The Not-So-Dying Art of Carpet Weaving

Carpet weaving or rug weaving is an ancient art of making beautiful carpets which originated in the ancient world. The carpet was and is still considered an important asset of a household, thus its weaving is a prime source of people for a chunk of the population across the world, and creates substantial employment for women in some backward countries.

Carpet knitting may have started either in Armenia or Iran in the 7th millennium BC, and flourished later in the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indus Valley, and Chinese Civilizations. One of the richest economical asset during the ancient and middle ages in terms of trade, the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the evolution of modern synthetic fibers and materials meant that this rich weaving art is at a dying stage. In cold areas, having a designed carpet is a necessity for homes and commercial centres.

In the negative side, carpet weaving is increasingly becoming unpopular due to cheap industrial mage rugs. Also, modern styles like digital styles have taken over the traditional motifs in carpet weaving. Presence of cheap heaters meant that floor insulation during cold season is not a necessity. All these are leading to decline in carpet weaving across the world, especially the western-influenced world. On the other hand, carpet weaving is still doing good business in areas traditionally famous for it, partly through tourism. In this article, let us look into the art of carpet making in different countries from the past to the present.

1)Armenia :

Armenian carpet is generally considered to be the origin of carpet weaving. The Pazyryk Carpet, the oldest surviving carpet dating to the 5th century BC, is considered to be of Armenian origin. Today, carpets are used almost everywhere in the interior – to cover floors, walls, sofas, chairs, tables and even beds. Carpet weaving is an important women’s occupation in Armenia, where hand knitting is preferred over machine weaving in the modern world. Armenian carpet designs spread quickly to Azerbaijan, northern Iran and Iraq, where the art flourished and is still flourishing even today.

2)Iran :

Ancient Persia was a pioneer in the production and export of carpet weaving since at least the Bronze Age. However, the earliest surviving carpets have dated back only to the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century AD. Due to religious restrictions, the drawing of animals and humans are banned. Carpets are mostly woollen, though some silk carpets do exist. Today, Iran is the largest producer as well as exporter of handmade carpets in the world.

3)Turkey :

Turkish carpets are known more by the name Anatolian carpets, from the ancient Anatolian region where this rug originated. It has influences of Armenian, Byzantine, as well as Persian, though Anatolian carpets are believed to have originated independently in the 7th millennium BC. The invention of artificial dyes did hamper the handloom art of carpet weaving, but since then it has been revived as hand-woven carpets are considered superior and an asset in a household.

4)India :

Indus Valley Civilization may have witnessed the use of rugs, though they haven’t survived the test of time. The use decreased in ancient India, but it revived again during the Muslim conquest of Delhi. Emperor Akbar patronized the art of carpet weaving greatly, thus bringing Persian craftsmen to make exquisite carpets for their royal courts and palaces. Persian style of knitting blended with traditional Indian art of weaving to help the art diversify across the Indian subcontinent. As carpets are mainly used to protect our feet from the cold floor, the spread was limited only to the northern colder regions of Kashmir, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, and Sitapur. In undivided India during British rule, carpet weaving also flourished across Lahore, Karachi and Faisalabad.

5)Morocco :

Carpet weaving is as old in Morocco as in Armenia or Iran, may be older. Paleolithic indegenous people of north Africa used to weave rugs for their utility rather than for decorative purposes. Even today they use carpets mainly for bed coverings, sleeping mats and blankets. Native Moroccan tribes are ingenious at making sophisticated carpets for sale in Morocco as well as export. Despite the Islamic influence, the designs are more traditional and ancient, passed generation to generation. Off late, Moroccan carpets are flourishing in the west due to their vintage and antique designs.

6)Uzbekistan :

Central Asia is widely famous for carpet weaving. The best weaving schools lie along the ancient silk route from China to Europe. Historic cities like Samarkhand, Bukhara, Khiva and modern cities like Tashkent, Almaty, Asghabat are famous for their carpet weaving art and sale of carpets. Central Asian carpets have a lot of influence on Indian, Turkik and Egyptian carpets. Today, the historic centres attract tourists from all over the world and hence carpet markets are a massive boom during the tourist seasons.

Let us know in the comments if there is a carpet weaving centre in your town.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Sari Weaving in India

Nowadays, modern clothes have flooded the Indian market, and people often shy away from traditional garments. Though traditional clothes differ from state to state, one of the clothes remains almost synonymous with Indian culture and tradition, the handloom sari. Despite the machine-made garments that are easy and cheap, the traditional sari is still favoured and worn on festivals and special occasions.

Handloom weavers take months of hard work to manufacture a single sari. The processes include spinning, warping, piecing, weaving, and finishing. In older days, colours or dyes used were sourced naturally. Though artificial dyes have taken much of their place, there is still the existence of natural dyes that are suddenly increasing in popularity today. Saris are made of natural fabrics like cotton, silk or linen, though modern Georgette, chiffon and crepe saris are both famous and aesthetic. Festival saris are usually 9 yards in length and 4 feet in width. Saris are accompanied by a fitted blouse called choli. Cholis are traditionally made from the same material as the sari and may also be of matching designs.

Weaving was also seen as a medium of freedom struggle against the British. It is said that the British would discourage any form of weaving in the country as their machine-made garments were unable to compete with the handloom ones from India. Thus weaving and handlooms gradually became a symbol of Swadeshi in the freedom movement of India. After independence, handloom tradition and sari weaving became much prosperous and attracted attention worldwide, particularly in the Americas, Europe, Britain, and east and south-east Asia.

It is important to note that like Indian culture and traditions, weaving techniques, designs, and patterns also undergo various changes across the subcontinent. Due to the length of the article, only the most authenticated saris widely available in India are mentioned. It is strongly encouraged to have regional designs that are wisely developed, keeping aesthetic viewpoint in mind, and discouraged to get attracted to cheap, user-friendly, and ultra-modern garments that are only designed like a sari. If you do not know how to wear a sari, don’t worry. See videos available online and have a try. You can indeed become an expert after a few repeated trials.

1)Benarasi Sari :

As the name suggests, Benarasi sari originated from the ancient city of Benaras, now called Varanasi. The designs primarily composed of floral and foliate motifs with the use of gold threads. These are one of the most expensive and most beautiful saris worn on special occasions like wedding.

2)Chanderi Sari :

It originated from the Chanderi town of Madhya Pradesh in the ancient India. Chanderi saris primarily use chanderi pattern of coins, small florets, peacocks and geometric designs. The material may be silk or cotton.

3)Muga Silk Sari :

Muga silk is wild silk found in the Brahmaputra valley of Assam. They have natural yellowish-golden colour with a shimmering, glossy texture. Sari made of muga silk is produced only in Assam but revered worldwide for its durability and quality.

4)Baluchari Sari :

This sari originated from a place called Baluchar in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, but is more famous in Bishnupur of Bankura district. It depicts scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata and historically from courts of the Nawabs.

5)Bandhani Sari :

This sari is famous in the western Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Bandhan in Sanskrit means to tie, and this refers to the unique decorative style of tie and dye in making this sari. This is one of the oldest techniques of weaving prevalent during the Indus Valley Civilization 4000 years ago.

6)Sambalpuri Sari :

Originating from Sambalpur region of Odisha, Sambalpuri saris are very famous for their designs of sankha (shell), chakra (wheel) and phula (flower). The threads are first tie-dyed and then woven into fabrics, the entire process taking many weeks.

7)Pochampally Sari :

One of the best sari handloom from Telengana and adjoining Andhra Pradesh, Pochampally sari is the uniform of Air India women crew. Their traditional geometric designs in ikat style of weaving set them apart.

8)Paithani Sari :

Paithani Sari originated in ancient Aurangabad near today’s Paithani town. It is woven with the best quality of silk and gold threads and thus is very expensive. The influence of Ajanta cave paintings can be seen in Paithani motifs.

9)Kanchipuram Silk Sari : se1

This sari is famous not only in Kanchipuram and Tamil Nadu but also throughout the world. It is woven from purely mulberry silk thread. It is worn on bridal and special occasions by Indian women. Its unique weaving technique and designs inspired by temples and nature make it one of the most beautiful, durable and long-lasting saris.

So which sari do you like the most. Do mention in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul