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There are a few basics you should know about rugs. Once you understand how to identify what makes a rug valuable, you’ll have a greater chance at purchasing a better rug. Rug fibers usually consist of wool in most hand knotted rugs. These rugs may also have silk highlights and artificial silk called viscose. Be aware that viscose will not perform as well as silk and may be more difficult to maintain. Synthetic fibers such as acrylic, polyester, nylon, and olefin (polypropylene) can be found in more economical machine made rugs. Your most stain resistant rugs will contain synthetic fibers, but won’t feel as soft and luxurious. All other natural fiber rugs are susceptible to staining if spots aren’t cleaned immediately. To avoid permanent stains, we highly recommend our Mi- croSeal Fabric Protection that has a long lasting effect and is WoolSafe Approved.

So what do you look for in a hand-knotted rug? Design, quality of the wool, colorfastness, knot count and country of origin are characteristics to consider. Simply because a rug is expensive, doesn’t mean it has colorfast dyes or is well constructed. Make sure you know what type of rug it is and shop at reputable dealers. Above all, be extra cautious about pur- chasing a rug outside the United States or on the internet.

The wool fiber can vary. Fine wool is soft and doesn’t shed as much as wool of lesser quality. Most wool and nylons are dyed with synthetic acid dyes. A rug should always be tested for colorfastness by taking a damp white cloth and gently rub- bing it into the fiber. If any color transfers on the cloth, the dyes are unstable. Also look closely at the fiber to check the in- tegrity. Very fine wool fibers often have the sheen of silk.

The construction of a rug is also a key factor. To determine if the rug is handmade, turn it upside down and look at the back. If you cannot see the pattern as clearly as on the face, the rug is not handmade. If the rug passes this first test, look at the fringe. The fringe should be an extension of the warp (lengthwise) yarns inside the rug and should not look like it was sewed on separately. Many rugs that claim to be hand knotted are woven on a mechanical loom.

Rugs with cloth backings are hand tufted. The cloth covers the adhesive that is holding the backing and yarn tufts to- gether. Glued backings have a tendency to degrade over time or get torn when the rug is moved or cleaned.

If you are looking for an alternative to a handmade rug, you might look at machine woven rugs. The Karastan company has been manufacturing high quality, long lasting rugs since the 1920s. These wool rugs closely resemble hand made rugs, are less expensive in price, and rarely have the problems associated with cheaper wool rugs. If you aren’t ready to invest several thousand dollars in a rug, these will be your best option Most important . . . ask the right questions. Educate yourself. And if you want some advice, contact our very own “Rug Lady,” Ruth Travis.