Handmade rugs are produced in different settings referred to as category. Handmade rugs are generally woven in the settings of nomadic, village, workshop and master workshop.
Nomadic rugs are woven by tribes who are mostly sheepherders, live in tents and migrate to the mountain pastures in the summer. They include the Lurs, Qashghais and Bakhtiaris of Iran, Turkomans of Afghanistan, Uzbakestan, Turkmenistan, and the area of northwestern China (known as Turkestan in ancient times), and other tribes of Turkey. Rug weaving is part of their culture and life rather than an occupation. They weave rugs for their everyday usage. Women are the sole rug weavers in nomadic tribes. Their expertise in rug weaving is an important factor in determining their social status. Girls learn this skill from an early age and in most tribes they show their first work as proof of their eligibility for marriage.
Nomadic tribes use small horizontal looms that can be dismantled rapidly at the time of migration. As a result, nomadic rugs are usually small. They are also limited in range of colors because nomads use natural colors that are few but available in their surroundings. Nomadic rugs usually have geometric patterns with bold and simple motifs. The nomadic rugs that reach the Western market are originally woven for personal use. The beauty of nomadic rugs lies within their heritage and simplicity.
Village rugs are woven by villagers. In village settings, usually all family members or the women of the family are weavers and their home is their place of work.
More variety of styles are woven by villagers than by any other weaving category because village weaving has been influenced by both nomads and the nearby cities. The influence of nomads can be seen in the bold and simple motifs used by villagers. Many nomads have settled in villages and brought with them their traditional styles and techniques. At the same time, many village weavers accept orders from rug dealers or choose their patterns according to the demand of the market in nearby cities, and this influence can be seen in the elaborate and complex motifs used by villagers. Contemporary village rugs are mainly woven in Iran, Turkey and, to a lesser degree, Afghanistan.
In a workshop setting, both men and women are employed, and very skillful weavers can eventually become master weavers and receive widespread recognition and financial rewards.
Workshops are far more sophisticated than nomadic tents or village settings. They have more sophisticated tools such as large permanent vertical looms, and use a large variety of dyes. Also, rug weavers usually work from a cartoon (a drawing laid out on squared paper) or work under the supervision of a master weaver who calls out both the weaving and the color of each knot. As a result of this sophistication, workshop items are technically very exact and can be produced in variety of sizes including very large sizes. In addition to the styles of their own area, many workshops weave rugs in other styles as well.
Master workshops are specialty workshops run by usually a well-known master designer/artist. The rug weavers are talented students who are directed by the master designer. In this setting very unique rugs are woven. Some are of traditional Persian schemes such as miniature paintings, some are of abstract schemes portraying contemporary life, and others are a combination. Many of these rugs look like paintings. Master workshop rugs are technically perfect with very fine knotting, exact patterns, uniform color tones, and the very best materials.
Master workshops pay attention to the artistic aspect of weaving rather than the market demand. These intricate rugs are woven for the purpose of creating art. Many master-workshop rugs are displayed in galleries and museums. Two of the well-known master designers of Iran are Seyrafian and Arabzadeh, and some well-known master workshops of Iran are located in the cities of Tehran, Esfahan and Tabriz.