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What is Rug Making?

By Alan Rankin
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On Dec 04, 2011

@OeKc05 – I have seen similar rug exhibits at antique stores in my area. They also flood the local monthly flea market, and I hear they make a killing there.

The rugs are high quality. You can tell that a lot of work went into them. I know that probably not much of the money made from their sale goes to the actual rug maker, but at least they get a little bit from each one.

Does anyone know any actual rug makers from the Middle East? Do you know approximately how much they make off of one large rug?

By Perdido — On Dec 03, 2011

I don't have a problem with buying mass produced rugs. They are easier to find and sometimes less expensive, and I have a lot more patterns to choose from.

My sister recently chided me for buying a large dragonfly floor rug for my daughter for her birthday from a department store. She said I should be supporting the rug crafters who were struggling to make a living, so I asked her if she knew of any who could make me a dragonfly rug in the next two weeks. I think she got my point.

I'm all for supporting artists and crafters, but sometimes, it doesn't hurt to support factories. They have workers, too, even if their job description requires a little less skill.

By cloudel — On Dec 02, 2011

My grandmother made rag rugs when her family was having a hard time making ends meet. She made one for their house, but she also made them to sell at the local market.

They didn't fetch much money, but even a little bit helped the family survive. They depended on their crops mostly for food, and the rag rug money helped buy things like flour and cornmeal.

She even got creative and made some rugs from used flour sacks. They were kind of rough, but they worked well for wiping off your feet at the front door.

By OeKc05 — On Dec 02, 2011

There is an Arabian man who comes to an antique store in town marketing rugs every few months. The rugs are deeply discounted, and they were made in his home country.

Whoever wove these rugs is very skilled at their craft. Often, floral patterns or intricate designs make these rugs look as though they took years to weave.

I am surprised that they are available at such a cheap price. I would think he could get much more for them in my town than in his country, and I wonder if he knows this.

By Mae82 — On Dec 01, 2011

I have been playing around with working with different rug making tools like the latch hook and I've also tried rag rug making. I was wondering if anyone knows where to find some great rug hooking patterns, besides the craft store?

I have found that the rug hooking patterns at the craft store can get pretty expensive, and I would like to try something new besides the simple packaged patterns. Actually, is it possible to make your own rug hooking patterns?

Now that I think about it, I think that making patterns would be really fun. I can certainly think of a few unique ideas.

By animegal — On Nov 30, 2011

@Sara007 - I've been doing latch hook rug making for a few years and it is really fun. I like that there are so many great patterns available, which means I can make rugs of the characters I like really easily. I think that with the rug making kits you won't have any trouble learning the basics, it is really easy.

As far as rug makings supplies go, I find it cheaper than knitting. I suppose that really comes down to what kind of yarn you buy though. I buy rug yarn on sale, and it is a bit coarse, so it doesn't cost much. If you get cashmere or something though, the price will skyrocket.

By Sara007 — On Nov 30, 2011

Does anyone have any experience with latch hook rug making? Do you think it is easy to learn?

I am looking to take up a new hobby and saw some latch hook kits at the craft store. I already do embroidery and can sew pretty well, so I think it would be fun to start making things that I can get a little more use out of.

Also, do you find that rug hooking is expensive to do, or is it fairly cheap compared to something like knitting?

I have also considered taking up knitting, but I am not sure how hard it will be. I just want to be able to make useful things.

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