Sunday, January 18, 2009

First, do no harm.

It's not just for the Hippocratic Oath. It also works pretty well as a rule of thumb for antique and rare textiles.

Meet my silk oriental rug.

I've had it about fifteen years, and it's certainly not antique. But plenty rare. (Or at least damn hard to get in this country, which amounts to the same thing.) The husbeast bought it from the person who wove it, almost right off the loom, as a gift for me. He was in the United Arab Emirates at the time, with the US Navy. The import duty on it would have probably been ten times what he paid for the carpet, but he worked some military magic, and, um, skipped that whole pesky customs issue. (Probably the only good thing about touring the world on board a US Navy vessel.)

Near as I can tell it is hand woven with cotton warp and weft, and silk knots, at about ten knots per inch. (By Middle-Eastern standards, the 'gauge' is positively slap-dash. I'll take it.) There are about fifteen colors in it, I assume synthetically dyed.

For about fourteen years now, it has needed cleaned. Cleaning oriental rugs is never an easy or cheap proposition, but you add in the silk issue, and, well, I would have conversations like this:

ME: Hi, I've got a silk oriental-
GUY AT CLEANING PLACE: -click- hangup.

Or a variation.

ME: Hi, I've got a silk oriental rug I need cleaned?
GUY AT CLEANING PLACE: Where did YOU get a silk oriental rug?
ME: My husband bought it in the United Arab Emirates-

I assume there's some value and/or risk attached to this thing.

So for over a decade I've known I needed to clean it, and been afraid to do it. But in the last year or so, I've been reading like a fiend about textiles (y'all may have noticed) and I came to understand the physical structure of the rug. Thanks to the (failing) dye biz, I also came to understand the properties of silk, and realized that like wool, silk is really quite strong so long as you avoid a few simple things (extremes of Ph, and heat over 180F/82C). Modern detergents are all Ph neutral, and I was pretty sure our carpet cleaner didn't GET that hot (manufacturers dislike high heat, because people get burned and sue them).

That left the only OTHER issue, accidentally shrinking the cotton warp threads and having the whole thing buckle like pavement in spring. But I thought I could avoid that.

So, today, I finally found the courage to clean the carpet.

It's wet in the photo, but I think the colors are more easily discerned. The gunk poured out of the waste tank in the cleaner means it HAS to be cleaner; whether it's VISIBLY cleaner is a whole other issue. (I considered for one brief moment taking a photo of the crud, but reason prevailed.) I never got a clean tank of water off it, meaning I should have another go at it next weekend, but it'll probably take me another year to get my nerve up for another go.

All else aside, as you see, the carpet didn't buckle from shrunken warp or weft. The silk still has its luster (which means it likely also still has its strength). The color hasn't faded. I didn't suck off huge hunks of fiber. I'm calling it a success.

I think I'm going to go swoon now.


Amy Lane said...

Yeah--I'd have a little lie down for that... but good for you doing all that research and getting 'er done!

Alwen said...

dies of jealousy

That's a very nice rug. Have you read Brian Murphy's The Root of Wild Madder?

Galad said...

You do like to live on the edge :-)

Good job on the research and cleaning. It is a beautiful rug!

Walden said...

Wow, it does look at lot better, even wet. Congrats!

Rose Red said...

good job on the rug cleaning! I wonder though, why are they so rare in the US? Do you mean it's rare to get persian rugs made of silk, or real persian rugs at all? They are everywhere here (although I can't say how authentic most of them are, although they all say they are!!)

And if you can't get them, why is that? is there a ban on importing them? Maybe I should do some research!!

Ginger_nut said...

you certainly are brave :)

the warp should have been pre-shrunk so you should feel rather safe about that issue when washing it.

sometimes a slightly vinegary bath / rinse can help silk look fantastic too... and it helps to make the pH more silk friendly when you are done (as most cleaners are nearly pH neutral but usually just on the basic side - which silk won't like at all)

Pam said...

We have brought back a bunch of rugs from India over the years: it is a handicraft so probably you are good as far as duty. The rugs are actually hardier than you think so I think you did a good job without doing any harm.

Donna Lee said...

You done good. It looks better and it didn't fall apart. I'm not sure I'd have had the cojones to do that.

Roxie said...

What a difference! You brave woman. It's stunning. I love the pink tones that have shown up. What a GOOD husbeast you have!!

Mandy said...

It's a lovely rug - as you said, silk is remarkably tough, so I'm sure it'll be fine. But I would do it again immediately, while I'm stoked from the first success!

knitabulous said...

I just love the blogs, the things you learn about people and their things, and the stuff you have in common is just amazing.
I have a rug almost exactly the same, but with more pink/green tones. The pattern is almost identical.
I bought it backpacking in Turkey, in Marmaris, from a Kurdish rug seller. Mine too was filthy from neglect and being walked on with 'bovver' boots and curry spills when I had it on the floor in my backpackers doss house in London.
I had EXACTLY the same experience with trying to get it cleaned. No rug cleaner/dry cleaner would touch it - either in London or in Australia (where I am from).
I even tried the rug seller in Harrods - he placed his hand on his breast and nodded (which is Turkish for 'no way ma'am'), saying it could only be done by experts and for a sum I could not afford.
Many years later, armed with the knowledge of fibre that knitting has given me, I also washed mine in the sink with dishwashing liquid and a load of cold water.
There has been a little cotton shrinkage in mine, but as you say, the lustre and the colours are still intact. I've actually done mine twice now.
And the colour of the water when I was washing it - I knew it was dirty, but I had no idea how bad. I think I'll have to blog about mine as well now. Thanks so much for sharing!