This is the first of a 5 Part Article on the Basics of Hand Knotted is a rewrite of one Leslie Stroh wrote for the 2nd Issue of Rug News Magazine in 1978.: Part 1 Chinese Rugs, Part 2 Affordability, Part 3, Design, Part 4 Labor & Design, Part 5 Price at Retail.
Although Chinese rugs have been made since the 14th century, the bulk of hand knotted production Chinese Rugs in the United States arrived between the two World Wars and post embargo (June 1971) until the early 21st century, when Chinese weavers left the looms for more lucrative professions.
Based on the production factors there are approximately 252 combinations apart from design and color: 3 pile heights, 2 basic types of wool, 2 weaving techniques (open vs, closed back), and 7 production centers.
Chinese design is best seen in robes, especially imperial robes of great status. Until machine spinning of yarn came along in the late 18th century, textiles of any kind were too expensive for the bulk of of the population and luxury textiles, rugs included, were only available to the top 1% of the population.
The most common rug in the US in the 1970’s and 1980’s was a Chinese Super 90 line. It was so popular; it became its own brand. The most common version was a central medallion French Aubusson or Savonnerie patterns. Eventually its popularity pushed excessive production and with so much product variation, the price at retail crashed by 50-60% for 90/80/70 line rugs. And then the weavers left for better jobs.
90 LINE means that there are 90 pairs of warp threads in each 12 inches, and 90 lines of knots across the back, “approximately.” “Approximately” because if you take out two lines that is 88 count or a little over 2% less wool, and the buyer rarely notices.
The main competition to China was a rug made in India called Bengali, which was a simple 2/3 color design with good luck charm in the center “Shou” and Chinese dragons in each corner.
Wool quality is the key difference between all Chinese rugs. It is a fact of the rug trade that “nobody ever put good wool into a low grade product.” Like any rule, there is an exception which will be dealt with later.
Maintaining consistent quality is the hardest part of the production process in any country. As demand for a product increase, production increases; more towns or mills start making popular designs. Eventually, over production drives prices and margins down. Quality suffers as producers make cuts in materials and labor to maintain margins – rather like what happens to a popular dog breed.
Diversion: “Persian” rugs are unique, and other countries’ production less so.” Sort of, but when a design becomes popular in Iran, a nearby village takes up production to help satisfy demand. The second village competes on price, so it has to make slightly less expensive goods. Hence the industry saying: “Buy Gorevan, Sell Heriz” Early 2000’s Heriz was fashionable and popular. Then the price crashed like last year’s dress. The same rug today is 80/90 % less.