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Tibetan rug making, an ancient craft

By Source:China Tibet News 2015-10-19

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 3ftx5ft (0.9m x 1.6m) 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 Landondescribed 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, which 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. Social upheaval 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.

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