Colin England on “Chinese Silk Rugs”

On July 9, 2011, Colin England,

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. on the subject “Chinese Silk Rugs.”

Colin is an actuary, with an understandable background in mathematics, who has said that one thing that attracted him to the sort of finely woven rugs he collects, is the fact that they can produce designs that look curvilinear on a rectangular grid.  He said that when he first encountered this phenomenon that, despite knowing perfectly well, intellectually, what was going on, it seemed to him an instance of near and fascinating “magic”

Colin’s topic this particular morning was a subset of this general interest. 

He said:  “I had intended to do four sessions regarding silk rugs, and have only done three (a general session (1999), one on Persian silk rugs (2003) and one on Turkish silk rugs (2005)).  The session I have not done (ed. today’s session) is on Chinese silk rugs, which are almost exclusively a second half of the 20th century phenomenon.” 

Colin added that as he had worked through the sequence of sessions above it has occurred to him that it might be interesting to do one more, this one focused on silk rugs that are “…fairly recent, partially derivative (of both Persian and Turkish traditions) and entirely commercial…”   This, he said, he may do sometime in the future.

He began his treatment of Chinese silk rugs with a brief characterization of Chinese rugs in general.

Older Chinese rug weaving, he said, were mostly in formats such as “…mats, saddle covers and pillar rugs, not many floor rugs.”

Chinese rug weaving, he said, had in earlier time been mostly for internal consumption, but that starting around the 1880s became largely export-driven.

Some rugs, he said, that might seem Chinese are in fact East Central Asian: for example, silks from East Turkestan, the area around the Taklimakan desert (Tarim basin).

Silk (sericulture) has deep roots in China.  He said that one source he consulted made great claims for the achievements of early Chinese rulers and connected the wife of one with sericulture. This source held that Emperor Huang-ti (pre-Hsia dynasty, Yu so, pre-2205 BC, and other pre-Great Emprorers , so pre-2,600 BC) “defeated the barbarian Miaos, thus clearing North China for Chinese settlement; introduced government institutions; and was credited with the invention of coined money and the compass.  His wife taught silk culture and domestic work.  Other sources date silk culture in China from 1,400 to 1,200 BC.

So, Colin said, silk textiles have been produced in China for a long time.  They been used extensively in clothing.

Speaking generally, he said, the more recent periods of Chinese rug weaving are something like this:

    • East Turkestan (1800s)
    • Nichols/Art deco (1920s)
    • Traditional (1929)
    • Modern (ca 2000)

Despite its deep silk weaving tradition, extensive Chinese production of silk rugs did not occur until the 1960s/1970s. 

The designs used in this initial silk rug production were derived primarily from Chinese paintings.  During the 1980s/1990s designs in Chinese silk rugs began to copy Persian and Turkish designs.  There were close reproductions, but also revisions and enhancements of such Middle Eastern designs. 

Note:  Eiland claims that our western notions of “originality” and “copying” have to be reconsidered when we deal with Chinese weavers.  A Chinese artisan trying to make an exact copy of an antique artifact would see his efforts in positive terms, a species of paying homage to the original.

Colin noted that during the 1990s/2000s “Chinese” style pictorial carpets became more frequent.  These included photographic renditions, reproductions of other art (for example some poster art) and reinterpretation of Persian/Turkish pictorial designs.

Despite drawing on Persian/Turkish designs, Chinese rugs retained some distinctive structures, color palettes, signature practices, and designs not seen in Persian/Turkish rugs were often used by Chinese weavers.

He said that the aesthetic of Chinese silk rugs, in particular, was shaped by 1) fineness of weave, 2) perfection of design execution (craftsmanship), and 3) the art of the designer (i.e., the attractiveness of the design and its ability to be applied to a variety of media).

He said that Chinese silk rugs particularly attracted him because:

    • Of the allure of silk.  Its ability to reflect light gives it flash; it has high tensile strength; and,the small diameter of its fibers makes it it possible to weave fine patterns with it.
    • They are relatively inexpensive.
    • They are made in a wide variety of designs.
    • They can exhibit art in their designs, and fine craftsmanship in their execution.

Chinese silk rugs are commercial products made in a wide variety of locations.   We are seldom able to say where a given rug was woven.

Chinese silk rugs, he said, have silk pile and are woven on a silk structure, something that permits the use of knot counts approaching 2,000 kpsi, although many Chinese silk rugs have knot counts that are in the 500-600 kpsi range.  Above 300 kpsi the eye can be fooled into seeing seeming smooth curvilinear designs woven on a rectilinear grid.  Above that such designs can be produced on very tiny scales packed with colors and details.

Most Chinese pile rugs, Colin said, are traditionally of wool pile woven on cotton foundations, using asymmetric knots open to the left.  Alternate warps tend to be completely depressed so that one is directly above the other.  This produces the famous Chinese “closed” back. 

But Chinese silk rugs are different.  As already noted, they are mostly done with silk pile on a silk foundation.  But examination reveals that nearly all Chinese silk rugs are woven with symmetric knots.  Because the use of asymmetric knots is sometimes thought to make it easier (because of the “weak-sided” shape of the knot, composed of a “half hitch” on one side but only an “inlay” on the other) to draw smooth curves.  The squarer shape of the symmetric knot (composed of two half hitches, reversed in relation to one another) is sometimes seen to be a disadvantage in this regard. 

But, Colin pointed out, the fact that alternative warps are fully depressed removes this disadvantage for Chinese silk rugs woven with symmetric knots, since one knot node is completely buried and the actual drawing is done with a single knot node, precisely the same things that occurs when an asymmetric knot is used.

Dyes in Chinese silk rugs are likely nearly all synthetics, although some uses of indigo may be from natural sources.

Colin now began to treat the rugs he had hung on the front-of-the-room board.

He began by sketching with a few examples the kinds of Chinese rugs he would NOT be talking about.

He would not be treating, he said, rugs like this silk saf design from Eastern Turkmenistan.

Note:  Colin has provided me with a post-session set of notes that includes detailed descriptions of each piece.  I will place his description under the initial overall image of each piece shown below.  Note especially, the size, since a number of these Chinese silk rugs are miniatures.

19th Century, Western China/Turkestan

  • Pile, Foundation – silk pile, cotton warp and weft; 6-9 shoots blue & white weft;
  • Selvedge – wrapped, but not likely original
  • Knot count and type – 7 x 7 (50)
  • Design – Saf,
  • Border design – geometric, symmetric
  • Other – Five niche prayer rug
  • Size – 3 ½’ x  9 1/3’

Here are some closer looks at details of this piece.

Colin said that he thinks that this, worn, but still interesting rug, which IS silk and relatively coarse, may be arguably 18th century.

But is not,in the schema of his program, because it is not “Chinese” (although some Chinese might disagree).

A second type Chinese rug that he would not be treating is exemplified by the piece below.

Early 20th Century (1929), Wool traditional – traditional design, with “imperial” dragon; note outer border on both wool pieces, open with intrusions

  • Pile, Foundation – Wool on cotton
  • Knot count and type – 250, asymmetric, open left
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Design – field with dragons, flying fish, pavilion and waves
  • Border design – dark blue
  • Other – Note subtleties in coloration of pavilion, flying fish and dragon, with similar colors used close to each other, only noticible at close inspection.
  • Size – 37” x 60”

Again, a few closer detail images.

There are some color differences due to the way the camera handles light at different distances and from different angles.   The photograph below most closely approximates the colot of the field of this rug.

A third example of a type of Chinese rug Colin would not treat in this session was of the sort below.

Early 20th Century (1920s/1930s), Wool art deco “Nichols” – strong, non-traditional colors

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, cotton
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 100, open right
  • Colors – strong, vibrant red, emerald and dark green, purple and yellows
  • Border design – solid red border
  • Other – design is not typical “Chinese” design
  • Size – 49 ½” x 81”

Here are some closer detail images of this piece.  (Note: The ground color of this rug has a strong emerald green.  The camera may push some images of it toward gray.)

The group of rugs, Colin said, he WOULD be talking about is better exemplified by the rug below.

C.A. 2000, Square Chinese

  • Pile, Foundation – silk; 3 strand warp; 2 weft shoots;
  • Selvedge, end finish – three cord; ¼” plain weave;
  • Depression – full
  • Knot count and type – 23x 23 (529); Persian, open right;
  • Colors – light and dark blue; red and light pink; light and dark green; white;
  • Design – 5 layer medallion, quartered medallion in corners, flowers and leaves over dark blue field;
  • Border design – 8, with outside solid dark blue and four guard borders with large colored dots; repeating flower and leaf minor border; main border repeating and inverted flower and vase (?)
  • Other – text or signature at bottom right.
  • Size – 37.25” x 37.25”

Here is a closer detail on one upper quarter of this piece.

Colin reinforced his previous indication that the Chinese silk rugs he was going to focus on are relatively recent phenomenon, and are an instance of the Chinese beginning to weave nearly any kind of rug for which there is sufficient market interest.  With some exceptions Chinese silk rugs began to appear in significant numbers in the 1980s and the 1990s and most of the pieces he had brought were of that vintage or more recent.

Now Colin moved to the first level of the board on which were hung some of the Chinese silk rug that were the topic of his talk.

About this group he said:

Flat I – The Changing Styles of Chinese Silk Rugs

The earliest of what I call Chinese silk rugs dates to the late 1960s or 1970s.  These were often copies of Chinese paintings, and much less often copies of traditional Oriental rug designs.  Over time, many versions of traditional designs were made, with the Chinese adopting and amending the traditional designs to meet every demand.

Note the differences between the Iranian and Chinese designs and construction in the detailed description of the rugs below.

1980s – Chinese painting style rug

  • Pile, Foundation – silk; silk warp and weft;
  • Selvedge, end finish – wrapped, one cord;
  • Depression – partial
  • Knot count and type – 12 x 12 (144); asymmetric,
  • Design – boat, with flowers above, and caligraphy to the right
  • Border design – none
  • Other – “carved”, that is the pile at the edges of figures in the field are cut shorter than elsewhere, to accent the designs 
  • Size – 37.5” x 25”

Here some detail images of this piece.

The next piece was a smaller, very fine rug, featuring a detailed lake scene.

Late 1990s – Lake Scene – very fine

  • Pile, Foundation – silk, silk
  • Selvedge – three cord
  • Knot count and type – 44×44 (1,936)
  • Design – lake scene
  • Border design – cartouches with scenes of various creatures
  • Other – Where’s Waldo effect; possible to find most anything, if you look hard enough
  • Size – 5 ft. x 3 ft.

Here are some detail images of this piece.

There’s a lot to look at in this rug and we’re going to take our time with it.  Here are some additional detail images of it.

The next rug is quite similar but not quite as fine or colorful.

 Late 1990s – Lake Scene – fine

  • Pile, Foundation – silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 28 x 24 (672)
  • Design – lake scene
  • Border design – cartouches with animal scenes
  • Other – Note difference to Persian Isfahan, from much higher density of designs, althougth both have similar knot densities
  • Size – approximately, 5 ft. X 3ft.

Here are some closer details of the rug above.

The next pictorial piece was of a quite different sort.

 1970s – Isfahan Pond with Lovers

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, silk highlights; silk
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 25×25 (625); asymmetric
  • Design – pond scene with lovers, trees, flowers and birds
  • Border design – plain band
  • Other – note general spaciousness of design (at least compared to prior Chinese rugs), with plain field around central figures, although with very fine detail as well (see flowers and birds, for example)
  • Size – 3 ft. x 5 ft.

Since the scale of design in this rug makes it more accessible in the overall image above, two closer details should be sufficient.

Notice that the borders at the edge of the field are minimal.  Also notice that there are designs in each of the four corners that if assembled would produce a complete medallion but that the central position in the field is devoted to the loving couple.

The next rug was yet another type of Chinese pictorial rug, of recent origin.

2005s – Pictorial with harp

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, silk highlights
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 27 x 27 (729), symmetric
  • Colors – extensive use of shades of brown
  • Design – angel playing harp
  • Border design – none
  • Other – note that design is perpendicular to weaving
  • Size – 3 x 5

Here are some detail images of this flamboyant rug.

One more pictorial rug was the one below.

2010s – Iranian Qum – Pictorial with stream

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, extensive silk; silk
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 27 x 27 (729); asymmetric, open right
  • Colors – wide variety
  • Design – stream, with house, bridge and creatures
  • Border design – Outside plain dark brown, with two non-matching inner borders
  • Other – extensive use of silk in field
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some closer details of this rug.

Flat II – Small floral rugs

Colin moved to this next level on the board and said:

“I mainly collect floral and pictorial rugs, not geometric rugs.  So my fondness for the fine curvilinear rugs of the late 20th century is exemplified in these rugs.” 

“Note the significant increase in tightness of weave that occurs between the earlier and later rugs.”

Colin first drew attention to a single aspect of the two rugs immediately below.   He began buy stating that, in fact, these two rugs have very similar colors and designs.

But, he continued, they have been pinned on the board, one with its pile pointing upward, and the other with its pile pointing downward. 

Silk pile threads reflect light quite differently depending on their orientation to light.   

The result, in this instance, is the colors of one above appears lighter and quite different from those of the rug below.  

(Ed.: I can testify that this difference in color was much greater when one was facing these two rugs in the room than it is in these two images.)

Now Colin began to treat the rugs on this level of the board individually.

He began with the one below.

2-1 – 1985s – Blue field all over floral

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, Silk
  •  Selvedge, end finish – 2 cord; flat weave end finish;
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type –25 x 22 (550); symmetric;
  • Design – all over floral design, with light blue lobed (flowers are the lobes) central medallion and floral sprays in the location of traditional “anchor” designs above and below the medallion.
  • Border design – wide floral main border, with asymmetric inner and outer border and dark blue border at edge of the rug
  • Other – branches connecting central flowers in dark green, and not readily descernable from dark blue field, except at very close viewing (see in close up below); note flowing nature of design – compare to next rug
  • Size – 25 ¼” x 36 ½”

Here are some more detailed images of the piece above.

This rug is one of Colin’s favorites.  One sign of its fineness is that it has hard-to-see plant stems in the dark ground of its field.  You should see them in some of the closer details below.

The next detail is one in which you should be able to see the thin lines of these plant stems.

More details of this piece.

The next piece at this level was the one below.

2-2 – 1995s – Blue field all over floral

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, Silk
  • Selvedge, end finish – 3 cord;
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type –25 x 25 (625)
  • Design – Mille fleur, with arch and flowers in the spandrels
  • Border design – Main border with alternating sprays and vasses, symmetric inner and outer border, with last outer border a plain dark blue border
  • Other – Compared to prior rug, not as much of a sense of motion in the design
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some detailed images of this piece.

Now Colin returned to the two pieces used above to demonstrate how light reflects differently when the pile points up and when it points down.

Now he treated each of them separately, giving detailed descriptions for each.  Here, again, is the first one of this “appearance” pair above.

2-3 – 2000 – Small medallion, floral

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge, end finish – 3 cords, light blue wrapped; flat weave, pile, flat weave bundled and knotted warp;
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type – 38 x 40 (1,520); symmetric;
  • Design – Round medallion, with flowers and vines, red corner devises,
  • Border design – Series of floral borders, with outer unmatched blue border
  • Other – end finish pile design, diamonds.
  • Size – 23” x 18 ½”

Here are some closer detail images of this piece (note the color changes as we get closer and take from different angles).

Here, also again, is an overall image of the second piece above, with a detailed description.

2-4 – 2000 – Large medallion, floral

  • Pile, Foundation – silk/silk
  • Selvedge, end finish – 3 cords, light blue wrapped; flat weave, pile, flat weave bundled and knotted warp;
  • Depression – full
  • Knot count and type – 1520
  • Design – Round medallion, with flowers and vines, red corner devises
  • Border design – Series of floral borders, with outer unmatched blue border
  • Other – Note that medallion is larger, filling the entire field, also differences in end finish from prior rug
  • Size – 23” x 18 ½”

Two closer detail images of this second piece from above.

The next rug on this level of the board was a little larger and featured three arches and complex designs.

2-5 – 2000 – Three arched

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge, end finish –three cord, blue wrapped; flat weave, knotted warp.
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type – 40 x 34 (1,360); Symmetric;
  • Design – Three bilaterally symmetric arches, with flowers and cartouches.  Central medallion on top.
  • Border design – Symmetric, interwoven floral boarder
  • Other – Purchased shortly after imported, in 1999
  • Size – 24 ½´x 37”

(Ed: The look varies in the areas on which the board lights focused most directly.  That is the reason for the color variations in the image above.)

Here are some closer detail images of this rug.

At this point Colin departed momentarily from his treatment of Chinese silk rugs to show the small, exquisite piece below.

2-6 – 1970s/1980s – Hereke

  •  Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge, end finish –three cord; flat weave, bundled and braided warps.
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type – 40 x 34 (1,360); Symmetric;
  • Design – central medallion, surrounded by rope design, which is matched in corners.  Otherwise floral and vine designs in field and borders.
  • Border design – Symmetric (except for outer white border); Interwoven floral designs;
  • Other – Hereke signature
  • Size – 12 ¾”x 18”

As the detailed description above indicates, this rug is a silk Hereke, woven in Turkey, not China.  Colin introduced it here, not just because it is a beautiful silk rug, but because the Chinese are getting so good at making silk rugs that (as we shall see with some specific examples below) that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether a given rug with a Hereke label was woven in Turkey or China.

Here are some detail images of this little piece.

Colin now moved to the next level on the board.

Flat III – Copies of the old masters – and improvements

Colin said that copying of others’ designs is as old as rug weaving.  And miniaturization of others’ designs has also been done in many places and times, but perhaps none so well as the Atiyeh rugs of the late 1980s and 1990s (the Atiyehs are rug dealers in the northwestern U.S who have commissioned a number of miniature versions of both familiar types and particular rugs).  The following four rugs are all from the Atiyeh production of Chinese silk miniatures of tribal types.

Perhaps the most recognized of the Atiyeh Chinese silk miniatures is a near copy of the South Persian rug that appears on the dust jacket (and in the book itself) of James Opie’s “Tribal Rugs.”

Here is a scan of the dust jacket.

Here is the actual rug as it appears in Opie’s book.  It’s 4 feet by 6 feet.

And below is the Chinese silk miniature rendition of it

3-1 – 1980s-1990s – Atiyeh rug – Quashqa’i/Khamseh Federation Lion Rug

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – two cord 
  • Knot count and type – 22 x 26 (572); symmetric
  • Design – Red lions on blue field, with 4 symmetric birds in center
  • Border design – Symmetric, geometric borders; note unusual end finish matching the “original” lion rug from Opie’s book
  • Other – note that lions face the opposite direction of those in the original Opie rug
  • Size – 24 x 16 ½”

Here are some closer details of this piece.

Here are some details of this rug.

It was pointed out by someone in the audience that the lions in this copy face opposite from the way they are oriented on the original.

Colin said that it appears that about 12 such copies were sold in the DC area.  We had two in the room during Colin’s session and we know of a third in nearby Virginia.

A second rug in this four-rug set was this one.

3-2 – 1980s-1990s – Atiyeh rug – Marsali Shirvan

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – striped flat weave end finish
  • Knot count and type – 26 x 26 (676); asymmetric, open left
  • Design – ascending floral field, with arch
  • Border design – multiple, geometric borders
  • Other – ascending flowers, with arch
  • Size – 22’ x 19 ½”

As the description above indicates, this is an attempt to produce a “Marsali” Shirvan in miniature.

Here are some closer details of it.

It was noticed that this miniature is much thicker than the other three.  Not clear why.  Perhaps the intent was to soften the fineness of the design, since the Caucasian rugs it is imitating use much lower kpsi, and so the lines and drawing are not as straight and clear, and the longer pile partially imitates that effect.

The third rug in this set was another Caucasian design, this time an Akstafa of the lattice field type.

3-3 – 1980s-1990s – Atiyeh rug – Akstafa

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – two cord
  • Knot count and type – 22 x 22 (484)
  • Design – flowers within repeating lattice, arch; central enclosed garden with quadrapeds
  • Border design – main leaf and vine border, with symetric barber pole guard borders and outer plain white border
  • Size – 32 ½” x 16

Here are some detail images of this piece.

The last rug in this set of miniatures was also a Caucasian design.  Its field sported three and a half Lesghi stars.

3-4 – 1980s-1990s – Atiyeh rug – Shirvan

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – two cord
  • Knot count and type – 22 x 20 (440), asymmetric open left
  • Design – 3 ½ Lesghi stars
  • Border design – Wine glass and calix main border, with symetric other borders (although colors don’t match)
  • Size – 33 x 17 ½

Here are closer details of this rug.

Colin also treated some other silk miniatures on this level of the board.

He described the first of these as a “fanciful saf.”  It is a Hereke, not Chinese.

3-5 – 1990s – Hereke – Fanciful Saf

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – multiple cord
  • Knot count and type – 26 x 26 (676); symmetric
  • Design – 4 niche, fanciful saf
  • Border design – asymmetric
  • Size – 24 x 17 ½”

Here are some closer details of this piece.

Colin turned this rug upside down and noted a particular feature.

Here are two additional closer details in this inverted position.

The last miniature rug that Colin showed on this level of the board was a “garden” design, in the style of earlier Persian and Mugal designs (although much smaller than its predecessors).

3-6 – 2000 –  Baktiari garden rug

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 2 cord
  • Knot count and type – 30 x 40 (1,200)
  • Design – repeating gardens in a square lattice
  • Border design – symetric outer borders around a floral and vine main border
  • Size – 12″ x 12″

Here are some details of this piece. 

Notice that the overall blue-ish cast of the rug is lost when we focus on this corner,

but is visible again when we move to the center.

Colin now moved to the last level of the rugs he was treating in his program.

Flat IV – Live or Memorex?

Chinese copies of other designs don’t always come out perfectly, but since they are often significantly less expensive, are often sold as from somewhere else.

Things to look for:

  • Thickness of pile (Herekes, for example are usually much thinner than their Chinese copies)
  • Stiffness of rug (very fine Herekes generally use thicker warps than very fine Chinese, yielding a somewhat stiffer feel to the rug, although neither rug is very stiff compared to wool rugs)
  • Extensive use of silk in an otherwise wool field (although note that the Qum shown earlier also uses a lot of silk in the field and some Isfahans and Nains also do, but this is more unusual for Persian than Chinese rugs)

Here is one example.

Late 1980s – Art Silk and Wool – Chinese

  • Pile, Foundation – wool with art Silk, cotton
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 17 x 17 (289)
  • Colors – light
  • Design – floral, with small medallion
  • Border design – Floral main border, with asymetric outer borders and plain beige outer border
  • Other – note that most of large flowers in field are what is called “art” silk.  Shown in close-ups below
  • Size – 4′ x 6′

Here are some closer details of this rug.

Another wool pile rug with silk highlights was the one below, although this one is from Isfahan, in Iran.

1970s/1980s – Isfahan

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, Silk highlights; silk
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 23×23 (529)
  • Design – center red medallion,
  • Border design – meandering main border, with symetric outer borders
  • Other – note use of silk only in highlights (white outlining), generally as a single thin row of knots separating other designs
  • Size – 3 x 5

Here are several details of this rug.

Colin moved to a new level on the board, continuing the theme of comparing Chinese rugs often misidetified as Hereke. 

He said that the Chinese are getting very good at weaving silk rugs.  So good, that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish a Chinese silk rug that is posting as a Hereke (woven in label and all) from a real Hereke.  Such “Chinese copies of other designs don’t always come out perfectly, but since they are often significantly less expensive, are sold as (ed. the real thing).

To demonstrate the difficulty of distinguishing a Chinese “Hereke” from one woven in Turkey, Colin put up the four pieces arranged vertically in small images below.

The first two in this sequence. are Chinese “Herekes.”  The last to are actual Herekes woven in Turkey.

Colin said that the indicators for detecting Chinese “Herekes” are not stable.   But things to look for include:

  • Chinese silk “Herekes” often have a thicker pile (they can also feel a little stiffer because of this, although the opposite is true in very fine Herekes).
  • But even experienced folks can be given pause as they attempt to make this distinction.

The four pieces immediately above are each repeated in turn below with larger overall and images and detailed descriptions, so that you have a can to examine them more closely.

Here,  again, is the first Chinese “Hereke,” above.

2000-ish – Chinese Hereke

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 600
  • Design – arch, supported by pillars, with lamp hanging from arch.  Four large birds surround lamp.
  • Border design – outer dark blue border, with inner colored borders, with floral designs covering the borders
  • Other – note small pile flowers in flat woven end finish and “Hereke” signiture in cartouche in outer border, at bottom of rug
  • Size – 1 x 2

Some detail images of this rug.

The next rug.

2000s – Chinese Hereke

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 500
  • Design – deer and other animals with trees
  • Border design – main and outer guard border have floral designs superimposed on them; inner borders do not repeat outer borders
  • Other – woven sideways; also note pile flowers in flat woven end finish
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some details of this rug.

Now the first of the real Herekes from above.

1970s/1980s – Hereke

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 500
  • Design – Arch, with pillers that do not reach arch
  • Border design – asymetric minor borders; large cartouches with caligraphy in main border
  • Other – metallic (silver) thread; note Hereke signiture in top right corner of border
  • Size – 1 x 2

Here are two closer details of this piece.

And the second of the real Herekes from above.

2000s – Hereke

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 600
  • Design – arch, with large vase below it, surrounded with flowers
  • Border design – multiple symetric borders; main border of meander with flowers
  • Size – 1 x 2

Here are some closer details of this rug.

Colin’s next rug beckoned back to the drawing we saw on an earlier Chinese pictorial rug: the lady had a harp in that one.  This time she’s petting a fawn, but the character of the two rugs is much the same.

2005s – Chinese pictorial

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 1 cord
  • Knot count and type – 900
  • Colors – 3 red/pink, 4 blues, 3 greens, white, 2 tan/khaki, 2 yellows,
  • Design – woman and deer, surrounded by flowers, ground and sky
  • Border design – None
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some details of this rug.

Colin’s next rug was neither Chinese nor Turkish, but instead a beautiful Persian silk miniature from Qum. 

He said he couldn’t resist showing it because it is so striking.

1980s Qum

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 729
  • Design – large, flashy flowers
  • Border design – little greenish shapes, surrounded by yellow in main border;
  • Other –Gorgeous, vibrant colors
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some details of this lovely piece.

Colin ended this section by noting that since about 2000 Chinese silk rug with new designs have begun to appear.

Some of these are pictorial and could be seen as similar to pictorial rugs treated above.  But they are distinctive.

2000 – Pictorial

A second type of “pictorial” rug that has emerged since 2000 is the “photographic” type.

Here is one example with a floral design.

First, a nearly complete overall shot from one end.

And a similar shot from the other end.

Here are two  detail images.

Here is outline form are Colin’s ending, summary comments:

Characteristics of best Chinese rugs

  • Design – interesting, one that attracts you back to the piece; for me, curvilinear, creatures with flowers and trees; lakes and streams
  • Colors – wide range, with subtleties of shadings and comparisons to surrounding colors
  • Craftsmanship – well executed, without apparent flaws.  Abrash doesn’t exist, as the dye lots were purchased in sufficient quantity in advance
    • Comparison of straight lines – thin and straight indicate well done and fine

Range of design is quite wide, wider than any other rug weaving culture, probably due to commercial aspect of development of business

  • Persian style
  • Turkish style
  • Chinese style, from paintings
  • Western designs, from posters, paintings and photographs

Age of rugs

  • Nearly all “new”, i.e. well less than a century old
  • Unlike most other weaving traditions, design is very helpful in aging Chinese rugs
  • Inventive, marketable designs proliferate

How do you tell Chinese rugs from:

  • Some designs are only made in China
    • Painting
  • Persian
    • Isfahan – thicker, heavier pile, and not as delicately drawn; more silk in field; use of “art silk”
    • Qum – generally, thinner pile
  • Hereke
    • Floppier pile than Hereke, except in very fine (above 1,600 kpsi), where thicker warps leave very fine Hereke’s slightly stiffer
    • Thicker (although both are relatively thin)
    • Different colors (sometimes)
    • May have signature (although there are plenty of examples of Chinese rugs bearing a Hereke type signiture)

Two members of the audience brought in a rug.  The first is another of the Chinese silk pictorial variety, this time with a “Noah’s Ark” design.

Someone asked to have this piece turned with the pile pointed in the direction opposite to that in the above image to see how that affected the look of its colors.

It seems a little lighter to me in the image above but the effect is not dramatic in these two photos.

Here are some additional “right side up” images of this piece.

A second brought-in rug was the one below.

I do not have the owner’s description but it is full of traditional Chinese design features.  Note the resolved corner treatment, something, in my experience, occurs in even the the humblest of Chinese rugs (although notice that in the Atiyeh miniature of Opie’s south Persian “lion” rug design, the “butted borders” of the original are clearly retained).

Here are some detail images of the “brought-in” piece above.

The back of this piece drew examination.

Colin took questions and brought his session to a close.

I thank Colin for permitting the fashioning of this virtual version of his RTAM program, and for the considerable work he invested, after, in that regard.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at Chinese silk rugs, a group not treated frequently.


R. John Howe

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