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These rugs are made in a similar manner to the New England and Carolina hooked rug now back in favor. In the Alpujarra rug pieces of colored wool are pulled through a base of unbleached, hand-woven linen, producing a surface composed of many small loops of wool. Unlike our hooked rugs, the linen background of the Spanish is often allowed to show through, thus forming part of the design.
As in the traditionally made Spanish rug, the borders of the Alpujarras are often wide. The centre may be filled with a diamond-shaped design, although patterns made up of animal motifs, flowers, leaves and grapes, with a centre medallion, are also characteristic. Strange heraldic are sometimes woven into the borders. And sometimes a fringe is found on all four sides in alternate colors of the two main hues in which the rug is woven.
The color schemes of these rugs in addition to their peculiar weave set them apart from the more gorgeous and technically superior Spanish rug more generally known. Most of them give the effect of two or three colors, although on examination other colors will be found. Scarlet, sapphire blue and yellow may be the colors in one rug, with the scarlet and blue predominating. Other combinations may be brown and white, red and mustard yellow, or black and white.
The grotesqueries of Gothic art mingle in them with geometric forms characteristic of the Saracens; and Renaissance motifs and the influence of Persian and Turkish rug craft are traceable in them also. But the untrained observer sees in these rugs a delightful simplicity which fits them particularly well into interiors with the sensible chairs or tables wrought by country artisans, such as the provincial furniture of France or the early American pine and maple, California mission or other simply designed furniture.
Little is known of the history of the Alpujarra rug, except that it is derived from the mountain region of Granada, for until today they have been overshadowed by the more sophisticated Spanish carpets. In isolated valleys of the Las Alpujarra Mountains they have been woven since the eighteenth century. Like the hooked rugs of early New England, the antique Alpujarra rug was a product of home industry intended to beautify the maker's home and not made for sale.
Many of these rugs, according to an article by W. W. Kent in "Antiques" one of the few available sources of information on this little-known rug-were woven by young women as part of their future trousseau, much as the kilim rug was made in the Near East. This origin of the Alpujarra accounts for the names and dates found on some of the rugs and also words suggestive of endearment.
In a recent sale of Alpujarra rugs in a New York gallery a beautiful example of an inscribed rug was on display which disclosed that "Maria Carmen Jimene" wove it in the year 1801. On another, naively worked with flower baskets in bright vermilion and green against a black background, Lauriana Gonzales signed her name.
The antique Alpujarra is an inexpensive rug as antiques go, and one still has a variety from which to choose. Doubtless it will not long be easy to pick up an interesting design. Soon the modern reproductions, even now available for those interested in use rather than in the charm and uniqueness of the antique, will be the only available remainders of this ancient handicraft.