How to Choose a Handmade Carpet: Buyers Guide

“It’s ironic that you’ll find handmade carpets are often less expensive than trendy ones available from online stores. Are you into design for the look or to feed your soul?”

I still remember 20 years ago in Europe the only place you could find genuine handmade carpet was in a gallery or it would be part of someone’s travel story to far away places in the muslim world, a beautiful kilim from Marrakech or perhaps a carpet Cairo.

Now you can find machine made and mass produced rugs and carpets everywhere. Online stores and Ikea even have very good synthetic rugs and carpets which really look like the real thing. Lots of lively colours and an array of textures to choose from. The key question is how can I tell what is handmade and what is machine made, how do I know its a natural fibre or something synthetic? Also should buy a vintage rug or something new?


A hallway with arches, white walls, a palm tree and a handmade carpet

Why Handmade and not Synthetic?

The simple reason is the look (colours) and the sensual feel. Let me explain…


Handmade carpets that use natural vegetable dyes have a colour which stands the test of time. The colours can be vibrant and they don’t have a fade which develops over time. The specific advantages of use natural dyes in colours are listed below:

  • We find over time vegetable dyes are more durable and are unaffected by solar radiation (light). There is simple chemistry here: natural organic compounds (with carbon) have stronger bonds than chemically induced compounds in a lab scenario. In simple terms think of marble coloured stone versus a synthetic tile: when exposed to sunlight the synthetic tile looses it’s colour.
  • Environmentally sustainable and organic. Hence they are environment friendly as they naturally can decay without leaving harmful residues.

Sensual Feelings of Touch

Handmade carpets after use become softer. This means a typical carpet after 10 years will feel even better on bare feet or the skin. This is simply because the fibres are organic and over time become softer. The opposite is the case when we consider synthetic fibres which are bristle and keep a similar texture until they are damaged. After 10 years a synthetic carpet needs to be replaced.


How to Tell its Handmade

There are three tell tale signs which can help you immediately determine if a carpet is handmade. Often a machine made carpets will be marketed as handmade by mentioning the natural material that is used or some other cunning marketing ploy. Here’s what to look out for:

Check the Base of the Carpet

The base is often made of wool or cotton and should run from end to end through the whole carpet and forms little frills at both ends. If the carpet is machine made you won’t find these frills at both ends. What you will find is no frills or perhaps the frills machine stitched on at the ends.

The back of the handmade carpet with knots

Fig 1 Showing the base of a carpet that has frills at each end. You can see the base runs from end to end.

Fall in Love with Imperfections 

By examining the base of the carpet you’ll find the handmade carpet has imperfections. For instance the lines won’t quite be straight or you may find the craftsperson has missed a knot. In-contrast, if the carpet is machine made you’ll find the stitching and lines perfect, dead straight perhaps. The imperfections indicate that a human has carefully made the carpet and at times not quite got things right.

Handmade carpet back of the carpet red and yellow colours

Fig 2 showing imperfections of a handmade carpet supplied by La Galeria del Califa Barcelona. 

One of a Kind

The handmade carpets are often made by a tribe, nomadic, or even village person (often a woman). The carpets will never be perfect as the weaver seldom uses a pattern but creates a uniquely inspired design, sometimes changing colours and motifs to suit her hearts desire.These rugs really are one-of-a-kind and can be so very original, even when they are not precise or perfect in their size, shape and design. Don’t buy a rug until you find the one (or if you are like me it’s the many ‘ones’) you fall in love with!

If you like a rug then examine it carefully, keeping in mind that hand-made items inherently have inconsistencies; look at it in varying lights; check that the colours are clear and balanced. Make sure that the overall condition is good considering it’s age and if the price is right. It’s well worth researching the price if you can. It worth mentioning knots per inch: until around the 16th century the maximum knots per inch was around 400. Then due to changes made in the fibres used and demand, carpets that were handmade up to around 1,500 knots per inch - although these were often rare.​

Learn to Read Handmade Carpets

When you look at a oriental carpet you may feel mesmerised and a deep feeling of happiness.The question can be are they just aesthetically pleasing or is there a deeper story in their design and where the craftsmen trying to tell us something? An important concept to understand is that for the craftsmen of these carpets there was no strong distinction between art and science or sense and the spirit. 

It is a sensual experience with spiritual meaning that we are meant to use, by gazing and touching, to improve and refine the quality of our perception.

Ultimately a good handmade carpet will last you a lifetime.

If you would like to visit our handmade carpet shop in Barcelona La Galería del Califa please feel free to get in-touch. Or buy handmade carpets online at We supply carpets from Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan.



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