The carpets’ wool comes from sheep grazing at 12,000 feet and higher in Tibet’s Himalayas. High altitude and cold temperatures generate wool with a high lanolin Tiger Rugs content. Lanolin gives wool stain resistance and a soft feel. This is the world’s best carpet-weaving wool.
Tibetan nomads tend sheep
Nomadic Tibetans tend sheep. They live in yak-wool-covered tents. These tents can be moved to greener grounds for sheep grazing. Nomads shear sheep and sell raw wool to a government cooperative on the China (Tibet)-Nepal border. Winter and monsoon seasons make trucking wool difficult due to inaccessible roads. Nomads carry wool to the co-op. From the co-op, it’s sent to factories.
Wash, sort, comb, hand spin, then hand-dye wool. Once the factory receives the wool, the groundwork begins. Wool must be washed and separated into black, brown, grey, and natural. Natural carpet color is preferable since it absorbs dye well. Next, the sorted wool is combed or carded on paddle-like combs with long nail inserts to align the end of the fiber to the end. Preparing wool for hand spinning.
After spinning, the wool is washed again before dying. Swiss chemical dyeing ensures color consistency. Hand-dying ensures dye lot consistency and absorption. Before being color-coded, dyed wool must be sun-dried. Error-free color-coding of skeins is essential for carpet production. Wool is wrapped into melon-sized rugs balls for weavers’ benches.
We didn’t want to contribute to the problem of child labor when we considered this enterprise. After a master weaver lays the cotton warp and weft threads on the loom, a government inspector visits the factory to label the loom so only 16-year-olds can weave.
The master weaver then tells the weaver what colors to use in a certain design by using a “cartoon,” “design map,” or “graph.”
The graph stays on top of the loom so that you can always look at it to see where to change the color of the yarn and where to place the design. The weaver uses the senna, also called the Tibetan knot. This is a long steel rod around which long rows of wool are tied in a knot. When a row is done, a razor-like tool is used to cut the row of knots away from the steel rod. Then, a long-fingered comb is used to line up the next row of knots with the row before it. Now, the steel rod is put back in, and the weaving keeps going. About one week is needed to finish one linear foot of weaving.
When the pieces of art – which these Tibetan oriental carpets are – are complete, they are embossed and trimmed with special scissors, then laid on a stretcher for two days in the sunlight to return them to near-perfect alignment.
The carpet is then washed and sun-dried. Second embossing and trimming. The fringe is either left exposed or stitched under and covered with cloth binding tape. The carpet is then rolled up instead of folded to minimize creases and stored in plastic wrap. The carpets are ready for Western distribution.