Rugs From Tibet
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Learn More About Rugs and Antique Carpets from Tibet
Tibetan style Rugs vs. Traditional Tibet Rugs
Tibet Rugs – For centuries, Tibet has maintained its own unique culture, language and art forms, despite a recent history of invasions and occupations. It is not surprising that this independence carries over into their rug making traditions and arts as well. As a whole, Persian rugs or Oriental hand-knotted rugs use a limited selection of techniques. Rugs made in Tibet differ in their production techniques, and they have a unique aesthetic value as well. Let’s take a trip to the rug weaving centers of remote Tibet.
How Are Rugs from Tibet Different?
Tibet is located southwest of China and is bordered by Nepal, Burma, Bhutan and India. Due to the surrounding terrain and Himalayan mountains, Tibet remained isolated longer than other nearby areas. Rail traffic was not opened to some remote regions of Tibet until 2006, and it still remains one of the most isolated portions of the world by modern standards. This isolation allowed it to develop rug making techniques and methods that are different from Persian and Oriental rugs.
The techniques used to make traditional rugs and Persian carpets was passed down through tribal traditions and then through formal schools that were established throughout areas located along the Silk Road. Tibet missed this cultural influence and developed their own rug weaving technique that makes them unique in the world of rug collectors and interior design.
The Tibetan rug knot is the main distinguishing characteristic of Tibetan rugs. Rather than wrapping the thread around one or two warps as in Persian and Oriental rugs, the Tibetan knot is more difficult and requires more steps than other techniques. The technique is carried out using a warped loom, just as with other weaving techniques. The wool is wrapped around two warp threads in a continual line. The wool is then wrapped around a rod and then around another two rows of warp threads. It is then cut off the rod.
This technique is one of the defining characteristics of Tibet rugs. It is faster, but it does not allow the ability to create as highly detailed designs as one is accustomed to seeing in Persian and Oriental rugs. This is one of the distinguishing design characteristics of Tibet rugs. When you roll the rug, these distinctive rows of pile separate and become visible. Tibet rugs will often have a ribbed appearance on the front of the rug.
Another thing that makes them distinctive is that they only use wool from sheep that are local to Tibet. The harsh environment makes the wool from these sheep strong and warm. They are also limited to local dyestuffs for the colors as well. Nonetheless, they managed to create striking color combinations and magnificent geometric designs in these works of art.
The Rug Industry in Tibet
The making of rugs is a utilitarian function that is necessary for comfort. They are used to cover the floors, to provide warmth against cold weather and to line the walls of primitive housing to provide warmth and protection from the elements. However, as one examines rugs from almost any culture, it becomes apparent that they are more than their utilitarian function. The beautiful colors and designs let you know that they were as much of an art form in the past, as we know them to be today.
Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the weaving of rugs in Tibet goes as far back as the 7th century AD. They developed their own unique technique that is different from those used throughout Persia, Turkey, China and India. By the 7th century, rug weaving was already a well-established art in Persia and other parts of the world. Despite this, Tibet still developed its own unique style of rug making process and its own knotting technique.
Due to the isolation of Tibet, these techniques were kept largely a secret until the 19th century when the railway began to open up access to the region. Even so, it did not become as populated and accessible as other parts of the world, including the Caucasus mountains. Therefore, rugs from Tibet are even more difficult to find than those from tribal cultures in other remote areas.
Shifting Traditions In Tibet Rugs
The traditional designs of rugs from Tibet began to shift and change in the 19th century and early 20th century due to the railway that allowed the export market to open to Europe and the USA. They began producing rugs that were more likely to appeal to their primary customers across the world. They began to use synthetic dyes that allowed for a much broader color palette than could be obtained by using local plant dyestuffs.
In 1959, the invasion of the Chinese put an abrupt halt to Tibetan weaving. After years of turmoil, a few refugees in the 1960’s were able to reestablish a Tibet rug weaving industry, but these rugs were produced using outside sources and were woven to appeal to a western taste. Rugs produced using traditional Tibetan designs and materials are some of the rarest artifacts in the world.
Tibet Rug Trade and Influence
The main cultural influence in Tibet was China, and it is not surprising that many oriental designs influenced traditional Tibetan designs. Designs of Tibet rugs can be divided into three main categories. Some of them are very basic designs and geometric patterns, others are Chinese influenced, and then there are the unique tiger rugs.
Other than a few that managed to make it outside of the country that were specifically woven for royalty or those in high positions, these rugs were not known to the rest of the world through much of their traditional history. Another influence of the western market was that the rugs began to be produced in larger sizes than traditional ones for home use.
The Tibet Tiger Rugs
One of the most fascinating and unique designs is the tiger rug. These antique rugs were woven as prayer mats for lamas. The tiger is an animal that is thought to provide protection to the people. It is a common practice to wrap oneself in Tiger pelts or sit on a tiger rug for prayer. This can be compared to the Muslim mihrab Prayer rugs.
Utility vs. Meditation In Rugs From Tibet
Many rugs from Tibet are around 3 x 5 feet and were produced for utilitarian and practical use. Many of these small scatter size rugs were created in the home itself. However, rug weaving is a practice that was used to encourage monks in their meditation practice as well. Meditation rugs are made from individual small squares that are then woven together to form one rug. The process is laborious and tedious, with many hours of meditation involved in their creation. These are often not found outside of Tibet and have a special cultural significance.
Rugs from Tibet vs. Tibetan Rugs
Modern trade and the markets have had an influence on terms used by rug collectors. Some of these terms have shifted from their original meaning. One example of this is that many Persian rugs are referred to as “oriental”. in a similar manner, rugs are often referred to as Tibetan if they have a remotely Tibetan design or color scheme. However, a Tibetan style rug must be distinguished from a true rug from Tibet that is produced using the unique knotting technique and production methods of traditional Tibetan weavers.
Tibet has been invaded many times throughout its history, with the more recent invasions of the 19th and 20th century being the most significant and influential on the art and rug making traditions. The patterns of the traditional Tibetan rug weavers have almost disappeared due to their isolation for thousands of years, and the effects of western influence on the designs and techniques.
We specialize in rugs from around the world and have a chance to occasionally bring a true rug from Tibet to you. These are indeed a rare find and we encourage you to look around, as these rugs are a true global treasure.