Tracing the legacy of carpet weaving | Insigne Carpets
Industry veteran Asif Rahman of Insigne Carpets gives us a sneak-peak into the unheard aspects of the carpet weaving industry
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With operations in 14-different countries, Delhi-based carpet manufacturer Asif Rahman is a name to reckon with in the industry. His experience in the industry spanning three decades has allowed him to create iconic pieces for royal palaces and exclusive casinos to vintage hotels and super-elite families the world over. Depending on the nature of the property, Rahman articulates, “Every place has a very distinct carpet style”. For instance, his carpets commissioned for the Taj Pierre in New York are fine wall-to-wall hand-knotted carpets (which are normally used as rugs). They are very different in nature from the carpets created for MGM Grand Casino that used the finishing process by a herbal wash of henna and tea leaves to give them an antique look. Adding to their roster of pride are the carpets he created for the super-exclusive La Samaritan (designed by Alexia Leleu) by LVMH in Paris that are “woven from four different directions at the same time to create a sort of illusion. So, when you look at the carpet – it will look different from all four sides.”
Dimensions & Designs
Rahman strongly believes that dimension without design is useless and vice versa. “It only works when dimension and design work together and this is the basic area of handshaking between art and mathematics,” he reiterates, stating – “dimension is mathematics and design is art.” Further explaining how making a carpet involves a graph paper wherein each pixel is counted (mathematics) and the design (art) is inserted onto it. Followed by the various other processes including dying the fibre, colouring the yarn and that is where art and science start handshaking at a basic place. “You have to set certain temperatures, expose it to certain degree of steam, you are using some dye powder which is basically a metallic chrome dye – so basically, you are having a mixture of science, chemistry, physics and again art,” explains the science graduate from University of Calcutta.
A Compartmentalized Process
Today, Rahman produces his carpets from his two factories – one in Badohi, Mirzapur and the other in China. The entire process of manufacturing carpets is compartmentalized. There are separate departments including weavers, dyers,designers,and the owners are the ones that join the dots. People who are working under are completely unaware of what is going on after every step. “The weavers don’t know where the carpet is really going to go or what inspired to create this design or who is the designer from across the world,” shares Rahman who began his journey in the industry as a carpet installer labour in 1988.
Persian Bloodline Weavers
For the uninitiated, the genesis of carpet making in Mirzapur can be traced back to the 16th century during the time of Mughal emperor, Akbar. “It is said that a caravan of Persian carpet weavers while returning to the Mughal court were attacked by dacoits on the Grand Trunk Road and these weavers were then rescued by the local villagers of this region. The master weaver of the group decided to settle down here and share his skills with his benefactors. That is how the renowned carpet industry of Mirzapur took root,” explains Rahman. He further adds how the region is currently populated with 80% regular weavers and 20% exclusive weavers. By exclusive he means, “the Persian bloodline weavers,” who now have multiple children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.
When questioned about the difference between the exclusives and non-exclusives, he states, “the exclusive (Persian) weavers do not need a graph to weave a carpet. It goes by name – so one says whether he wants a Kashan or a Sarouk, or an Ardabil rug or Tree of Life, these are just few of the vast designs that are available.”
Interact Vs Instruct
Rahman highlights how one can identify a Persian bloodline weaver from the joy on his face while he weaves a carpet and his speed. To streamline these families even further Rahman specifies, “They are all Ansaris and they are my favourites. Because if I tell them that I want a carpet and the name of the design is say a KAZAKh rug – they are the kind of family who will come back to me saying, 'Asif Sahab, would you like to have a Kazakh from Azerbaijan region or Iraq region?’” Explaining that there is a very fine difference between province and those differences are not known to everybody. In fact, sometimes they suggest certain styles and “they are the kind of people we can interact with, while others we instruct,” declares the four-decade old carpet maker.
India Vs China
“China has worked it out as a commune,” shares Rahman, who also has a factory in China (set-up around the carpet making belt around Foshan river, a prefecture-level city in central Guangdong Province). The carpet belt makes sourcing all the raw materials very accessible — since everything is at a stone's throw away. Meanwhile, in India “one is importing dye powder from Germany, pure wool from New Zealand, cotton backing and other things from China and then finally making the carpet in Badohi, followed by then transporting the carpet to Mumbai to ship it out,” says the tasteful carpet-maker. So, “when China says it will take 6 weeks, India says we need 12 weeks,” points out Rahman as the primary difference in the timeline. “Secondly, each mill is by the port, which are all connected to the national highway in China. So, if I make a carpet in Foshan and I have to make it reach the Shanghai port — it travels at a lightning speed, considering the unbelievably well-built highways. Then of course, there is something called the work culture. When in China, you don't need a supervisor, but here for every 15 people you need to have a supervisor to monitor the people,” says Rahman.
Now, while there are tons of differences between both the regions, Rahman points out, “there are some buyers who say that before the carpet is shipped, there is a certain XYZ test that needs to be performed on the carpet.” Now sadly, since we don’t have a lab in India the closest/first place where we can send it for testing is at the applause laboratory in Spain. Tests such as Flammability test, Static Electricity test, Ultraviolet Ray test, Wear & tear test are a few common tests required by certain buyers. “Since, there is no lab who can do these tests in India, we have to send the carpet to some foreign test location, wait for their test report, pay a bomb for each testing and only once you get the test report then your shipment is eligible to go out,” points out Rahman sharing the plight of producing these insanely magnificent carpets. Regardless, “It’s a tasteful craft and we’re in it to produce beautiful stories,” signs off Rahman, looking forward to cooking up a Sunday meal for his family!