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From Embroidery to Embroidered Carpets
The Hunza Carpet Innovative Initiative

The vision of Hunza Carpet sparked off in 1995, when the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme generously provided the services of an international specialist on natural dyes.  Traditional weaving in Hunza has historically been very basic - limited to a few senior citizens making coarse goat and yak hair rugs. This new initiative transformed the carpet landscape of Hunza by training young people, and giving them the opportunity to share the benefits of cultural tourism.

Within a year, a nucleus of 15 young trainees - under the tutelage of Turkmen master weavers - themselves became master trainers. Since 1996, more than 250 women have been trained in Carpet and Soumak rug weaving. A team of qualified designers and dyers ensures a consistently high product quality. It is a tribute to the dignity of Hunza people that no child labour is used during production, wages remain fair, and the training of weavers continues. These exemplary pieces of textile art are being exclusively marketed at the Hunza Carpet Show Room in Hunza Karimabad and through an intimate network of friends and family members in Europe and North America.

Carpet making in Hunza is powered by a secret weapon - embroidery. Without this traditional knowledge, carpet-making would perhaps never have taken off. Embroidery is an ancient tradition in Hunza, where women originally made pillbox caps for their personal use. These caps were embroidered with Chinese silk brought to Hunza through the Silk Route on caravans, double hump Bactrian camels, alpine yaks and horses over the Mintaka and Kilik passes from Chinese Turkestan. Women also fashioned silk wedding veils with the skills of fine embroidery and crochet work. In the 1970s, the construction of the Karakorum Highway through Hunza brought with it the easy availability of acrylic threads from the urban centres of Pakistan coupled with a burgeoning demand from the nascent local tourist market. Unfortunately, the increased volume of demand resulted in a marked deterioration in the quality of work.

Determined to stem this decline and to revive the quality of the original workmanship, the Hunza Carpet team set out to re-introduce natural dyes and real silk thread, coupling this approach with authentic and sensitive guidance. This helped create a friendly family-type environment and ensured a respectable source of income for women while simultaneously presenting them with the opportunity to express their artistic skills. The resulting creations grace the homes of visitors just like you to Hunza from all across the world.

Today, in order to promote sales and create further avenues and markets, educated women artisans are being trained to embroider and weave with new perspectives that diverge significantly from their traditional motifs, but address their high level of skill. The work is more challenging, as the departure from tradition requires increased rigour. Hunza women have risen to the occasion and now produce a wide variety of non-traditional work, ranging from artistic Islamic and Anatolian kilim designs to completely avant-garde works of modern artists. Through this innovative practice, the women are exposed to design, art, and culture from various regions of the world. At the same time, they continue to recreate old and previously forgotten local designs found on women's caps, wedding veils and other decorative embroideries.

Embroidery and Stitching Types in Hunza

Fine Hunza embroidery with silk thread is traditionally known as erāghi, and is composed of the cross or roll stitch, or a combination of the two. A more rustic form with thicker woolen thread also uses similar stitching, and is known as charsuta chuk. Qalmi is yet another form of silk thread embroidery which employs long and short stitches to create floral designs. Finally, silver or golden threads (collectively called qalabātu) are used in a form of metal thread embroidery known as zardōzi.

Motifs of Hunza Embroidery

Most of the designs in erāghi represent wild animals and their paw prints, birds, leaves and body parts of insects. Examples of the traditional motifs include turangkish (Ibex horns), tamuts (Snow leopard) urki itsu (wolf's foot) kishtimuts (boat), herimani chuk (millipede). Some of these motifs can be seen in older (more than a hundred years) carpets and textiles from Khotan and Yarkand, and in embroidered wedding veils from Central Asia.

The journey to revive, experiment, and innovate will continue at Hunza Carpet. Their endeavours have been possible with the support and encouragement of friends from around the world, which include artists, museum directors, scholars, dignitaries, and other professionals. It has also provided a valuable source of income for hundreds of artisans in the Hunza valley who are dependent on this craft for their livelihood.

With each object you buy, you take a piece of Hunza with you, secure in the knowledge that you have helped bring prosperity to the women of Hunza, while encouraging their creativity, skill and work.

Please do ask for a guided tour to the dyeing pits and weaving halls, so you can see authentic creativity in action.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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