What to Know When Shopping for Oriental Area Rugs

Acquire the decorative vocabulary of oriental area rugs and learn to speak a language that is centuries old.

Weavers of oriental area rugs work with an ornamental vocabulary passed down to them through centuries of tradition. By combining basic motifs, rug weavers can create a vast array of design variations, see examples on this site. Mastering this vocabulary starts with learning to recognize the most frequently used motifs.

Oriental Carpet Design Motifs: A Word about Meaning

In Oriental Carpets: A Buyer’s Guide, Essie Sakhai notes that weavers of carpets do not necessarily know the meaning of the designs they use. In the same way, the speakers of a language use words without knowing their etymological origin. Design motifs will see shifts in meaning depending on where the carpet is made. An Oriental area rug is therefore best understood as symbolizing the condensation of an ancient cultural tradition. That said, most motifs have basic meanings, often derived from nature.

Oriental Carpet Design Motifs: The Herati

According to Essie Sakhai, “the Herati is the most commonly used pattern element.” In its simplest form, the Herati motif consists of a diamond with a rosette at its centre, a pair of smaller rosettes at each of its four corners, complemented by a leaf motif on each of its four sides.

Oriental Carpet Design Motifs: The Boteh

As a design motif, the boteh is recognizable as the basic element of the paisley pattern. Boteh means ‘leaf’ in Persian. In addition to representing the leaf, the boteh can be seen to symbolize a water droplet, almond, or pinecone. As textile scholar Jacques Anquetil notes in the Zoroastrian religion, the boteh represents a flame, connoting immortality.

Oriental Carpet Design Motifs: The Crab or Spider

A variation on the star cross motif, a crab or spider motif has a lozenge shape with eight extended arms hooked inwards. Understood as a tarantula or scorpion, this motif woven into a carpet is said to carry magical powers of protection for its owner. As a cosmic symbol, the crab or spider evokes nature’s symmetry as an echo of the sun and its rays. The spider is also understood to symbolize the carpet weaver’s craft.

Oriental Carpet Design Motifs: Other Animals

The design of animals on rugs is found in almost every civilization. Animals are depicted singly, as prey, relaxing and as components of large hunting and garden carpets. Animals differ from the fantastic, including dragons and unicorns, to stylized deer images and lions or naturally rendered elephants and birds. As oriental carpets became popular in the West, Turkish carpets exhibiting animal motifs began emerging in Western artists’ arts as early as the 13th century. Animal topics are used in folk art in many cultures. American-inspired textiles represent farm animals such as sheep, goats, cows, cats and dogs, or wild animals such as deer, buffalo, and wolves. Indian carpets of the often display intricately detailed depictions of peacocks, leopards, and tigers.