Pile, Weave, and Foundation


Pile refers to the material (fiber) used for weaving rugs. Mostly natural fibers are used in handmade rugs. The main pile materials are wool, silk and cotton. Sometimes, goat and camel hair are also used by nomadic and village weavers.

Wool : Sheep wool is a natural fiber commonly used in rugs. The breed and age of the sheep, the season when sheared, the climate and surrounding environment are all factors that determine the quality of wool. These qualities are its thickness, texture and color.

Silk : Silk is an expensive fiber, and therefore, it is less frequently used in handmade rugs. Silk comes from the cocoon of silkworms, which thrive on mulberry leaves. Silk originally came from China and it was then cultivated in countries such as Iran, Turkey, India and some countries of the ex-Soviet Union. Silk is one of the strongest fibres.

Cotton : Cotton is used primarily in the foundation of rugs. However, some weaving groups such as Turkomans also use cotton for weaving small white details into the rug in order to create contrast.



Weave refers to the technique used in weaving handmade rugs. There are two major weaving techniques: pile weave and flat weave.

Pile Weave : Pile weave or knotted weave refers to the method of weaving used in most rugs. In this technique the rug is woven by creation of knots. A short piece of yarn is tied around two neighboring warp strands creating a knot on the back and a pile on the surface of the rug. After each row of knots is created, one or more strands of weft are passed through a complete set of warp strands. Then the knots and the weft strands are beaten with a comb securing the knots in place. Even though all pile rugs are woven with knots, different weaving groups use different types of knots. The weaving process begins at the bottom of the loom and moves upward as the horizontal rows of knots and wefts are added.


Flat Weave : Flat weave refers to a technique of weaving where no knots are used in the weave. The warp strands are used as the foundation and the weft stands are used as both part of the foundation and in creating the patterns. The weft strands are simply passed (woven) through the warp strands. Some examples of this weaving method can be seen in kelims, soumaks and brocades. These weavings are called flat weaves since no knots are used in the weaving process and their surface looks flat.



Kelims take shorter time to weave and therefore less expensive comparing with a hand knotted rug. There is no knot and the weft strands are discontinuous.




Soumak weaving is another method of flat weaving. This rug weaving technique is used by the Caucasian weaving group. They have been using this unique method of flat weaving for generations. The Soumak technique refers to a method of flat weaving where the wefts are passed over two or four warps and back under one or two warps.



Brocading is also a form of flat weaving. Brocades already have a foundation (a warp and a weft). The foundation is patterned by additional colored weft strands, which can be continuous or discontinuous, and are passed through the already existing warp and weft strands.



Foundation refers to the basic structural components of handmade rugs. These components consist of warps and wefts.

Warp : Warps are vertical strands of fiber, which stretch from the top to the bottom of the rug. Warps are an extremely important component because the knots are tied to them and the weft strands are passed (woven) through them. Even tension of all warp strands is essential in producing a rug without wrinkles. The extensions of warp strands are rug fringes. Fringes are knotted at the ends to ensure that the wefts and the knots do not unravel.

Weft : Wefts are horizontal strands of fiber that are passed (woven) through the warp strands. Unlike the warps, wefts are not structured prior to weaving. They are added before and in between the rows of knots to secure the knots in place. Each side of the rug, where the wefts begin and end, is called selvedge.

Foundation Material : In general, the same material is used for both warp and weft, and it is often cotton. Wool is used as a foundation material in some nomadic and village rugs because wool is readily available to these weaving groups. Silk is generally used in foundation of rugs with silk piles. Rugs with silk foundation and pile are very exceptional and expensive. These rugs are light in weight and are very finely knotted. Silk is a very good foundation material because it is very strong and keeps its shape.