If you’ve ever been interested in understanding the effort that went into designing and weaving your Afghan rug — you’ll certainly find its history interesting! Your stunning Afghan rug boasts an incredibly rich history that dates back hundreds of years and weaves a tale of times gone by, strife, and the love of a colourful culture that has endured both pleasure and pain. There’s something extra-special about an Afghan rug, so next time you walk across its exceptional design, take a moment to think about the past and the labor of love that your rug really is!
The Home of Afghan Rugs
As you’d expect, an Afghan rug comes from its homeland of Afghanistan — a country that has undergone dramatic change over the past few centuries and is still transforming itself. Before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the late 1970’s, the country was relatively quiet and peaceful with a mainly nomadic population, famed for its sheep rearing. In fact, the sheep in Afghanistan provide super-soft high-quality wool used in Afghan rug-making (as well as other things too).
If Afghan Rugs Could Talk
Lots of Afghan families have rugs that go back through generations, because they maintain their rugged beauty and possibly even improve with age — such is their quality and the use of premium materials that make them so long-wearing. If Afghan rugs could talk — you can bet that they’d have a lot of fantastic stories to tell!
Long ago, the nomadic herdsmen would collect the wool which they then dyed using fruit and vegetable colors and transformed into warm and earthy shades. That wool was spun into Afghan wool, then made into rugs on small looms by artisan families of mainly women who would come together in tents. The same process still occurs today, although the processes and quality of the rugs have improved significantly! It’s important to mention that not every Afghan rug is made out of wool, although most are! There are also silk rugs that remain popular. The time it takes to make an Afghan rug is long — expect around 3-9 months and sometimes over a year. It all depends on how many artisans are weaving the rug, the technique and style they use (e.g., Turkish knots vs. Persian knots — article forthcoming!), and how small the knots are in each rug (commonly known as knots per square inch or “KPSI”). It really is an intensive labor of love and has a huge sense of community attached to the process.
While rugs are woven in all provinces of the country, most rugs are made in the North and Western areas by small, ethnic groups – especially the Turkomen (or “Turkoman”). There are lots of different tribes of Turkomen, each has its own unique rug design. Many of their carpets are named after those tribes. Here is an example of a Turkomen rug with a “feel pay” or elephant-foot design. There are also the Hazara ethnic groups in central Afghanistan who are known for making some of the most gorgeous rugs.
Here is an example of a rug woven by the Hazara ethnic groups. And you’ll also find that there are particular types of Afghan rugs named after Afghan towns such as the Adraskan or the Shindand (in Herat province). The Turkomen-and-Hazara-woven carpets are similar in look to Persian rugs but include Afghan motifs and designs. Seen as a work of art, they’re possibly the best rugs available in the world.
Other very popular carpets from the country are Khal Mohammadi and Afghan Aqche, both Turkoman rugs. The Baluch tribes are also famous for weaving their own nomadic rugs and you can see our Rug Mine vintage style Baluch rugs here.
While there are rugs made in different areas, there are also different types of Afghan rugs.
Different Types of Afghan Rugs
Area Rugs. These are extremely generously sized, heavily patterned Afghan rugs and are used in modern homes instead of carpet, for rooms where people want some or almost all the floor covered. Area rugs have a thick pile (unlike kilim rugs), which can be as thick as you want them to be. Here is an example of my area rugs.
Kilims. These are flat-weave rugs, so they don’t have a pile, and this is because their colorful strands are interwoven tightly to create a "flatweave". Usually bold in color, with vibrant geometric patterns, they’re generally made out of 100% wool. They’re reversible and make excellent outdoor rugs! Here is an example of a kilim.
- Soumaks. These rugs resemble kilims but are not reversible. While one side is smooth and shows patterns and designs, the other side usually has a ragged back. They are usually thicker and longer-lasting than kilims. Here is an example of a soumak rug.
If you own an Afghan rug, take a look at it. Have you ever really noticed the design? It’s fairly usual for Afghan rugs to be woven with designs inspired by daily life in the villages and different tribes have different designs. Before the 1970s, most rugs in the region featured "gols" or “feel pay” (elephant style designs) and curvilinear flowers, and they were deep red with blue, beige and ochre highlights.
Since the 1970s, the country has seen over 40 years of war and strife, forcing lots of nomadic families into neighboring Pakistan and Iran (and other countries) as refugees. Their carpet-making skills followed them on their often-nerve-wracking escapes. That is why the images not only consist of geometric designs and sweeping patterns, the images also often depict a war-torn country, with weaponry and tanks woven so as for the owners never to forget the strife of Afghanistan — it’s a little like a glimpse into the world of Afghanistan.
It was actually an Italian artist, Alighiero Boetto, who inspired those images. He commissioned Afghan women to produce textiles illustrating the Arab-Israeli 6 Day War of 1967. That trend continued and many Afghan rugs from the past 50 years depict images of war, flags, political leaders, maps, soldiers and other icons that relate to the country’s troubled history of the 20th century. These rugs are now known as “Afghan war rugs,” and you can see an example of them here.
Ethical, Sustainable, Organic, and Kind
As well as their history, it’s good to know that Rug Mine rugs from Afghanistan are sustainable. As mentioned, the artisans I work with use organic fruit and vegetable dyes. Afghan farmers take great care of their animals, raising and shearing them with love. If you want to learn more about my commitment to creating and sourcing ethical and sustainable Afghan rugs, read my article on this topic.
As you might know, I am Nargis, the owner of The Rug Mine and my story also reflects some of the strife associated with rug-making in Afghanistan. My childhood constantly reminds me of the beauty of rug-making in my home city of Herat and takes me back to my own family life — you can read about my story here. My rugs are all authentic, genuine, and handmade, and they are mostly knotted by female artisans. You can see that process in action here.
Now that you know all about Afghan rugs, why not and take a look at my incredible collection and take a piece of history home with you!