When I am asked which type of rug I most
enjoy restoring, my answer is Bijar.
I am invariably met with frozen stares of astonishment as though I
had suddenly presented my inquirers with Medusa's head.
"But isn't that the rug of iron?" they ask,
"the rug with a foundation tough as stone?"
Yes," I answer, "it is. That's why
I love it."
To me the Bijar
is a majestic rug, often using archaic patterns with clearly
defined colors. Floral elements bound off fields awash in indigo
blues, saturated yellows, and rosy,
The character of Kazak foundations is meaty
and open. The Kuba/Daghestan is rigid
and delicate. The Turkoman is cerebral
and forgiving. The Shiraz is light and supple. The
Bijar, however, is tough as a board.
Folding them is out of the question. A 9'xl2'
Bijar can come delivered for restoration in a 12- foot
tube which won't bend around doorways or stairwells. And it is
heavy. To work on one when the requirement is to have one hand at
the back of the repair while working on the front often leaves me
with two alternatives: either give the rug a bear hug for hours at
a stretch, or use an assistant under the rug to push back my
However, like most things in this world which
appear on the surface to be inflexible and unyielding, there is in
the Bijar a soft spot. The challenge
has been to discover and use it, encouraging
it to respond to the manipulations of thread and needle.
To understand the unique
characteristics of their weave, it is necessary to review
the methods of rug construction. First, warps are strung onto a
frame which holds them taut under extreme pressure so that in
appearance it resembles a harp. Weft threads are then woven in,
running under one warp and over the next. The second weft reverses by going over one warp and under the next. This makes the
fabric. Knots are tied after the planned number of wefts. In the
Bijar this planned number can be
either two or three wefts. When there are two, the first is
straight and the second is sinuous. When there are three, the
first and third are straight while the second, or middle weft is
The internal strength of most types of rugs
is this tautness of warp. It is on the warp threads that the wefts
and knots are dependent. The Bijar,
though, is ruled by its straight weft; and this is the soft spot.
It is an extremely fat cord (Z-spun and S-plied) composed of a
grab bag of hair and wool. In some later
Bid jars, it is of cotton. To compare it to the hemp twine
used for hay baling is neither an exaggeration nor a
condemnation. However, it is through
this weft channel that I am able to insert new materials.
The extreme thickness of the straight weft
keeps the alternate warp threads from even touching each other (Diagram
1, below), creating two distinct planes. To clarify this, think of
it as a pencil lying between two pages of a book.
Diagram 1. The alternate warp threads are
kept from touching one another by the extreme thickness of the
The second weft is nothing at all
like the first. It is of a much finer
spin, usually rose or brown in color, and is at least as thin as
the warps. In later Bid jars it may be
of cotton. It is very sinuous, looping around the outside of the
warps and holding them down (Diagram 2, below).
When the pile wears away, this sinuous weft
is exposed and will easily break. The telltale sign of this sort
of damage is indicated where long warp threads are seen
uninterrupted by any sort of weft covering (Illustration 1).
The full diameter of a tightly compressed
straight weft cannot be ascertained by a diligent examination of
the back of the Bijar. As any weaver
knows, a thread of such composite and resilient materials as this
Bijar weft is very hard to beat down
with a typical weaver's comb. So an interesting
trick has been discovered by the weavers of
Bid jars. They found that by dampening the weft it
compressed more readily. Knots could then be put in on top and, as
the weft dried, it expanded to its greatest capacity, squeezing
the knots above and below it. This produced the finishing touches
of the Bid jar's straight and
unyielding character. The weft will have expanded to the maximum
point, filling in the channel between the rows of knots far better
than could any exertion by weaver or comb. When the rug is rolled
up, the warps on the outside of the roll will be stretched
as though they were wrapped around a
steel drum, and this is why it is easier to roll a
Bijar from side to side than from
end to end.
The warps of either wool or cotton
are about one quarter of the straight
weft's diameter and are quite delicate.
Ofttimes the damage which I encounter is to the warps. This is
made evident by a careful scrutiny of
the back of the rug. Friction can
cause them to break, and they will appear as loose tufts rising
off the surface.
In the Bijar
weaving areas, a change in warp content occurred in the
late 1800s. This change was from wool
to cotton warp threads. Cotton is a fiber
which is more resilient to abrasion created by ordinary
wear or even by a weaver's beating comb during construction.
Being a less readily available product
to shepherding tribes, this change occurred later in rural areas,
and rugs woven in 1920 and beyond may still be of wool warps.
How do these peculiarities affect
my methods of restoration? To follow
the common technique of inserting new
warps through or alongside the old warps can wreak havoc with
the Bijar. The sinuous weft holding
them in can split with the added
burden of encompassing both the old
and the new, and the warp itself is too delicate to allow new
insertions. In some instances, I have
found success by gently threading a new sinuous weft over the
existing sinuous wefts to bolster them. This
then allows me to insert new wefts while protecting the
But, in most instances, I have found | that
looping my new warps and holding them
in with a finer thread is the most invisible and least intrusive
technique. This finer thread is anchored through alternating
straight wefts of the rug so that the new area cannot be detected
by sight or touch.
Inserting the new straight wefts into the
original presents similar problems. It has been packed in so
tightly that there is no room for a new weft of equal thickness.
But here we are lucky. Because it is of such resilient materials,
there are usually fragmentary sections of the old straight weft
flapping at the edge of a hole. I make use of these by attaching
the new weft directly to them, mitering them in and winching them
tight, thereby avoiding a direct
Illustration 2. Bijar vagireh
One key in any successful restoration is to
follow as closely as possible the materials and techniques used in
each rug. So what about the slightly dampened
weft used in the creation of a Bijar?
Where does this figure into my restoration approach?
I found that, if I used a new weft of the
exact same material as the original and built my knots of
appropriate thickness and ply on top of that, there would be an
increasingly small area in which to work. Halfway through the
restoration, my warps would be filled
with new wefting and new knots, and all of my force would not be
sufficient to compress my straight weft.
I had to abandon the typical
restorer's approach of maintaining
pressure from back to front with an occasional compaction
vertically, a method which is perfectly successful for most rugs.
Instead, I found that dampening the weft,
as the weavers had, enabled me to build an exact duplicate of the
There is one final quality of
which has proven to be the most difficult to master. I often
describe the feel of a good Persian rug to be like a mink in one
direction and like a Labrador dog in
the other. The Bijar feels like a
Labrador retriever's coat in both directions: smooth, hard,
bristly and comforting. As I have always opposed stripping one rug
or fragment to restore another, when
attempting to restore Bid jars I had to
choose from amongst the commonly available yams. This produced
disappointing results. No matter how invisibly I had set in my new
foundation, the knotted area looked dull and matted. The element
of transparency was missing.
My searches led me to county fairs,
weaving studios, and to potential sources overseas. I was
fortunate to find some high country
wool which, when appropriately spun and plied, returns the light
to the observer's eye. This detail enables my repair to
blend in thoroughly. It is still my
intention to further improve the match
by locating wool with even more of the bristly strength of that
used in the Bijar.
Hardness of wool, clarity of
design and color, resiliency to
abuse... the Bijar has it all. Their
unique and seemingly unassailable
structure challenges the restorer to improve and devise new
methods. Years ago I rose to the
challenge and have sometimes faltered, but now I feel confident
that the Bijar and I have an
Is it any wonder that this rug of
iron has become the cornerstone of my
love of restoration?
Holly Smith is the
owner of Holly L. Smith & Co.,
Boston, Massachusetts. Her
company performs restorations
(local and overseas) and cleaning, as well as providing rug
brokerage services. Her
restoration work hangs in museums,
private collections, and in auction
galleries. You can visit her website at