of handmade textiles and rugs.
To maintain or
increase their aesthetic and financial value.
personal appreciation and enjoyment.
To protect them
for future generations.
Oriental Rug Restoration
by Holly Smith-Reynolds
The decision of whether or not to
restore a particular rug is based on four factors: the use to which the rug will
be put, the economics, the aesthetics, and the ethics. In my role as advisor to
my clientele (including private museums, collectors, dealers and new
inheritors), I am often confronted with answering questions on each of these
Too often rug owners today are unaware of the choices
available to them, and the analysis which should precede their choice. For
example, a client whose rug's side borders have been cut off and an ugly faded
side cord has been hastily applied, perhaps even with irreversible glue, faces
the question of whether he is willing to pay for a complete and invisible
reweaving of both edges, whether that would be ethical in various future
circumstances, and which method of repair would be the most aesthetic. All this
must be decided with the expected use of the rug in mind: Will it hang on the
wall or will it be used on the floor? Will it be for personal use or be put up
for sale in a few years?
There are two major categories of repair: conservation and
restoration. They involve two quite divergent techniques with seemingly opposite
goals. Put simply, conservation's goal is preservation which is reversible,
while restoration's goal is reconstruction which is invisible. I say 'seemingly
opposite' because as a conservator and restorer I have been striving to develop
methods which satisfy the requirements of both schools -- in other words,
invisible restoration which is reversible.
Let me give you
specific examples of conservation work and restoration work using the same
hypothetical rug and its damage. Let's imagine a Kazak with an unsightly hole in
its center. The owner wants to hang it in a prominent place in the living room.
The conservation approach would secure the edges of the hole to protect it from
further raveling. The thread would be carefully chosen for weight and dimension
to prevent it from aggravating and severing the internal foundation over the
years. The hole would then be backed with an appropriately colored and textured
fabric so that you would still see that there was a hole, but so that it would
blend in somewhat to its surroundings. Or, one of several types of passive fill
plugs would be used to diminish awareness of its presence. These passive fill
plugs range from coloring the backing fabric to further match the rug's pattern,
to actually weaving the missing components on a loom and securing that piece to
the backing fabric. The results of this technique can be quite satisfying, but
the repair will not stand up to foot traffic. With the right choice of materials
and their careful application, there will be little disadvantageous intrusion
and easy reversibility should that become necessary or desirable in the future.
The restoration approach would commence in a similar manner
with a securing of the edges to prevent further raveling, but then this will
usually be removed after the work is completed. New warps would be inserted with
one of several different methods suitable to each rug's individual
characteristics -- one method is fine for a Kuba, but not for a Kazak, for
instance. New wefts would be worked into the repair, again with varying methods,
then it would be reknotted on the face, matching pattern, color, and texture as
well as ply in some cases. The entire area would then be clipped down to the
height of the surrounding pile and certain adjustments would be made to settle
it in. Ideally, it should be invisible to the sight and touch both in front and
back. Depending on the method of insertion of the foundation, it would be easier
or harder to reverse without causing damage.
The equation changes, however, according to the use to
which the rug will be put and this consideration is all important. Conservation
by its definition is the conservative treatment and the methods of attaching
repair to the rug are delicate and minimal. Therefore it will not stand up to
being walked on, or brushed as with a vacuum, or even flexed in careless or
frequent handling. If a rug is very old, notable, or terribly damaged,
restoration is probably inappropriate, at least if it is not easily reversible.
Over-restored rugs (for instance where all the expected corroded browns have
been replaced) can look phony and might be unnecessary if hung on the wall. So
the judgment of your restorer, preferably one who has had years of experience in
the use of different techniques and the knowledge to understand their
appropriate application, is an invaluable guide in determining repair
How does the issue of ethics enter into your decision
making? Let me give you my opinion on this controversial topic. Is it
"wrong" for one of my clients to walk on rugs whose very antiquity and
beauty make them a teaching experience for all involved in the field of rugs? It
is certainly unethical for me not to take into account the chosen use to which
this rug is being put and adjust my restoration accordingly. The final choices
regarding a rug's care and use rest with you, the collector, but there are some
repair approaches which most restorers would agree are unethical and I shall
outline them briefly.
The use of colorants and dyes applied directly to a rug,
either in repair or to disguise wear, is damaging to the fibers, causing
corrosion and, of course, misrepresentation! Removing ends and edges to give the
rug a more balanced or squared off appearance is the ultimate in irreversibility
and I eschew it for any rug, no matter how new. It removes, in many cases, the
identity of the rug. What side wrapping did this once have? Was it from this
tribe or that? What end finish? We need only to look at history to see that rugs
which were poorly received when they were new have now come to be adored and
treasured. None of us have crystal balls and can therefore determine which rugs
should get the ax and which should not.
Along the same lines is the reduction of a rug to fit a
hallway. My advice to clients who want to do this is, "Sell the rug and
replace it with one the right size." Squaring off a hole before restoration
is not recommended and is unnecessary to achieve invisibility. Another technique
to be avoided is the use of latex. While some researchers have found a method
for reversal without extreme damage to a rug's life, it is understandably costly
and time consuming. Also, while the latex is on the rug, it causes a breakdown
in the fibers, almost like a slow acting acid. This is not reversible.
Most restorers do not use any of these techniques, but we
encounter them. We are often asked to undo some other repairman's work and this
is the most frustrating part of the job for, in doing so, we find that the
earlier repair work so damaged the foundation to which it was attached that it
is irretrievably lost and must be removed. Therefore, the original hole has now
grown. And what of the next restorer in the future? Will they lament our work?
This is another reason why I am interested in restoration work which is
reversible. One hundred years from now, if superior techniques and materials
become available, I don't want to have the removal of my work cause damage.
While I usually use my own vegetal dyed wools so that any
future fading will be in harmony with the original, the most obvious effect of
time in restoration is the color of the dyes. We often see absolutely
painstaking restoration work on which the colors have all lightened or turned to
shades of gray and beige. While it's fun to leave it as a record of the rug's
history, and indeed the history of earlier repair techniques, it would have been
nicer to have the colors still muted and true.
My next point is that of record keeping. If we are working
to perfect our invisibility, what will enable future owners of our rugs to
ascertain which parts have been repaired? As collectors, I think most of us hope
that one day our rugs will be honored in museums or other public collections.
Those future caretakers will want to know without taking the rug apart, which
threads are original and which additions. If we match the length of the fibers,
the spin and ply, the organic dyes and the type of weave, what will ever give it
away? I keep records of my work both by photograph and on paper, indicating
prior condition and treatment. I have encouraged my clients to take these
records and keep them with the rug. There are some dealers who willingly share
all repair information with the prospective purchaser and this should be
encouraged. A beautiful restoration adds to the intrinsic value of the rug and
should help it to sell. Records made by the restorer should travel with the rug
and be part of its portfolio.
I recommend that most newly acquired rugs be examined by a
restorer or conservator before they are placed in their permanent positions. The
exception, of course, is when the dealer from whom you may have bought the rug
has given you a reliable history. However there can be hidden weaknesses which
only a person used to seeing them can find. Warps can be broken within the knot
structure so that, when the rug is flexed as in hanging or draping or even
moving it about, adjacent areas are weakened, sometimes at an alarming rate. Or,
the wear on the face of the rug has reached the point where the knots are
literally hanging by a thread and must be protected before they slip out
altogether. Knots may also be loosened from the back of a rug either by
vacuuming or scraping and they fly up out of the front. Ends and edges are often
fragile and the action of bringing the rug home can further jeopardize them. The
incorrect application of Velcro, applied without a broad under-fabric of cotton
and stitched in a zigzag pattern, can really damage the warps and cause
stretching or breaking. And old or poorly done repairs can rip the parts of the
rug to which they have been attached.
This brings me back to our original dilemma: Should we
restore this rug and, if so, in what technique? Should we not restore this rug
and, if not, how should we preserve and maintain it?
It is vital to consider the use to which the rug will be
put with the overview of economy, aesthetics, and ethics, the last being an
enormous subject which can only be decided finally by you, the rug's custodian.
And that is what I hope you will consider yourselves as you ponder the next
steps after purchase.
As restorers and conservators, we guide our clients to some
extent but, in general, we are being paid to execute our client's wishes to the
best of our abilities. We all need to approach the decisions of restoration and
conservation from the point of view of custodians and not adopt an attitude
which I recently heard expressed: "It doesn't matter what we do as long as
it's profitable. We're not going to be around in 50 years." The point is
that with our care the rug will be.
2001-2006 Nomads Fine Rugs Monterey
Monterey | Carmel
| Salinas | Santa Cruz