Gabbeh Rugs

The distinct characteristic of Gabbeh rugs is that they are thicker and coarser than other types of Persian rugs.

Their design is a great example of how simplicity is beautiful. These designs are usually kept very basic with geometric motifs or symbolic shapes.

Some Gabbeh rugs are known to have large open fields and most of them have just a few color combinations. The vegetable dyes used to make Gabbeh carpets give them a very bold and vivid look.

History of Gabbeh

Gabbeh or gabba are one of the warmest and most creative types of Oriental rugs.

Gabbeh rugs are handmade rugs, traditionally woven by Qashqai and Luri weavers in the Zagros Mountains in southern Iran.

The pile can sometimes be as much as 1′ in thickness. These rugs are constructed from local handspun sheep wool and vegetable dyes and have a relatively low knot density.

What is a Gabbeh Rug?

The word Gabbeh loosely translates to raw, uncut or unfinished. Until recently it was a rather appropriate description for these coarse, crudely knotted rugs made by the weavers for their own use rather than for commercial purposes. This definition doesn’t do justice to the versions you see today though.

There is nothing crude, subtle or understated about modern Gabbeh rugs. These later variants are filled with bright colors and bold designs with weavers giving free reign to their creativity. 

The only thing that has remained unchanged is the unmistakable uniqueness of each rug.

Gabbeh 8'6'' x 11'6''
Gabbeh 8’6” x 11’6”

Drawing Inspiration From Everyday Life

While today’s Gabbeh rugs are an improvement over their more traditional counterparts, their patterns and designs have not changed much over the years. The weavers still do not follow any patterns. Instead, they draw inspiration from their surroundings and from everyday life, which contributes to the exclusive designing.

Every design has a story behind it. Some rugs may simply depict the landscape that moved or inspired the weaver while other designs may tell a tale or convey the weaver’s emotion with symbols and figures representing parts of the weaver’s narrative.

It is this intrinsically personal and unsystematic process that renders a Gabbeh a completely distinctive work of art and which distinguishes it from many other types of weaving or knotting processes in rug making. It also makes it difficult to classify the designs of these rugs as they do not follow any preset rules.

Various Design of Gabbeh

The patterns are usually very basic with only a limited number of decorative objects which are mostly rectangular representations of different animals.

A few of the more daring pieces have no discernible design at all. They are woven as a vast field of solid color with design elements being dictated by the wool quality and the color variegations. Most of the varieties have ‘barber pole’ selvages, which is a type of selvage where the edges are wrapped in two different colors.

Natural Colors Add To The Allure

Bold, bright colors – oranges, reds, rusts and yellows, are the hallmark of Gabbeh rugs. Only organic dyes are used. The dyes are extracted from plants and roots indigenous to the Zagros mountain range and formulated from traditional recipes that have been developed over centuries.

Some of the raw materials used to create these stunning colors are madder root, pomegranate skins, indigo and walnut husks among others.

The irregularities in the dyes result in a collage of color variations instead of a uniform solid color, which gives these rugs their rich texture and highlights their characteristic nomadic origin and spirit.

Persian Gabbeh

The wool used in the construction of Persian Gabbeh is arguably the best in the world.

The long fibered wool gives these rugs a natural luster and unparalleled softness.

The thick pile offers excellent acoustics as well as a warm and soft surface for your feet.

Persian Gabbeh
Persian Gabbeh

Indian Gabbeh

Indian Gabbehs are inspired by the Persian originals.

These rugs are woven in India using soft, long fibered wool, bright colors and simple geometric shapes that resemble the Qashquai rugs from Iran.

The only difference is that the Indian variants are slightly stiffer in body and have little if any color variation because of the unavailability of the natural dyes that were used in the original rugs.

Indian Gabbeh
Indian Gabbeh

Pakistan Gabbeh

Pakistani Gabbehs have designs that are similar to the Persian Qashqai versions but are woven using fine Australian wool yarn so these versions are superior in quality and resemble silk carpets.

Their high knot density provides a stronger durability at lower price as compared to their Persian counterparts.

Pakistan Gabbeh
Pakistan Gabbeh

Typical Gabbeh Design Styles

  • Basic style is configured of a mostly open field and large geometric shapes such as triangles and rectangles in the field region of the rug.
  • Panel style contains small to medium width border at the perimeter of the rug and repeating geometric panels throughout the field. The repeating panels are typically square or triangular.
  • Stripe style has horizontal and sometimes vertical stripes running across the field of the rug.
  • Open Field style has a large open field with repeating square shapes making up its border.

Gabbeh rugs are woven by nomadic tribal weavers who live in the Zagros mountain range. Originally these rugs were woven by the tribals for their personal use, to protect them from the bitter winters that were prevalent in the region. The striking designs and fabulous colors of these rugs soon made them popular amongst home-owners and rug collectors all over the world.

The Fabulous Gabbeh Rugs
A Hand Knotted Gabbeh Rug

Facts About Gabbeh Rugs

Gabbeh rugs are mostly woven by the women of the tribe. These weavers used their personal experiences, thoughts and feelings to inspire their unique creations.

The looms that the weavers use are the horizontal variety. These looms are more basic but they can be quickly and easily folded up and packed when it was time for the tribe to move to a new location.

Gabbeh rugs are all natural. The wool that is used to construct these rugs is obtained by shearing their own sheep and the dyes used in the rugs are extracted from parts of plants that are native to the region such as walnut husk, indigo, madder root and pomegranate skin. There are no synthetic elements used in the construction of these rugs.

Distinctive Features

Gabbeh rugs are quite easy to recognize because of a few distinctive features. These rugs typically have a very dense pile. A Gabbeh rug with a pile thickness of up to ¾ inches is not uncommon at all. These rugs have a knot count of about 40 to 60 kpi, which is very low compared to most other oriental rug varieties.

Gabbeh Rug
6′ x 8’11” Hand Knotted Gabbeh Rug

Weavers generally created simple geometric motifs with bold colors across the rug. These motifs were placed at random across the rug. If you are being sold a Gabbeh that has a symmetric design, you need to double check. You will rarely see a Gabbeh rug with the motifs symmetrically placed. Most designs related a story or represented some tribal folklore.

Persian Gabbeh Rug Categories

Persian Gabbeh rugs are broadly divided into 5 categories:

Basic Gabbeh – These rugs have a very low knot count and a dense pile. The design is generally very basic, with simple, boldly colored geometric shapes or tribal drawings placed on large open fields.

Kashkoli Gabbeh – The Kashkoli rugs have a shorter, softer pile and a higher knot count as compared to the basic Gabbeh. However, they stay true to the simple, brightly colored geometrical shapes.

Luribaft Gabbeh – These rugs have a soft, relatively short pile and a unique sheen from their tight, fine weave and high quality wool. The designs are more detailed and sophisticated as compared to most other Gabbeh categories.

Gabbeh Sumak – Gabbeh Sumak are flat woven rugs. They do not have any pile. The weavers weave the colorful designs into the foundation of the rug, which makes them quite different from all other Gabbehs.

Amalehbaft Gabbeh – These rugs are characterized by their medium weave, shorter pile and very colorful but basic, simple patterns.

When you own a Gabbeh from any one of these categories, you know you own a one-of-a-kind, all-natural rug of tribal beauty.



Every Gabbeh Rug Has A Different Story To Tell

Gabbeh rugs are traditional Persian rugs, woven by nomadic tribal weavers in the Zagros Mountains in southern Iran. The loom that is used to weave these rugs is horizontal and can be easily and quickly put together and taken apart, which is a necessity considering the weavers’ nomadic lifestyle.

The rugs were originally woven for purely functional purposes. They were used to keep their families warm and also as a soft cushioning to sleep on, which is why the pile was always left long. If you take a look at the original Gabbeh rugs, their functional purpose are very obvious in the unfinished pile as well as the drab colors. The rugs were usually woven with un-dyed wool and the common colors were beige, ivory and brown.

Telling A Tale Through Their Weaves

A very charming feature of Gabbeh rugs is in their unique design element, which is completely unstructured. There are no rules or guidelines that these weavers follow. Instead, every weaver gives free reign to their creativity during the weaving process. Weavers used figures and symbols to artfully convey their emotions, narrate a tale or recreate a scenario.

Some Gabbeh rugs are woven without any of the typical design elements. Instead, they are woven as a lush field of 2 or 3 colors with the naturally dyed wool creating an interesting interplay of colors that is ingenious in its sheer simplicity.

Modern Gabbeh Rugs V/s Traditional Gabbehs

Modern Gabbeh rugs are an intriguing mix of old and new. They have retained some of the characteristics of the original versions with a few marked improvements, especially in the colorations and finish.

These rugs are still woven with a thick, coarse pile, with some rugs having a pile as much as 1inch thick. As in the originals, the knot density is still relatively low when compared to most other types of rugs.
Another similarity between the two lies in the designing of these rugs. Through the years, these rugs have always featured basic yet bold tribal designs.

The most significant difference between the traditional and modern versions is in the colors that are used. While the original Gabbehs used un-dyed wool and had limited colors, the modern counterparts use rich, deep colors that are very distinctive. Some of the most commonly used colors include rust, orange, red and yellow. The dyes used are all natural and extracted from plants and roots that are found in abundance in the region.

Types of Gabbeh Rugs

There are three types of Gabbeh Rugs- Persian, Indian and Pakistani.

Persian Gabbeh rugs use superior wool that gives them a superior finish that is soft, lustrous and plush.

Indian Gabbehs are essentially imitations of the Persian originals. They use the same colorations and designs but are slightly stiffer, which is because of the type of wool that is used in the weaving.

Pakistani Gabbeh uses superior quality Australian wool in the weaving. With their finer wool and higher knot density these rugs look more like they are woven of silk instead of wool.