A look at the majestic artistry of Oriental rug-making

A look at the majestic artistry of Oriental rug-making

Gwen Repeta Fair Trade
Gwen Repeta
Fair Trade

Handmade rugs are beautiful, versatile and last forever! Ten Thousand Villages has been working with Bunyaad rug artisans in Pakistan since 1982, and we have volunteers and staff dedicated to educating customers about Oriental rugs and the fair trade difference — both in the quality of the artisans’ lives and the quality of their product.

Bunyaad is the name of the fair trade rug program we work with, and also the Uurdu word for “foundation”. The program’s purpose is to preserve the rich cultural heritage of Oriental rug-making in all its myriad forms and styles. Based in Lahore, Pakistan, Bunyaad’s rug artisan group includes over 850 families involved in hand-knotted rug production living in over 100 villages.

Part of our mission is to provide vital and fair income to Pakistani rug artisans who otherwise would have few sustainable outlets for their craft and artistry.

One tradition of rug production is that the artisans make their own artistic and technical decisions. We believe in the inherent value of art for art’s sake; just as we wouldn’t ask a painter to make 150 copies of the same painting, we wouldn’t ask our knotters to knot 150 copies of the same rug.

Our artisans are assured a fair wage for their labor, leaving them to focus on creativity rather than speed, and quality rather than cost.

The production of hand-knotted Oriental rugs is a time-intensive process, in which the artisans dye the wool, tie each knot by hand and shear the finished rug to the desired pile. The fibers used in our rugs are wool, cotton and silk. We use a very high grade of worsted wool that is specially blended just for our artisan group.

One method of spinning the wool is by spinning wheel. Some rugs require wool that is hand spun using a drop spindle and others need machine-spun wool, fine enough to do 500 knots per square inch!

All our rugs are made with consistently high quality materials and dyeing techniques. Over 40 per cent of our inventory is naturally dyed, with dyes made from hand-gathered roots, tree bark, nut shells, fruit skins, vegetable skins and dried flowers. Natural dyes are quite costly, since gathering and preparing the ingredients for the dye takes time, as does the dyeing process

Bunyaad rug designs are crafted by skilled artisans or artisans jointly with master designers; artists apprentice for many years before becoming master designers. Most of their designs are inspired by things found in nature, in architecture, and from each artisan’s ethnic heritage. To create the more intricate floral Persian designs, a designer first makes a sketch on graph paper then decides on colour and carefully paints the design with water-colours.

The backbone of the rug, the warp, is made of cotton thread for Persian and Bokhara carpets and wool thread for tribal carpets. It is usually constructed in a public location and delivered to the individual knotter’s home.

There, it is set on the loom and pulled very taut, like guitar strings, a front set of threads separated from a back set, ready for the women to start their knotting.

An expert knotter can knot approximately 40 knots per minute. After a knot is tied, it is cut as evenly as possible with a churi (knife), and then the next knot is made. When a row of knots is completed, a weft thread is shuttled through the carpet and pounded into place. The knotter then works the loom apparatus to shift the warp threads, and another weft thread is shuttled through. The row is then trimmed to keep the pile as even as possible.

Knotting now continues in the next row. Usually a rug is both begun and finished with a small kilim (flat-woven) end to add extra protection to the ends of the rug.

When finished, the rug will go through a lengthy and vigorous washing process, which ends with an intensive washing and hand scrubbing episode, and a final rinsing. Yet to come, before it gets sent to North America, are the final preparations, the neeming, stretching, shearing, binding and more – which offer yet more evidence of the toughness and durability of these products. They are also super easy to clean.

Ten Thousand Villages holds its annual rug event from Oct. 7 to Oct. 22 at 134 Plaza Drive, with selected rugs discounted by 10 per cent to 50 per cent. People wanting to learn more about these rugs are invited to attend an information evening in the Plaza Drive store starting 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6. I will be sharing stories and information I received on visits to Pakistan. Those attending will get the first sneak peak at the selected discounted rugs that night.

Just call the store at 204-261-0566 to reserve your spot! Ten Thousand Villages volunteers will make sure there’s a chair, and hopefully a rug, for all visitors.

Gwen Repeta is Canada rug program coordinator and program manager at Ten Thousand Villages in Winnipeg.

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