less durable than wool.
Consequently, many less silk rugs are well preserved. This rarity, as well as the basic cost, places antique silk pieces among the most expensive rugs.
Hemp fibres are obtained by subjecting the stalks to a series of operations—including retting, drying, and crushing—and a shaking process that completes separation from the woody portion, releasing the long, fairly straight fibre, or line.
The fibre strands, usually over 5.8 feet (1.8 metres) long, are made of individual cylindrical cells with an irregular surface. The fibre, longer and less flexible than flax, is usually yellowish, greenish, or a dark brown or gray and, because it is not easily bleached to sufficiently light shades, is rarely dyed. It is strong and durable and is used for cordage—e.g., twine, yarn, rope, cable, and string—and for artificial sponges and such coarse fabrics as sacking (burlap) and canvas. In Italy some hemp receives special processing, producing whitish colour and attractive lustre, and is used to make fabric similar to linen. Other plant fibres used for cordage have been incorrectly called hemp, but only the hemp plant yields true hemp.
Linen is one of the oldest textile fibres and it is valued for its strength, lustre, durability, and moisture absorbency.
It is resistant to attack by microorganisms, and its smooth surface repels soil. It is stronger than cotton, dries more quickly, and is more slowly affected by exposure to sunlight.
It can be bleached to a pure white but dyeing is somewhat difficult because the fibres are not readily penetrated. Fine grades of linen are made into woven fabrics and laces for apparel and household furnishings.
Lower grades are used for products requiring strength and ability to withstand moisture—such as canvas, twine, fire hose, bagging, and, of course, rugs and carpets.
Banana silk (abaca)
The fibre-bearing outer layer is usually removed from the petiole by an operation in which strips, or tuxies, are freed at one end and pulled off.
In the cleaning operation that follows, pulpy material is scraped away by hand or machine, freeing the fibre strands, which are dried in the sunThe strands average 1 to 3 m in length, depending on petiole size and the processing method used.
The lustrous fibre ranges in colour from white through brown, red, purple, or black, depending on plant variety and stalk position; the strongest fibres come from the outer sheats.
Abaca fibre is valued for its exceptional strength, flexibility and resistance, therefore it is used in carpets, table mats, and paper.
The plant’s inner fibres can be used without spinning to manufacture lightweight, strong fabrics, mainly used locally for garments, hats, and shoes.
Despite the wide use of synthetic colours, the most prestigious manufactures still make use of natural colours, extracted and prepared in accordance with very ancient methods.
However, at the end of nineteenth century, the use of synthetic colours made it possible to widen the chromatic range. Today the best manufacturers use both techniques.
The loom is the most used tool allowing the creation of pieces of various dimensions. It has a solid and steady structure, formed by two lateral uprights and by two closing beams.
The upper heddle separates the warp yarns on proper seats fixed to the uprights while the lower one is passed through the warps.
There are also other auxiliary tools, mainly necessary during the knotting phase, like, for example, the characteristic blades having a hooked point. They are useful to cut the knots.
A comb is used to fix and close the wefts of the knots; this working phase is carried out with absolute accuracy.
When the work is finished, it is necessary to carry out careful shaving that is still done by skilled shearers, expert in handling scissors and sharp blades.
The carpet’s structure
In the carpet structure, the warp constitutes the bearing part of the framework, a kind of skeleton that must be produced with absolute accuracy to avoid defects to the final product, such as humps and warpings.
The best materials to use are undoubtedly silk and cotton, which are highly resistant and give a strong textile strength. To create the warp, the yarns are tightened on the beam equidistantly; each one creates a chain that, once finished, appears in the single yarns on the fringe. A precious rug always has a high number of warp chains.
The weft thread passes through the warp and this structure is also useful to tie up knots.
Once the work is finished, it must not be noticed, therefore, it is preferable to hide it under a higher fleece.
The weft thread can be made in wool or in cotton; also silk is an excellent material but, usually, it is used for valuable pieces due to the high costs.
Fringes are the visible part of the warp chains and obviously are exposed to wear.
Their yarns can be knotted in different ways depending on the producing country; therefore, sometimes, they are an excellent indication to discover the place of origin.
The fleece is composed of the cut nooses of knots and it is obtained during the shearing phase.
This is extremely important to show the patterns precisely. An uneven or too long shearing could, in fact, compromise the clarity of the decorative structure.
Symmetric knot (Ghiorde)
The symmetrical knot is used in Turkey, the Caucasus and Iran by Turkish and Kurdish tribes.
It is also used in some European rugs. To form this knot, yarn is passed over two neighboring warp strands.
Each end of the yarn is then wrapped behind one warp and brought back to the surface in the middle of the two warps.
Asymmetric knot (persian or Senneh)
The asymmetrical knot is used in Iran, India, Turkey, Egypt and China.
To form this knot, yarn is wrapped around one warp strand and then passed under the neighboring warp strand and brought back to the surface. With this type of knot a finer weave can be created.
In Tibet, a distinctive rug-weaving technique is used.
A temporary rod which establishes the length of pile is put in front of the warp .
A continuous yarn is looped around two warps and then once around the rod.
When a row of loops is finished, then the loops are cut to construct the knots.
The selvedges correspond to the hem along the edges, where there is no fringe, and are composed of warp chains where knots are not tied.