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Gabbeh rugs - Origin, Uniqueness and Maintenance

Where do Gabbeh rugs come from?

Gabbeh is a local term used in Iran meaning raw, unfinished, or unclipped 2.5 cm long pile. The namesake Gabbeh rugs were woven by tribal weavers with handspun wool in the areas near the Zagros Mountains in Southern Iran. Also, Gabbeh rugs were woven by the Qashqai, Bakhtiari, Lors, and a few other tribal groups of Iran. In general, Gabbeh rugs were woven primarily for the personal use of the tribespeople themselves.

Over time because of the demand simple nature and premitive design of the rug, the trade has spread to Pakistan and India. Most gabbeh rugs are made India today. An Indo-Gabbeh replicates the original of the Persian Gabbeh and is woven by weavers in India. These rugs are much stiffer in the body and usually have less variation of color as they do not use the same handspun wool and vegetable dyes used in the Persian Gabbehs.

Antique Persian Gabbeh Rug, Lion Rug
Antique Persian Rug, Lion rug with two loins facing one another

What is unique about Gabbeh rugs?

Gabbeh rugs can be divided into two distinct groups: the more common ones which have simple geometric patterns without flowers and leaves, and a few that depict lions. Some Gabbehs will have small animals or human figures placed throughout the field. You may see a simple depiction of the Tree of Life design, camels crossing the desert, a stylized sunset, or the colors of the ocean with each rug having its own individual qualities and patterns. Overall Gabbeh is made with rough and primitive raw natural uncut handspun wool.

The structural aspects of Gabbeh rugs are as follows:

The Gabbeh rug piles are left much longer than normal rugs woven on a cotton foundation - characteristics which make them very thick and heavy floor covering.

The most salient characteristic of the Gabbeh is the number of wefts between two rows of knots. Sometimes there are as many as sixteen shoots. The large number of wefts in some cases creates a space of about one centimeter of plain weave between two rows of knots. As long as the Gabbeh rugs are not badly worn out, these wefts lie hidden below the long pile, but once the pile is worn down they soon become visible.

Another interesting fact is, that the ends of Gabbeh that depict lions differ from the ends of Gabbeh rugs with geometric designs. For the latter the two ends are finished in a balanced plain weave. For the lion depicting Gabbeh rugs there are four to six centimeters on balanced plain-weave which are turned under and sewn in place. Sometimes one end is finished by gathering and knotting the warp ends into groups. On one or both ends two-strand weft-twining in two colors is also seen.

One of the most important factors influencing the beauty of any Gabbeh rugs are its color variations. Some of the most magnificent color creations have been and are being achieved on a regular basis in Persian Gabbehs. Hand-spun wool, combined with old-school dyeing techniques has given Gabbeh rugs their uniqueness. The reason for Gabbeh rugs' color variations goes back to their producers - the Qashqai weavers who are famous for their love of color. Only a very small number of older Gabbehs were woven with undyed wool; the colors being ivory, beige, and brown.

Knot count in Gabbeh rugs

Knot size in Gabbeh can differ widely and Gabbeh rugs can have both lower and higher knot counts. Independent of the knot count, meaning whether a rug is finely or coarsely woven, the pile in Gabbeh rugs will always be long. This is because there is very little, if any, trimming of the pile once the knots are tied. As a consequence, the pile is sometimes as much as four centimeters in length, long enough to cover numerous wefts with ease.

Gabbeh rugs in todays homes - how to maintain them?

With their simple design elements, they are perfectly suited for modern interiors in contemporary homes. Over time - despite their high quality - Gabbeh rugs will collect dust and will require regular maintenance. In order to clean all the fibers of the rug, Gabbeh rugs need to be soaked in water for a long time and subsequently rinsed multiple times. The final rinse and brush need to be in the direction of the pile flow.

In order to get your Gabbeh rug cleaned you should rely on experts and rug artisans who understand the material and color composition of Gabbeh rugs. Bearing in mind that Gabbeh rugs are mostly vegetable-dyed and the colors are not very stable, care must be taken to prevent color bleeding. To prevent potential color bleeding of vegetable dyes the rug must be cleaned in pH and temperature-controlled water.


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