Rug Weavers: The Hands Behind the Artistry of Oriental Rugsdominic delos santos
The beauty of Oriental rugs can instantly transform an ordinary room into a homely interior. The perfect rug, one that blends the right harmony of color, design and warmth, can instantly give life to any environment. For centuries, these hand-knotted art pieces have provided unparalleled beauty and comfort.
With the amazing charm and beauty of Oriental rugs, I couldn’t help but believe in the magic carpet!
The long history of weaving, its artisan weavers
Among the oldest industries known to mankind, the art of weaving traces its history to Babylonia centuries before Christ, where straw and other crude materials were woven to create floor covering. From mankind’s cradle of civilization, the industry of weaving has soon spread to nearby Persia and other Oriental civilizations.
Crude rugs and carpets were used by tribes to recline, sit and sleep on, as well as for religious purposes, such as for praying.
In Persia and Turkey, where rugs were a principal fixture in homes, the art of weaving has achieved an even higher degree of artistry and workmanship. It’s not surprising that antique oriental rugs from these parts of the world are considered the best of its kind.
The earliest nomadic weavers of Persia and Turkey have learned and mastered the art of weaving not by desire or force or for commerce, but rather by sheer necessity. These rug-weaving communities lived in mud huts and tents. Their modest abode had earthen flooring that cracked dry during hot summer months and turned muddy on rainy season. It also didn’t give any warmth to its dwellers.
Weaving as a necessity
To make their huts more livable, these communities had to cover their flooring with a heavy felt (numud ketche) or coarse straw matting (hasser). On top of this layer, they lay intricately hand-knotted carpets or rugs. With rugs as a common fixture in homes, people had to make rugs and carpets on a daily basis.
Through the years, the practice of rug weaving has been passed down from one generation to another, with each generation improving on the successes of their predecessors. Rug weaving, in itself, has also become a way of passing the local culture, poetry, and artistry. The art of weaving has become solidly interwoven into the local traditions and cultures.
Oriental rugs have become a time-honored cultural masterpiece of many Asiatic civilizations. Up to this day, rugs and carpets continue to be part of many tribes and communities in Persia and other Asiatic countries.
Oriental weaving: a time-honored art
Considering the length of time needed to make a single piece of hand-knotted Oriental rug, one can’t help but wonder how such quantities of rug and carpet can be produced by weavers.
Behind the artistry of each rug are its weavers who live by a proverbial patience and dedication to a time-honored craft handed to them by their ancestors. It helps that there’s absolutely nothing else to occupy their minds: no books or magazines, no televisions, no digital gadgets, no worries about fashions in dress. For these weavers, rugs and carpets are not just a source of income but also life. Children from these rug weaving tribes are born in these surroundings, hence they assimilate the art at an incredibly tender age. It ensures the traditional weaving is continued and passed on from generation to generation.
A rug-weaver’s incredible dedication
The Oriental method of making rugs is exceptionally tedious, comprised of countless stitches and knots made with the ringers, one by one. Usually, principal weavers are Mahometan girls and women, but it can also be an entire family or neighborhood working on a large piece.
Eastern weaving doesn’t use complicated apparatus. Weavers only use a loom or tezgiah, which is a very ancient weaving tool that consists of four rough poles joined together by ropes and adjusted depending on the size of the rugs being woven. The warp is stretched vertically on these poles and a smooth stick is slid between the warp to create a shuttle. At each side of the pole are stone weights that keep the warp balanced. The weavers kneel or sit cross-legged in front of the loom, ready to begin their weave.
Authentic oriental rugs are not mass-produced in regular factories. Unlike modern machine-made oriental rugs, each hand-woven rug is carefully done in the home of its weaver. They toil day-in and day-out creating each piece. They painstakingly work on each knot until the entire design is made.
To give you an idea of how long a weaver makes a rug, we calculate the size of a regular oriental rug. Say a 7×4 feet rug will have a total of 28 square feet or 4,032 square inch. Depending on the design and type of rug, each piece consists of 400 knots per square inch or a total of roughly one-and-a-half-million knots. A highly skilled weaver can only tie up to three knots a minute or roughly 180 knots in an hour. So, if she’ll work full eight hours a day, it would take almost four years to finish a finely designed rug.
That’s the amount of time Oriental rug weavers spend on each work of art!
A showcase of their uniqueness and creativity
Oriental rugs speak of the infinite imagination, artistry and creativity of its weavers. Every design is unique. It tells stories, portrays symbolisms, depicts legends, visualizes poetry. They create distinct pattern and add a personal touch to each of the piece they make. The imperfections and flaws that are put into these pieces are what make them even more inimitable.
The chief beauty of an authentic Oriental rug lies in the harmonious blending of patterns and colors and the softness of the texture. And that’s something artisan weavers have mastered through the years.
But weavers are not only fixated in making a design and weaving them, they also see to it that the rugs are made of the purest material (usually wool). The process of dyeing, in itself, is a whole separate art. Exclusively done by men, dying requires a special skill and usually each district will have a specialist who prepares the yarn or wool for dying. He concocts natural dyes from certain roots, barks, leaves and vegetable sources. This process is crucial in creating rugs with exquisite colorings.
Oriental weaver’s source of inspiration
One thing that weavers never forget to do before they commence work is to pray. They recite a short incantation to praise Allah. It can be said that their faith is also a source of strength, perseverance and creativity.
It’s amazing how weavers put in long hours into their creative. While it’s true that rugs and carpets are a source of income, I’d like to think they are not solely after the monetary gains. Regular weavers are paid a measly daily rate (although highly skilled weavers command a higher compensation.)
Of late, the future of rug weaving communities in many parts of East Asia is threatened to die because of the political challenges faced by these countries. Many of these traditional weavers have now been misplaced due to the continuing crisis.
Technology is also crawling into traditional weaving. Many of the weavers now mix ancient techniques with modern technologies to simplify things. A lot of modern Persian and Turkish rugs may have retained the quality of antique oriental rugs, but the method that they were done is not entirely the same as before.
It is truly remarkable how modern Oriental rug weavers continue to pass on their tradition despite the many challenges – political crisis, migration, advent of rug weaving technologies, mass production, etc.
I believe these weavers find fulfillment in seeing their creations appreciated and loved. They are true artists!
And as I gaze at exquisite Oriental rugs, I can’t help but admire the people behind the patterns, their stories, their aspirations, and their dedication. They, whose hands have tirelessly and whole-heartedly created the masterpieces before my eyes.
And it is my hope that everyone who collects authentic Oriental rugs look beyond the artistry of these works and that they value the love and effort poured into each piece by its weavers.
Now, I understand where the magic of Oriental carpets and rugs comes from – it should be from its weavers!