Handmade Carpets — are they Art?

Camel with handmade carpets

Handmade carpets are special not because I am selling them but because they are real art. If you’ve seen any of handmade carpets you’ll know that they have various designs, patterns, colours, symbolism and meaning. This cannot just be a floor covering, can it?

We often consider paintings as great pieces of art but handmade carpets are the real art. A great painting no one can deny the beauty, colours and composition. I studied art. I know all about oil painting. I love it. However, no one can ever walk on the painting. An oil painting can never be used other than an oil painting on the wall.

Handmade carpet, however, has two purposes: one it’s a floor covering and two it’s a piece of art. All handmade carpets from Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan are made from natural ingredients, wool, silk and vegetable dyes are used to create the most vibrant colours. My final year exam was a knotted “painting” at an art school.

Little did I know years later I’d get involved in selling handmade carpets online and in Barcelona. I digress. Handmade carpets are not machine made — there’s a huge difference between the two. I won’t get into the details as I have written about it in my other blog post.

One of the biggest differences (there are many) the longevity of the handmade carpet compared to machine made. It also takes a lot longer to make a handmade carpet than the machine made.

Lots of different colours

What is art in handmade carpets?

Handmade carpets, you’ll notice, have a pattern or design or a motive or something to distinguish the weaver from the rest. It usually contains either geometric designs or complex realms of artistic content and symbolism.

For instance, at La Galeria del Califa you’ll find handmade kilims that depict many tribes living in the Iranian region, some will strictly be Turkmen geometric handmade carpets.

It’s fascinating to analyse the symbolism and geometric designs in the handmade carpet because it offers a real insight into the history and the weaver’s skills. Needless to say, each handmade carpet has some irregularities, some are more noticeable others not so much.

Reading the meaning and understanding the symbolism of a handmade carpet can be pleasurable but it can also be frustrating. There are so many books, so many experts claiming this or that. However, knowing where the handmade carpet is from and who made it is a great start and filled with truth.

I have found a book “How to Read Islamic Carpets” when it comes to ‘reading’ carpets it says:

“The interpretation of carpet symbolism should be based at the very least on the preponderance of the credible evidence and, better still, on the stricter standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Like an art piece same as a handmade carpet it’s very much at a person’s discretion to analyse, “read” and understand the meaning of the painting or indeed a handmade carpet. The artists or a weaver, sets a design, pattern composition and style to create a piece of art.

To me it makes no difference if it’s a painting or a handmade carpet. The only difference it’s the purpose and use of it. Handmade carpets are not just symbols, geometric designs and patterns but they also consists of various colours.

The colours a weaver chooses it can have a secret meaning. In all handmade carpets the colours are achieved by using natural vegetable dyes. Therefore, the colours last incredibly long.

The meaning of colours in the handmade carpets

If you know a little bit about handmade carpets you’ll know that colour green is a rare sight. However, colour green is definitely used in handmade carpets and is auspicious. The colour green is rooted in prosperity, balance, health and growth. Prophet's Mohammed (May Peace be Upon Him) favourite colour was green.

Because of this reason not many handmade carpets have such a sacred colour. Some people believe having colour green in a handmade carpet would upset the Prophet (MPBUH). Having said that, some handmade carpets do have amazing green in them. Usually, those handmade carpets tend to have more elaborate designs, intricate details and symbolism.

Colour red, on the other hand, symbolises vitality, fire and passion. The colour red and its shades have been used often to attract attention or to express feelings. This colour is popular in handmade carpets and many shades of red have been used. Colour red also represents fire, blood and strength.

Colour red is very common in many handmade carpets particularly in Turkmen, Bolouch and many others. It usually expresses bold designs with powerful motifs. In Asia, colour red symbolises luck. Many brides choose colour red outfits for their weddings too.

Beyond the handmade carpet symbolism, colours and Islamic World

One of the fascinating facts is Muslims weaved carpets in Spain both before and after the Reconquest 1492. There’s a lot of evidence and documents with proof that Turkish handmade carpets have been used in Christian oil paintings, furnishings and European households.

The Middle East” handmade carpets have been a huge part of European, North American, or what we call it the West households. From “How to Read Islamic Carpets”:

“Carpets of this type, consequently dubbed the “painter” carpets, were exported extensively to Europe over the next the centuries, where they were valued as prized possessions denoting wealth, status and sanctity.”

Therefore, this leads to saying the Islamic handmade carpets have a true materialistic value to the West not only to those who sold them. Little did people know (who owned them) that those carpets are Islamic. There are some interesting Christian paintings and they’d have Islamic handamde carpets.

The most common depictions of handmade carpets history are one - floor coverings to keep the room warmer and two — biblical paintings. Fascinating! If you look closely at the image below you will see an Islamic handmade carpet underneath the feet of the woman.

It’s clearly a Christian gathering of some kind. You can have a read at a more in-depth blog post by my fabulous husband Haseeb Chaudhary on How to Read Hidden Secrets of Islamic Carpets.

Image of a woman with a baby and surrounded by many men praying and Islamic carpet

Handmade carpets and their history is fascanitating to say the least. The past of the handmade carpets and how they’ve been used by others hasn’t changed today. For example, I see Westerners use the Holy Quran book’s holder as a chair, a prayer rug as a door mat not because of the disrespect but because people don’t know what a handmade carpet is same as the photo above.

Do you not go to a shop, gallery, someone’s home and sometimes find an interesting piece? In this instance, a handmade carpet. It usually draws you in, doesn’t it? Then, the conversation goes around where is it from, who made it and how you’ve come to possess it?

There’s so much to a handmade carpet not only to understanding its meaning, colours and designs but also knowing the history of it. Who would have thought there’s so much to a handmade carpet. I certainly didn’t know when I started my journey with handmade carepts. The interest, fascination and awe doesn’t evaporate only increases.

When I read books on handmade carpets it makes me realise nothing has changed since those times. Therefore, if you ever are lucky enough to come across a handmade carpet I hope you get a chance to purchase and add a bit of soul, colour and history to your room, living room and house. More more inspiration you can always go to La Galeria del Califa.

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