How to Make a Rug       by Tracy Davis
I thought this page should start like the famous French recipe for Rabbit Stew: "First, catch rabbit."

The Traditional Method. First, shear a sheep.  Wrestle the critter, which outweighs you, down to the ground and denude her of her pelt. Maybe shear a  camel and a goat or two, just for variety.   Then, after you've recovered, wash the fleece to get the dirt, twigs, and eight-legged squatters out, then painstakingly card and comb the mess so that you have have clean, long, fleecy fibers to spin into yarn. 
Next, take your handy drop spindle and begin to spin the fleece into yarn.  (It helps if you can do this while simultaneously watching children and directing the dinner traffic around the yurt.)  When, after many days of this activity, you've accumulated enough yarn, then start the process of plying the spun yarns together. When you're done, cook up a nice batch of dried roots, pulverized flowers, dead bugs, or whatever you're using to make your dye bath, and soak your yarn in each concoction until it achieves the desired colors. Voila! The basic materials.
Kurdish weavers, ęDr. Jon ThompsonNow for the fun part. After setting up your warp threads on the loom (horizontal and portable if you're on the move; vertical and more or less permanent if you have the space), you're ready to begin tying your knots onto the foundation. Using design motifs carried in your head, wrap the yarns around a pair of warp threads. Do this in a horizontal line, knot by knot, until you've gone across the entire width of the foundation. Then take your weft yarn, making a pass or two after the row of knots, beat the little suckers down, and begin the next row of pile knots. Continue this process, making hundreds
no, thousandsof little knots, and at some point in the process you'll see that you're making a rug.

The Modern Method.  Go to the souk and purchase the dyed wool you need for your project, or obtain the goods from your workshop supervisor. Paying close attention to the cartoon or the chanted talim, make row after tedious row of knots. Produce slight variations on the same designs in complementary colors to sell at Macy's in matched sets.

Okay. All levity aside, there are beautiful rugs made with both methods. Neither method is superior in terms of quality or durability; it's the artistic and ethnographic authenticity that are in question.  Quality is more objective, but beauty is, more often than not, in the eye of the beholder. It all depends on what you're looking for.

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Text ©1997-2013 Tracy Davis