A History of Silk Rugs: From Silkworms to Contemporary Fine RugsPost by: Aaron On June 26, 2012
The word silk is synonymous with luxury and splendor. It is the undisputed queen of luxury textiles. The fiber was actually discovered around 2600 BC in China. Legend has it that an Empress accidently dropped a cocoon in to a cup of hot tea. The heat of the tea coincidentally melted the outer shell gum and it unraveled into one continuous fiber. Silk had been discovered.
From China, silk found its way to Rome and Greece on the “silk road.” China tried hard to keep it a secret, but Japan started production in about 300 AD and India followed closely behind, beginning production around 400 AD. Marco Polo introduced it to the Italians and the rest is history.
There are two different types of silkworm caterpillars; the Bombycid, a commercial silkworm, and the Saturnidae, a wild silkworm. Both will only grow and flourish where mulberry leaves are found. The silk found in most genuine silk rugs today is from the commercial silkworm. The unique properties of silk include being hygroscopic, able to hold up to 30% of its weight in water, with a low specific gravity or low density, and having strength in fineness. In an equal diameter, silk is stronger than a steel wire! The strength in fineness is often a bragging point from some rug dealers. They may claim is that it is stronger than wool…very untrue! Silk is solely tinsel strength. As a face yarn, silk’s performance is lacking. It crushes, untwists, and does not hold up to abrasions as wool does. Silk rugs are also prone to color bleeding as the silk fiber holds its dye poorly. Silk rugs are great as a wall hanging, but should be used cautiously as a floor covering. So do not believe all you are told when traveling around the world visiting rug markets…
Not all silk is created equal. There is “noil silk” which is made from left over short fibers that are swept off the floor, as well as “faux silk” which is actually rayon or mercerized cotton. Buyer beware!
Some of the finest silk rugs are from Turkey, made in a town named Hereke, which is in the western part of their country about 45 miles from Istanbul. Commercial rug production began in Hereke in about 1843 with the establishment of court weaving workshops. The knot count (kpsi) can be as high as 1200, although most are in the 500 range. The colors, handles, and drawings of their rugs are great. Other countries produce very fine silk rugs including Iran (Persia), China, and India, as well as others.
Atiyeh Bros. has Certified Rug Specialists, (CRS) that are able to determine the ID of a fiber through forensic testing. Bring your silk rug in to us and we are more than happy to inspect and identify it at no charge.