On this page you will find comparisons of various types of knotting and / or weaving styles (and, eventually, other information relating to carpets from Tibet, etc, as seen on this web site). One thing that certainly needs to be addressed in the wider carpet world is the unfortunate practice of people, who should know better, describing Chinese woven carpets as ‘Tibetan’, and vice versa; especially so when incorrectly describing the origin in carpet selling circumstances. And yes, although Tibet may now be part of China, the knotting style of a genuine Tibetan knotted carpet is completely different from the knotting style used in all the other regions of China, and for that matter almost every other carpet producing area in the world!
That is, the Tibetan knot is more of a loop than what we would normally think of as an actual knot and is described by Philip Denwood, the pioneering author on Tibetan carpet weaving, as “The ‘Senna Loop’ [not to be confused with the ‘Senna Knot’] is the technique of the Tibetan knotted carpet. Essentially it involves looping sections of the pile yarn from a length held in front of warp threads, behind individual or groups of warp threads, round them and back round a gauge rod” (Denwood, 1974. The Tibetan Carpet, page 91.) and then continuing with same across the carpet. The loops are then cut above the gauge rod leaving only a single node for each loop at the back of the carpet, as opposed to there being two nodes to a single knot in all other regions woven carpets. However, the ‘loop’ style of Tibetan carpet weaving is still referred to as a ‘knotting’ or ‘a knot’. Anyway, we are not going to go into detail regarding the ins and outs (no pun intended) of the different region’s knotting styles, as I am a big believer in a picture being worth a thousand words, so enjoy, and maybe if an uninformed person happens to stumble onto this page they will hopefully learn something re the different knotting styles, and how the genuine Tibetan knot stands apart from all others. Now with that in mind, we often find the back of a carpet tells just as interesting and exciting story as the front – if not more so at times – as sometimes the very intricate weaving styles, even at times with large knots, leaves one in awe and admiration at the artistry and skill of the weaver – and the dyer for that matter – all those years ago.
NOTE: The individual ‘squares’ shown below are all one square inch (i.e. the inside of the metal ‘frame’ is one inch square) on the backs of various carpets. And for all intents and purposes there are 15.5 square inches in one square decimeter, should one care to make that calculation themselves.
The image above displays four separate one inch square areas of the backs (or the underside) of four carpets woven in four different regions of China. Clockwise from left; Tibet (because of the unique ‘cut loop’ technique used for Tibetan knotting, the Tibetan knot, or more precisely the Tibetan ‘loop’, only has one node, that is there are not two sides to the loop / knot as in other region’s carpet knots), Ningxia, Baotou-Suiyuan and Xinjiang. Counting the number of knots per square inch in the various carpets is discussed in more detail further down the page.
The image above displays one inch square areas of the backs of four carpets woven in four different regions of China, with the arrow pointing to just one single knot on the backside (or the underside) of each carpet. Clockwise from upper left; Tibet (Note: because of the unique ‘cut loop’ technique used for Tibetan knotting, the Tibetan knot, or more precisely the Tibetan ‘loop’, only has one node, that is there are not two sides to the loop / knot as in other region’s carpet knots), Ningxia, Baotou-Suiyuan and Xinjiang. (Note: one node / half of each knot in the Xinjiang example is partly ‘off-set’ and ‘sunken’ because of the ‘warp depression’ method used in the weaving process in that region). Counting the number of knots per square inch in the various carpets is discussed in more detail further down the page.
The image above displays a one inch square of the back of six different carpets woven in Tibet, from, top left, a relatively small Tibetan knot with 84kpsi / 1,302kpsdcm (12 knots across x 7 rows – or lines – of knots high = 84 knots per square inch) to, bottom right, a relatively large Tibetan knot with 18kpsi / 279kpsdcm (6 knots across x 3 rows – or lines – of knots high = 18 knots per square inch); and other size variations in between.
The image above displays three separate one inch square areas of the backs (or the underside) of three carpets woven in three other carpet weaving regions of China (besides Tibet), each with a different knot count, that is a different amount of knots per square inch. Left to right; from Xinjiang (with 64 knots per square inch, i.e. 8 knots across x 8 rows – or lines – of knots high), from Baotou-Suiyuan (with 49 knots per square inch, i.e. 7 knots across x 7 rows – or lines – of knots high) and from Ningxia (with 30 knots per square inch, i.e. 6 knots across x 5 rows – or lines – of knots high). Note also the different way the weft lays in each carpet, and how one node / half of each knot is quite ‘depressed’ in the example from Xinjiang.
The image above displays a one inch square of the backs of two carpets, the left woven in the Ningxia region (of China), the right woven in Tibet. Note how on the Ningxia both ‘nodes’ of the back of a knot can be seen, whereas on the Tibetan carpet only one ‘node’ can be seen, the other obscured completely from view. In the Ningxia carpet there are 36kpsi / 558kpsdcm (6 knots wide X 6 rows – or lines – of knots high = 36 knots per square inch), while in the Tibetan there are 43kpsi / 666kpsqdcm (9.5 knots wide x 4.5 rows – or lines – of knots high = 42.75, rounded to 43 knots per square inch.)
The image above displays a one inch square of the backs of a carpet woven in the Ningxia region (of China) on left, and on the right one woven in Tibet. The Ningxia carpet has both warp and weft made of cotton, whereas the one from Tibet in this example has both warp and weft made of wool. [The Ningxia has 6 knots across – and in this example 5 rows high – and shows both the left and right node of the knot, whereas the Tibetan has 9 knots across – and in this example approximately 7 rows high – although only one node of each knot can be seen. Hence when counting knots on Chinese carpets you count every second node across, whereas on a Tibetan carpet you count every node across.]
The image above displays a one inch square of the backs of two carpets woven in Tibet. The carpet on the left has wool warps and a wool wefts, whereas the carpet on the right has cotton warps and a wool wefts.
The image above displays a one inch square of the backs of two carpets woven in Tibet. The carpet on the left has Z-spun wool warps, whereas the carpet on the right has cotton warps that have been Z-spun and then S-plied.
The image above displays a one inch square of the backs of two carpets from Tibet. The one on the left is from a carpet known in Tibet as a Tsuktruk (Tsukdruk) which is somewhat more ‘blanket-like’ with a soft handle, whereas the one on right is from a regular Tibetan carpet. Both have wool warps and wool wefts.
The image above displays a one inch square of the backs of two carpets from Tibet (well, the one on the left is actually an uncut girth strap hole in a saddle carpet). The one on the left has machine spun cotton warps and hand spun wool wefts, whereas the one on the right has hand spun cotton warps and hand spun wool wefts.
The image above displays both hand spun and machine spun cotton; in this case ‘warp’ threads both of which have been Z spun and then S plied. On the the left is the hand spun cotton; note first the irregularity in the thickness of each individual yarn, and hence the irregularity of thickness of each warp thread. This irregularity (in thickness) of each yarn / thread is caused by the variations in the amount of cotton used per yarn when cotton is first spun by hand, and then the individual yarns later plied into a thread (in this case a 7 ply hand spun warp thread). On the right is the machine spun cotton; note the evenness of the both the individual yarns and threads. This evenness / regularity in thickness of both the individual yarn and hence each thread (in this case an 8 ply machine spun warp) is only obtained with automated machine spinning of both the individual ply and then the overall finished thread.
During the 1950’s the Chinese increasingly exerted control over everyday life in Tibet. In March 1959 a massed uprising by Tibetans against this repression took place in the capital Lhasa, at which time the 14th Dalai Lama – Tenzin Gyatso – fearing for his safety and rightly so, fled to exile in India where he was granted political asylum, and remains to this day. His flight set off of a mass exodus of Tibetans, many never to return to their home country. Besides the many Tibetans that followed the Dalai Lama settling in India, many also settled in Nepal, especially in various parts of the Kathmandu valley. From this nucleus Tibetan carpet weaving ‘businesses’ slowly began to be established in Kathmandu, with the weavers making carpets using the Tibetan knotting method. ‘Tibetan’ carpets continue to this day to be woven in Kathmandu and its environs by 2nd and even 3rd generation ‘Nepali Tibetans’, and / or by Nepali people themselves – who prior to the arrival of the Tibetans (in the late 1950’s, and onward) did not have a history of carpet weaving. In this photo, taken circa 1973, three Tibetan refugee women work on knotting a carpet in a workshop on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
A pile of hand spun naturally dyed wool in various colours ready for the loom in a carpet workshop, Bodhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal; circa 2010.
A weaver, circa 2010, sits at her vertical loom in a carpet workshop in Bodhanath, a ‘suburb’ that was once on the very outskirts of Kathmandu (Nepal), but is now just part of the capitals urban sprawl. Note she is using a ‘cartoon’ of the design image drawn to exacting specifications on graph paper – where every square on the graph is equivalent to just one knot – so as to get an exact replica of the design every time this design is reproduced. In days gone by, weavers either copied the design from the back of other carpets or from ‘cartoons’ drawn by hand on parchment; or for a master weaver, sometimes simply from memory. (This is also the reason that with old Tibetan carpets – and produced by any of these latter three ‘methods’ – it is unusual to find any two carpets exactly the same.) For instance, in the picture to the left, note the small oblong drawing just above the center weavers head that simply has the design of the flowers in the ‘medallion’ drawn on it.