Is this an incredible new designer we have yet to hear about? No, not exactly but good guess.
A Gabbeh is a handmade Persian rug which were traditionally woven by Qashqai and Luri weavers in Iran. These rugs are and were simple, whimsical or modern in design, often using geometric and stylized human, animal and plant forms.
The word Gabbeh translates closely to unfinished or unclipped. Originally these rugs were woven for the weavers use with the pile left much longer than normal rugs. They were sometimes used as sleeping rugs. A small number of older Gabbehs were woven with un-dyed wool; the colors being ivory, beige and browns. Here is a video of newer Gabbeh rugs showcasing a few different looks that are available.
Most of the recent Gabbehs are filled with color with the weavers creativity being given free reign. There is nothing subtle or understated about them. The beauty of these rugs is their unmistakable uniqueness. I had one Gabbeh with a herd of camels, another with only a few simple trees. I remember one in particular that had wine glasses positioned right next to the humans on the rug! Some Gabbehs will have small animal figures whimsically placed throughout the field. You may see a simple rendition of the Tree of Life design, camels crossing the desert, a stylized sunset or the colors of the ocean with each rug having it's own individual qualities. A few of the more daring pieces have no design at all with only wool quality and variegation of color dictating the design elements.
One of the most important factors influencing the beauty of any rug are the colors. Some of the most magnificent color creations have been and are being achieved on a regular basis in the contemporary production of Persian Gabbehs. Jewel tones abound and old school dyeing techniques have been given new life.
With their simple design elements, they are perfectly suited for modern interiors. Additionally, they can be easily incorporated into most eclectic decorating schemes and work well with traditional Persian tribal rugs, if the colors are in agreement. This is not a rug recommended for a formal room. If the moods and colors are in harmony and it pleases you, that is the bottom line.
In my article, "How to Buy an Oriental Rug" I have gone into detail on the difference between a Persian Rug and an Oriental Rug. To the uninitiated, a Persian rug is strictly from Iran or the former Persian Empire, if an antique.
An Indo-Gabbeh is a copy of the Persian Gabbeh woven in India. These rugs are much stiffer in body and usually have little, if any color variation, which comes from the hand-spun wool and vegetable dyes used in the Persian Gabbehs.
Gabbeh rugs are woven in villages of settled tribal groups, many of them descendants of Turkic speaking peoples. The most prolific producers of Gabbeh are the Qashqai, famous for their love of color. The best Gabbehs, woven with lustrous hand-spun Persian wool come from the areas near the Zagros Mountains in Southern Iran. The creation of these rugs are most often done in the home, each one a unique and splendid presentation of the weavers' art.
Gabbeh rugs in the past were never given their due by the old school rug merchants. The dealers of yesteryear often disregarded these beautiful, simple rugs as crude and unrefined. It was only recently (within the last ten to fifteen years) that any interest was expressed for these rugs at all. Now they are much more widely recognized for their beauty and charm with a renaissance of new production which became available when the embargo on Persian rugs was lifted at the beginning of the last decade.
Originally this article was written in 2006 when there were numerous sources for great Gabbeh rugs here in the US, on the wholesale level. After the Persian rug embargo of 2010, the availability of such pieces declined markedly. When that embargo was lifted recently, the importation of Gabbehs rugs stated to come to life but it was never as good as it was in the early 2000’s.
As mentioned in one of my blog posts, a new Persian embargo was reinstated August 6, 2018. So, here we go again with the availability of genuine higher quality Gabbehs (vegetable dyed pieces woven with superior Persian hand-spun wool) now limited to whatever importers were able to bring in to the US, before that date. Suffice to say, we are now, again in a era of a limited selection within wholesale and retail markets of genuine Persian Gabbeh rugs.
Many rug producers in various countries are currently making new vegetable dyed rugs in Gabbeh designs, such as Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and possibly others. Some of these pieces are lovely but never exactly the same as a Persian Gabbeh. Please note, I am not a rug snob and do have a few such pieces at my gallery for sale but clearly indicate that a new Gabbeh design rug, woven anywhere other than Iran (Persian Gabbeh), is somewhat of a different product. Each have their own merits but they are distinctly different. The two factors that I have observed are the quality and characteristics of Persian wool and the heart of the weaver’s vision, creation, design and color selections. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes minimalist, sometimes fun but always interesting!
In summary, the best Persian Gabbehs have excellent quality wool, harmonious colors and an appealing design or drawing. Taste, of course is personal but when a rug is exceptional and beautiful, the majority of people, get it. It’s called woven art! When viewing such a piece or gently running your hand over the wool, the experience is enlivening and inspiring. This why I love handmade rugs. As I said in one of my articles, good rugs are emanating perceivable communication.
Here’s my article on how Persian Rugs and Oriental Rugs are the Only Rugs that Talk!
To see more wonderful Persian Rugs currently available, please see my gallery pages!
Penny Krieger is the owner of Paradise Oriental Rugs, Inc., located in the San Francisco Bay Area in Sonoma County. Her gallery at 137 North Main Street , Sebastopol , CA , specializes in tribal rugs and carpets woven with hand-spun wool and plant based dyes with a strong emphasis on Persian tribal rugs. https://www.paradiseorientalrugs.com Phone: 707-823-3355