By Jan David Winitz, President & founder
Claremont Rug Company
Part 2 of 2 Parts | Read Part 1 Click Here
In Part 1, I examined a number of steps that lead to the actual hand-knotting of a carpet, involving the preparation of the wool from cutting the sheep’s fleece to creating yarn. I briefly described the skills needed for shearing, carding, sorting, spinning and dyeing. Each step of preparation could be an article in itself.
For the most part, the art of tribal weaving was handed down from the looms of mothers to those of their daughters. It was a tradition transmitted solely through oral and visual means. The elaborate designs of a particular tribe were learned by repetition from an early age and could be executed entirely from memory. No plan of the complete carpet was drawn out beforehand and it was understood that the weaver was free to interpret the traditional patterns spontaneously. This was an art form that literally unfolded as the weaver worked day-after-day for periods often spanning over one year.
The key ingredient to the weaving process was inspiration, and the weaver’s nomadic lifestyle provided an ample supply. The nomad artist was blessed with an intimate connection to the rhythmical flow of nature. For her, each day was a complete unit unto itself. She experienced the first rays of morning sunlight in full activity, as she was already in the midst of her daily chores. A multitude of stars blanketed her camp each evening as she sat near the fire, drinking spiced tea and listening to age-old stories.
The nomad had full opportunity to study the multiple layers of the earth’s landscape, to watch the bees busily gathering pollen, to witness a trickling brook swell into a furiously rushing stream after a sudden rainstorm. The cumulative impression of all these daily experiences provided the material which she expressed in the rugs she wove.
What makes tribal carpets truly unique is that they are a sort of visual diary, and as we learn how to read their symbolic language, we are rewarded with an intimate view of both the rugmaker’s experience and that of tribal life as a whole.
Throughout tribal weaving, whether the particular design is from the Qashqai, Turkoman, Kurdish, Caucasian or other tribes, the various aspects of the human experience are expressed through a universal, earth-oriented symbolism. For instance, the zigzag pattern of “running water” flowing across a rug’s borders marks times of spontaneity and plenty, while the repeated triangular pattern of “the Mountain” depicts periods of stability and contemplation.
The bounty of the earth often decorates the central field of tribal rugs. Rows of stylized flowers are seen, perhaps resembling fields of enchanting blossoms implanted in the weaver’s memory from the previous spring. The paisley-leaf-shaped “boteh,” which resembles a seed sprouting, reflects the artist’s respect for the creative force of life. Embracing a lifestyle more than two millennia old that found meaning in daily actives spent close to the earth, tribal people collectively looked at the seed as reflective of their own potential for inner growth.
…One day, as you sit beside her, your mother is finished. She silently cuts off the balls of yarn dangling from the carpet’s end, stands up and steps back a few paces. After eyeing the completed rug for a brief moment, she again kneels down and expressionlessly begins to cut the loops that have held it to the loom.
Gently, she stretches the newly completed rug out on the ground, and for the first time, you sit on it, feeling its uncut pile seemingly alive beneath your body. Your mother takes her iron shears, squats beside you, and bending down close to the carpet supporting you both, begins to cut its deep red pile close and smooth. As her body finds the new rhythm of cutting, she once again begins to sing.