I flipped back the corners of the rugs, one after another. It was a clammy, rainy day, and these hand-knotted wool specimens from Iran, Pakistan, India, and China were giving off a fresh-from-the-sheep smell.

I didn't know what I was doing; I'd never shopped for a rug before. But the one thing that struck me as I gazed at one gorgeous carpet after another was that they looked too perfect.

Then I peeled back one more layer and saw a rug that won my heart. It had humility, I thought. The red color was warmer, less chemically uniform. Though tightly knotted, the pattern was less rigid than that of the other rugs. They were all handmade, but this one looked it.

There was a time when "looks handmade" meant "looks shabby." The advent of machine manufacture has raised the ante; now products are strictly uniform, more so than the most skilled hands can make them. They are cheaper, too. Today anyone can own dishes, clothing, furniture, and rugs of a perfection previously available only to kings. But when I went looking for a rug, I didn't want perfect.

I'm not alone in this quest. Hangtags from clothes reassure us that the "the subtle slubs and flaws in this garment are a mark of its uniqueness." In a world where the seamlessness and predictability of machine manufacture makes us feel small and lost, we search for traces of the immediate and the real.

Demographer Paul Ray caused a stir not long ago with his research on an emerging segment of American society, the "Cultural Creatives." In contrast to Traditionalists and Modernists, Ray says, Cultural Creatives are interested in feminism, the environment, and a complex package of "altruism, self-actualization, and spirituality."

They also are hungry for the real; as Ray puts it, they make ...

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Frederica Mathewes-Green
Frederica Mathewes-Green is the author of several books and has been a commentator for National Public Radio, National Review, and other media outlets. Her books include The Jesus Prayer and Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy. Mathewes-Green's podcast "Frederica Here and Now" is carried on Ancient Faith Radio. Her column, "Your World," ran from 1998 to 2000.
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