"The art of Persian rug making is an example of a handicraft born before history, which lives on, owing nothing to modern science. They are not woven against time. Each knot is carefully, patiently tied; each row is meticulously tamped down with a metal comb and another row built upon it. And, always, just beneath the level of the hands, the pattern develops resplendently, until finally, this vibrant, enduring fabric is completed and has locked in its web of wool a timeless charm and beauty."
Source unknown: Years ago it was found on the back of a wonderful old rug.
Whether your taste is for tribal rugs, smaller old carpets woven to please the weaver, or the more formal city rugs that were influenced by western design and tradition, it is clear that each is a work of art. When looking at an old rug, you can almost see the past, for the art of selecting a rug is a very personal matter. The most important distinctions to be made here are those of the heart. Like any art form, your choice reflects your likes and tastes and your purchases become a part of your life.
Preservation of antiquities is important and it is especially true of old rugs. Too often people fail to see the value in old rugs and many are neglected and allowed to deteriorate. The key to keeping your carpets and rugs for posterity is, of course, maintenance, and caring for them should be a priority.
Keeping rugs clean is one of the most important things that you can do. Walking on a dirty rug allows the soil particles cut the fibers and causes the rug to wear more quickly. Washing will make the colors brighter and the wool silkier as well as helping to make your rug last longer. Oriental rugs should always be washed by hand with mild soap and water (not chemicals). If you intend to attempt the task yourself, there are some risks you should consider. Some colors can run if not treated properly and the rug can be damaged if in fragile condition. In checking for fugitive colors, you will often need to consult an expert. You should also check for dry rot, moth damage, and animal or food stains. The latter can sometimes cause running of color or deterioration. Finally be wary of rugs that have been painted to hide wear since these areas will often bleed into other colors. Always consult a professional when in doubt.
Washing: Once you are certain that there are no fugitive colors that will run, your rug needs to be dusted out. Vacuum it from the back so that the dirt shakes out from the foundation. Once dirt particles have been removed, the rug needs to be soaked in warm water. Then, warm water and PH-balanced soap needs to be flushed through the rug several times.
Once this step has been completed, spread your rug out and gently scrub it on both sides with a soft brush and more soap. Rinse with cold water and put the rug back into a vat to soak again. After a short time, rinse once more with cold water. You might need to use several changes of water depending on how much dirt is in your rug. Rinse for a final time with the rug on a flat surface. Roll the rug up and stand it on end to drain. After draining for about one hour, roll it out flat in the sun to dry. This can take two to three days. As the rug is drying, brush it carefully to make certain that the pile is going in the same direction. Move it frequently, perhaps every half hour or so, because the surface beneath the rug needs to dry as well. When completely dry, roll your rug in the direction of the pile and return it to your home.
Edges: In addition to washing, it is important to keep the edges or sides of a carpet intact. If the binding begins to unravel, you will eventually lose the corners and finally the sides of the rug. This loss makes a big impact on the value of the carpet, because once you begin to lose the body, you are facing restoration rather than just maintenance. The binding should cover the original side cord of the rug. On some pieces, this is a single wrap, while on others it is a double or triple wrap done in a 'figure 8' stitch with wool or occasionally cotton. The process should never be done by machine because the nylon thread that is ordinarily used is stronger than the rug and will cause it to tear. Machine binding also doesn't go far enough into the body of the rug to protect it.
Ends: Many people do not realize that the original fringe is actually part of the foundation of the carpet. When the fringe begins to wear off or get chewed up, it needs to be cared for, because further deterioration will lead to loss of the body of the rug. The correct care involves having the ends trimmed and putting on a tight overcast stitch. This is a stitch that is invisible from the surface of the carpet, but goes through the foundation to hold the end together. If you really like the look of fringe and it is missing from your rug, it is possible to apply a new one to the end of the rug. Always be certain that the addition will enhance the appearance of the rug rather than detract from its beauty. The fringe should be made in a weight that makes sense for the rug, considering that it is representative of the foundation. Fine rugs need very fine fringes, but fine ends on a Heriz or Bidjar look silly.
Work in the field of the carpet is somewhat more complicated. If your rug has been neglected and needs some extra TLC, there are many things that can be accomplished. Corners and ends can actually be rebuilt, holes can have new foundations installed, and new wool can be woven in. Moth damage and burns can be rewoven as well. This work can be costly, but is often worth doing because it maintains the ever-increasing value of your asset. Restoration of pile or repair of holes should only by done by a person who understands the structure of weaving. It is always better to have the rug re-knotted than to have it "painted." Although painting is a quick fix (and very inexpensive), it can cause permanent damage to the carpet and will reduce the overall value of your piece.
The process of reweaving a hole is complex. First, the area must be cleaned up, and then the foundation fiber must be twisted appropriately to make it strong. These threads are then sewn into the hole in the exact pattern and density as the foundation. Once the foundation is rebuilt, the weaver must be able to mimic the pattern of the rug, one knot at a time in order to rebuild the design so that the repair is not noticeable. The alternative to this type of work is to take a patch from another rug and have it sewn in. If the color matches well, and the design is appropriate, it becomes almost invisible, as long as you aren't looking for it. Applying a patch in a rug, or doing a full restoration is only possible if the area around the hole is in fairly good condition. If the pile isn't thick enough, it might be impossible to hide the stitching. An expert can give you the best advise in regards to major repairs and restoration.
Keeping your rug clean and in good repair is as important as keeping your car clean and in good working order. Fortunately, the former doesn't have to be done nearly as often. You will be totally amazed at the difference between a clean carpet and a dirty one, especially if it has been quite a while since the last washing, or if the last washings have been via a chemical treatment rather that with water. The inner beauty of your rugs will amaze you, once they are clean. Their elements of design are like notes in a melody or words in a poem; only as these are individually understood, interpreted, and assembled is their meaning made clear. Proper care will return them to the glory that both you and they deserve.