Sarouk Oriental Carpets & Rugs

Sarouk Oriental Rugs & Carpets

It is often said people like the sort of rugs and carpets that their grandparents had. It often seems that here in the States most peoples’ grandparents had a Sarouk. In between WWI and WWII what we now call the American Sarouk became very popular.

Sarouk takes its name from a village in Arak, Iran, but it would be a mistake to assume most Sarouk carpets come from Arak. Sarouk rugs are made in a number of places in the region and the term Sarouk actually refers to the highest grade of Arak carpet.

The American Sarouk Rug

English Author P. R. J. “Jim” Ford attributes the American Sarouk to Mr. S. Tyriakian, the Arak representative of K. S. Taushandjian of New York in the early 1920′s. The American Sarouk is a thick rug that was then stripped (a bleach wash that takes the newness out of a rug and makes it look older). The rugs did not sell so they redyed the fields a deeper shade of red. The color red can range from almost orange to blue/red, to pink. When the rugs which had been a madder red were painted with a blueish red similar to an insect dye red they began to sell…in fact they were a sensation. They were exactly what the U.S. market wanted. Typically these rugs have a rose field with detached floral sprays or vase pattern framed by a blue border.

Characteristics of the American Sarouk Rug

American Sarouk rugs were made heavier than a Mahal (which is the next grade down in Arak carpets). This weight accomplished two things: the rugs were sturdy enough to withstand the bleaching and heavy enough for the American market. American consumers like heavier carpets that do not tend to wrinkle when walked on. Americans also are more likely to wear a heavier shoe on the carpet so a thick rug like a Sarouk works well. Typically they have an 11 millimeter (.44 inches) deep pile. This was long enough to stand up to a double alkali bleaching after which it was painted.

In the beginning Sarouk knot density ranged from 9 by 10 to 10 by 12 knots to the square inch. Knot counts tended to rise through the 20th century, so that by 1990 17 by 17 KPSI was available. The rugs used mill spun cotton warps, the second thinner weft is mill spun, and the straight weft was hand spun. The wefts are often blue since indigo dyed wefts tend to shrink less.

Collector Questions

Why would they do all this dying and painting? They did what they had to do to sell the rug and once they found something that worked they stuck with it.

Doesn’t bleaching hurt the rug? Yes, but the excellent quality wool with extra heavy construction still gives many years of service.

Why didn’t they weave the rugs in the color the consumer wanted? They used the dyes available to them in the market where they wove. Over a period of time they switched to a blue red dye so by sometime in the 1930′s or 40′s the painted Sarouk carpet was phased out.

How do I tell if a rug has been painted? Look closely at areas where the color changes, such as a border of a floral spray. It is normal to spot little areas where they did not get the color applied perfectly. You can also compare the front and back of the rug. They only painted the fronts so there is a good bit of difference.

Reference Note by Barry O’Connell, p4A Contributing Editor.

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