Monday, August 16, 2010

Silk Rugs: Authentic & Imitation

Silk rugs are some of most beautiful carpets in the world; fine, colorful, and highly prized. Unfortunately, there are also imitation silk rugs that can be misrepresented as the real thing. Let's look into the differences between real and imitation silk rugs.

Authentic Silk Rugs
Real silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the silkworm. Pound for pound, it is one of the strongest natural fibers, and it’s highly prized for its beautiful sheen.

In a high quality, handmade silk rug, the foundation of the rug (i.e. warp and weft) will also be made of silk. Since silk is so fine, this allows the rug to be woven very tightly, which results in a high knot count -- between 300 and 800 knots per square inch. High knot counts allow for fine, detailed designs that you simply can’t get in a coarser rug.

In addition, the rug will be woven with rich, colorful dyes. Combined with the natural appearance of silk, this gives the silk rug a distinctive vibrant look.

While silk rugs are very durable, they don’t clean up as well as wool rugs. For this reason, consider using them as a wall piece, or placing them in a lower traffic area of the house. They should only be dry cleaned.

Imitation Silk Rugs
Imitation rugs can be made from a few different materials. Mercerized cotton is a common substitute and can look and feel very much like silk. It is sometimes called art silk, India silk, or viscose. Whatever it’s called, though, it’s an imitation material -- an inexpensive cotton, treated to look and feel like real silk.

Real silk and mercerized cotton look very similar, and so it is easy to fool people into thinking that they are buying an authentic silk rug when in fact they are getting an inexpensive cotton rug. If it seems too good to be true...

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if a silk rug is authentic?
If you can compare a silk and cotton rug side-by-side, the differences will likely be obvious. The silk rug will be finer, will feel different, will roll up tighter, and will give an overall impression of higher quality.

But without a real silk rug to compare to, telling if a rug is authentic can be difficult unless you have some experience. If you see that the fringe has been sewn on after the rug was woven, that’s a good indication that the rug’s foundation isn’t silk. Also, if the rug has any general signs of being low quality, such as being crooked or having dye run, that’s another warning sign.

If imitation silk rugs are so hard to tell from the real ones, why should I care what I get?
You want to ensure that you’re getting what you pay for. Due to the quality differences and the cost to make them, silk rugs are worth much more than cotton rugs. If a cotton rug is decorative and priced fairly, there’s nothing wrong with it. But if it’s being represented as a silk rug at a bargain price, then you are getting scammed.

Are silk rugs “better” than wool rugs?
A silk rug is not better than a wool rug. It is different. Personal preference comes into play as with all handmade rugs. You might prefer the fine designs and glossy sheen of silk rugs, or you might prefer look and feel of traditional wool rugs.

Why are cotton foundations bad?
Cotton foundations are not bad. In fact, most handmade rugs use a cotton foundation. But a high-quality authentic silk rug will only use a silk foundation, since it will allow a finer design that accentuates the best qualities of silk.

I bought a silk rug overseas or at a liquidation sale. How can I tell if it’s real?
Unfortunately, this is the most likely scenario for buying an imitation rug that’s being advertised as the real thing. If you bought it for a price significantly lower than a real silk rug normally goes for, there’s a very good chance that the rug is imitation. You can always bring the rug into a reputable oriental rug dealer to find out.

Are imitation rugs good for anything?
Sure! A cotton rug can be quite decorative. If it’s being sold as a cotton rug, and priced correctly, there’s nothing wrong with it.

How do I avoid overpaying for an imitation silk rug?
Know what you’re buying. Buying from a reputable local dealer is one safe way to avoid buying a fake silk rug.

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