Navigating the world of wool rugs can be incredibly difficult, but I have 5 easy ways to tell if the wool rug you are looking at is a high quality rug. It is important to know the wool you are buying— the wool could make a difference on whether or not a rug will last forever or just a few months.
Table of Contents
- Indian Wool
- New Zealand Wool
- Types of Knots
- Spotting a Fake Wool Rug
- Machine vs Hand Spun Wool
1. Indian Wool
Indian wool is some of the worst wool in the world. The sheep the manufacturers use for the wool are starved and horribly mistreated. Once the wool is shaved, the wool must be highly processed with chemicals to remove the blood from the wool that arises from careless shaving.
This chemical process leaves the wool brittle and weak, like how your hair is before conditioner. Unlike your hair, though, this wool does not get conditioned. Rather, it is taken through a machine to be spun into yarn.
Machine spinning cuts down on cost and time, but results in tough yarn. By processing the wool and machine spinning the yarn, the yarn swells twice its size. This is a trick to make the wool heavier and wider to create the illusion of luxury.
2. New Zealand Wool
Wool from New Zealand is cruelty free. Extra care and attention goes into the shearing process to secure the safety and well being of the sheep.
Because no harm is done to the sheep, the wool is not chemically processed and it is sold in its raw, natural state. This makes New Zealand wool expensive and so, it's only used in high end rugs.
Using Indian wool is a pretty standard type of wool in hand knotted rugs, like how a radio is standard in any car or truck on the road. New Zealand wool is an upgrade, like a built in navigation system or a keyless Entry.
3. All Knots are NOT Created Equal
Sorry, but not all knots are as good as others. There are 3 main types of knots in a hand knotted rug.
Persian Knot (Senneh Knot)
The Persian knot is asymmetrical and open to one side. This knot doesn't leave gaps and is less bulky than Turkish knots, meaning more knots per square inch.
Persian knots are used to create more intricate curvilinear or floral patterns. Iran and Pakistan are known for this knot.
Turkish Knot (Ghiordes Knot)
The Turkish knot is symmetrical and can be identified by two small bumps within one knot on the back of the rug, looking like a double knot. Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and northern Iran are known for this type of knot.
This knot is deceptive, as it creates more bulk and makes the rug look like it has a higher knot count.
Jufti Knot (False Knot)
Jufti knots are also known as false knots. Instead of being tied around two warp threads, the weaver ties the knot around four threads. With this short cut, the weaver spends less time on the rug resulting in a lower value and quality rug; since there is less care put into it, this means less durability and sustainability in the long run.
You have to watch out for this in Indian made rugs. The knots in Indian rugs are not as tight AND they are counted differently than rug knots in Pakistan and Iran.
In certain areas of India, oriental rugs are measured using two numbers.
"5/40", "9/60" or "13/65".
These numbers are called the bis and bhutan.
The first number (bis) is the number of knots in 9/10ths of an inch across the horizontal plane - so 9 would be 10 knots across (9/0.9=10).
The second number (bhutan) is the number of knots vertically in 4 1/2 inches.
Therefore 60 bhutan is the equivalent of around 13 knots per vertical inch.
A "9/60" rug would therefore be around 130 KPSI (10x13=130).
A quick method of calculating the Indian measurement is to multiply the two numbers and divide them by 4.05 (9x60=540... 540/4.05=133)
As you can see, this is incredibly confusing and deceptive.
You will have to look out for this when you are buying a hand knotted rug made in India. You don't have to worry about rugs made in Pakistan and Iran. All you do is take a ruler and count how many knots the rug has per square inch. Super simple.
What is the difference between Persian and Pakistani (Oriental) rugs? Learn more here in our blog looking at Persian vs Oriental rugs.
4. How to Tell When a Wool Rug is Fake
It's fairly easy deciding whether a wool rug is real or not. The easiest way is paying close attention to the knots.
Flip the rug over and if you can see knots, you mostly likely have an authentic wool rug.
The pattern should be an exact mirror image as the front and you should be able to count each individual knot.
If you see a piece of canvas or fabric, the rug is fake.
This means it is a tufted rug and the fabric backing, in addition to latex glue, are holding the rug together. There are a few more ways to tell; you can find out more in our other blog here, where we give you warning signs to watch out for to determine if your rug is fake.
5. Machine Spun Wool vs Hand Spun Wool
Just like your grandma's apple pie, handmade rugs are better. Due to its handmade nature, it's inconsistent. Some parts of the wool are spun more tightly and some parts are spun more loosely. Then, when the wool is dyed, some parts are made lighter while other parts are made darker.
When it comes to machine made rugs, I like to use this analogy: you know how that store bought cake is beautiful on the outside with that perfect frosting facade, but then you sink your teeth into the dry, crumbly sponge and you immediately regret the calories? As in, the cake's perfected look isn't actually worth it?
It's like that.
Machine made rugs are perfect because machines are programmed to be perfect. But the real beauty and charm lies with the small imperfections that result from a rug's handmade nature.
Machine spun wool is swollen.
Another example: "Volumizing" hair products swell the hair and make it frizzy so it looks thicker, and that is exactly what machine spun wool does. It swells the wool to make it look more thick so the rug seems more plush!
In conclusion, it's important to note these factors when you buy a wool rug. Know the type of rug you're buying and the use you're going to get out of it. While New Zealand wool tends to be more expensive, does it really make a difference when you'll have to replace another type of wool rug every few years? It's important to consider the long term investment when purchasing a wool rug.