A famous art form from Iran, as well as other regions of the Middle East, is the Persian (Oriental) carpet. These are beautifully designed carpets and have been important in the daily lives of all levels of society. In the days of royalty, rulers sat on thrones covered with a fine Persian carpet. As they met with guests outdoors, all would sit on carpets spread upon the ground. Ordinary people, too, covered their floors with carpets to make a comfortable place to kneel in prayer, to sit, to eat and sleep. Carpets also were hung on the walls for warmth and decoration. They were very convenient for a nomadic way of life, as they could be rolled up and transported easily.21
Each region had its own style of work. Weavers used wool, cotton and silk fibers. Persian carpets have a raised surface, called the pile. The weaver forms the pile by tying a series of knotted threads. Traditionally weavers work on a simple upright loom. In a flat weave, the crosswise weft threads pass over and under the lengthwise warp threads, row after row. Inserting a row of knotted threads between rows of weft threads makes the pile or raised surface of the Persian carpet.22
The two principal types of knots are the symmetrical or “Turkish” knot and the asymmetrical of “Persian” knot. Carpet-knotting lends itself well to pattern-making because each knot makes a colored spot in the pile as the weaver uses threads of different colors.
The designs of the rugs are of several varieties. One pre-Islamic tradition that has continued to be used is the idea of the carpet as a stylized landscape of either a garden of flowers or a park with real or mythical birds and animals. Another design embodies stylized architecture, such as the arch often found on the prayer rugs of devout Muslims. The stylized lamp hanging in the center represents divine illumination. Another style of carpet design is related to the arts of the book and has a large medallion in the center and part-medallions in the corners. Again, it is essential to show the students examples of the various styles. Treasures of Islam is a wonderful book of examples to show. 23 Even Oriental carpets, or reproductions, found in our homes and carpet shops illustrate the various styles.
There are several generalizations that can be made about Persian rugs. They are usually rectangular in shape, seldom round or square. Authentic Persian rugs are knotted by hand on a frame loom. Reproductions are made by machine. A very good carpet has 300 to 400 knots per inch. The number of knots per inch is one of the things that determine the quality of the rug. Persian carpets are usually made from wool in a cut-pile. That means after the knots are made, the loops are cut to make a smooth finish. A high quality of wool used to make to rug is another determinant of the rug’s value. Rug making takes a great amount of time and patience. One person can work of a narrow rug, but for wider ones several weavers can work side by side. It can take several months to make a rug. Each hand-woven carpet, made up of thousands or even millions of knots, is unique. Quality dyes for the wool are also important. The dyes must not fade quickly as the rug ages. 24
Two types of projects are suggested. One is to create a Persian-style carpet design on graph paper with felt markers or pencils. The other project uses the design created on the graph paper to cross-stitch a small rug.