Perhaps "Handwoven" is one of the most confusing terms when it comes to describing the weaving process used to construct an area rug. In the area rug industry, handwoven is often used to describe a certain category of area rug construction and is not to be confused with hand tufted or hand knotted.
Clearly hand tufted and hand knotted rugs are made by hand, but their construction is very different than their handwoven counterparts. Handwoven (at least in my experience) most often refers to wool rugs with pile, much the same as hand tufted and hand knotted are generally wool rugs (although we know that other fibers are also used).
Probably the best way to explain the difference is this: Handwoven rugs are constructed on looms using simple warp and weft patterns. Therefore, they are limited in their design capabilities to the linear constraints of warp and weft. That means that intricate circular designs, for example, are not possible with handwoven rugs.
Therefore, the handwoven rug designer has to use different techniques to achieve an interesting end result: Such as different yarn colors, stripes, space dyed yarn, geometric shapes, texture, or carving.
Also, because of the warp and weft construction, the maximum size of the rug will naturally be restricted to the size of the loom that the rug is woven on.
It’s important to know this distinction when you are shopping for your new area rug. It’s also important to know that you are shopping with a quality retailer. Why? Well, unfortunately, there have been cases where retailers have tried to sell a handwoven rug, or a hand tufted rug, as a hand knotted rug, when there is a significant difference between them.
That’s not to say that a handwoven rug can’t be a very nice rug. They certainly can be. Because they can be produced much quicker than a hand knotted rug, they provide an interesting price option, while still providing a viable quality option.
Handwoven wool rugs are finished in a similar fashion to a hand tufted rug, that is, they are sealed on the back with latex and a cotton canvas backing, so the use of a vacuum beater bar is normally not recommended.
Finally, just to make life more interesting, it should be mentioned that the term handwoven does get changed for hand loomed and this is entirely correct. I just don’t want to confuse those rugs with what I have been describing thus far.
That being said, many Shags, Natural Fiber rugs like Jute & Sisal, and Flat-Weaves are also considered Hand Woven. Flat-Weaves would include such rugs as; Kilms, Soumaks, Rag Rugs/Chindis, and Tapestry Weaves, just to name a few. Although these can be full sized rugs they can also be smaller and are sometimes referred to as “throw rugs”.