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Knotty Questions by Ian Grant

Occasionally people arrive at our rug shop after shopping around at other stores. Somewhere along the way, someone has unveiled to them the secret of judging quality and appropriate cost of Oriental rugs counting knots per square inch. Armed with this weapon, said client reaches for the corner of the nearest rug, flips it over and starts counting knots, or at least looking at them. As sales people, the first step is to "unlearn" what someone else has taught them about rugs. This is a delicate process because it is never a good idea to tell someone who is new to your shop that the person in the other shop was filling them full of fluff. There are very, very few times when knot count should be a primary consideration in your selection of a rug. In the following article we will discuss what you should look for in selecting a quality rug that suits your needs. If you can put up with a little sarcasm and a few really bad puns mainly revolving around the word "knot," this should be a helpful piece.

In assessing a rug's utilitarian qualities one must take into account a few criteria. We think the most important is the rug's density. If the pile of the rug is tightly packed together - if you can't easily sink your fingers into the pile and feel the foundation of the rug - that rug is a durable one. If it is easy to feel the foundation of the rug, chances are it won't wear all that well. It's a simple matter of friction. The denser the pile, the more fibers there are to resist each footfall. A coarsely woven rug can have the same pile density as a finely woven rug. This is achieved by keeping the pile cut high to accommodate for the larger knot. Technically speaking the pile of a rug is made up of the ends of the knots. If you have a rug with a large knot, the pile needs to be left longer so the ends of the knot can open up enough so they can touch their neighboring knots. The smaller the knot, the shorter the distance from the base of the knot until the ends start pushing out against their neighboring knots which is why finely woven rugs are shaved lower than the coarsely woven pieces. The more tightly the ends of the knots push against each other accounts for the rug's density. I should end this section by saying it takes me a few times to understand what I just wrote, but after a while it really does make some sense--trust me. Wool quality is usually second on the list. You can have the most densely woven rug in the world, but if it is woven with a brittle wool it won't last. The general idea is a good wool will feel oily which implies that it has a high lanolin content. A high lanolin content is good for two main reasons. First off, lanolin is the world's best protector against stain. It is actually what Scotchguard and the other sealers have always tried to emulate. Lanolin also helps the wool fiber spring back after each footfall. The more lanolin, the longer the pile will bounce back each time you step on it. Testing for the quality of a particular rug's wool is difficult without another rug to compare it to. This is best done in the rug merchant's shop where you can get your hands on a number of rugs and feel the different wool, comparing their lanolin or "oily" content with each other.

Knots per square inch should only be of major importance when you want a very fine design. If you don't like very intricate designs then knots per square inch should be very low on your list of priorities for looking at similar rugs. For example, if you are looking at two Chinese Persian rugs, one with 160 knots per square inch and another with 320, then it is safe to say the higher knot count should cost around twice as much as the lower. This works because you are comparing two rugs that are done with the same weave, the same or similar quality wool and similar manufacturing costs. This doesn't work when you start comparing rugs with different weaves, different manufacturing costs or even more obviously different countries. For example comparing silk rugs from Turkey, China and Persia by the number of knots per square inch would not be of any help in telling you which is more unique, which has higher craftsmanship or which should be more expensive. Actually the Chinese silks are usually the finest and the least expensive, two attributes that even together might not make a Chinese silk rug the right rug for you. Of course if you are interested in antique or geometric rugs, knots per square inch should never really enter your rug-buying equation.

All of these quality issues of course should be thought of as flexible when you are looking for a rug. The most important reason for buying a rug should be that you like it, not whether or not it has New Zealand wool or was woven in the Shah's court or has one zillion knots per square inch. Then you need to take into consideration where you are going to use it, what sort of traffic it will see, if it needs to wear like iron or not, etc. The good news about judging a rug's quality is there are only so many components to a rug. There is the foundation made up of the warp and weft, and there is the pile which is made up of knots. It's not brain surgery. The denser a pile feels, the longer it's going to last. The stiffer a rug feels when you fold it, the less it will wrinkle around on your floor. You don't need to get too excited about figuring out whether the rug you are looking at has natural or man made dyes, because contrary to "rug experts'" beliefs, there are good and bad examples of both, and in the end it's only going to be a color difference which again is completely up to your personal preference. I know I said at the beginning of this paragraph, but I'll say it again: The most important reason for buying a rug is that you like it. The rest of it needs to be added to this equation depending on your needs. Our only suggestion is beware of anyone who stresses only one specific thing to look for in a rug, or others who try to make it an obscure and mysterious process. Rug history is a very strange and exotic story, but determining rug quality is really rather simple once you know the basics.


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