This glossary is by no means a comprehensive list. We will continue to add terms periodically as we continue developing this resource. Check back in regularly to learn new terms, or reach out to us if there is a term you would like to see defined!
Afshar [rug, people] - the Afshar are a Turkic people who migrated from Central Asia to the Iranian Plateau nearly a millennia ago. Over the centuries they became a powerful force in the Persian military. They become so powerful in fact, that they were viewed as a threat and dispersed by some of the later Safavid shahs. The immense range of designs and motifs found in Afshar rugs can be attributed to the tribe’s wide geographic spread.
Baluch [rug, people] - Baluch refers to a people that span from Eastern Iran, into Western Afghanistan and reaching throughout Pakistan and into the Punjab state of India. They are composed of many distinct groups that share common language, culture and customs. Traditionally they were mostly nomadic but currently many have adapted to settled life. Baluch rugs most commonly use a limited color palette of blue, red, brown and black, with ivory as an accent color.
Boteh [technical term] - one of the oldest and most common symbols, usually used to represent fertility. More commonly referred to as paisley in the West, it is likely derived from Persian and Indian design. The word boteh is derived from the Farsi word for ‘cluster of leaves’ or ‘bush’, and the shape has vague and ancient origins, with different hypotheses as to its original meaning. Some believe it to be a flame (relating to Zoroastrianism), others believe it to be a seed pod or almond, and still more believe it a simple curled leaf. Just as there are myriad interpretations for the meaning of the boteh, there are just as many ways the form is represented.
Endless Knot [technical term] - One of eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism and Jainism. It represents Samsara, the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In the decorative arts it can have many connotations including wisdom and longevity.
Gul [design element] - Translates to flower in Farsi (Persian) and can refer to variety of design elements from the rosettes on classical Persian rugs to the more abstract octagonal motifs prevalent on Turkmen weavings.
Gul Farang [design element] - Translates to “foreign flower” in Farsi (Persian). Gul meaning flower and Farang (Farangi) meaning foreign (foreigner) which originates from the Frankish language. The design is an abstracted floral, reminiscent of european decorative motifs of the 19th century.
Ikat [textile, technical term] - Translates from ‘to tie’ or ‘to bind’ in Malay and is a resist dyeing technique. This method of textile patterning involves tightly wrapping portions of warp thread with a resist material, before immersing it in a dye bath. It describes the dyeing technique as well as the finished fabric itself. It is practiced in many textile centers throughout the world but most famously in Indonesia and Uzbekistan.
Indigo [dye] - a dyestuff derived from the leaves of indigo plants, which are most often soaked and fermented before being dried and ground into a powder. The color spectrum encompasses a wide range of blues. Evidence of indigo dyeing dates back to at least 6,000 years.
Jufti Knot [technical term] - a pile-weaving technique where the knot can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. It refers to the knot being placed over four warp threads instead of two, which makes the work go faster, and results in a thicker knot.
Kantha [textile] - a Bengali folk tradition of embroidering textiles using recycled cloth. Traditionally, multiple scraps of white cotton cloth from old saris or dhotis (men's trousers) would be quilted together and artistically embroidered using a variety of stitches but most notably the running stitch.
Kelleghi [technical term] - a specific rug format that is long and narrow but wider than a classical runner. This size proportion has more traditionally been used in rug producing regions from North Africa to Central Asia and less so in the West.
Lac [dye] - an insect indigenous to Asia, Lacs are cultivated on local host trees. They secrete and cover themselves in a resin that used to make a dye that ranges from light pinks to deep scarletts. Lac resin is also widely used to make lacquer, shellac, and pigments for painting.
Laleh Abbassi (Medachyl) [design element] - Translated from Persian as “Tulip of Abbas” named after the Safavid Shah Abbas. This is a common border motif that is rendered as reciprocating trefoils in contrasting colors and usually utilized in the minor borders. Also known as dogtooth or Medachyl which means doorways.
Mihrab [design element] - an architectural term that refers to the niche in the wall of the mosque (the qibla) to signal the direction of Mecca for the faithful. In prayer rugs the mihrab makes up the central motif. The mihrab represents the gateway to paradise; its upward reach suggests a progression towards illumination.
Mina Khani Design [technical term] - One of the most prevalent Persian repeating designs after the Herati pattern. The pattern is prevalent everywhere from the urban centers of Tabriz and Veramin to Kurdish village rugs and Turkmen trappings. It consists of a few alternating types of blossoms, which are connected by a system of either vine or lattice work, with minor flowers and more vines filling in the empty space.
Mordant [dye] - a substance that allows the dye to permanently affix itself to the wool. Common mordants used are iron, alum, sodium chloride, and urine. Different combinations of mordants and dyes will create an infinite variety of colors and shades. Derived from the Latin mordere, to bite.
Oxidation [technical term] - A chemical reaction where a catalyst like oxygen interacts with elements like metals altering their composition. Oxidized metal is commonly known as "rust". Sometimes metals or metallic salts are utilized in the dye process to create specific tones. Over time these tones will oxidize or deteriorate faster than those surrounding them creating an interesting dimensionality.
Persian Knot [technical term] - pile weaving technique also known as the Senneh knot or asymmetrical knot. Yarn is looped around one warp thread and then passed behind the neighboring warp thread, then brought out to the front. This technique makes it possible to weave rugs with a higher knot density, allowing for finer and more detailed curvilinear designs.
Qashqa'i [rug, people] - The Qashqa’i are a Turkic people that reside primarily in southern Iran and have a long tradition as pastoral nomads. The quality of their wool and weaving culture is well regarded and their rugs highly sought after by collectors. Hundreds of thousands of Qashqa’i still complete the migration from summer to winter quarters each year.
Rya [rug] - Literally translates to rug in Swedish and is a traditional Scandinavian textile woven in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Originally intended as a bedding blanket, most Ryas have long shaggy piles.
Slip-loop Pile [technical term] - a pile-weaving technique most often associated with Tibetan weavers. Yarn is looped around the warp and gauge rod, and then onto the next bit of warp, gauge rod, warp gauge rod, etc. Once a whole row of pile is looped around the rod, the loops are cut all at once which allows for work to progress quickly. There are many variations to this technique, with the major variation resulting in rugs with fringes on all four sides.
Sofreh [rug] - refers to a cloth upon which food is served. Spreading the sofreh out is a sign of hospitality for guests. Traditionally used directly on the floor, sturdily woven textiles purpose made for this use can be found in weaving cultures from Anatolia to Central Asia.
Turkish Knot [technical term] - pile-weaving technique also known as the Ghiordes or symmetrical knot. Yarn is looped around two neighboring warp threads, then each end thread is looped around each warp thread and back out through the middle.
Turkmen [rug, people] - The Turkmen are a nomadic people of Central Asia who live primarily in Turkmenistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Weaving is one of the primary aspects of Turkmen culture: the skill of weaving is both a valuable asset and respected profession. Their rugs utilize a distinct color palette with a field often dominated by a red to a reddish/brown or less commonly shades of purple. Turkmen weaving also has very distinct gul ornamentation and patterning as well as more strict graphical continuity than most other traditions.