How do I know a fine carpet when I see one?

I like carpets. I'm interested in carpets. I don't know much about carpets. I'll write about them anyway, just to see what I do and don't know.

Carpets come from places I'll never visit: North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia - the Carpet Belt.

To have a sense of where things come from you have to go there. I went to France. Traveled all over France.

In France they talk about terroir and the gout de terroir, literally the flavor of the earth, more particularly, the climate, the soil, the whole ecosystem of a region and how it affects the taste of what is grown there. The term is often applied to wine, to the many factors in the environment that affect the flavor of the wine. French wine does not bear the name of the varietal, as new world wines do - Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. - but that of the place in which it is grown and made. A lot to take in, and the best way is to travel from region to region. Having been to the place - both the wine and you - the bottle reflects the terroir and can bring you back to the place. Wine is in no small part a product of place.

Carpets are very much products of place, and one who knows carpets can tell where a carpet comes from, primarily by looking at the pattern and weave. Carpets are named for a place or its people - a village, a city, a region, a tribe. One speaks of Bukharas and Baluchs and so forth.

I can differentiate between Burgundy and Bordeaux, Loire and Rhone. I can tell a French pinot noir from a Californian. My experience and taste buds don't go much beyond that. My knowledge of carpets is less than that. I know what I like. That's a small part - but maybe the most important part.

Wine: is it pleasing to the eye, the nose, the tongue? Carpet: is it pleasing to the eye, to the hand and foot?

Across the carpet belt rugs are woven on vertical looms and almost exclusively by women. Colored wool is knotted to wefts and warps of wool or cotton. A fine carpet is made using natural rather than synthetic dyes. How does one identify natural dyes? they look like colors that occur in nature, because they are made from things in nature, most often plants. A fine carpet is densely knotted. This results in two things. One, the pattern in the rug is crisp and clear. A rug with less knots may seem blurry. A fine carpet is shorn to a very low pile. This, combined with dense knots, results in (the second thing) a nice texture. Petting the carpet, with hand or foot, is satisfying. Sounds kooky. I traveled to New York with a carpet scholar to visit a carpet collector and both emphasized the importance of petting a carpet.

I also like a carpet that has flaws. Some carpets are made from a pattern that is written. Others are made - amazingly - from memory. This means that sometimes the corners are not perfect; the weaver runs out of room and the pattern is not complete.

Another thing I like is abrash. This occurs when the weaver uses wool of the same color dyed in different batches that do not exactly match up. This results in abrupt, though often subtle, variations in color.

I can't tell you where a carpet comes from but I can tell you which ones I like and why. Come by the shop and let's have a look at some carpets.