Oriental Rugs: Rugs Of Tibet and Nepal


Although historical references indicating the precise origins of Tibetan and Nepalese rugs are unclear, it is believed that rug weaving in this Himalayan region is part of an age-old tradition practiced primarily for use in the home. Following China’s suppression of Tibetan nationalism in 1959, thousands of Tibetans fled their country and settled in neighboring countries including Nepal. Shortly thereafter, production of handmade rugs began in refugee camps of Tibet, most of which were mainly situated in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley. By the mid 1970’s, many of the rugs produced by Tibetan refugees were being exported to various European countries. During the decade of 1980, Tibetan and Nepalese rugs received increasing attention from the U.S. decorative market and exports to America have constantly increased. The primitive, handcrafted look of Tibetan and Nepalese rugs, characterized by highly stylized patterns and tastefully arranged color combinations, has great appeal for the Western consumers.

Originally produced as mats, saddle rugs, door covers, bed covers, and pillar rugs (made to fit around Buddhist temple columns), traditional Tibetan weavings generally reflect the importance of Buddhist religion in Tibetan art and culture. Many design elements of Chinese origin were also adopted and transformed by the Tibetans as evidenced by the common use of the phoenix, dragon, and lotus symbols in traditional rugs of this region. Today, design arrangements featured in Tibetan and Nepalese rugs (those woven by Tibetan refugees in Nepal) range from Westernized adaptations of traditional Tibetan motifs (such as branching floral designs and snow lions) to a large mixture of foreign and modern free-form patterns. Some traditional designs of Persian, French, Turkish, and American southwest Indian have also been used in rugs of Tibet and Nepal. The more modern designs of these rugs display bold geometric motifs on open fields and modifications of Art Deco patterns. Whatever the ethnic origins of Tibetan and Nepalese rugs may be, their patterns indicate an effective simplicity that is intensified by a color band going from the rich reds and blues to the softer purples and grays, most of which are dyed with natural and vegetable substances.

Tibetan RugIn general, Nepalese and Tibetan rugs are woven with hand-spun wool providing their surface with a wonderful depth and richness by means of a smooth variation of color and texture. Some rugs are woven exclusively with Tibetan wool which is typically flexible, lustrous, and relatively strong. However, the majority of hand-knotted rugs are made with a blend of Tibetan and imported wool. Knot density of these rugs vary from 30 to over 100 KPSI (knots per square inch) with the majority around 50 KPSI. The looms used today are somewhat larger than their native forerunners in order to meet the export demand for room-sized rugs. Tibetan weaving features a unique and ancient knotting technique which utilizes the “axis rod” (warp divider) and “Gauge rod” (needle), tools not employed in other rug weaving centers of the world.

Rugs of Tibet and Nepal are increasingly creating considerable excitement among Western buyers due to the fact that they relay the rustic charm, typical of their customary Tibetan counterparts, while displaying fashion-oriented colors and designs available in many different sizes. These bold, wide-ranging patterns and color combinations elevated by a rich texture portray a primitive sophistication which is very unique to these rugs.

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