The history of rugs is a fascinating subject. But perhaps even more wonderful are the traditions behind cleaning rugs. In some countries, especially in the orient and the middle east, cleaning is almost a ritual. It’s a practice that is passed down from generation to generation.
How did these traditions start, and why? First, we need to understand a little of the history of rugs.
The history of rugs
Rugs were, at first, strictly practical. Living in primitive conditions, such as in tents or in houses with earthen floors, was dirty. Mats were woven to sit or lay on. Not a protection from the hardness of the floor, but at least you weren’t getting filthy! The earliest rugs were made of reeds and grasses, but practicality quickly turned into art.
The oldest surviving rug is the Pazyryk carpet which scientists have decided was hand-woven in the 5th century B.C. Already, rugs were more than chairs and beds. They told stories and praised great deeds. Some Persian rugs were extremely long and heavy (weighing several tons!). The reason they were so heavy was because they had precious metal woven into them. Of course, these rugs were merely decorations.
As animals became more widely domesticated, people had more resources to utilize in their weaving. Camel hair, sheep, and goat were the most popular fibers in Asia and the Middle East. Cotton was also used and occasionally silk. In the far East, in Russia, horse and yak hair were used. These products are still used widely. Because humans had an excess of wool and other materials to use, oriental rugs soon became not only useful but precious family heirlooms.
Why cleaning traditions?
The history of rugs is why they’ve become so important to families in the Middle East and Asia. Not many are made with the same attention to history and tradition anymore. If a family has a collection of beautiful handmade rugs, it’s probably because they were passed down. The tradition of rug-making is becoming a lost art.
The amazing thing is this: many antique rugs are still in use! Rugs that in America cost thousands and thousands of dollars are still spread out on the living room floor to be walked on and used. No wonder cleaning them is so important and has become almost traditional! Honoring ancestors is a huge part of Middle Eastern and Asian culture, and one way to do it is to take extra special care of their rugs.
Do you know when you get that itch in the spring? The urge to clean anything and everything? To open the windows, wash the floors (peeling up the rugs as you go!), and give things a good airing? This urge is inherent in us, but in some countries, it’s not only practical but symbolic as well.
Here in America, the cleaning bug usually hits with the melting of winter giving way to spring. But in many countries, cleaning is focused around the changing of the year. Before the Chinese New Year at the end of January, people prepare in part by cleaning their homes. In many Middle Eastern countries, scrubbing floors, beating out rugs, and sorting clutter comes before holidays such as Nawroz (New Year) and the Songkran Festival. In Jewish homes, cleaning before the Passover is a must.
Here’s a more specific example. One of the most interesting rituals happens in Iraq. Iraqi people have very specific routines for their rugs, starting in April. They clean each one, roll it up, and set it upright somewhere in the house and leave it there until October. This is a slow process. But before they set them away, they clean them. The roof of the home is cleaned thoroughly and each rug is taken up, beaten to get rid of the dust and cleaned or wiped down with water and soap. Then they are left there to dry in the sun. Afterward, they are rolled up and set away for around seven months until fall rolls around and the process is repeated.
A rich and fascinating history
Rugs are important pieces in many cultures, but even more so are the traditions behind cleaning them. Cleaning often symbolizes clearing away the dust and focusing on what really matters. For many families around the world, not only the history of rugs, but the ritualistic aspect of them is important. A sense of identity and culture surrounds oriental and Middle Eastern rugs, and it is a rich and fascinating history.
What are the stories woven into your oriental rugs? Be sure to care for them properly so you can pass them down to the next generation!