Oriental Carpet Books and Websites

covers of books on oriental carpets

Some great books on Oriental carpets.

There are many books on Oriental carpets available; here are short descriptions of six I have picked up in used bookstores.  And at the bottom I list two marvelous online resources.


(These first three books can be borrowed online from the Open Library.  You will have to create a free account and search for them.)

Oriental Rugs: An Introduction, Gordon Redford Walker, Prion Books, 1999

A small but colorful book that helps beginners learn the vocabulary and styles of Oriental rugs.  Rugs are classified by geographic region, and their main characteristics are presented in a table, making it easy to compare different styles.  Walker also picks out defining details of each style and writes a pithy, memorable description — such as “Another common detail is a solid-bodied mythical creature with two pairs of criss-crossed legs and a Loch Ness monster neck on which is perched a tiny head,”  or “Almost always with the teardrop or boteh pattern overall, referred to irreverently by some as the ‘flea’ pattern.”

A beautiful book for visual inspiration, even if you are not interested in learning about rugs.

The Carpet: Origins, Art, and History, Enza Milanesi, Firefly Books Ltd., 1999
(originally published in 1997 as Il Tappeto: I Luoghi, L’Arte, La Storia)

This book combines the features of the previous two; it considers the “sphere of production,” but also classifies carpets by the region in which they were made.  There are full-color photographs of carpets, drawings of their motifs, two-page spreads that highlight individual designs, and lots of sidebars full of interesting facts.

Carpets from China and Europe are also included.  This book is also available to borrow online from the Open Library.

Kilim: The Complete Guide, Alastair Hull and Jose Luczyc-Wyhowska, Chronicle Books, 1993

To the casual eye, a kilim looks like any Oriental carpet in color and design, but it is completely flat-woven, rather than having rows of clipped knotted yarn, as we usually think of Oriental carpets.  (Those have woven rows too but they don’t show on the front, being hidden beneath the clipped yarn ends.)

This book has it all — hundreds of large, full-color photographs, drawings of design motifs, diagrams of weaving techniques, tables of regional characteristics.  A feast for the eyes and intellect!

Oriental Carpets: From the Tents, Cottages, and Workshops of Asia, Jon Thompson, E. P. Dutton, 1988
(originally published in 1983 as Carpet Magic)

This book classifies carpets, not by the geographic regions where they were made, but by four over-arching categories of workplace —  looking at whether they were woven by pastoral tribes, in cottage workshops, in town or city workshops, or in specialized workshops for court use.  Within each of these sections, there is a discussion of history, technique, and style, with lots of full-page, color photographs.

The book includes many pictures of the craftspeople who create the carpets, and their surroundings.

Oriental Carpets, Volkmar Gantzhorn, Taschen, 1998
(originally a dissertation titled The Christian Oriental Carpet)

This book is widely available as a used book, and very inexpensive.  The hundreds of full-color photographs are exquisite.

It presents itself as the third attempt in history to publish “a comprehensive history of the oriental carpet,” but one that contradicts the earlier two histories. The author’s aim is to prove that Oriental carpets originated with and were produced by Armenian Christians.  I can’t find much reference to that theory online, but rug aficionados in this discussion thread point out that the author cherry-picks his proofs, and ignores many other examples that would not support his thesis.

Quoting from the Acknowledgments: “Until the manuscript of this book was finished, the author intended to write about the Islamic oriental carpet as well, but unfortunately there are but few carpets until the 19th century which can, with certainty, be attributed to Moslem use… Indeed, the author would like to create the awareness that these textiles, woven by devout Christians, are in fact icons with no utilitarian purpose.”

I myself do not have any level of expertise to support or contend with his claims, but you might want to be aware that they seem to be controversial within the rug community.  So, if I were going to give a rug talk myself, I would be wary of using this book for a reference.  Still, for a low price (I paid $8 for mine), a wealth of beautiful rug images is available here.

Turkish Handwoven Carpets, Volume 3

This is a wonderful book showing over 100 Turkish carpets in full color.  I wrote more about it here.

book pages showing oriental carpets

All of these books have gorgeous full-color photos.

Online Resources

R. John Howe: Textiles and Texts, Virtual Versions of Textile Museum “Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning” Programs

The Textile Museum offers regular presentations, where experts go in-depth on one aspect of the world of carpets.  Attendees sometimes bring their own samples to share.  These are captured on Textiles and Text in photo-heavy blog posts.  I love to get a big cup of tea and spend a morning reading; the posts make me feel like I really got to be there!

You can download the most of archive as PDFs here!

HALI is a quarterly publication about the international rug and textile art market.  They have many interesting articles available on their website.