How to Tell if A Rug is Handmade and if It's Good Quality.
Handmade rugs are a work of art, and yet, because they're handmade, they will never be flawless to the touch. The two best methods for identifying a handmade rug are simply by sight and feel.
As humans, we typically visually inspect an item before they're within reach. A handmade rug will have inconsistencies in the knots of the weave. A human hand will never complete this long and tedious work without accidentally tearing a thread and correcting it. A machine-made rug won't likely have these same issues.
After visually inspecting the rug, we can run our hand across the back of the rug, over the weave. The inconsistencies we discussed above, when a weaver adds more thread to correct a mistake, can typically be felt as a slight bulge, in an otherwise smooth back of the rug. These are the first signs on how to tell if a rug is handmade or not, but there are other signs to search for.
Fringe & Selvedge
The fringe of a rug, the tasselly section typically located at the ends of the rug, are warps, which run through the entire rug. Inspection from the back side of the rug, should reveal that the warps run through the pile of the rug. If the fringe is sewn on, verify that it isn't just covering up a worn and deteriorated fringe, as this isn't unheard of. Next, inspect the selvedge, or the side edge of the rug. If this section of the rug is sewn on, then chances are the rug is machine made. Selvedge typically consists of four or more warps, over-casted with wool or silk.
Looking Further at The Weave
Many power-loomed rugs, similar to the one shown below, have the knots facing the wrong direction. In addition to this, the "warps" of the rug are visible, most of the vertical direction
of the rug. A true handmade rug won't expose hardly any of the warps, if double-wefted; and small checker-like specs on a single-wefted rug. Visually, the machine-made "weave" looks as if it was woven at 90 degrees in the wrong orientation. When considering all these characteristics that we've discussed, you should get a feel for whether the rug in question is handmade or machine-made.
Quality of A Rug
How does one define quality in a way that everyone would agree? Quality to one person, may be how fine the weave is, exhibiting a high level of KPSI (knots per square inch), or perhaps another opinion is of the fineness of the materials. I'd recommend that you do two things.
Place a quarter on the back of the rug, somewhere in the middle, and take a photograph up close. If you count the knots vertically, even with the middle of the quarter, and then multiply it by the number of knots running horizontally, even with the middle of the quarter, you'll get your KPSI.
My second test is even more unsophisticated but offers some information as to the quality of the material used in the rug. Make a fist and rub it back and forth into the pile of the rug, like you're giving a noogie. Don't damage the rug but notice if any pile fibers come off the rug. There are so many different qualities of wool around the world and knowing what's in your rug is more complex if you don't know a great deal about when and where it came from. Perhaps, this will be a subject in another blog post.
My conclusion is that if you have an authentic handmade rug, that's not falling apart, more than likely it's a quality piece that's worth anywhere from $200 dollars to 100's of thousands of dollars. I wouldn't hold my breath but enjoy it. It's a unique, handmade work of art, wrapped up in centuries old traditions.