For thousands of years the peoples India and surrounding countries have produced the world's great textiles. They continue to do so today.
I recently returned from my annual trip to India and Nepal. In India a primary stop is always Bhodohi, the home to 800 rug makers. I went to buy and darned if I didn't.
In India, rug makers process and dye the wool at their facilities. The weavers come to the makers' facilities accept a commission, are given the map and the dyed, finished yarn and return to their loom in their home village. When the weaving is completed, the weaver returns it to the maker to shear, wash and finish. See rug-making details here.
It's then ready for shipping to customers like myself.
I do have a basic set of criteria for what I buy. It must be hand-knotted; it must be wool or wool in combination with silk. And it must be beautiful. Though, mistakes are made.
But overwhelmingly contemporary is leading the parade.
A dynamic new entry is the Sari rug. These are made from the silk rescued from discarded saris, the gorgeous and mind-blowingly colorful gown wraps worn by Indian women. They promise to present unique design opportunities because of the color explosion and silk's optical qualities. I sort of imagined them on the floor of a very modern apartment with lots of windows.
End of Days?
Since the beginning of the technology prosperity boom, it has been obvious that the hand-knotted rug industry is going to face some serious challenges. Simply, there are more and better opportunities in countries like India and Nepal for people to earn a living than sitting at a loom all day.
My friend and rug-maker Arshad Anrsi estimates that we have 10 years. Then there will be virtually no rug weavers left. Older weaves are aging out, younger are moving on to other endeavors. There are no new entries into the trade.
Everyone in our business is freightened.
How ironic it seems that during this age of unprecedented creativity in hand-knotted wool rugs the ancient tradition may be coming to an end.
This country has now an essentially communist regime which has made some radical changes to the rug-weaving industry.
First, the government amalgamated all of the country's weavers into a huge government-run institution. With basically an edict it swept away the cottage industry system described above.
Then the government decreed that all weavers' salaries be doubled and is hinting that it's going to do it again.
This measure sounds beneficial to the weavers. However these arbitrary non-market generated costs will eventually make Nepalese rugs too expensive and the weavers and lovers of rugs will pay the price.
This is doubly awful because rugs are Nepal's largest export.