Tips for Shopping Flea Markets and Estate Sales for Oriental Rugs
Updated: Mar 31
Many customers bring in rugs for cleaning and repair assessments after they've purchased an oriental rug from a flea market or estate sale. Treasure hunting and haggling the price can be exciting as long as you don't get bamboozled. If you're going to do some thrift shopping at estate and yard sales, here are a few things to know before setting out:
1. Edge Fraying
The outside edges meaning the side cord, kilim, and to some extent the fringe, if there is any, are part of the structure that holds the entire rug together, so any damage to these areas will require some attention to keep the rug from deteriorating even further.
2. Insect Damage
Look for flat areas or abrupt holes in the pile that might indicate insect damage. If it isn't hidden under furniture in your house, you may have to count on paying for some repair. You'll also want to make sure that the insect infestation is not active. If it is, steer clear of that piece and probably any piece that is near it. Rugs with active moth infestation will need the service of a professional exterminator before bringing in for cleaning and repair.
3. Dye Migration
Look for areas where the color from one part of the design has bled into other lighter areas. This may indicate pet urine damage or that the piece was in a flood. The damage from both these scenarios can be irreparable. Dye migration can also happen during the cleaning process, but is usually anticipated and addressed if taken to a reputable oriental rug washer.
4. Weak Fringe
If the fringe is intact but breaks easily when you gently tug on it, that fringe will soon need some work. This can happen if the fringe has been over-bleached or cleaned improperly. Fringe can be replaced or hidden, and the kilim can be overcast to ensure that further deterioration of the rug doesn't occur. Remember to factor the cost of any of these repairs into your price.
5. Dry Rot
If you bend the corner of the rug over on itself and you hear crackling, this indicates dry rot of the rug's foundation fibers. The rug may look fine on the surface, but its foundation is deteriorating, and the rug is in a fragile state. There is no way to make those fibers strong again so it cannot be repaired. Know too that a rug that suffers dry rot will create a lot of dust in your home from shedding fibers.
6. Mildew Odor
This indicates the fungus that causes dry rot is present and has been active. If the rug doesn't crackle when bent, there may be time to save the rug with proper anti-fungal treatment and cleaning.
7. Patched Rugs
Some rugs that have suffered holes have been patched with pieces cut from other rugs that may look similar but are not the same. If the stitches are loose, the patches may not stand up to much use before they fall out. So look at it closely before you purchase any rug. This is an easy fix, but you'll want to factor the cost into the price that you offer for the rug.
8. Heavily Bleached Rugs
If a rug has been chemically distressed to look older than it is, it comes with a cost to its life expectancy. Know before you buy that this rug will be more fragile to handle and can stain more easily since its pile has been partially stripped down.
9. Bumps in the rug
Rugs that do not lay flat and have bumps in them from being folded can sometimes be blocked (stretched) back to flat. Depending on the severity, the process of blocking is so time-consuming that it can cost more than the value of the rug to accomplish.
We'd advise avoiding these rugs as the irregular surface can be a trip hazard.
Natural irregularities in rugs
There are also conditions that are natural or that frequently occur that do not diminish the value of the rug or require repair; they are part of what makes true hand-knotted rugs interesting.
Rugs will often have shades of color in striated lines. This is typical as variations in wool and the small-batch dying process will manifest different shades of the same color. This can be used as an identifier of hand-knotted rugs, and often machine-made rugs will try to imitate this look.
2. White Knots
Some rugs will show these knots more than others, particularly after the rug has been washed or if it has a lot of wear. These are normal and are part of the rug's foundation, so they should not be shorn off.
3. Pile Shading (Reversal)
Some rugs will show light and dark areas that change as you walk around the rug. Some rugs are made this way, and some will gain this look over time. It may become more pronounced as wear reduces the pile height of a rug. This is another condition that collectors consider a positive, but maybe at least temporarily correctable.
4. Irregularities In Pattern Or Shape
Even the most skilled weavers make mistakes, and you can find an error in any hand-made rug. Significant errors will negatively affect the value of a collectible antique, but some people feel that the more clunky the error, the more endearing the rug.
Hopefully, this information will help you avoid picking up a bargain rug that you can't really put into use. Remember, if you like the way it looks at the time you buy, it will probably be okay.