There are a few quick ways to tell whether your rug was made by human hands or by a machine. Warning: with some knowledge and practice, you’ll never look at a machine rug the same. It’s handmade from here on out.
Look at the back of the rug. Does it have a backing? If the rug has an adhesive backing that is holding the tufts in place, it is a machine made rug. A rug that is made by hand does not have an adhesive backing. Looking at the back of a hand made rug will reveal thousands of individual knots. Some handmade rugs have a rigid cotton foundation that is sometimes mislabeled as backing. This is not a backing. It is the vertical threads of the rug, called the warp. The horizontal threads that form the design of the rug are called weft.
Next, look at the fringe. In a rug made by hand, the fringe is part part of the rug’s structure. It is the end threads of the warp (warp are the vertical threads that make up the foundation of the rug). Machine made rugs have fringe that is glued or sewn on. If the fringe is not part of the rugs structure, it is most likely not a hand made rug. An exception to this is if the original fringe of a handmade rug was in such bad condition that it was cut off and a new one was glued/sewn in its place. Repairs like this diminish the value of the rug but in the case of a decorative rug, it can be an acceptable and cost effective repair.
A third way to determine if a rug is machine or hand made is to take a common sense look at it. How uniform and perfect are the knots? Generally speaking, things that are made by human hands are not perfect. If you look closely at the knots on the back of a hand made rug, you will see that the lines are not perfect straight and the knots are not all the same size. A machine made rug will be perfectly straight. In fact, in a machine made rug, you will not see knots at all.