One of the bonuses of living in Qatar, in an ex-pat community as we find ourselves currently, is the amazing people that you meet from all over the world. I want to write about one such meeting in this month’s blog.
Just before she left Qatar, an American friend took me to a shop called Kashmir Handicrafts Emporium to look at carpets. I had no idea what to expect, and I certainly wasn’t in the market for buying a Persian Carpet (as I mistakenly called them), but my friend wanted to show me, and I was happy to tag along. Together with another friend, we three women spent around 2 hours in the showroom of this store, enjoying not, as I expected, a sales pitch, but a lesson on the history and significance of hand-made tribal rugs. I was enthralled, and also intrigued that the salesman would spend so much time with us, when we made it clear from the beginning that we were not there to purchase.
Since then I’ve been back twice, and taken new friends to learn about these amazing rugs. And yes, we have since made a purchase, but more on that later.
Riyaz (who not only owns the shop and runs the business, but also travels to Afghanistan every year to meet with the tribal families and collect rugs) and Wajji (Riyaz’s cousin and equally expert assistant) taught us so much about the traditions of rug weaving among the nomadic people of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Caucasus. These people still live the traditional lifestyle of their ancestors, in large family groups, living in yurts and being mostly self sufficient. The women weave the rugs for their own use, and sell them at market (in exchange for sheep, rice, corn or fabric) when needed, or when they finish weaving a new rug, maybe 10 or 20 years later. Each rug can take many months to complete. They are mostly illiterate, and keep the complex designs in their heads. Each design is part of the family heritage and is passed down from mother to daughter. Riyaz showed us how to recognise the different styles of weaving from the different regions, and emphasised the difference in quality between hand-woven tribal rugs and mass-produced workshop rugs. Weaving is a labour of love for these women, and not a profession. They make the rugs in their spare time, and frankly I don’t know how they can part with them.
These rugs are made from wool from sheep bred by the family. The women collect the wool and spin it and dye it themselves. The dyes are all natural, made from herbs and plants which grow wild in the mountains – red from the Madder root, yellow from Saffron or Marigold, blue from Indigo . The pale green comes from Pistachio skins and is the most rare. Shades of brown are created from Walnut shells. The crafstmanship is incredible. Each rug is a thing of beauty, and they look almost as good from the back as the front. Riyaz and Wajji are so passionate about the rugs, the stories behind them and the traditional nomadic lifestyle, it is impossible not to be drawn into that world. There is a romance in the idea of owning a rug that was made by a tribal woman for her own use so long ago – you could not get further in distance or lifestyle from the world I inhabit.
These rugs, as I mentioned, are not new. They have been used to line the floors and walls of yurts, to keep out the bitter winter cold. But to look at them you would never know. They will outlast us, that’s for sure. Riyaz told us that you don’t get to own these rugs, even after you buy them. You just get to be the guardian of the rug, keeping it safe for the next generation. In a way, you don’t get to choose your rug – the rug chooses you. That is certainly what happened with the rug we did eventually buy. It was actually made by Riyaz’s father, a master weaver from Kashmir, using the traditional methods as he has done since he was 12 years old. Our rug (and we called it that from the moment we saw it) is made from the wool of Pashmina goats (yes, the same wool those beautiful, fine, soft shawls are made from) spun and dyed by Riyaz’s mother from their own goats. The knot count (or pixels, as Wajji explained) is 900 knots per square inch – impossibly fine! It took him more than a year to make, and the moment we saw it we fell in love with it.
The idea of being the guardians of the rug really resonated with me, since we scrapbookers are, in a way, the guardians of our family stories for future generations. The designs of these rugs, and the craftsmanship in making them are part of the fabric of that tribal family’s story. To us they just look like pretty designs, but they are full of symbolism and meaning for those by whom and for whom they were woven. In the same way our scrapbooks might be just a collection of images to a stranger, but for us and our families they capture moments in our lives in a format that can be passed to our children and their children.
Here are a couple of pages I have made about our experience, using the newest Classic Blueprint Collections from p2P and Panstoria. The kits used are Fayette Designs I Love You This Much Bundle, and Cottage Arts Linen and Lace Page Pak. Fonts used are Saginaw, KG Payphone, Return to Sender and KG Strawberry Limeade.