On May 16, 2015, David Zahirpour
gave the last Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program held at The Textile Museum’s original building on S St. Here in Washington, D.C.
Courtesy, The Textile Museum
We’ve made repeated estimates of which RTAM program would draw this distinction and, with the sale of the S St. buildings, it was David’s session.
David is a long-time dealer here in Washington, who has a close relationship to The Textile Museum and often serves as their resource for demonstrations of textile conservation and repair. And his talk entitled “Love Your Oriental Rugs, was on the care and maintenance of them.
David said that his thoughts on this subject, arrayed themselves in his mind as a set of ten edicts, like those of the Ten Commandments: ten rules you should follow to preserve and maintain your oriental rugs. David emphasized that his advice was focused only on rugs and that other textiles might require distinctive treatment.
Most readers will know that David, and the staff of his shop, provide comprehensive services in this area. So his talk drew on his actual, continuing experience in washing, repairing, and conserving oriental carpets.
Here are David’s ten edicts for caring for your oriental rugs.
David says that washing your oriental rug is recommended every three to five years.
Here is the process he follows in his own washing facility.
The rug is first thoroughly vacuumed and vibrated on its backside.
Doing this from the back of the rug ensures that dust particles fall from the knots of the rug onto the floor. A metal grid placed beneath the rug creates a space between the rug and the floor, making sure that these particles are clear of the rug.
You can see, in the image below, the amount of dirt that had been attached to the inner knots of the rug, and is now removed.
Next, the rug is flipped over and vacuumed thoroughly to capture any remaining dust on its front side.
Once the dust from the rug has been removed, the rug will be initially washed and scrubbed, face-down.
David indicates that this is a full-immersion wash. The rug is hosed down and suspended in water(notice the curbing in the upper right). A benign cleaning detergent is applied and rubbed into the back.
Then, the rug is turned over and cleaned face front.
To the right of the rug, in the image above, you can see the dirt being washed away from it.
Again, a through washing and scrubbing being done on the front side of the rug.
Next, the suds are entirely flushed out, and the rug is rinsed, both front and back, until clear water pours out.
The arrangement for drying a rug is important.
Here’s how David describes his own drying practice: “The rug is hung to dry in a closely monitored temperature controlled room. This room is ventilated to ensure that the rug receives proper moisture and eliminates mold from forming.”
Note: Some folks are brave enough to wash a smaller rug themselves in the bath tub. If you attempt this, first vacuum the rug front and back as described above. Then use a ph-neutral detergent, like Orvis, in cold water. Scrub the rug with a small vegetable brush front and back. Drain the dirty water and rinse the rug thoroughly. If the rug is very dirty, you may need to repeat the washing with detergent more than once. But when the rug seems clean, rinse it thoroughly, until the rinse water runs clean. The best way to take a wet rug out of the tub after rinsing is to lay it flat in the tub, roll it up end to end, then stand the roll up on one end and let it drain for several hours before lifting it out of the tub. Then hang or spread the rug so that air reaches it on both sides. Heavy pile rugs may take more than a day to dry.
2. Vacuuming Your Own Rugs.
We talked a bit above about vacuuming a rug as part of the washing process, but there is also the problem of how best to vacuum a rug, during your regular house cleaning.
David said that, first, it is best to use a vacuum machine that does not have a rotating brush. If your machine has one, he advises you to set the brush high so that it does not “eat” at the pile of your rug unduly. Regardless of the type vacuum cleaner you have, it is best not to set the vacuum suction at the highest level, again to avoid damage to the rug’s pile.
Next David says, it is best to vacuum moving side-to-side, on the rug, rather than from one end to the other. It is acceptable to vacuum moving end to end “in the direction of the pile,” but that increases the chance that you will catch the fringes at either end and damage them. So side to side is best.
Rugs should be vacuumed regularly. A dirty rug invites pests.
A footnote is that it is important to vacuum both the back and front of rugs fastened directly to a wall (that is, with no space between the back of the rug and the wall). This is less problematic if you hang rugs using the Velcro method described below. The latter holds the rug slightly away from the wall and the air space makes the spawning of pests on the back of the rug less likely.
“Rotating” is turning a rug, used on the floor, 180 degrees on its center, so that the wear patterns from people walking on it, and other uses, are changed annually.
Let’s do it. Pick a point in the center of the rug above. We’re going to rotate it in two steps. First, 90 degrees to the right. Here we go.
OK. Now, once more to achieve a 180 degree rotation.
Now the original top and bottom of this rug have been reversed and it will now be exposed to a different wear pattern, since folks who walk on it will follow their usual paths. But that will be in different places, because we’ve rotated it.
4. Replacing Padding.
David suggests that rug padding should be replaced every five to seven years.
Rug padding can perform several functions. First, it will increase the wear by cushioning the effect of walking on it. It can reduce or eliminate the tendency of a rug to slip when it is stepped on. By providing space for air to circulate on the bottom-side of the rug, pads can prevent pest damage, something David talked about more fully below.
In a subsequent visit to his shop, David showed me and talked about several types of rug padding.
2a. The first type of padding David uses is called “Rug Mate.” It is a combination of rubber and felt.
Here is what the top side looks like.
And here is its bottom side. This type pad is about one quarter of an inch thick.
A second type rug pad is called “Optima.” It is also rubber and felt. Here is its top side.
David said that a third type of rug padding is a “non-skid” variety. This type is thinner and more flexible than the first two types. It has a rubbery handle, but is not rubber. It is a single layer, but with holes in it. The top side is the same as the back. Here it is.
You can see that holes in this “non-skid” variety provide generous space within which air can circulate, freely, on the bottom side of a rug.
A fourth type rug pad is called “Tee Baud” padding. The first three types are used for rugs that are laid directly on wood floors. The “Tee Baud” type is used under oriental rugs that are placed on “wall-to-wall” carpeting.
Here is the front side of this fourth type pad.
And here is its bottom side.
Padding should be cut so that it is one inch inside the perimeter of the rug.
5. Minimize Exposure to Direct Sunlight
The next of David’s edicts about rug care is about minimizing damage from sunlight.
Before indicating David’s specific advice about exposure of your rugs to sunlight, it might be good to review a bit some of the aspects of light that can affect rugs.
Light effects rugs (and other textiles) over time. In some cases it may contribute to fading or discoloration, but of more concern is the damage that the fibers may suffer under prolonged exposure to non-visible light. The two types of non-visible light of concern are 1) “ultraviolet” light and 2) “infrared” light.
Ultra violet light is present on large quantities both in sunlight and in “florescent” lighting. Infrared light is present in “incandescent” lighting. Florescent lighting is cooler, but incandescent light gives off considerable heat.
You can see why most museum curators want rugs and textiles displayed in dim light and want them stored, ideally, in total darkness.
David’s advice is that you should take measures to minimize the exposure of you rugs to full sunshine. This may be as simple as drawing the shades or drapes between, say, 11 am and 3 pm (advice will vary on this time span). Most homes have incandescent lights and David feels that in normal use incandescent lights will not affect your rugs unduly. The distances at which incandescent lights are used in most homes are large enough to make the danger of harm from the heat they generate. inconsequential.
6. Displaying a Rug in Your Home
This aspect of David’s advice has several parts.
The first is to consider whether the fabric of the rug needs “support” in order to be used in the way intended. The support a given rug needs for the use to which it will be put is a matter of degree. If the fabric of the rug is sturdy and the rug is not too heavy no extra support may be needed regardless of whether it is to be placed on the floor or hung on a wall. But if a rug to be hung on a wall is of a lighter weight or is even delicate in some areas, then support needs to be provided.
Sometimes sufficient support can be provided by sewing cotton tape on its back parallel with the sides, and also, sometimes, across the top. The kind of tape used comes in one inch and two inch widths. The tape is hand-sewn on both of its edges.
Here are some examples of various degrees of support.
The first is an example in which the rug need, primarily support for its vertical weight. Tape is sewn just inside its vertical edges (i.e. parallel with its warps).
Note that, as we said above, the tape is hand-sewn on both of its sides.
Sometimes it may be that some horizontal support is needed and so tape is applied parallel with the wefts.
If a rug or textile is very fragile or is a fragment, it may be necessary to support the entire piece by sewing it onto a backing.
Here is a Shirvan rug with a niche design.
Shirvans are often quite thin and this one is delicate. So, it was decided to provide maximum support by sewing on a backing as large as the rug itself. Here’s how part of the back looks once this backing has been sewn on.
David was treating complete rugs, but this kind of backing is also used to conserve a piece that is fragmented. If there are holes to minimize or colors to bring out, the color of the backing can be chosen for this purpose.
Here is are two examples in which the color of the backing was chosen to minimize holes.
7. Proper Hanging and Displaying of Your Rug (on a wall).
David has strong views on this subject. He believes that the best way to hang a rug without damage over time is to use the Velcro method. He thinks that the “sleeve and rod” display method is bad and that the “ring and rod” display arrangement is worse. In both of these latter cases, he argues, weight and stress are not distributed as widely in the rug as they are using the Velcro method.
Here are the steps he advises.
First buy a strip of Velcro as wide as the rug.
A strip of Velcro has two parts. One has a fuzzy side (the “loops” side) and the other has a more prickly feel (the “hooks” side). Separate the two pieces.
Sew the strip with the fuzzy side onto the top end of the rug, fuzzy side out. Sew both sides of the strip by hand.
Staple the “hooks” side of the Velcro (hooks facing out) to a piece of wooden lath sturdy enough to support the weight of the rug. The “hooks” side is the strip with the staples in it in the image below.
Attach the wooden lath (now with the “hooks” side of the Velcro facing out) to the place on the wall where you want the top of the rug to be.
Now mount the rug on the wall by pressing the fuzzy strip of Velcro (the loops side) onto the hooks mounted on the wooden lath.
Let the rug hang as needed. (Note: it is possible to change, slightly, the position of the rug on the two Velcro strips. Using Velcro makes minor repositioning easier and without new holes in the wall.)
As we said above, using a Velcro hanging system with the hooks side side of the Velcro, lets the rug hang without touching the wall (it is separated from the wall by the width of the wooden lathe). This makes the development of pests on the back of the rug less likely.
One last advantage of Velcro: it does not shrink during washing as cotton tape can. So it does not have to be removed and replaced for washing as cotton tape usually does.
8. Pet Accident Protection.
Remember that David is thinking, primarily, of decorative rugs. His advice is brief.
This product provides a shield that does not permit pet accidents (even human ones like spilling food) to penetrate the fibers of the rug. David says that ScotchGard does not affect the dyes or the texture of a rug to which it has been applied. He adds that applying ScotchGard to your rug does not require professional assistance. You can do it yourself without concern.
One caution: I do not know any textile collectors who would apply ScotchGard to the rugs and textiles in their collection.
On the other hand, Marla Mallett recommends a similar product that she uses on her antique, collectible kilims. Here’s what she says about it in response to a “frequently asked question” on her site. She’s hard to impress.
Question: You’ve mentioned spraying kilims with Vectra to protect them. Where can I get it?
Marla: In my opinion, Vectra is wonderful! It’s a petroleum product that can be sprayed on kilims and works much like Scotchguard to prevent soiling. I first discovered this product when it seemed impractical to use Moroccan flatwoven hambels on the floor because they included some white cotton. A light misting with Vectra, however, works wonders. Vectra is also useful for pieces in heavy traffic areas or in areas where there is a possibility of food spills. The first Vectra representative I encountered sold me on the product: He pulled out a Kleenex that looked as though it was straight from the box–a tissue that he claimed had been sprayed with Vectra. He poured Coca Cola on it. Well, that Coke rolled around and rolled off! One light spraying of a kilim supposedly lasts through two or three washings or cleanings. It does not affect the feel or appearance of the fabric. Museum folks are reluctant to add any chemical to a textile, but with a piece that we expect to give hard use, I think it is worth considering. Where can you get Vectra? If it is not available in your local rug or fabric shop, you can order a small can with a spray pump directly from http://www.vectraspray.com.
For anyone living in a tropical climate with high humidity, Vectra offers another kind of protection: a light spraying can act as a desiccant, preventing the formation of mildew. Useful indeed!
9. Preventing Moths and Other Insect Damage.
David’s primary advice here was to repeat his advice about cleaning your rugs regularly.
He also advises not to place a rug under a bed or even a sofa that is not moved for cleaning regularly.
And, as we have indicated above, the use of pads can allow air to circulate and reduce the chance of pests.
We have also indicated that, if you hang rugs on a wall using the Velcro method, the rug will be held slightly away from the wall reducing the chance of the development of pests, BUT, if you hang rugs on the wall so that the back is flat against the wall, you need to inspect their backs and vacuum them periodically, despite how difficult or inconvenient, the latter might be.
David said that mothballs should be used only in sealed containers or separate rooms.
Mothballs are considered carcinogens. (Some say that mothballs don’t actually kill moths, but keep them away from rugs with mothballs in them. Camphor is another substance that some use to keep moths away from their rugs. Again, camphor doesn’t kill moths, but its advantage is that it’s not a carcinogen.)
Some use cedar chests to store their not-in-use rugs. Others put cedar balls in drawers or chest where rugs are kept. David said that, if you have an extra closet you can devote to storing your rugs, it is not that difficult to line it with cedar. Line the floor, ceiling and all the walls excepting the back of the door, which he said is not necessary.
One way to prevent the rugs and textiles coming into your home from bringing in moths and other pests they may contain is to freeze them before using them. The main drawback of this approach is that you have to have access to a chest freezer that is big enough to contain your rug and that is not much used, or to a commercial meat locker that will rent you space. Chest freezers take the temperature down in a -4 degrees F. The process is to enclose each rug you want to freeze in a heavy plastic, trying to get all the air out of it. Put the rug in the freezer and leave it there (not opening the lid) for one week. Then take the rug out of the freezer and let it warm up for a day or two, then put it back for a second uninterrupted week. Then bring the rug out of the freezer, let it warm to room temperature, then vacuum it front and back. This process kills any moths in the rug at whatever stage of development they’re in. It does nothing to prevent the rug from being infected again, but if it is, it will not be from the moths that were in it when you began.
David talked about one of the the chemicals used by some to protect their rugs from pests. It is “pyrethrum.”
This is what the ABC rug firm says about it on its web site:
Pyrethrum–Most Effective Insecticide
The most effective and safe insecticide that can be used is pyrethrum. It is the oleoresin extract of dried chrysanthemum flowers. The extract contains about 50% active insecticidal ingredients known as pyrethrins. These strongly lipophilic esters rapidly penetrate many insects and paralyze their nervous systems.
Both crude pyrethrum extract and purified pyrethrins are contained in various commercial products, commonly dissolved in petroleum distillates. Some are packaged in pressurized containers (bug-bombs), usually in combination with synergists.
The synergists retard enzymatic degradation of pyrethrins. Some commercial products also contain organophosphate or carbamate insecticides. These are included because the rapid paralytic effect of pyrethrins on insects (quick knockdown) is not always lethal.
Are Pyrethrins Safe?
Pyrethrins are commonly found in pet shampoos, so that should tell us that it is relatively safe.
Will pyrethrins cause dyes to become unstable? The research does not support this. Pyrethrins break down quickly after application and are considered safe for use in the home.
Please remember, as with any product used in the home, it is important to read the label and test it in an inconspicuous area.
Some use a spray called SLA. It claims to kill moths, but needs to be used only outside, since it’s fumes are harmful if breathed (a rug sprayed with SLA needs to be kept in a sealed container or in a place where its fumes will not be breathed for a day or so). SLA comes in a vacuum can and is easy to use for that reason. Some dealers use it to prevent moths from developing in rugs they buy, as they travel, on a buying trip.
10. Having Certified Appraisals.
An important reason for having a good appraisal of your rug is that the appraisal will make it possible to file an insurance claim on it if it is damaged, destroyed or (if your insurance covers theft) stolen. An appraisal of your rugs will also be useful in resolving your estate should you die.
David said that there are different bases on which a certified appraisal can be made and the one chosen affects the cost of the appraisal. If you are willing to have an insured rug replaced by one that is of its approximate type, the appraisal cost will be lower. If you are insistent that a particular rug be replaced by one exactly like it, the cost of that appraisal will be higher because the appraiser will charge for the more extensive research required to determine where such a rug exists and what it would cost.
You can expect that an appraisal made for you by a certified appraisal will, mostly likely, be couched in terms of the local rug market. A given rug will likely be appraised for more, maybe a lot more, in NYC than it would be in Kansas City. This local effect is likely despite the fact that information about availability and prices now flow internationally, in a moment, on the internet.
These are David’s Ten Commandments of oriental rug care.
David answered questions and brought this last RTAM in the S St. buildings to a close.
Going out the door, we could take what may be our last look at the home that Mr. Myers turned into The Textile Museum.
We needed a venue appropriate to a state-of-the-art museum, and The George Washington University offered us that. We needed to go, but lots of us are going to miss these lovely old buildings.
I want to thank David for allowing me to fashion this virtual version of his, the last Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program held on S Street. Thanks to him, too, for the time and work he invested, after this session, as he and I put it together.
R. John Howe