Confessions of a Rug Merchant
Mr. Bashir is currently writing the autobiography of his life's work entitled: "Confessions of a Rug Merchant". Chapters will be appearing below as they are completed.
Before I begin, I would like to express my gratitude to all the clients who have given me the opportunity to serve them for the last 40 years. I would also like to give a special thanks to all the interior decorators and designers who I have met over the years, and who very kindly insist in dealing exclusively with me. Thank you to my wife and children for their patience, my brothers and suppliers overseas for listening and making carpets in colours that I request, as well as for assisting me in obtaining carpets on a daily basis from all over the world.
While at home, your wife turns to you and says: "We need a Persian or Oriental rug for the living room." Before you know it, you need a carpet for the dining room, the Den/TV room, entrance, bedrooms, hallways, etc. This is how it should be, but you can do what you want. If it was me, I would consult an interior designer who would guide me or bring me to a carpet store to advise me on what would work best with what I have in the house. In my 40 years living in North America, I can count with my fingers the men who have come in and selected the carpets with impeccable taste and where things worked out very well. Mostly ladies come and select carpets. Guys are not very much interested in this process—but there are always a few exceptions. It would be good if men had an idea of the direction ladies lean to in terms of colours of walls, drapes, and furniture, etc. It helps them to visualize the final decor to some extent.
Chapter 1: Early Memories
My memories of carpets are that during summer school holidays, when I would visit my maternal grandparents house. Their principal trade was and still is to organize hand embroidery of silk threads on woolen shawls. Their secondary trade was the weaving of carpets on hand looms. After the partition of India and Pakistan, my grandparents, being of Kashmiri origin and with the issue of Kashmir still not settled, moved to Pakistan for better safety. They received three homes in exchange for the property they left behind. They lived in one home. In the other two homes, they put in rug looms so that weavers could use them to make carpets. My mother's other cousins were also into carpet weaving. I would visit them one summer and they would be working on a carpet; the following summer it would still be the same carpet. It's size would be around 12' x 9' feet. My memories are of it being a party type of atmosphere. The transistor radio would blare music and there was plenty of food and pigeons. One of my uncles kept pigeons. He would compete with locals on whose pigeon could fly the longest. I still remember seeing him crush almonds to mix them in with something - probably steroids - feeding the mix to the pigeons so that the pigeons could fly for a longer time. They would let them loose in the morning and whichever pigeon flew most and came back last would be the winner. There were also people flying kites, goats roaming around, with the chant of the master weaver reciting to the young weavers about how many knots of black or how many knots of red, and he would go on and on.... At that time I thought it was weird that it took so long to make a carpet, but it does take a long time to finish a carpet. In this area there was no paved road, and there was only a train that passed a few times a day. The carpet, once finished, would be taken off the loom, tied up and put on a horse drawn carriage to be brought to the train station for an onward journey to Lahore. Lahore was the nearest city and a centre of carpet processing. Once the carpet arrived at the Lahore railway station or bus station, it was loaded to another tanga - horse drawn carriage - or a pickup and brought to the market. Whoever paid the highest amount - mostly exporters or an exporter who originally commissioned the carpet in the first place - got the carpet where it was washed. Then the pile of the carpet was cut - sheared - evenly by hand. The edges are cut straight and bound because most of the time the carpet is not straight. It is also inspected for defects. After this process, the carpet is then ready for sale.
Chapter 2: What's in a name?
What's in a name? It used to be that at one point, the name of a carpet meant something. Nowadays, it doesn't mean as much. It's name usually corresponded to the town, village, or tribe it was made in or from. For example, the Nain would be a carpet made in the holy city of Nain in Iran. Nowadays, a Tabas carpet looks very much like a Nain carpet, which is much cheaper but is sold as a Nain because people think that Nains are good carpets. It may have a Nain design and may have been made in Iran, but it is not the traditional Nain as we know it. This type of practice is so wide spread that a majority of internet retailers, stores, and auction houses sell them as Nains. I think that if people like the colour of the carpet, they are likely to buy it any way.
Nowadays, carpets mostly come from:
It seems it is getting harder and harder to produce genuine hand knotted carpets in almost all the countries where carpets are made. Carpet makers in India and China are using new methods which are not really hand knotted. Instead they are making latex backed carpets in which a thread is looped around the warp and weft without knotting with a lot of latex being applied on the back of the carpet to prevent it from falling apart. These carpets are then covered with a cloth backing to hide the mess. These types of carpets are next to impossible to clean. When washed underwater, the glue-latex becomes unglued, losing its intensity to hold the pile together. During the washing process, the glue will also come up on to the surface of the carpet, creating a nightmarish yellowish scenario for the carpet cleaner. These carpets are best sent to carpet heaven than to have them cleaned. These types of carpets are to be avoided—but then again, it depends on your budget. Many big box stores sell these carpets saying they are handmade when they are not. It is like someone is saying he is vegetarian because the cows that he eats are vegetarian.
Finding and collecting Persian and Oriental carpets is both a job and a passion. For me, it is more a passion than a job. There are carpets for all tastes and you do have to see what you like. There are at times during the year when shows and meetings about carpets are going on in various North American cities. During these times, I have given lectures to interior design students from various universities and private schools. In talking about old rugs, I know of a couple who adore and love only antique rugs. Six months ago they brought me a picture of a very old Bessarabian carpet containing vivid colours of red, green, and black. They could afford to buy this rug at any price, but the rug was too old and not for sale. So they asked me to have it remade. I asked my brother overseas and he had it done by Afghan weavers. The client was very pleased with the end result. Hence, any old carpet can be reproduced to its original look and feel.
Bokhara is a town in the former Soviet Union. However, about 90 percent of the majority of Bokhara carpets are made in Pakistan. In fact, 15% of total rug productions in Pakistan are of Bokhara carpets. Bokharas are easy to like as carpets, and most of the carpet connoisseurs, collectors and experts in the western world begin with them. Bokharas come in many colours. We even have a purple Bokhara! The most popular type of Bokhara is the red Bokhara. During the U.S. presidency of Jimmy Carter, a red Bokhara—probably from Pakistan—was displayed in many pictures at the White House. In our stock, we also have Russian and Persian Bokharas, but the type that sells the most are the Pakistani Bokharas. Bokharas also have Turkman/Turkmenistan origins.
Habibian Nain & Nain Carpets
Once Habibian Nains used to be considered very important carpets in the Nain family, regular Nains mostly came in an ivory coloured background with some blue and beige colours. Sometimes the blue was more deeply pronounced and sometimes it was made of a lighter blue. There are, however, exceptions. Sometimes, Habibian Nains came in vibrant red and vibrant green. Today there are a lot of carpets on the market that are signed Habibian Nains but are not made by Habibian families that are for sale in the American and Canadian markets. It is very hard to find real Habibian carpets because of their high demand. Older Nain rugs and carpets are also hard to find. To me, if a customer likes a Nain, whether it is Habibian or not, it should not make a difference.
Tabas carpets look like Nain carpets and have similar colours as the Nain, but these carpets are not a Nain. Many merchants, however, still sell them as Nains. These carpets are made in the city of Tabas in northeastern Iran. Tabas carpets are good carpets for their price, but it should be sold as a Tabas to consumers and not as a Nain carpet.
Chapter 3: Purchasing
When looking to purchase a carpet, the following factors must be examined before hand:
- Your Room Sizes
- Your Desired Carpet Size
- Your Desired Styles: Floral, Tribal, Antique, Modern, or Geometric
- Your Desired Colours: Light, Medium, or Dark
- The effects you wish to create on surrounding environments
For example, in your living room, do you wish for your carpet to discretely blend into the room, or do you wish for its effect to be stunning to the point that it becomes the main focus of the room? This is a decision you ultimately have to make. It is difficult to find a perfect rug, but my advice would be to try to come close to what you are looking for. Sometimes the challenge is in finding the right size, while sometimes it is in finding the right colour. Once this is settled, it is then only a question of price.
Chapter 4: The Next Generation
One of my daughters would like me to carry what Martha Stewart Rugs collection would carry—carpets that are, at times, modern and come in all price ranges. One could follow Martha Stewart—her style and everything Martha Stewart—whereas the other could have little to do with Mrs. Stewart. However, she still has good taste, colour sense, and design sense in Oriental and Persian rugs. She would like to continue carrying the high end standard area rugs, and is not completely against carrying Martha Stewart type of area carpets, either. Hence, we have decided to accommodate the two young ladies. This is it for now; I will write some more very soon. I have to leave to serve a customer. She just walked into the store. More chapters will be appearing shortly. Thank you for reading.