Making of Kashmir carpets
The carpet history:
First of all, let us look at the history of handmade carpets/rugs. It is believed that the weaving of handmade carpets was started in the highlands of Armenia. We find some of these old fragments of carpets in some museums in Vienna, Austria.The art of weaving carpets spread from highlands of Armenia to many parts of Asia. It was like a river which flowed through many countries adopting local designs, color schemes and materials. Every culture contributed something beautiful to it. The old Persia (present Iran) truly made some of the finest carpets in the world especially pictorial designs. Still, the antique carpet category of Iran is considered the most valuable.Initially, all the carpets were made of wool only. As the designs got more intricate and the need to make them in higher knots, natural silk was introduced. The fact is, it is not possible to make woolen threads ultra-fine to weave a higher knot carpets because the thread will snap compared to natural silk. Silk has the greatest tensile strength compared to other materials. It has been established that if we can produce a single fiber of silk, diameter of a pencil, we can lift a 747 airplane on it or tow a ship.A bit of history on silk:Silk was discovered in China around 3,000 BC by lady Zi Ling Shih who became wife of the famous Yellow emperor later. She is credited with both for introducing sericulture and inventing the loom, the latter which became a great tool for all types of weaving. The story goes that while she was having tea under a tree, a cocoon fell in her cup and the silk fiber started to unwinding (Even today it is hot water which is used to soften the cocoon and the sericin. Sericin is the protein created by Bombyx mori (silkworms) in the production of silk. Silk is a fiber produced by the silkworm in production of its cocoon. Lady Zi Ling Shih picked up the fiber and took it to her palace where on investigating it found out that a fabric can be made out of it and headed in the direction of discovering the loom. The sericulture industry became valuable and was parallel to currency in China. There was a capital punishment for taking the knowhow out of china. The knowledge remained in China for 2000 years after its discovery. It was few monks who took the knowledge to Turkey the first time and later it reached Korea, Japan and so on. It came to India around 13th century and thrived in many parts of India where the climate was suitable for shrub mulberry trees. For example, in south India there are multiple crops of shrub mulberry trees so lot of silk is produced in places like Bangalore. The quality of silk depends on the shrub mulberry leaves which are consumed by the silkworms. Kashmir produces one of the fines silks as the shrub mulberry tree here gives a single crop but prime quality and lustrous leaves, resulting production of finest silk quality. In Kashmir, all types of mulberry trees are protected. it is against law 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 for the people 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. Still, people believe in it and that is the reason you see a tree in the middle of the road and they drive around it but never cut it.
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.
Many countries use silk in weaving of carpets but the Kashmir weaver got obsessed with the high knots and produces high knot carpets up 2500 per square inch at present, which is highest in the world at the moment. Knots per square inch is like resolution of a picture, the higher the resolutions, clearer the picture.
Kashmir produces almost 20000 carpets annually but only a small fraction of these high knot carpets category is produced as it is time consuming and needs highly skilled weavers.The history of development of rug industry in Kashmir was associated with and influenced by the opulent life styles of its RULERS, NOBLES and ARISTOCRATS. The great Mughal Emperors Jahangir and Shahjahan (the later, who built the famous Monument of Love "The Taj Mahal") established a distinctive style in Art and Architecture of that era. The rugs woven during those periods bore the similar motifs, patterns, decorative styles as found in the palaces, monuments and museums!The famous King, Zainul Abidin also known as Bud Shah contributed tremendously to the arts and crafts industry in Kashmir.
Weaving of a carpet in Kashmir:
We define the Whole process into three Steps:
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 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).
Carpet weving in progress.