The American Sarouk

July 15, 2003
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The last three installments of “The Rug Cleaning Specialist” have looked at key Persian rugs. This review would not be complete without including rugs from the Sarouk area.

The town of Sarouk (Saruq) is located about 25 miles north of the city of Arak in western Iran. “Sarouk” is also used to denote the finest-quality rugs woven in the general Arak region once known as Sultanabad.

Weaving from the nearby Ferahan region influenced early Sarouk rugs. These finely woven 19th- and early 20th-century rugs have all-over patterns such as the Herati. The rugs feature a cotton foundation with pink or blue wefts. Vegetable dyes are used in their production, with green more prevalent than is usually found in most Persian rugs. Some of these rugs may be referred to as Farahan Sarouks. The design is a geometric interpretation of basically curvilinear designs. They have a close-clipped and tightly packed pile of fine yarn (Image 1). These rugs are very collectable today.

The advent of the American Sarouk began in the early 1920s. P.R.J. Ford has called them “the great abortions of oriental carpet design.” This may be somewhat harsh; however, the weaving traditions of the Sarouk area were changed forever. An American company with local production in Sarouk produced a rug pattern that perfectly suited the American demand for thick-piled carpet – a sort of imitation of Axminster design – with simple sprays of flower patterns all over the carpet (Image 2). America wanted large carpets, 9-by-12 feet and up in size, with thick pile and colorfast dyes. It did not matter if the design was somewhat clumsy in the execution. The word soon spread around the villages of Arak about the popularity of American Sarouk carpets and, within a few years, the weaving traditions of the area were changed forever.

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The Sarouk region was not the only one affected. A large part of the Hamadan area adopted the design of the American Sarouk and have used it ever since. In some villages the main elements of the design were blended with the local style.

The American Sarouk was produced in the 1920s and ‘30s and, to some extent, the late ‘40s. The knots are asymmetric and the wefts are blue, with the field of the rug containing small floral sprays (Image 3).

The design most associated with American Sarouks is of detached floral sprays on a rose-red background. It has a central floral bouquet with a field containing vases, palmettes and detached floral sprays. The main border has the Herati pattern on a dark-blue ground, and the feel of the rug is a velvety, lustrous pile. They range in size from small mats to gallery size.

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The colors of the rugs were not attractive to the American market at the time, so once they arrived in New York, the majority of the American Sarouks were chemically washed and hand over-dyed in dark wine-red shades. The chemical wash gave a luster to the rugs. Additionally, the over-dye process was performed on rugs made to imitate the look of a Sarouk, such as the Hamadan or Lilihan.

After World War II the same designs were found in Sarouk but in lighter reds. The rugs were lightly chemically washed but, for the most part, were not hand over-dyed. The rug does not have many cleaning problems. Due to the thickness of the pile and the tight weave (which can retain humidity), the warps can develop dry rot along the sides and body of the rug, creating slits as the warps break. The dyes used to make the rug and the over-dyed materials are light and wash fast. The rug, as it wears and loses pile, can develop a mottled look (Image 4). This can present a problem if the rug is covered with soil and the mottled look is not apparent until after cleaning. Maintaining a good working knowledge of rugs will cause you to look for potential problems unique to certain types of rug so you can pre-qualify them with your customer.

The American Sarouk was a rug designed specifically for the American market; you will see many of this perennial favorite come into your shop for cleaning.

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