The women of the Bhutia community of Sikkim practice what is perhaps the oldest form of carpet-weaving in the world. They traditionally weave hand-knotted woollen carpets with chiefly Tibetan designs on upright wooden frame-loom.
The warp of the carpet is cotton and is mounted on the upper beams while the woven fabric is wound to the lower beam. Knotting is done, with great skill and dexterity, by looping the woollen thread around the warp, and the rod which is used for looping is placed along the warp. When a motif or a new colour is introduced, the ground colour is cut and the new coloured thread is inserted by twisting into a single warp thread and looping. The loops are finally cut with a knife and a pile is created. The number of knots per square inch could vary from 40 to 100.
The method of weaving and the use of decorative motifs and colour schemes are unique to this community. The patterns commonly woven on to the carpets are stylised floral motifs, compositions borrowed from Buddhist iconography, geometrical designs, and most popularly, Tibetan designs like a dragon holding a ball in his mouth or the two mythical Tibetan birds called the dak and the jira. Tibetan designs have a wide range and each has a significance and name of its own. The overall effect on the carpet is a single, powerful, bold design. Geometrical patterns are created using knots of different colour. Vegetable and natural dyes are still used to obtain the right colours.
Besides regular carpets the Bhutia women also weave small bedside carpets and squares called asans to sit on. Their weaving techniques are being extended to dhurrie-weaving and woollen dhurrie-weaving.
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