Afghan rugs have been around for centuries and were actually the first kind of Persian carpet to be mass exported into Europe from Asia in large quantities. Although the Turkish rug usually steals most of the limelight when it comes to notable foreign rug types, traditionally made afghan rugs are of incredible quality and exhibit a uniqueness that not that many people are aware of. Speciality rugs do more than just provide a soft cushioning beneath your feet, they are collectables, one of a kind mementoes that bristle with personality and stories.
Why Are Afghan Rugs So Unique?
Afghan rugs are known to be unique in just about every single way and this comes down to the country in which they are made. Afghanistan has a very rich history and its geographical position as the gateway between Asia, Europe and the Middle East has left it with centuries of cultural heritage all shaped by contributions of various ethnicities, tribes and traditions.
Many Afghan rugs contain Turkmen and Kazak influenced designs. Sadly a great deal of the country’s history is blighted by conflict whether this be old tribal issues, foreign interventions from the great game era, the 1979 Soviet invasion and even the recent ISAF-led mission. Unlike anywhere in the world, this history is reflected in the rug designs themselves. Afghan “war rugs” often show patterns that include AK47s, tanks, planes, helicopters and RPGs and some say that they tell personal stories about the lives and experiences of the weavers themselves. There are around 57 different types of Afghan rug and rugs from different areas are often denoted by a special colour which really gives these textiles an identity of their own.
Years of conflict have resulted in an underdeveloped industrial sector many goods being produced in cottage industries or by Afghans in their homes. Consequently, a lack of technological development has meant that the traditional art of the Afghan handmade rug has been preserved without being diluted with machine weaving techniques. This has earned Afghan rugs a very strong reputation as quality hard wearing handmade rugs. Depending on the size of the rugs, it can take about seven months to be made – that doesn’t include shearing the sheep or making the yarn. The labour and attention that goes into this process is astounding – anything up to five women will work on one carpet at a time, each contributing about 10cm of knotting each day, day after day.
One of the most prominent characteristics of Afghan made rugs is when it comes down to dyeing and colouring. Unlike many technologically charged rug producing countries, the Afghan way of working is extremely dedicated and resourceful with a focus of using only readily available natural resources. All dying and colouration is done using natural ingredients like flowers, fruits, wood, vegetables and other earthly commodities. Not only does this mean that the carpets are free of harmful chemicals but some say the pigment in these natural sources provides a vibrant colour that even gets better with time.
Afghan rugs have recently enjoyed a massive surge in popularity and export rates are increasing which is having a positive effect on the estimated 1 million Afghans working in the trade. Although the majority of rug production takes place in northern regions like Kunduz & Balkh, rugs have been made by families across Afghanistan for personal use for hundreds of years. Due to the rise in export opportunities, it is now possible to commission custom made rugs with your choice of design to be handmade by experienced weavers using the same amazing process and skills. Regardless of whether you opt for something traditional or personalised you can be sure that your rug will always be handmade.
How Are Afghan Rugs Made?
The rug making process starts with a pair of sheers and a flock of sheep. The north of Afghanistan is very resource-rich and the grassier areas provide the perfect environment to raise healthy livestock. The wool is then washed, brushed and hand-spun into balls of yarn which will then be dyed. Next, the carpet will be woven using either a floor or standing loom where the weaver will gradually form the carpet and its design by repeating a number of knots over time. Once the rug has been woven and knotted, it will usually be trimmed at the sides before being washed and hung out to dry. Once dry the carpet will usually undergo a light brushing which will enhance the colour.
What are Afghan Rugs made out of?
Wool is obviously the primary ingredient in the traditional Afghan carpet but the most interesting and unique part is arguably the natural dyes used in the process. Afghan rugs are known to last decades and in some cases hundreds of years while still retaining their colour. The characteristic deep red colour of many Afghan rugs is due to the dye made from pomegranate peel, cochineal, sanamaky and madder. Things like walnut shells and bone tree are also used in the colouring process.
How to spot a good Afghan Rug
- Rub it vigorously with the open palm of your hands. A quality Afghan rug should not allow you to draw away any wool fibres from the carpet surface.
- Afghan rugs should be 100% wool. To test this, take a lighter and try to singe a few wool fibres from the tussle. True wool will not burn and should just turn straight to ash without combusting.
- Knot count is an indicator of good quality and generally speaking, the more knots, the higher the quality. If you want a real handmade Afghan rug, a good way to check it hasn’t been machine processes is the knots on the back which should be slightly uneven and not perfectly neat.
Cleaning an Afghan Rug
If you have met with an unfortunate spill or accident on your Afghan rug it is critical that you do not try and rectify the problem by using off-the-shelf cleaning products. Natural dyes will react with bleach and cleaning chemicals differently resulting in discolouration and damage. Considering the work that has gone into these carpets, it’s just too much of a risk. Professional domestic carpet cleaning expertise is needed to rectify the problem without causing further damage.
Sarah is a content writer and marketing manager for Wrennalls. He helps publish regular content and insights for customers and industry personnel.