Wool is the most commonly used material in weaving handmade rugs. The sheep are sheared twice a year, in spring and at the end of the summer, by an experienced shearer who uses blade shears or machine shears. Most of those people are nomadic herders grazing their enormous flock of sheep. The woolen fleece of those sheep is extremely soft yet durable. The wool is also rich in lanolin, a naturally produced waxy oil which makes its fleece more durable and water-resistant. However, the lanolin only remains in the wool if it is processed by hand. There are more than 1000 distinct sheep breeds producing different types of wool. Some sheep produce very coarse fibers. This type of wool is called carpet wool, and as the name suggests is used to make carpets and tapestries. This wool is extremely durable.
Processing wool fibres
Shearing, skirting, scouring, drying, carding, spinning and plying are the different steps to turn raw wool into a finished product such as a carpet. Firstly, the wool from the back end of the sheep, their legs and sometimes their belly is too full of manure to use. These are referred to as “tags”. These are removed first before washing the fleece; this process is called skirting, as all the edges of the wool coat are removed. The fleeces are also sorted into the various types: fine from coarse and short from long. Then the fleece is washed or scoured into hot soapy water to remove dirt, grease and dry plant matter from the wool. After washing and thorough rinsing, the wool is spread on on fields or river banks for drying. After the wool is dry, it must be beaten with a chubug, a special thin wooden stick. The wool fibers are then put through a series of combing steps called carding. This straightens and make the fibers smoothing to prepare them for spinning.
Spinning and plying
After carding, the wool is ready for spinning. Spinning is the process of transforming the wool by twisting the fibers together to form yarn. Traditionally, the women spin the wool fibers by hand using simple tools such as the spindle or alternatively a spinning wheel. It is the skill, the sensitivity and the precision of the spinner’s hand that shapes the yarn. The wool fibers are simultaneously pulled, twisted and winded on to the spindle by hand. An incorrectly spun of yarns can easily break or cause uneven pigmentation in dyeing process. Weak yarns are useless when building a loom, a device that holds the warp threads in place while weft threads are woven through them. The spinning wheel is a more modern and maybe also a more efficient spinning tool used cities and in weaving ateliers. Sometimes, two or more strands of yarn are twisted together to create a stronger, more balanced yarn. This process is called plying.
Drawing, calculating, dyeing and preparing a loom are crucial steps in the production process of weaving a rug. Each new carpet design, needs a new knotting plan as a guideline for the weaver. The design is drawn and coloured on millimeter paper by a skilled sketcher. This requires high precision and skill. Sometimes they also add codes and numbering to the pattern design. The weaver can now more easily interpret the design according to the legend.
An accurate quotation is important. Therefore, in modern weaving ateliers, a digital resource and materials calculations are implemented before the carpet knotting process. This way, it is easier to have an overview of the total production costs and to limit losses. After finishing the calculation draft, the quantity (kilogram) of material to make a carpet is determined and all this information is collected and send to a dye master.
Dyeing yarns is a painstaking and complicated process requiring a lot of knowledge and skills. Firstly, some strands of yarn are dyed by a dye master in his own laboratory, a place full with pots, copper pans, colourful bowls with exotic pigment powder and different sorts of scales. The dye master tries to create a shade which comes as closely as possible to the required colour. And when he is happy with the result, the wool or silk yarn is immersed into a dye vat. All dyes are properly fixed not to run wet or fade on exposure to light.
Basically there are 2 main types of loom, a horizontal and a vertical loom. The horizontal loom is mainly used by nomadic tribes and local weavers because it can easily be assembled or dismantled and is transportable. The loom is staked to the ground or supported by sidepieces on the ground. The vertical loom is permanent and is used in villages and town manufactures.. There are different types of vertical looms, going from basic to more complicated machines. Facing a vertical loom, the weaver sits on a bench which can be raised upwards as the rug progresses. In this case, the length of the rug is as long as the height of the loom. This is a huge restriction and it is solved by widening the loom with some more options. XXX Nakijken en verder vertalen!!!
Knotting or weaving
Important part of weaving a rug, is having qualified weavers. Some weaving ateliers have permanent staff or subcontractors. Some master weavers offer their services to weaving ateliers. As soon as the loom is set up, the knotting process can start. The weaver starts from the bottom upwards, carefully reading and following the master knotting plan. The weaver needs a number of essential tools: a comb-like instrument with a handle for packing down the wefts, a pair of shears for trimming the pile after a row of knots, or a small number of rows, and a knife for cutting the yarn as the knots are tied. This process continues in a high tempo until the carpet is finished.
The year zero
The moment the carpet is cut loose from the loom, the most difficult and complex work has been completed. The weavers did their outmost best to create a beautiful rug and they are proud of the result. All people involved in the process have been looking forward to this moment. A new rug is born! The rug has some fringes which are now nicely secured by making a kelim hem.
Once a rug is finished, it needs to be thoroughly cleaned from dirt and fabric dust. The rug is completely immersed into tanks with clean rainwater or into a flowing river. This is a first test to the fact that the colours are absolutely fixed. Then the rug is stretched out and hand-brushed with a special soap and water, deep cleaning and restoring the soft texture of the rug. The rug comes out with a beautiful shine. After washing, the rug is dried flat in the sun.
After washing, the rug shrinks a little and its form can change slightly. Therefore, when the rugs are dried, they are laid flat on the ground for inspection. The rug is then fixed onto stenter frames to regain its original form.
The last step after stentering the rug is the quality control and the finishing. When required, the rugs can still be carved, trimmed or sheared. The rug is weighed and then wrapped for delivery.
Reliable production times
We have shown you that it takes many steps and preparations from sheep to carpet, from raw material to finished product. The total production time is different for each carpet. It depends on the knot density, the complexity of the design, the weaving method and the yarn (wool or silk). In average, a carpet with a size of about 6 square meters (200x300cm) is finished in about 2,5-6,5 months times. Moreover, we also do not want to put too much pressure on the local weaver by demanding faster production times and push them into unethical working circumstances.