Some of the most unique and valuable hand-knotted and hand-woven rugs come from one of the three major rug weaving centers in India. Sam Presnell, owner of the Rug Gallery, visited India this year to survey the newest trends in rugs. Listen or read more about Sam's 2017 rug buying trip!
John Maher: Welcome to The Rug Gallery with Sam Presnell. The Rug Gallery is an oriental rug company and carpet store in Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm John Maher, and I'm here with the owner of the rug gallery Sam Presnell. Hi Sam.
Sam Presnell: Hi John.
John: Sam, today we're talking about your recent 2017 rug buying trip for your hand-knotted rugs or a hand-woven rugs. Where did you travel to?
Sam: I just got back and on this trip, I went to India. But in India, I went to -- Basically, there three major weaving centers of India. The better quality centers, I should say. There are lots more than just three, but those are the main ones where most of the products come from that we buy. One is Jaipur, the second one is Agra, and the third one we call the Bhadhoi Varanasi area. Then after that, I went to basically an exhibit or show that happened in Istanbul in Turkey with most of the Turkish hand-knotted players.
New Rug Discoveries
John: Okay. What are some of the things that you discovered -- anything new?
Sam: I did. I came away thinking there couldn't be anything new. I was just there last year and we really are just getting those products in and getting some feel for what was happening with those. I really was thinking, “what else can we do that’s new”? It just seems like we've been so innovative and things kept changing so quickly that I just couldn't imagine that there would be that drastic a change on this trip. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised.
I like when I go someplace, expecting not too much, and they exceed my expectations. I love that. I love that about our stores, if we can do the same thing to you. That's what I want to do to customers when they come in, and exceed those expectations. I had a great trip and I guess I’d say it comes down to one word, and I would say it's “texture”. I know that's an old word, but it is really something that has really improved on this particular trip and especially with the products that we're purchasing.
Rug Textures & Dyeing
John: Tell me a little bit more about that. How are these rug weavers achieving these textures, and what's new about that?
Sam: Well, it is relatively new in that they've never really tried doing dying this way. Basically, what they're doing, they're taking raw wood wool before it gets carded or spun. They're actually dying at that process of the raw wool, which seems kind of crazy, you have to dye in huge kilos at a time, which would be like 2,200 pounds, is what it would be as far as wool. So you take all the raw wool which kind of hard to imagine if you don't know what raw wool looks like. It's like what you wold get off of the back of the sheep, basically, and then you dye it.
It seems crazy. Then you would straighten it or cut it, and then from there you would hand-spin it. What they are able to do by doing it that way is they’ll dye several shades of certain colors, of different colors, and then they'll start putting it into the hopper, the card, so that those colors get mixed together. You get really a mixture of lots of color into one particular yarn, and it'll be a lot of what I would call foreign colors that you wouldn't be able to achieve any other way. Then they're carding it, which is basically straightening out the wool in order to spin it, and then they're hand spinning.
Hand spinning creates, as I’ve mentioned my past podcasts, the irregularities -- you get that thinness and thickness to the yarn, because somebody is doing it by hand, they’re pulling back on those wools and basically how strong they are at the beginning or how they lighten up, gets different levels of thinness and thickness into the yarn so when you dye it, it accepts the dye differently. You get that really textured irregularity of hand-spinning. Then when you put it into a rug, depending on how you weave it, it's really remarkable, the finish that comes off from that. I really love that.
John: If I'm understanding correctly, you're saying that different colors are going into the wool as they're spinning it or carding it. And so, you have individual little fibers in the wool that are different colors and they’re all kind of mixed together? Does that create a really interesting, colorful look to the rugs?
Sam: It does. It gives a lot of depth to the coloring. It's not like having a solid color. You basically have many colors mixed into it. When it comes out being woven into rug it never comes out the same way throughout the rug. It's constantly evolving and changing -- it’s the same colors but it’s constantly evolving and this color is a little more here, it's a little stronger there, so it's constantly evolving.
Stone Washing Rugs
Plus I forgot to say one thing also, in the texture thing, is that we're now stone washing a lot of our finishes. We're actually taking stones just like you would be to your jeans, basically, where you see the controlled ripping or tearing or whatever. And we're basically beating the heck out of these rugs or finishes with stones. And basically, it's really distorting the pile. We're shearing them down and just stoning them and they're getting really a warn, warm coloration to them. And then we're mixing that wool I'm talking about where they multi-color it, and then they'll mix silk into the pattern with the wool, and it's just incredible what happens to it. I wish I could show you what I'm talking about. In fact, John, I will try to send you some of the photos that I took when I was there.
John: Great. I’ll bet that that's a real finish that you're just not going to get from a machine-made rug in some factory that just comes right off the factory floor and to the customer. It's something really unique.
Sam: Yeah, that's something only a hand can do. It has to be controlled and it is more of an art than it is a science. Yes, so I think as a whole, you're absolutely right.
Repurposed / Recycled Silk Rugs
John: What else is up and coming in the world of hand-knotted or hand-woven rugs?
Sam: Well, I think we're seeing a lot of getting away from the viscose or from the bamboo silk. We're getting more into real silk, and we're using a lot of repurposed silk, which means a lot of stuff that's left over from making things out of silk, basically textiles. We're getting a lot of low or inexpensive price points in silk. You have to remember now, not all silk is created equal, just like all wool is not created equal; there's good and bad of everything. You're going to see a lot better prices on real silk that's in the marketplace as well. I really enjoy selling silk more than I do the viscose or the bamboo silk stuff.
John: Any final thoughts on your trip and just, again, meeting the people there and what it all means to you?
Relationships with Rug Weavers
Sam: I think that's the best part, that relationship, and then you get to talk to people and you put together ideas and you have that camaraderie that we're all in the same business, just we're at the one end of it, and they're at the other end of it. You're putting all that together -- we’re the end person who sells it directly to the consumer and they’re the person who basically makes it out of thin air and makes it into the art and the product that it is. It's very nice to be able to talk to each other and pass along ideas.
What we see in America is different from what they may get from a buyer out of Saudi Arabia or out of Europe or out of Russia or Australia. They're selling rugs around the world in these countries. It's nice to be able to have some input into what you're getting for your particular market, because our market is totally unique compared to the rest of the world as far as how we live and the lifestyles we have. We have a very mature, high-quality lifestyle here in America, and it's very modern compared to a lot of the world.
John: Right, that's interesting. Well, it sounds like you had a great trip and welcome back. And thanks again for speaking to me today about your travels.
Sam: You're welcome, John.
John: For more information about Sam, The Rug Gallery, and oriental rugs and carpets visit ruggallerycincy.com that’s rug gallery, C-I-N-C-Y.com or call 513-793-9505. Make sure you catch the latest episodes by subscribing to this podcast on iTunes. If you can take the time to give us a review on iTunes as well, we'd appreciate that. I'm John Maher, see you next time on The Rug Gallery.