The History of Handmade Carpets and Silk

Handmade carpets or rugs are believed to have originated in the highlands of Armenia, and some old fragments of carpets can be found in museums in Vienna, Austria. The art of weaving carpets spread from Armenia to many parts of Asia, with every culture contributing something unique. Persia, now Iran, made some of the finest carpets in the world, especially pictorial designs. Antique carpets from Iran are considered the most valuable.

Initially, all carpets were made of wool only. However, as designs got more intricate and the need to make them in higher knots arose, natural silk was introduced. Silk has the greatest tensile strength compared to other materials. It has been established that if a single fiber of silk is produced with the diameter of a pencil, it can lift a 747 airplane on it or tow a ship.

Silk was discovered in China around 3,000 BC by Lady Zi Ling Shih, who later became the wife of the famous Yellow emperor. She is credited with introducing sericulture and inventing the loom, which became a great tool for all types of weaving. The silk fiber is produced by the silkworm in the production of its cocoon, and the sericin is the protein created by Bombyx mori (silkworms) in the production of silk. Lady Zi Ling Shih discovered silk when a cocoon fell into her cup of tea, and she found that a fabric could be made out of it. The sericulture industry became valuable and was parallel to currency in China. There was capital punishment for taking the know-how out of China, and the knowledge remained in China for 2,000 years after its discovery. It was a few monks who took the knowledge to Turkey for the first time, and later, it reached Korea, Japan, and other countries. Silk production came to India around the 13th century and thrived in many parts of the country where the climate was suitable for shrub mulberry trees.

Some advantages of silk:

* Silk has the highest tensile strength

* It stretches to 1/7 of its length before it snaps

* Silk is triangular, one of the reasons it shines

* Silk is known as a sanitary fabric as it does not absorb dirt easily because of its smooth surface. Any dirt, which gathers can be easily removed by washing or dry cleaning.

* Silk fiber mainly composes of 80% of fibroin, which is a protein and 20% of sericin, which is also known as silk gum.

* Silk being a protein fiber and is a non-conductor of heat similar to that of wool.

* Silks are comfortable in summer and warm in the winter. Silk fiber can generally absorb about 11 percent of its weight in moisture. Hence, a major factor in silk’s ability to be printed and dyed easily.


Kashmir produces some of the finest silks because the shrub mulberry tree here gives a single crop but of prime quality and lustrous leaves, resulting in the production of the finest silk quality. In Kashmir, all types of mulberry trees are protected by law, and it is illegal to cut or damage a mulberry tree. A story goes that several hundred years ago, a local king noticed that sericulture was a lucrative business, so to protect the tree, he started a myth that the mulberry trees have spirits and haunt the people who harm them. It worked very well, and the trees were spared. Silk is known as a sanitary fabric as it does not absorb dirt easily because of its smooth surface, and any dirt that gathers can be easily removed by washing or dry cleaning. Silk fiber mainly composes of 80% of fibroin, which is a protein and 20% of sericin, which is also known as silk gum.

Many countries use silk in the weaving of carpets, but the Kashmir weaver is obsessed with “high knots” and produces carpets up to 2,500 knots per square inch, which is the highest in the world at present. Knots per square inch are like the resolution of a picture, the higher the resolution, the clearer the picture. Kashmir produces almost 20,000 carpets annually, but only a small fraction of these high knot carpets is produced as it is time-consuming and needs highly skilled weavers.

The history of the development of the rug industry in Kashmir was associated with and influenced by the opulent lifestyles of its rulers, nobles, and aristocrats. The great Mughal Emperors Jahangir and Shahjahan, the latter of whom built the famous Monument of Love,


Weaving of a carpet in Kashmir:

We define the Whole process into three Steps:

The Design:

Lot of new motifs are created by the masters of the rug designing in addition to the designs which are the replicas of ceilings of old monuments, palaces, paintings, photographs and actual rugs. The designs are created on graph paper then translated and converted into a script known as “Taleem” (script). The number of knots per square inch, color scheme, weft lines are all in the “Taleem” which are chanted to the weavers by either a ‘Caller’ or master craftsman himself who has memorized many patterns over the years. The weavers must be educated and have a good command and knowledge of mathematics and language to design and weave skillfully. Classical designs such as ‘Kashhan’, ‘Kirman’, ‘Ardebile’, ‘Isfahan’, ‘Joshgan’, ‘Shalimar’, ‘Shaheen’, ‘Guldan’, ‘Navrattan’ etc. are reproduced by ATSAR besides the distinct Kashmiri designs and designs based on flora and fauna of Kashmir.

The Yarn:

The quality of a rug is primarily determined by the quality of materials used in the rug e.g. the quality of silk material depends on the climate, soil and altitude where the mulberry trees are grown, the tender leaves of which are fed to the silk worms who produce cocoons from where we get 8 silk fibers to make a single ply. For example there are 4 plies to a thread used for a 400 hundred knot per square inch rug. And water used for processing and the quality of fast dyes for the yarn. The wool quality again depends on the climate, altitude and the type of specie of lamb from where the wool has been sheared, the type of pastures grazed and composition of water partaken by the lamb. The finest wool comes from the neck and the shoulder of the spring clipped which gives a suppleness, softness and luster to the rug. The weave: The size of the loom varies according to the dimensions of the rug.


The basic fabric of the rug is woven by tying rows of knots between adjacent warp threads. The Kashmiri Weaver ties his knots with great dexterity with wool or silk threads on upright wooden looms (which gives a nap to the pile of the rug). The warp is mounted on the upper beam and the woven (hand knotted) fabric wound to the lower beam so that necessity of high ceiling is not required. Warp weaves vertically and forms the base of the rug, weft weaves horizontally and knotting forms the intricate design on the rug. The warp is usually cotton, except for a few rugs that have woolen or silken warp. The fineness of the rug is judged by the number of knots per square inch area, the design, the colors and the quality of the yarn. The number of knots per square inch count is exactly like resolution of a photograph, the more the knots count the finer the picture. The firmness, thickness and the sharp appearance of the back of the rugs are important considerations. Thus the people, place and the artifacts justifies the famous saying

“Agar Firdaus Ba Roye Zamin Ast, Hame Ast Hame Ast Wa Hame Ast” (If there is heaven on earth it is this, it is this and here).

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