Rug making is the ancient art of making rugs and carpets by hand. In modern times, rugs are often mass-produced by machinery. Before the Industrial Revolution, however, floor coverings were traditionally made by hand. Rug making is a traditional art around the world, particularly in Middle Eastern nations such as Iran and Afghanistan. Artists in these countries still practice carpet and rug making for both domestic and international markets.
Rug making has been practiced in the Middle East for more than 2,500 years. Woven floor coverings were essential for controlling dust and conserving warmth in harsh climates. The nomadic tribes of central Asia also appreciated rugs because they could be easily rolled up and transported when it was time to move the camp. Over the centuries, rug making became an essential part of the artistic heritage of these regions. In the 21st century, traditional rug makers still use these same techniques to make rugs and carpets.
Many kinds of rugs are woven on horizontal or vertical looms, devices for making textiles by hand. This is the oldest method of rug making; a woven rug 2,500 years old was discovered during an archaeological dig in a Siberian tomb. Other rugs are made by pulling strips of cloth through a base with a needle or hook. Rag rugs are created with this method from excess strips of cloth; once popular in times of financial hardship, rag rugs have become a folk-art form in their own right. In modern times, machines are used to mass-produce rugs and carpets for the housing market.
Despite mass production, rugs made by hand in Asia or the Middle East are still popular around the world. Some can be very inexpensive, even if the rug making process took weeks or months, because of the economic disparity between nations. Iran exports traditional Persian rugs around the world as well as keeping them for domestic use. In 2007, Iranian rug makers created the world’s largest carpet, more than 60,000 square feet (about 5,000 square meters), for an Islamic mosque.
Fine examples of rug making are visible in museums around the world, while other rugs are available for purchase in import shops. Hand-woven rugs figure into Middle Eastern mythology, with heroes such as Sinbad the Sailor traveling on enchanted “flying carpets.” These devices were made popular by the ancient legends recorded in English as the “Arabian Nights.” Flying carpets also appear in modern films such as Aladdin and The Thief of Bagdad.