Carpet-making in Sindh

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Carpet-making in Sindh


Songs of colours and whispers of wool

By Mohammad Essa Jalbani


Due to abundant indigenous raw material and enormous skillfulness of its inhabitants, the tradition of carpet-making is deeply rooted in the soil of the Indus valley

No one exactly knows as to when proper carpet-making began. The earliest woven carpet is believed to be 7,000 years old. It is now established that the first ever carpet was made in the Asian part of the world.

Areas in presentPakistan, Iran, Turkey, China, India, Nepal and some central Asian states have always been, and still are, principal places of carpet-making. Handcarpets are thus gifts from the peoples of Asia to the nations in the rest of the world.

The basic (natural) raw material for carpet manufacturing is wool. Around 200 sheep breeds in the world are the source of this material. As far as quality is concerned, wool from different sheep breeds varies immensely. Due to its superior strength, flexibility, elasticity, durability, waviness, lustre and natural beauty, the wool of Asian sheep is ideal for weaving carpets. Another important attribute of this wool is that it is colour absorbent. Give it a rainbow of colours, it will catch them perfectly. Moreover, colour will never' run' or `bleed'.

Due to abundant indigenous raw material and enormous skillfulness of the inhabitants, the tradition of carpet-making is deeply rooted in the soil of the Indus valley. History shows that throughout ages this valley has been the cradle of arts and crafts.

Through the course of centuries, the valley has given birth to galaxies of great weavers, whose masterpieces have triumphantly entered into a variety of homes ranging from as simple as nomads' tents to as grand as palaces of tribal chieftains, nobles, princes, regents, kings, queens and emperors. Woven beauties like rugs, lois, shawls and ajraks were widely used by the people of Mohenjo Daro as the excavations at that site reveal.

It is quite possible that the art of weaving developed in the Mohenjo Daro region, spread to areas as far as Turkistan and southern Siberia, where a rug made around 425BC called Pazyryk has been discovered from a tomb.

The process of carpet-making is quite complex, though no electricity, no gas is required for creating the timeless pieces of art. Wool itself passes through several stages before being taken to carpet-weaving looms. Firstly, wool is washed so that dust particles get removed.

Then scouring of wool starts. At this stage, its natural texture and real feel comes out. Then it is spun into yarn. After that the dyeing process begins. Yarnis an art in itself. Our part of the world has old traditions of yarndyeing too. Colour and dyes are obtained from vegetables, plants and other natural material. Madder and indigo are classic examples of important natural dyes.

Carpets and rugs have two main parts, the pile (the top surface) and backing (the under surface). By technical definition, a carpet is a decorative woven textile, which is produced by knotting thick-coloured threads (yarns) on the warp, compressed by the weft. Weft yarns are horizontal and warp yarns are vertical. Several distinct types of knot are used to produce carpets.

The most important of these types are the Turkish knot and Persian knot. The Turkish knot is wrapped around two warps and the Persian knot around a single warp.

The principles and elements of design viz-a-viz balance, rhythm, scale, proportion, dominance, symmetry, contrast, repetition are kept in mind while making a woolen masterpiece. The ideal of carpet design is to integrate utility, craftsmanship and beauty into a harmonious whole. The quality of carpet is determined by the intricacy and beauty of the design and the density and skill of knotting.

The design is called the soul of a carpet, which makes the colours sing and the wool whisper. The overall design of carpets is usually divided between the central area called the field and borders. The designs of finer carpets are intricate yet very balanced, the motifs are mostly geometric, stylised and naturalistic.

The art of knotting carpets reached its peak in Asia, mainly Persia and Indus valley, in the 15th and 16th centuries. The interiors of the majority of Asian homes stood decorated and beautified with these object of elegance. At that point in time, Europe was "preparing for Renaissance".

Sir Thomas More (14781535) a member of parliament in England and the author of Utopia (a book which is claimed to mark a new turning point in the path of European thought) describes the condition of the homes in London and England as "dark, inconvenient and miserable". In such living conditions, when oriental carpets of high artistic quality and value reached Europe through travellers, westerners were literally dazzled by the beauty of these eastern wonders. They were so much impressed by these sublime beauties that instead of using them as floor coverings, they hanged them on walls.

They could not imagine that such items could also be placed on floors and be walked up on.

Europeans began importing oriental carpets in somewhat bigger quantities as late as the 18th century. By that time, the rich traditions of weaving had scaled newer heights here.

The art had been so much popular that it became part and parcel of everyday life in Sindh, the main centre of Indus Valley civilisations. Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689the most renowned and the most revered poet of Sindhi language, repeatedly refers to the art of weaving to guide his readers to learn from weavers the tying of knots of immortal love. He says.

Halo, Halaun Koreeain, gandhen j anee j o kum

(Let us go to the Kories -- the weavers, whose job it is to tie knots).

Global exports of handcarpets and other textile floor covering stood at $1.68billion in 2004. Pakistan occupies 3rd position among handknotted carpet exporting countries in the world. Our share in global export of this item was 14 per cent in that year.

The annual growth in export value of handcarpets on global level increased by nine per cent between 2003 and 2004. During the same period Pakistan achieved a growth of 19 per cent. Pakistan's export performance in hand carpets for the last five years period is given below.

The above table reveals that export of handcarpets from Pakistan peaked at $288 million in 2000Exports decreased in 2001to a level of $249.5 million. During the year that followed exports went further down to $220.9million.

The country, however, slightly strengthened its position in the international market in 2003and exports reached $231.4million. In 20042005, there was further improvement in carpet exports performance, when we exported this item worth $277.8million.

The second table shows that the US is the single largest importer of hand-knotted carpets from Pakistan. The country imported Pakistani carpets worth $89.7million in 2002. Its imports slightly slid to $88.8million in 2003Our largest buyer's imports significantly rose to $109.8million in 2004 Pakistani carpets second largest buyer, Germany, imported this item equal to $43.79million in 2000.

Pakistan's highest carpets exports have been $288.82 in 2000It should not be difficult to cross this level and go beyond. The following measures may help in improving export performance of this luxurious item:

a) Sheep is an important source of basic raw material required for carpet manufacturing. Apart from wool, this useful animal provides milk, meat and skin. To ensure adequate supply of indigenous wool, it is necessary to establish scientific sheep farming centres in areas which are climatically suitable for sheep growth.

b) Carpet villages may be established in climatically suitable areas for sheep growth. In these carpet villages, training may be provided to male and female workers in the field of yarn (hand) spinning, yarncarpetScholarships may be given to those workers during the training period. They should also be fully trained in the art and science of marketing (carpets).

Table # 1 Value: Million $

2004-2005 2003-2004 2002-2003 2001-2002 2000-2001

277.8 231.4 220.9 249.5 288.8

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