Terms Related to Rugs/Rug-Making

You might be as surprised as I was to realize just how many different terms are used when it comes to rugs and rug-making!

This terminology list is like a mini-course on rugs. I tried to cover the basics and beyond, so you’ll find all sorts of terms here, even the ones that seem rather self-explanatory.

More than 120 rug-related terms are listed in alphabetical order, allowing you to scan down the list and easily find the ones of interest.

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Abrash is a term that refers to slight variations in the color and tone of large color fields in hand-made Persian rugs. This can come about when there is a break in the rug-making process due to the nomadic rug-maker changing locations. It can also happen when a rug-maker waits for a new ‘crop’ of wool or when there is a change to the availability of certain plants that are used for making dyes. These slight differences add charm and authenticity to a hand-made Persian rug.

Acrylic is a man-made fiber that is used as a lower-priced alternative to wool.

Afshan means scattered and it is the Persian name for the all-over layout.

Age simply indicates how old a rug is, and which major classification the rug belongs in:

  • Contemporary - rugs less than 25 years old
  • Semi-antique - rugs between 25 and 60 years old
  • Antique - rugs over 60 years of age

All-Over Design
A rug with an all-over layout does not have a central or dominant design. Instead, the motif is spread symmetrically throughout the rug.

Aniline Dyes
These were the first synthetic dyes used in dyeing rug materials. First developed in the 1850’s, aniline dyes faded quickly from exposure to light and water. Because of this, they were replaced with Chrome dyes in all rug-making countries.

Antique Wash
This is a process that uses a chemical wash on a rug to imitate an antique look.

A rug treatment that effectively reduces the effects of static electricity build-up in a rug.

This refers to detailed patterns of intertwining branches, flowers, leaves and vines that could be woven in either geometric or curved patterns.

Art Deco
Art Deco was a style of architecture and interior design, popular from about 1925 to 1940, which had geometrical designs and bold colors as the main characteristics.

Art Nouveau
This style of art, architecture and decoration, from the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s, featured leaves and flowers with flowing lines.

Art Silk
Also known as false silk, art silk is an artificial yarn made from cotton, rayon or polyester. It resembles real silk and is soft to the touch. It is often used as an alternative to real silk because art silk is less costly.

Persian and Turkish Knots Asymmetrical Knot (Top figure on right)
Also know as the Persian knot or the Senneh knot, it allows a finer weave to be created. It is made by wrapping the yarn around one warp strand and then looping the yarn behind the second warp strand. This single knot is used in Iran, India, Turkey, Egypt and China. The symmetrical knot or Turkish knot is also shown.

A skilled rug-maker can make an average of 5,000 to 6,000 knots per day. The knot count (knots per square inch) can be anywhere from 16 to over 500, so you can see why it takes many weeks or even months, to complete a rug, depending on the size. For example: a 4' by 6' rug, with 100 knots per square inch, has a total of 345,600 knots. It takes 60 to 70 days to make a hand-knotted rug that size with 100 kpsi.

The more complex the pattern or design, the higher the knot count. The knot count will usually be the same throughout the rug.

Aubusson is a style of rug that originated in France during the 15th century. The names of the more popular patterns include Antoinette, Josephine and Maison.

This term can refer either to a type of carpet or a type of loom. The loom originated in the town of Axminster, England during the industrial revolution. This loom offered greater flexibility with colors and designs than other looms.

Background Color
As the term implies, this is the most dominant color in a rug. The most widely used colors for the background of a rug are various shades of red, blue, beige and yellow.

Bamboo is a popular floor covering material. The natural fibers are cut into strands to be woven into rugs. Bamboo can also be cut into wide strips to create a hardwood floor effect.

Berber is a term that is used to describe carpeting with a certain look. The name Berber refers to a group of North African tribespeople who made rugs of handspun yarn from the un-dyed wool of sheep.

Blends or blended rugs are made using more than one type of fiber. It may be a wool and cotton blend or it might be a blend of natural and synthetic materials.

Border Color
The dominant color in the border of a rug, usually a shade of red, blue, beige, yellow or green.

Braided Rugs
This refers to rugs made from braided yarn, or sometimes from strips of used cloth, which is why some braided rugs are also known as ‘rag rugs’. The braids are usually sewn into concentric circles or ovals, although they can be made into a square or rectangular shape.

Carding is the process of arranging wool fibers and smoothing them by pulling the fibers between a pair of spiked paddles.

No, not that kind of cartoon! In this case, cartoon refers to a diagram used as a template for a rug design when knotting an Oriental rug. This allows more than one person to work on the rug. It is especially useful when a rug is made by a group of weavers, such as a village rug.

This is a design element that has an inscription or a date.

Chenille is a fabric with a deep luxurious pile. It is often used in rugs.

Chrome Dyes
These are colorfast dyes using potassium bichromate to create a bond between the dye and the yarn.

This was originally a Chinese design. The pattern resembles a swirling band of clouds, hence the name cloudband. This design can also be seen quite often in Persian rugs.

Color Symbolism
Colors have symbolic meaning or value in many countries or cultures. The traditional and/or religious meanings can have an impact on the choice of colors used in many handmade rugs.

This process of organizing carded wool fibers in a parallel arrangement prepares wool for spinning.

A rug’s level of quality with regard to several attributes determines the condition of the rug. Fine, average and worn are the classifications of condition in the handmade rug industry. For example, a handmade rug classified as fine is in excellent shape with no holes, tears or stains. Also, no repair work has been done on the rug.

Contemporary rugs are non-traditional styles of rugs that include shag and braided rugs, as well as pile-weave rugs with modern or geometric patterns. This term can also be used to describe a rug if that rug is less than 25 years of age.

A natural material produced from the boll or seedpod of the cotton plant. Cotton fibers are soft and fluffy. The fibers can be spun and used for the backing on rugs or for fringe on the ends of a rug. Also, mercerized cotton can be used as pile to make a rug.

Cowhide Rug
These are rugs made from high quality cowhides or chromium tanned cowhides. They are available in a variety of patterns and colors.

The cross-woven method incorporates fringes into the rug instead of sewing the fringe on afterwards. Cross-weaving is done from side to side, rather than from top to bottom, as with other woven rugs. This method allows for the use of more colors and delicate details.

Cut-pile, also known as velour or velvet pile, is a smooth finish that is created when the tops of the wool loops are cut off and then twisted to make tufts of yarn that stand erect. This makes for a soft, even surface.

This is a measurement of linear density. Large yarns or fibers have high deniers, while thin yarns have low deniers.

This refers to the amount of pile yarn and the closeness of the tufts. When a rug has yarn that is tightly packed, or more densely packed, it will have a more luxurious feel.

This is a type of flat-woven rug from India. Dhurries are a type of Kilim or Kelim and are usually made from wool or cotton.

Dyes are used to give a desired color to rug-making materials. As with types of materials, there are two types of dyes - natural and synthetic. Natural dyes include plant dyes, animal dyes and mineral dyes. Synthetic dyes were introduced in the mid to late 1800’s.

This refers to carved pile around a motif or design that enhances the look of the rug pattern.

Faux Silk
See Art Silk.

The field of a rug is the center or main area of a rug. The field contains a central medallion or other motif and is surrounded by the border.

Flat Weave
This refers to rugs without pile or knots. Flat weave rugs are made on a loom where the rug-making material is threaded through the warps. Good examples of flat woven rugs are Kilims, Dhurries and the original Aubosson rugs.

Flattening is the term used when the piles of a rug get flattened due to heavy traffic or from being under furniture. Vacuuming and/or cleaning can help restore the height of the pile.

Flokati refers to traditional Greek rugs that are hand-woven from the wool of sheep. Flokati rugs come in gram weights ranging from 1400 to 4000 grams. A higher gram count means that the rug will be more plush as well as more expensive.

The foundation of a rug, consisting of an interlaced combination of warps and wefts, is the basic structural element that holds the rug together.

Warp threads extending beyond the end of a rug is called the fringe.

The basic term for rug patterns that are created with straight lines.

Guard Stripes
These are stripes of color that adorn a rug’s border and separate the border from the field.

Hand-knotted rugs take the longest time to make and they are the most expensive type of rug. To make a quality hand-knotted rug, the weaver loops wool or silk around the warps, one at a time, creating a thick pile. Then, cotton yarn is woven through the warps to hold them together. The cotton yarns are usually tied off to make a decorative fringe.

Hand-made rugs can either be hand-knotted or hand-tufted. In general, hand-made rugs cost more than machine-made rugs.

Hand-tufted rugs are made similar to hooked rugs with the exception of the loops being cut to create a flat surface. Some tufted rugs feature a combination of looped and cut pile, which makes for an interesting three-dimensional effect.

This refers to rugs that are woven on a hand loom.

Heat Set
This is a process of applying heat to twisted yarns to help maintain their strength.

Herati Pattern Area Rugs Herati Pattern (See diagram on right)
This pattern is a small rosette surrounded by feathery leaves.

It is believed to have originated in the town of Herat, located in the northwestern part of Afghanistan.

Part of the pattern represents the small fish that come to swim in the reflection of the moon.

Hooked Rug
This type of rug is made by pushing loops of yarn through a canvas backing. Making a hooked rug is a relatively quick and easy process and it is an affordable alternative to an authentic knotted rug.

Jute is a natural fiber that comes from plants grown in areas of southern Asia. The fibers are stripped from the stalk and can be spun into yarn or rope and woven. Yarn made from jute is strong and can be used as the main rug material or as a warp in knotted rugs.

Kashmir rugs are made in the Islamic region of India from silk or mercerized cotton. They are woven with Persian knots and have ornate patterns.

Kilim or Kelim
The name for the most well-known group of flat-woven rugs. They are created using no knots. A simple weaving process is used where the weft strands are passed through the warp strands. Often described as tapestry-like rugs.

Knots are used in pile-woven and, of course, knotted rugs. The two main types of knots are asymmetrical and symmetrical. The Persian/Senneh knots are asymmetrical, while the Turkish Ghiordes knot is symmetrical. Both types of knots can have variances between different regional and/or tribal traditions.

Knot Count
This simply refers to the knots contained per square inch of rug.

Knot Density
This is the overall number of knots used in making a handmade rug.

Rug density can have an impact on its longevity as well as its value. In general, a higher density rug will wear better than a lower density rug.

Here's an easy way to check for density... Try to wiggle your fingers all the way to the bottom of the rug fibers. Usually, the more difficult it is to do that, the denser your rug is.

There is not yet a full agreement on a standard for knot density, but many rug experts have been using the following to classify knot density.
(kpsi = knots per square inch)

  • Up to 30 kpsi ....... Very Coarse
  • 30 to 60 kpsi ....... Coarse
  • 60 to 130 kpsi ...... Medium Fine
  • 130 to 160 kpsi .... Fine
  • 160 to 290 kpsi .... Very Fine
  • Over 290 kpsi ...... Exteremely Fine

Knotted Rugs
Knotted rugs are made by hand on either a horizontal or a vertical loom. This rug-making method involves wrapping tufts of wool or pile around the warps. The wool or pile is tied around each individual warp strand to make the pile stand perpendicular to the floor.

Kork is name for the fine wool that is taken from the belly of a sheep.

The layout of a rug is the overall configuration of objects or designs contained in a rug.

Line Count
The line count is the number of horizontal knots included in one foot of a rug. A higher number indicates a better quality of rug.

A basic structure used in the making of rugs that allows two or more sets of threads to be interlaced at right angles. The loom holds the strands tight for weaving and knotting. Looms can be horizontal, vertical, mobile or fixed.

Loop Pile
Loop pile and cut pile are the same before the cut pile gets trimmed. Loop-pile is a long-lasting surface and it minimizes tracking.

Luser is a term for the brightness and sheen of rug fibers or yarns.

Machine Made
Machine-made rugs are now woven on a computer-controlled power-loom. The computer controls what color is added to the material at each specific part of the rug. Machine-made rugs are produced quickly and can be made in almost any quantity, depending on the demand for that particular design. They are made with a variety of materials including heat-set polypropylene, art silk and wool.

This refers to a few things that should be done that help your rugs to stay looking their best and allow them to age well. Vacuum rugs on a regular basis, rotate rugs end-to-end to let them wear more evenly, immediately remove stains or spills following recommended guidelines and clean the rugs accordingly. Some rug types can be cleaned at home, while others require professional cleaning.

This is a large design in the center of some Oriental and European styles of rugs.

Medallion and Corner
This is a special layout with a full medallion in the middle of the rug and quartered medallions in the corners of the rug.

The motif of a rug can be a single form or an interrelated group of forms that comprise a large part of the overall design or a rug.

Multi-Level Loop Pile
Yarn loops of varied heights that create a three-dimensional effect.

The nap is the direction that the pile of the rug faces.

Nomadic Rugs
Rugs made by sheepherders who usually live in tents and move around between valleys in winter and mountain pastures in summer are called Nomadic Rugs. In general, these rugs are of a smaller size because they have to be finished in time for the seasonal move.

Nylon is a strong man-made (synthetic) fiber that has the ability to accept and hold dyes well.

This is a rug layout with the design being oriented in one direction, rather than looking the same from either end. Pictorial rugs and some prayer rugs are examples of one-sided rugs.

Oriental means “of the Eastern World” or the region of the world reached by early European explorers after they circled around Africa. It is still in use even though it is considered by many to be an out-of-date word.

The pattern is the way that lines are used in the design of a rug to form shapes. There are three main classifications of patterns; curvilinear, geometric and pictorial.

In a medallion layout, pendants are small floral extensions at the top and bottom of the medallion.

Persian Knot
See asymmetrical knot.

A pictorial rug is one that has a pattern resembling (you guessed it) a picture. It can feature people, animals, mountains, a river, trees or almost anything at all.

Pile is the surface of a rug having cut or uncut loops that stand at right angles to the foundation of the rug. Pile also refers to the material or fiber used for weaving rugs. The common pile materials are silk, wool and cotton.

Pile Height
This is the height of the pile, measured in tenths of an inch, between the top surface of the rug backing and the top of the pile’s surface.

Pile Weave
The method of weaving where a rug is woven by creating knots is called pile weave or knotted weave. It is the weaving method used to make most rugs.

Pile Weight
This refers to the weight of the pile yarn per square yard of the rug (or carpet).

Plush is the name given to a cut pile rug where the tuft ends blend together.

This is the number of yarns that are spun together to form a tuft of pile. Also, the measurement of the yarn’s thickness.

A point is one tuft of pile.

A synthetic material, which is petroleum-based, that is used to make rugs. It is often heat-set to give the rug vibrant color, make it longer-lasting, easy to care for and to be more durable.

Power Loom
Basically, a loom that is operated by mechanical or electrical power.

This is the ability of a rug to recover to its original thickness after it has been crushed under objects or from heavy traffic.

This is a motif that looks like a round flower.

Rug Pad
Material placed under a rug to help provide softness, support and a non-slip walking area. A rug pad also helps to reduce noise in a room and extend the life of a rug. A rug pad might also be called a cushion or an underlay.

A runner is a long, narrow rug that is used mostly for hallways or stairways. A runner is usually 2 ½ to 3 feet wide and anywhere from 6 to 20 feet in length.

Selvedge (also spelled selvage)
This refers to the edge on each side of a woven rug that is finished to protect the rug from becoming unraveled.

This is a combing process that removes shorter fibers. The result is a yarn with a more lustrous look.

Silk is the most expensive of the rug materials. It comes from the cocoon of silkworms.

A natural material that comes from the Agave Sisalana plant. Sisal is the name of the plant as well as the fiber that comes from it. More information is available on the page that focuses on sisal rugs.

This refers to a group of rugs where no knots are used in the weaving process.

These are corner designs in the field of a rug. They are often arc-shaped.

Static is the build-up of an electric charge created when someone walks on a rug or carpet. It can happen on both natural and synthetic materials. Static is affected by humidity.

Persian and Turkish Knots Symmetrical Knot (Bottom figure on right)
This is made by passing the yarn over two adjoining warp strands and then each end of the yarn is wrapped behind one of the warps and brought back to the surface between the two warps. Turkish and Kurdish tribes use this double knot in Turkey, the Caucasus and Iran. It might also be used in some European rugs.

A skilled rug-maker can make an average of 5,000 to 6,000 knots per day. The knot count (knots per square inch) can be anywhere from 16 to over 500, so you can see why it takes many weeks or even months, to complete a rug, depending on the size. For example: a 4' by 6' rug, with 100 knots per square inch, has a total of 345,600 knots. It takes 60 to 70 days to make a hand-knotted rug that size with 100 kpsi.

The more complex the pattern or design, the higher the knot count. The knot count will usually be the same throughout the rug.

The term tapestry refers to a weft face weave that has rather complicated designs. Sometimes, the term is used generically as a name for a woven wall hanging, even when it is not a true tapestry.

Tea Wash
A process that is used to give the colors of a rug an antique look.

Textured Loop Pile
This gives a rug loops of differing pile height, resulting in a unique sculptured look. As with a level loop pile, this is long-lasting and minimizes tracking.

Tibetan Knot
This is a distinctive knotting process from Tibet that has spread to other areas. A rod is placed in front of the warp and a single strand of yarn is wrapped around two warps and then around the rod. After the row is completed, the rod is removed and the loops are cut.

Tip Shear
This is when some of the loops of yarn on a cut pile rug are left uncut. A rug made this way has the advantage of being able to minimize the effects of tracking and flattening.

A look created when two or more tones of the same color are used on a rug. This is accomplished by mixing yarns of different tones or by using the same color of yarn on a rug that ends up with both cut and looped pile.

This refers to a wide range of rug designs that fall in between the traditional European and Oriental designs and the newer contemporary rug designs. Good examples would be rugs with a floral or botanical design.

Tribal Rug
Rugs woven by North African or Middle Eastern tribal peoples. It can also refer to rugs made by others that use the traditional styles and patterns
of the original tribal rug makers. Sometimes, the term "tribal" is used to describe rugs made by ANY nomadic group.

Tufted Rug
A process of punching tufts of wool through the base fabric of a rug to create a less costly version of a hand-knotted rug.

Turkish Knot
See symmetrical knot.

This is when yarn is wound around itself to create a neat, well-defined strand.

Vertical strands of weave that run the entire length of the rug is called the warp. The warps are the yarns that onto which the knots are tied and the wefts are woven.

Washing is a chemical treatment for wool rugs that gives the rug a soft texture and tones down the colors. Washing can sometimes re-create the effects of aging. There are some purists who say the rugs should be allowed to age naturally, without the wash.

The basic term for making a rug on a loom by interlacing warp threads and weft threads. The two major weaving methods are pile weave and flat weave.

Strands of yarn that run the width of a rug crossways between the warp threads. The weft threads hold the pile knots in place.

Natural fibers from the hair of animals such as goats and alpacas, but mostly from sheep. Wool is used more often than other types of pile materials in the making of handmade rugs.

Worsted Wool
The term for wool that has been combed and worsted before being spun into yarn. This removes the shorter pieces of wool and improves the quality, allowing it to be used on more intricate patterns.

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