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Tibetan rug making is an ancient, traditional craft. Tibetan rugs are traditionally made from Tibetan highland sheep's wool, called changpel. Tibetans use rugs for many purposes ranging from flooring to wall hanging to horse saddles, though the most common use is as a seating carpet. A typical sleeping carpet measuring around 3 ft × 5 ft (0.91 m × 1.52 m) is called a khaden.
The knotting method used in Tibetan rug making is different from that used in other rug making traditions worldwide. Some aspects of the rug making have been supplanted by cheaper machines in recent times, especially yarn spinning and trimming of the pile after weaving. However, some carpets are still made by hand. The Tibetan diaspora in India and Nepal have established a thriving business in rug making. In Nepal the rug business is one of the largest industries in the country and there are many rug exporters. Tibet also has weaving workshops, but the export side of the industry is relatively undeveloped compared with Nepal and India.
The carpet-making industry in Tibet stretches back hundreds if not thousands of years, yet as a lowly craft, it was not mentioned in early writings, aside from occasional references to the rugs owned by prominent religious figures. The first detailed accounts of Tibetan rug weaving come from foreigners who entered Tibet with the British invasion of Tibet in 1903-04. Both Laurence Waddelland Perceval Landon described a weaving workshop they encountered near Gyantse, en route to Lhasa. Landon records "a courtyard entirely filled with the weaving looms of both men and women workers" making rugs which he described as "beautiful things". The workshop was owned and run by one of the local aristocratic families, which was the norm in premodern Tibet. Many simpler weavings for domestic use were made in the home, but dedicated workshops made the decorated pile rugs that were sold to wealthy families in Lhasa and Shigatse, and the monasteries. The monastic institutions housed thousands of monks, who sat on long, low platforms during religious ceremonies, that were nearly always covered in hand-woven carpets for comfort. Wealthier monasteries replaced these carpets regularly, providing income, or taking gifts in lieu of taxation, from hundreds or thousands of weavers.
From its heyday in the 19th and early 20th century, the Tibetan carpet industry fell into serious decline in the second half of the 20th. The illegal Chinese invasion of Tibet that began in 1959 was later exacerbated by land collectivization that enabled rural people to obtain a livelihood without weaving, and reduced the power of the landholding monasteries. Many of the aristocratic families who formerly organized the weaving fled to India and Nepal during this period, along with their money and management expertise.
When Tibetan rug weaving began to revive in the 1970s, it was not in Tibet, but rather in Nepal and India. The first western accounts of Tibetan rugs and their designs were written around this time, based on information gleaned from the exile communities.Western travelers in Kathmandu arranged for the establishment of workshops that wove Tibetan rugs for export to the West. Weaving in the Nepal and India carpet workshops was eventually dominated by local non-Tibetan workers, who replaced the original Tibetan émigré weavers. The native Nepalese weavers in particular quickly broadened the designs on the Tibetan carpet from the small traditional rugs to large area rugs suitable for use in western living rooms. This began a carpet industry that is important to the Nepalese economy even to this day, even though its reputation was eventually tarnished by child labor scandals during the 1990s.
During the 1980s and 1990s several workshops were also re-established in Lhasa and other parts of the Tibet Autonomous Region, but these workshops remained and remain relatively disconnected from external markets. Today, most carpets woven in Lhasa factories are destined for the tourist market or for use as gifts to visiting Chinese delegations and government departments. Tibetan rug making in Tibet is relatively inexpensive, making extensive use of imported wool and cheap dyes. Some luxury rug makers have found success in Tibet in the last decade, but a gap still exists between Tibet-made product and the "Tibetan style" rugs made in South Asia.
Tibetan carpets from the 19th century (perhaps earlier, though mostly carpets from the 19th century survive) are relatively restrained in terms of design and coloring, carpet makers at that time being restricted to a narrow range of natural dyes including madder (red), indigo (blue), Tibetan rhubarb (yellow) and Tibetan walnut (browns and greys), with a few other local plants producing yellow and greenish colors. Motifs consisted of two classes: the first type being simple geometric motifs such as the checkerboard and gau (amulet) design that probably formed part of an ancient Tibetan design repertoire, mingled with medallion designs and other motifs derived from Chinese decorative traditions.
From the early 1900s a wider range of synthetic colors became available to Tibetan weavers, and this seems to have stimulated the production of new and more complex designs, also based loosely on traditional Chinese motifs. The period of 1900-1950 saw the production of many colorful new designs featuring dragons, phoenix, floral motifs, clouds and so on. Though the main influence was Chinese Western textile designs were also copied occasionally. These designs still form the core of the Tibetan weaver's repertoire today.
The interest of western collectors of Tibetan rugs was particularly piqued by tiger rugs, in part because of their associations with Tantric meditation; many Tibetan tiger rugs were gifts for lamas in the monasteries.
There are several kinds of Tibetan tiger rug designs. Some consist of "realistic" renderings of tiger pelts, while closely related rugs show more abstracted versions of tiger stripes. Another type of tiger rug shows a "whole pelt", complete with legs and grinning face.
In a religious context, tiger rugs are related to the tiger skin loin cloths seen in painted images of fierce (wrathful) Tibetan Buddhist gods. The tiger skin is believed to provide protection to a person engaged in meditation. Female wrathful gods sport snow leopard spot loin cloths, and old Tibetan rugs are occasionally found with leopard spots too.
Tiger design rugs are found in several other carpet cultures, including Khotan rugs to the north, however it is amongst Tibetan weavers that these designs achieve their highest development. The designs are lively and amongst the most original of all traditional Tibetan motifs.
Many Wangden rugs have a looser weave, lower knot count, and a thicker pile than a typical Tibetan carpet, and also sport a thick shaggy fringe. Today these rugs are woven only in the Wangden valley, in the region south of Shigatse, though their manufacture may have been more widespread at one time.
This type of rug was originally made for monastic use as a sitting carpet. Some monasteries still have long Wangden runners on the bench seats used by monks during ceremonies. New rugs are still being woven, though mainly for domestic use and for the visitor market in Lhasa.
In Lhasa, rug stores cater to both to local, national, and international tourists. Dark red Turkish imitations from factories in Qinghai are sold alongside other Chinese rugs and even silk carpets with Middle-eastern designs. Amongst local Tibetans, replicas of traditional Tibetan designs from machine-woven polyester are popular inexpensive alternatives to hand-made carpets.
Government-sponsored workshops target the tourist and "official delegation gift" markets, but the wools have short staples and make carpets that are more likely to shed fluff and become matted after cleaning. A popular design is the "Potala" rug, featuring a picture of the Potala Palace and intended to be hung on the wall. Carpet workships founded by foreigners use wool with longer staple lengths and high lanolin content, which make for a stronger content, but are much more expensive, and have not found much success. However, as an economic activity, Tibetan rug making provides valuable cash income for rural communities who weave in the winter months. Several overseas investors and NGOs are trying to encourage a revival of high quality local wool and natural dyes in Tibetan rug making.
Lhasa or Chengguan is a district and administrative capital of Lhasa City in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. The inner urban area of Lhasa City is equivalent to the administrative borders of Chengguan District, which is part of the wider prefectural Lhasa City.
A carpet is a textile floor covering typically consisting of an upper layer of pile attached to a backing. The pile was traditionally made from wool, but since the 20th century, synthetic fibers such as polypropylene, nylon or polyester are often used, as these fibers are less expensive than wool. The pile usually consists of twisted tufts that are typically heat-treated to maintain their structure. The term carpet is often used in a similar context to the term rug, but rugs are typically considered to be smaller than a room and not attached to the floor.
A Persian carpet or Persian rug, also known as Iranian carpet, is a heavy textile made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purposes and produced in Iran, for home use, local sale, and export. Carpet weaving is an essential part of Persian culture and Iranian art. Within the group of Oriental rugs produced by the countries of the "rug belt", the Persian carpet stands out by the variety and elaborateness of its manifold designs.
Samzhubzê District is a district in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the China, and the administrative center of the prefecture-level city of Shigatse. Prior to 2014 it was known as the county-level city of Shigatse. It was the ancient capital of Ü-Tsang province and is the second largest city in Tibet with an estimated population of 117,000 in 2013. Samzhubzê is located at the confluence of the Yarlung Tsangpo River and the Nyang River, about 250 km (160 mi) southwest of Lhasa and 90 km (56 mi) northwest of Gyantse, at an altitude of 3,840 metres (12,600 ft).
A kilim is a flat tapestry-woven carpet or rug traditionally produced in countries of the former Persian Empire, including Iran, Azerbaijan, the Balkans and the Turkic countries of Central Asia. Kilims can be purely decorative or can function as prayer rugs. Modern kilims are popular floor coverings in Western households.
Tibet developed a distinct culture due to its geographic and climatic conditions. While influenced by neighboring cultures from China, India, and Nepal, the Himalayan region's remoteness and inaccessibility have preserved distinct local influences, and stimulated the development of its distinct culture.
Uşak carpets, Ushak carpets or Oushak Carpets are Turkish carpets that use a particular family of designs, called by convention after the city of Uşak, Turkey – one of the larger towns in Western Anatolia, which was a major center of rug production from the early days of the Ottoman Empire, into the early 20th century.
An oriental rug is a heavy textile made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purposes and produced in “Oriental countries” for home use, local sale, and export.
Milas carpets and rugs are Turkish carpets and rugs that bear characteristics proper to the district of Milas in Muğla Province in southwestern Turkey. There are also a number of variants within the definition of Milas carpets. These variants are called under such names as Ada Milas, Patlıcanlı, Cıngıllı Cafer, Gemisuyu, and Elikoynunda, depending on the style, colors and other characteristics.
Qom rugs are made in the Qom Province of Iran, around 100 km south of Tehran. Although rug weaving in Qom was not a major industry until the past 100 years, the luxurious silk and wool rugs of Qom are known for their high quality and are regarded among the most expensive in the world. Persian Qum rugs are often considered as investment, because their value is constantly increasing.
Anatolian rug is a term of convenience, commonly used today to denote rugs and carpets woven in Anatolia and its adjacent regions. Geographically, its area of production can be compared to the territories which were historically dominated by the Ottoman Empire. It denotes a knotted, pile-woven floor or wall covering which is produced for home use, local sale, and export. Together with the flat-woven kilim, Anatolian rugs represent an essential part of the regional culture, which is officially understood as the Culture of Turkey today, and derives from the ethnic, religious and cultural pluralism of one of the most ancient centres of human civilisation.
Ryijy is a woven Finnish long-tufted tapestry or knotted-pile carpet hanging.
Ardabil rugs originate from Ardabil located in the province of Ardabil Province in northwestern Iran, 639 kilometers from Tehran. Ardabil has a long and illustrious history of Persian carpet weaving.
Azerbaijani rugs are a product of Azerbaijan, an ancient center of carpet weaving. The Azerbaijani rug is a traditional handmade textile of various sizes, with dense texture and a pile or pile-less surface, whose patterns are characteristic of Azerbaijan's many carpet-making regions. Traditionally, since ancient times the carpets were used in Azerbaijan to cover floors, decorate interior walls, sofas, chairs, beds and tables.
A Turkmen rug is a type of handmade floor-covering textile traditionally originating in Central Asia. It is useful to distinguish between the original Turkmen tribal rugs and the rugs produced in large numbers for export mainly in Pakistan and Iran today. The original Turkmen rugs were produced by the Turkmen tribes who are the main ethnic group in Turkmenistan and are also found in Afghanistan and Iran. They are used for various purposes, including tent rugs, door hangings and bags of various sizes.
A Pakistani rug or Pakistani carpet is a type of handmade floor-covering textile traditionally made in Pakistan.
The term Armenian carpet designates, but is not limited to, tufted rugs or knotted carpets woven in Armenia or by Armenians from pre-Christian times to the present. It also includes a number of flat woven textiles. The term covers a large variety of types and sub-varieties. Due to their intrinsic fragility, almost nothing survives—neither carpets nor fragments—from antiquity until the late medieval period.
Kerman carpets are one of the traditional classifications of Persian carpets. Kerman is both a city and a province located in south central Iran, though the term sometimes describes a type which may have been made elsewhere. Kerman rugs are prized for a wide range of designs, a broad palette, use of natural dyes and fibers, great tensile strength and abrasion resistance, and expert color combinations. Typical manufacturing used an asymmetrical knot on cotton foundation, but rare examples include silk or part silk piles, or silk foundations with wool pile.
Lhasa is noted for its traditional buildings and structures related to Tibetan Buddhism.
DOBAG is the Turkish acronym for "Doğal Boya Araştırma ve Geliştirme Projesi" - the Natural Dye Research and Development Project. The project aims at reviving the traditional Turkish art and craft of carpet weaving. It provides inhabitants of rural village in Anatolia – mostly female – with a regular source of income. The DOBAG initiative marks the return to the traditional rug production by using hand-spun wool dyed with natural colours, which was subsequently adopted in other rug-producing countries.