Beauty, Intricacy, and Durability: Hand Knotted Rugs 101

Beauty, Intricacy, and Durability: Hand Knotted Rugs 101

Beauty, Intricacy, and Durability: Hand Knotted Rugs 101

All rugs are created equal, right? Absolutely (and I cannot stress that enough) not.

There are dozens of methods for constructing a rug: hand-knotted, hand-tufted, hand-hooked, hand-made, hand-loomed, hand-woven—confused yet?  And these terms are not interchangeable, referring instead to varying techniques that mean different things about quality, longevity, and beauty.

Figure wondering about rug construction types

When you’re on the market for a new staple piece, the varying types of rug construction can be overwhelming. It’s like trying to decide between wines without looking at prices as an indicator of quality (‘coz you know, we all do that). There are so many options—and a lot of foreign words. 2012 Pinot Noir from Napa? 2016 Bordeaux? Without a wine education (or just a helpful liquor store salesman), these just look, well, red.

First and foremost, wool is the hands-down best material for rugs. It lasts, it’s soft, it cleans up great and it will look good for decades. For rugs, it simply does not get better than wool.

Beyond that, what does everything else mean? And what’s the best?

When it comes to quality, durability, and artistry, hand knotted rugs are the cream of the crop.

Lovell Vintage Runner

Lovell Vintage Runner

So it’s hand knotted. What does that mean?

Before hand knotted rugs came flatweaves. These rugs were made to be, you guessed it, flat. Picture a traditional loom with wool yarns weaving through the warp (the strings of vertical wool) in a crisscrossed faction—that’s flat weaving. There are a few different types: kilims, dhurries, and soumak.

Hand knotted rugs are different and way more complex. Again picture a loom, but this time, imagine thousands of knots tied over the warp yarns, the part that runs all the way through the body of the rug and eventually hangs out of the rug as fringe. After the rug is knotted, it goes through a multi-stage finishing process. Once the rug is finished, you can flip it over, and see tiny squares—like pixels on a computer. Each one is a knot that the craftsperson tied by hand. It’s an intensely difficult and laborious process. Most rugs take months to knot and the largest can even take years—but the end result is magnificent and long-lasting.Hand Knotted Rug Loom

You might be tempted to buy a less expensive hand-tufted rug. To the untrained eye, a hand-tufted rug might look similar to a hand knotted rug. But what you might gain in dollars, you definitely lose in longevity. Tufted rugs are made by pushing wool fiber through a canvas with a tufting gun. A secondary backing is then glued in place to secure the loose fibers. The process takes less skill—and less time. But after a few years, the glue will start to fail, and tufts of wool will start to shed—which is one of the reasons we don’t sell them.

So when durability, longevity and sustainable decor are at the top of your priority list, hand knotted rugs are the way to go.

How can I tell if a rug is hand knotted?

The rug has fringe
The rug has fringe.

The rug pattern is visible on the rug back

The pattern is visible on the rug back.

Imperfect rug back

The rug back is not perfect. 

Artist vs. machine: the battle of the creators

Let’s face it. Machines are taking over. And while they’re great for many things (like showing you this blog post!), they can’t, in many cases, replicate the work of an artisan—no matter how close to that work they seem.

When you look closer at your hand knotted rug. Each hand-tied knot has a different cadence: some fall higher, some are tied tighter. It’s idiosyncratic: a complete original, like a snowflake, a handprint, a painting.

Each pattern displays thoughtful details and rich, meaningful heritage. There may be imperfections—and you grow to love and treasure each one. Each rug carries a long, storied legacy—and communicates something that’s deeply felt, and intractably human.

As much as a machine can try to replicate this, it can’t. Machine-made rugs are like prints: perfect identical Xerox copies. Diluted is the personality—and gone are both heritage and individuality. And in many cases, these machine-made rugs are crafted out of synthetic fibers. They’re cheap but they’re also essentially plastic. Soon, these rugs will be destroyed and end up in a landfill—lacking in the durability and the visible artistry of a true hand-knotted piece.

At the end of the day, the way a rug is made says a lot about the rug itself. And for a rug that is beautiful, authentic, unique—and lasts long into the future—hand knotted is the way to go.

At Swoon Rugs, we curate a collection of artisan-made, carefully knotted rugs that are long-lasting staples for your house. Check them out!

Vintage Runner in Bedroom