Tradition Meets Modernity in Indian Rug Making

By Jennifer Quail

The Indian tradition of producing colorful, intricately designed carpets spans centuries. India is known not only for producing beautiful, handmade carpets but also for the pride and respect its artisans have for carrying on the tradition. From generations-old antiques to newly milled product, demand for carpets from India persists today.

Traditional Weaving - IndiaJohn Kurtz, designer and founder of GoodWeave member New Moon Rugs, notes an “intricacy of the design in India” not present in other areas. “Indian weaving goes so far back; you’ve got this history of making classic, hand-tied carpets,” Kurtz says.

The process of hand-weaving today is remarkably similar to the practice brought to India by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century. Then as now, weavers swiftly knot carpets by hand with nothing more than a colored pattern to guide their movements. While Indian weaving is revered for its precision, weavers pride themselves on the knowledge that their personality and intuition as artisans permeates each piece.

Alix Perrachon, rug consultant and author of The Distinctive Carpet: Fine Handmade Rugs in Contemporary Interiors, notes that with Indian carpets the “attraction is more artisanal” than with carpets from other weaving regions. She points to the higher end of the Indian market as really distinguishing itself from other carpet-producing countries, noting the use of vegetable dyes, natural materials such as wool and silk and “a wonderful use of the abrash” as characteristics that set these pieces apart.

Adding further to the character of each individual carpet is the practice of hand washing, a step producers believe to be of equal importance to color and design. Once the weaving is complete, a carpet is washed by hand and left to dry in the sun. The process adds a distinctive, aged appearance to the carpets that simply cannot be recreated through alternative methods.

Modern Rug Weaving - IndiaIndia is known for a variety of styles that have evolved over time from region to region. Common Indian styles include pure silk carpets, most hailing from Kashmir; Agra carpets, typically bearing Persian-influenced patterns; and Gabbeh carpets, which depict tribal motifs and are woven primarily in the Bhadohi-Mizrapur region. Bhadohi, Mizrapur, Agra and Jaipur are also known for their flatwoven dhurries. In making flatweave rugs, the yarns that would otherwise make up the pile of a carpet are instead woven into its backing creating a flat pattern that is often reversible.

“The antique rugs out of India are just beautiful and we’re very proud of the ones we have here,” says Carol Piper, GoodWeave partner and owner of Carol Piper Rugs in Houston. Piper notes that, in particular, the antique dhurries and Agras make “a beautiful statement” that attracts her clientele.

Today, India’s talent goes beyond hand-knotted product to include hand-tufted rugs, made by a tufting gun the weaver uses to follow a pattern printed on the carpet backing.

 "Most hand-tufted rugs certified by GoodWeave comes from India, including those from emma gardner design, a longstanding member of GoodWeave.

Patrick McDarrah, president of emma gardner design, says there is a key element of respect and honesty to the working relationship with their Indian mill. “They get that we’re not really interested in gimmicks and don’t try to sell us on them,” McDarrah says. “The quality is excellent, they’re consistent, they’re accessible and responsive, and they really understand what Emma is trying to do creatively.”

That dedication to craft and to the history of quality Indian carpets keeps India in the spotlight as a premiere producing region. Further, the continued popularity of designs from the region’s past points to a positive future for pieces being woven today.

“They are really artifacts,” Perrachon says of Indian carpets. “They are the antiques of tomorrow.”

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