Carpet weaving is one of the most ancient crafts in Kashmir. Read how generations are engaged with this tradition and continue it with pride…
Abdul, dressed in his grey and black phiran, is sitting cross-legged in front of a loom that has been set up in his home. With nimble fingers, he hand knots the carpet he is weaving on the loom before he turns to smile at us. “I needed to complete knotting this line and was concentrating on that,” he informs. Abdul is one of the many weavers in Srinagar who is carrying forward the carpet weaving legacy handed down to them by their forefathers.
A craft brought to Jammu and Kashmir by Persians, who also taught Kashmiris the craft of papier mache, the speciality of these carpets are that they are hand-knotted. “In Kashmir there are more than 600 families who passionately hand knot the carpets. They are not woven in factories but made at home. Weavers weave the carpets while simultaneously complete their other responsibilities like farming,” explains Aftab, a fourth generation weaver and carpet seller.
Code for Excellent
Before the carpet is woven, the loom is fixed and the weaver’s instructions are incorporated in the script. The design and colour combination are decided by this script, which is essentially a coded long piece of paper. It contains a different code for each colour that is going to be used in making the carpet design. Even if the weaver is not aware of the design, he simply follows the code and the design of the carpet emerges on the loom. Every family has 2-3 designs that are passed down to them through generations. It is the head of the family who writes the script.
There is a belief that it is difficult to find two similar Kashmiri carpets because once a carpet is woven, its corresponding script is destroyed. Since the designs are passed down, they are not altered. Hence, to lend variety to the carpets, it is the colour scheme that is changed.
Tools and threads
Three tools that are used in carpet weaving are a curved knife whose one side is sharp and the other side is blunt, an iron comb and an iron scissor. These tools are all handmade. The types of thread used to make the carpets are cotton, wool and silk. If a woollen carpet is made, its base is of cotton. If the warp is of silk, the weft is either silk or cotton. The number of knots tied to make a carpet, decide what the base thread used will be. If more knots are required then silk is used as the base because even though silk is thin, it is strong. If cotton is made into a thin thread, it is not as strong as silk. Red, off white, blue and green are the traditional colours used. Nowadays more than 38 colours are used.
The script is displayed on the loom on top, making it convenient for the weaver to follow. The curved knife is always kept in his hand. Weaving will commence with the weaver following the first code indicating the colour and bringing the coloured thread down to make the first knot. The knot is tied by taking one thread from the front and the other from the back of the loom. After the knot is tied, it is brought down and then cut using the curved knife. A 4×6 feet carpet is hand knotted by two people and takes almost seven months to complete.
Once a row of knots is complete, the iron comb is used to compact the knots tightly together so that the design emerges with each successive row. After each row, the weaver pulls a gear on the loom that interlocks the carpet by making the front layer go at the back and placing the back layer in front. Every knot is individually done and then interlocked. Almost 70% of the designs that are used in Kashmiri carpets are from Persia.
“Once the carpet is knotted, it is time to cut the knots evenly as while knotting some turn out bigger or smaller. The carpet is removed from the loom, placed on a cemented floor and using the iron scissor, it is trimmed to uniformity,” adds Aftab of Khazir Sons, which has been weaving and selling carpets in Srinagar since 1880.
The silk used in making Kashmiri carpets is mulberry cocoon silk. The dyes used are metallic dyes. In the olden days, vegetable dyes were used. The speciality of Kashmiri carpets is that once you place them on the floor and walk around them, the colour changes at different angles almost like a three dimensional kind of effect and because of this, the carpets are nicknamed magical carpets.
written & photography: Khursheed Dinshaw