7 Misconceptions About New Oriental Rugs

Oriental Rugs Today: Chapter 3 Part 6

Misconception 1: Old rugs have natural dyes; new rugs have synthetic dyes.

Wrong. Most rugs and carpets in the market now that are considered old were made with synthetic dyes. Some new rugs are now made with natural dyes.

Misconception 2: Most new rugs are now made with natural dyes.
Wrong. Only a small percentage of new rugs are made with natural plant dyes. Many people, having heard about natural dyes in new rugs, erroneously assume that they are all made thus. Not true at all.

Misconception 3: Oriental rugs are properly spoken of as carpets, not rugs.

In fact, though I often use rug and carpet interchangeably, in the industry, rugs are small, and carpets are those that are bigger than about 6 by 9 feet.

Misconception 4: New carpets with an old look have been given a bath in tea.

In fact, that misconception is probably misinformation promoted in the rug trade, including the machine-made rug trade, to put the most benign-sounding spin on rug antiquing. Tea is sometimes used, but almost always in combination with other substances whose effects are permanent.

Misconception 5: Abrash (that is, bands of slightly different color running across a rug) is a sign of natural dyes.

In fact, abrash is a sign that wool has been dyed in small batches, each batch being slightly different in shade. But the dyes may be either natural or synthetic. Often abrash is deliberately introduced into synthetically dyed rugs to suggest age or a village feeling.

Misconception 6: New Oriental rugs are no longer made by hand.

It always surprises me when someone who is prepared to buy an Oriental rug betrays that misconception. ‘Handmade’ is what Oriental rugs are all about. In fact, as I have said elsewhere in this book, when natural dyes and handspun wool are used, rugs today are made just as they were thousands of years ago.

Misconception 7: Oriental rugs are often made with child slave labor.

This appalling condition (otherwise called bonded child labor) exists, but best estimates are that it takes place in only 1 to 3 percent of the workforce. Child labor that is not bonded is more common. The National Council for Applied Economic Research estimates that 8 percent of the workforce are children. That figure includes children who work at home on looms, attended by their parents.

Conditions seem to be improving. Germany has been an especially effective force against illegal child labor, and recent U.S. legislation helps. Worldwide, the hand-knotted carpet industry has initiated programs that are promising. There is a trend among American producers to create schools for children.

Since the mid-nineties, one of the most effective efforts to stop illegal child labor has been waged by a non-profit organization called RUGMARK. To be certified by RUGMARK, carpet makers sign a binding contract to produce rugs without illegal child labor, allow unannounced inspections by independent RUGMARK inspectors, and pay wages to adult weavers. A percentage of the cost of all rugs and carpets bearing the RUGMARK label is paid by importers to provide schooling and other welfare support to former child workers, their families and communities. Lately, some American retailers (as well as importers) have supported RUGMARK’s efforts by contributing money. Rest assured that the producers whose stories you read in this book are among those who genuinely care about working conditions for children.

Rugmark Kids


  1. generic user icon
    rugfan November 16, 2010

    Whether synthetic dye or vegetable dye, the rug had better be washed before I buy it. If the design is later spoiled by color bleed, I’m returning the rug. Abrash is a color shift caused by the weaver switching to a new skein that may not match the previous one. My husband loves his new Persian rug made in China with abrash that clumsily approximates Gabbeh style; I think it’s junk. I saw a tribal runner whose field changed chroma twice neatly over each third of its length, with the border & details changing colors to complement its changing field. Definitely not proper in a formal dining room, but kaleidoscopic visual candy nonetheless.

  2. generic user icon
    rugfan November 16, 2010

    I’m interested in vegetable-based dyes because I often use parts of the plant I’m drawing to provide color in the painting. I grow some of these dye plants also.