Knotted, woollen pile carpets have probably been produced in the most northern areas of Nepal for centuries. It is believed that the tradition was introduced from Tibet where it was an ancient craft – under the King Song-tsen Gompa (AD 620-49) It is believed that if the Tibetans were producing such carpets at that time, it is conceivable that the practice was taken up in areas that are now part of Nepal although this proposition remains speculative. A saddle-carpet appearing in a Nepalese mandala painting of 1564 demonstrates that they were certainly known in Nepal over 400 years ago. The people of northern Nepal today use the carpets mainly as seat-pads, beds, and saddle-blankets. They may occasionally also be used as door curtains and pillar wraps.
Much more substantial production of carpets has occurred since. The equipment needed to establish such an enterprise was relatively cheap to make and operate, and this also enabled many individual home weavers, Tibetan immigrants, and Nepalis of various ethnic groups, to start working for a contractor or a small family business.
PROCESS & TECHNIQUE
The carpets are woven on sturdy, frame looms in a vertical or slightly sloping position. Irrespective of size, the main components of a loom are the same – two movable beams, held in position by wooden blocks which are fixed to the rigid wooden frame, made from wood 8-10 cm thick. The average size of a home loom is 150 cm square. Factory looms are much larger, varying with the size of carpet to be produced. The weaver – or weavers for a wider carpet – sits on a low bench or a pad in front of the loom.
The design of the carpet is usually drawn on graph paper and hangs down from the top of the loom or is unrolled, row by row, as a guide to the weaver. Sometimes an actual carpet is used as a sample to follow or the weaving is done from memory; some house weavers make up their own pattern variations. On average there are 45 knots to a square inch (= 675 per square decimetre). The weaver (most often female) begins to weave, usually with a row of end blinding followed by four lines of plain weave using double or treble thickness of the warp cotton thread for the weft. (Before 1914 warp, weft and pile in Tibet would have been from Tibetan wool. However, by the 1950s, Indian cotton was being used, increasingly, for the warp, and subsequently, for the weft also.)
The tools required include:
One or more metal gauge rods – depending on how many weavers are working on the carpet as the pile length (average = 1.25 cm) is determined by the diameter of the rod
To lay the warp, the loom is placed horizontally on the ground. The weaver squats inside the frame and leads the ball of warp yarn, usually six-ply cotton, around the beams, over and under the cross sticks and in u-turns round the warp lock-stick (axis rod). When the warping is completed, the loom is put upright against a wall. Sal wood of 3″ x 4″ is used in making the frame. The warp lock-stick is pushed down to the bottom of the frame with the two cross-sticks above showing the alternate warp threads. The loom is constructed according to the size of the carpet to be prepared. A wooden bar known as rokshing is fixed at the bottom of the frame. The actual carpet weaving starts from this point. At a height of about one foot from the roksing another wooden bar is placed between the layers of thread and is parallel to it – called the nesting, this serves to differentiate the cotton yarn.
Such knots are made on an iron bar held above the roksing in a parallel position. When a design is to be introduced the woollen yarn is snapped leaving an open-ended knot that are made all over the iron bar, it is pushed down by twaga ( from one end) and the woven row is further compressed by the tool known as panja. The fork-like panja is used to adjust the knots so that these occupy appropriate positions with respect to the cotton yarn. A cutting tool, tibiru is then used to cut the excess open ended yarn left previously. It is further levelled off using scissors.
To weave another row, again five strands of thread are inserted through the space between the front and the rear cotton yarns, and the above process is repeated. Actual weaving is carried out as required by the designs to be produced. Finally, the edge of the carpet is woven and the process is completed. It takes about 15 days for two persons to prepare a 6″ x 3″ carpet.
The galaincha is taken out of the loom. On both of its ends approximately one-inch long open-ended cotton threads are left to dangle out. The carpet is stretched over a clean surface and is levelled off with scissors. The first cutting is for rough levelling. Fine cutting is done with special scissors, as required by the designs and patterns. The designs and patterns of artistic work become apparent only when fine cutting is done. Such a cutting requires effort and attention since the carpet can be ruined if it is cut either too much or too little. When the designs and patterns are clearly visible the cuttings are removed – the galaincha is brushed to give it is a smart and beautiful appearance. (The galaincha cuttings are used by jyapus of Lalitpur in making woollen mufflers.)
COLOURS & DYES
Colours were obtained originally from plants, chiefly madder, rhubarb and indigo, together with the natural colours of the wool. Many different shades of red were possible using madder plants of different ages and a range of mordants. Synthetic dyes have to a large extent replaced these natural dyes, although an increasing demand for natural-dye carpets have revived interest in age old dye recipes and has led to some manufacturers using plant dyes for all their carpets.
Traditional Tibetan designs include geometric shapes, crosses, medallions, cloud and mountain borders, peony and lotus motifs, phoenix, dragon and tiger motifs, and Buddhist symbols, for example, the vajra shape on the seat carpets used for meditation.
Today designs in Nepal are a blend of this Tibetan tradition and Chinese and Western influences, with a Nepalese adaptation. The market influences design – indeed, carpet exporters stress the flexibility of their designs which can be adapted to meet the buyers’ requirements. Some buyers specify design, colour, and size. In some cases new designs may be required each year. The orientation is often towards Western home-furnishing taste. Nevertheless, traditional designs, based on Tibetan carpet traditions and Nepalese adaptations (for example, inspired by old carvings), continue to be made for the home, tourist, and export markets.