Oriental rugs are made as far west as Morocco and as far east as eastern China; as far north as Mongolia and as far south as India. Today’s most important oriental rug weaving areas are in Turkey, Iran (Persia), Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and China.
Why has rug-making grown up and persisted in these areas?
Is there something about the geography and climate that promotes rug weaving? Plentiful grassland pastures in both mountains and flatlands support the domestication of sheep, and of course sheep’s wool is the basic raw material of most rugs. Natural dyestuffs are plentiful too, some cultivated, others harvested wild. All the raw materials of rug making were in place thousands of years ago.
Just as the climate and geography of the area have promoted a sheep based economy called pastoral nomadism, they also have promoted agriculture. Agriculture may be as important to rug weaving as pastoral nomadism. Agriculture in much of the rug-weaving area supplies some of the basic raw material of rugs such as cotton, the foundation material of most oriental rugs. Furthermore, agriculture is responsible for the establishment of villages and cities, and some scholars believe pastoral nomadism would not have been possible except for the technological support associated with towns and cities. Supplies and technology from the towns, they say, is what made pastoral nomadism possible.
So the answer is yes, the geography and climate of the rug weaving area provided conditions necessary for generating the raw materials of oriental rugs and for the establishment of towns and cities that in turn helped develop rug-weaving techniques. It has been said that, because of climate, north of Mongolia rugs are made from animal skins and south of India they are made from plant material.
One disturbing note is that overgrazing of sheep has resulted in the loss of vast ancient grasslands, which are now becoming deserts. A very significant amount of wool already must be imported from Australia and New Zealand for rug-weaving, and as the popularity of oriental rugs waxes at the beginning of the 21st century, rug manufacturers are very concerned about a serious shortage of wool. In the past, wool shortages have spelled serious trouble for the carpet industry and have sometimes resulted in the best rugs becoming very expensive and the others declining in quality.