THE TECHNIQUE OF WEAVING CARPETS
A carpet is always begun at the lower edge with the selvedge. A certain number of weft threads are woven across the vertical warp threads so as to form a stout edging which will keep the carpet intact, prevent fraying and keep the knots tight. When the selvedge (which contains no knots) is finished, the knotting of the woollen pile threads on to the warp begins. Each piece of wool is fixed on to two adjoining warp threads in accordance with one of the two main techniques, Turkish or Persian. It is obvious that the price of a carpet depends on the time it takes to make, and, basically, upon the number of knots it contains. It is for this reason that over-hasty and at times cunning craftsmen use an unorthodox knotting technique. The practice of double-knotting called jufti is, for example, common. This double-knotting means that the piece of wool which should be knotted across two warp threads is knotted across four.
This technique diminishes the value of the carpet by reducing the density of the pile, thus making
the decorative motifs less clear.
All the work of knotting is done by hand by a trained and swift craftsman. On average, a good
craftsman can make from 10,000 to 14,000 knots in a day. This is a tremendous amount of work, even though the resulting piece of carpet may seem modest in size. Consider, however, that to make a medium quality carpet (at about 160 knots per square inch) and measuring about six feet by nine feet at a rate of 10,000 knots per day takes a good five months, and that in a whole day's hard work the carpet grows by less than an inch across the whole width. If the same carpet had a knot density of only 32 knots to the square inch, however, it could be finished in a month.
After each knot is tied, the carpet-maker pulls about 2.75 inches of the wool he has used away from the knot in a downward direction. This not only tightens the knot but also determines the direction of the pile. It is, in fact, a characteristic of Persian carpets that they appear different from different points of view and according to the way the light falls on the pile. Thus, when one wants to lay a Persian carpet in a room, it is important to try it out in different positions. Often a change of position can achieve a truly astonishing change of effect.
When he has finished a row of knots across the whole width of the warp, the weaver passes the weft thread in and out of each of the warp threads. Generally there are two weft threads between each row of knots, one tight and the other loose.
The pile is given its first cropping after four or six rows of knots have been made. (Sometimes, however, each row is cut individually.) The ends of the knots are kept fairly long (about 2.75 in) whilst knotting is in progress. The final cropping will not take place until the carpet is finished. Specialized craftsmen are used for this work as it is a very delicate operation and one which gives the final touch to the work. As a rule, very fine carpets are cropped very close, while a deeper pile is left on carpets with a lower knot density because if these carpets were close-cropped the poor quality of the fabric would be revealed. The kinds of cropping differ according to custom and the demands of the market.
Nomads, for example, tend to retain a thich pile: the town craftsmen to crop it while the American market, which has a powerful influence on present-day Persian production, demands carpets with a fairly deep pile.
The miracle which attends the birth of every Persian carpet begins therefore at the knotting stage.
Mi ll ioris of differently coloured knots are patiently aligned one against the other to form the patterns and motifs -sometimes geometric, sometimes floral- but always full of imagination and style. Among the nomads, colours and designs often grow instinctively out of the basic tradition. There is no pre-ordained plan -just a general idea which takes into account the shape of the carpet to be made, the symbols which arc to appear on It, and the colours available. All the rest is imagination, whim, skill ami the innate creativity of the nomad.
In the cities, however, both in family workshops and larger concerns, the carpet is born of a precise project by specialized artists who create the design on a squared cartoon on which each square represents a knot. When the carpet is to be made by one person on his own, the cartoon is fixed to the loom at the worker's eye level. When two or more people are concerned in the task, one of them reads aloud the number of knots of eaeh colour. If you visit a Persian village, it is not at all unusual to hear an endless, monotonous chant coming from a house, " ... one red knot, two blue knots, three red knots ... ", This is the voice of the head of the family working at the loom with his son, one beside the other, with half a carpet each. At a rate of a few seconds per knot, the carpet grows like a great mosaic in which each knot corresponds to a tessera. In workshops where there are many workers, the weaving is led by the ustad (master) who superintends the entire manufacture of the carpet and is personally responsible for the most important parts of it.
The carpet is finished as it was begun, with a selvedge. When the last line of knots is finished, wclt threads are interwoven with the warp threads so as to form a firm finish.
The surplus warp threads on each end of the carpet are used for the fringe which can be twisted or more often knotted. When the carpet is removed from the loom, it is given a final cropping and is then washed. The point of the washing process is to remove the stiffness from the carpet and to restore the wool and colours to their full purity. The carpet is then spread out to dry in the sun and this is the last test of colour fastness.