Each rug weaving region has its own distinct design, after all, that is the principle method of identifying a rug. However, to systematically approach the topic of rug design, we can grossly categorise the field designs into the following seven categories: prayer, medallion, repeat motif, all-over pattern, open field, panel and portrait. Rugs from some particularly artistic weaving region may be designed in more than one of the above mentioned themes. While other regions prefer to remain with one specific design for all its rugs.
The field is the name for the area of the rug within the border.
As the name suggest, prayer rug was originally designed as mats to be used during prayer. The Islamic faith requires praying several times a day, which means prayer rugs are part of everyday life in Islamic countries. Prayer rugs tend to be small in size as it is intended for one person’s specific religious ritual. Most popular size is 5×3 feet, 152 x 91 cm. They are meant to be portable and comfortable for kneeling on. Prayer rugs have a prayer niche (mihrub) or arch that forms the focal point of the field. Depending on the breed, the arch can be rectilinear or curlinear, or supported by columns. The area under the arch is called the spandrel and is designed with classic motifs of the breed of rug (region of the rug).
Central medallion design rugs have a central figure as the focal point, which is called the central medallion. This could be a single medallion, or multiple medallions. In some rugs, the design of the medallion is repeated in corners (spandrels) to harmonise the whole design. Medallions appear in many styles, sizes, shapes, such as round, oval, geometric, elongated and more. The background behind the medallion, which is called the field, has as many variations as the medallion. It could be open, filled with repetitive pattern, or radiates the medallion design outwards or repeated in the corners.
The most famous example of a repeated pattern rug is the Bukhara rug with the small ‘guls’ design. The motif is repeated throughout the field. Repeated design could be used with stripes and medallions.
All-over pattern refer to the rugs that have the field filled with motifs, but not repetitive or regimented, rather a field depicting a hunting scene, a garden design of the classic tree of life design.
As the name suggest, the field is open/empty without motifs or design elements. Chinese rugs are often designed with open field. Open field rugs have the advantage of fully displaying the magnificence of abrash (the accelerated ageing stripes of the rug due to various ages of the wool used for weaving. It is one of the hallmark identifications of an authentic handmade rug and is highly sought after as a result). Borders of open field design rugs tend to be rather elaborate.
Bakhtiare is the most famous example of panel-designed rugs. The rug has a series of compartments or panels, shaped in square, diamonds or rectangles. The elements are often simple designs demonstrated by geometric figures, such as flowers, trees and stars (Dahlias and daisies being the most popular flowers). Some experts argue the irrigation channels that constructed throughout the rug belt, which enabled gardening and farming in an otherwise inhospitable environment, inspire panel design.
Most pictorial rugs are exquisite fine silk rugs. They were initially inspired by European oil paintings. Considerable weaving skill as well as artistic intuition is needed for an oil painting like pictorial rug; as a result such rugs tend to display majestic landscapes, portraits of kings and leaders, or even exact replica of famous works of art. Interestingly, in Afghanistan after the war in 1980, pictorial rugs began to bear pictures of fighting machines such as tanks and helicopters.