Nepalese rugs each start with the finest wool. Wool which can only be found in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet. It is this region where indigenous tibetan nomads roam the grasslands to herd yaks and sheep. The nomadic families make their income from selling these same products: animal meat, wool, butter and wool. The "Tibetan Planes" have been inhabited for over 15,000 years with evidence of livestock dating back to over 4,000 years ago. It is here on these planes that mark the very beginning of the rug process where the high altitude and harsh conditions produce coarse, thick and durable sheep wool. Here the wool is sheared, bundled and shipped to the Kathmandu, Nepal.
After the sheep are sheared, the raw wool is packaged and shipped to Kathmandu. There it is washed and cleaned removing the dirt and thorns. Once washed, the natural wool is be separated and divided by it naturally ranging white to brown colors. Lastly, the cleaned and separated wool is hand spun into long strands which are bunched into loops.
Each workshop has its own dye master charged with creating the perfectly dyed yarn. Using Swiss made chemicals and compounds, they mix by hand, like a baker, each individual ARS or custom color. There is no automation to this process, it is all done entirely by hand and eye while working off of recipes stored in mountains of handwritten recipe notebooks.
Once the dyes are prepared, they are mixed with water and heated to prespecified temperatures. The uncolored yarn is then put onto a simple hand-cranked, spinning mechanism, which keeps the yarn slowing moving to keep color consistent. The master dyer must check the color of the pot yarn vs the sample yarn, adding and subtracting dye to make a perfect match.
While the dyes are being created, the designers use software to translate the rug design into a knot-by-knot map of the rug. The life size map is printed and hand colored before being brought to the weavers. Creating this map takes one to two days.
This map is becomes the instructions for the weavers. While a rug is being woven, the graph is pinned to the loom, so that its directions can be read off. A few inches a day are completed as one weaver or many weavers begin tying a knot around a pair of warp threads and the metal rod, pulling them tight and repeating the process until he or she comes to the end of the line or needs to change color. The process is dictated by the graph - the master plan for the design - which the weaver follows from the bottom upwards.
Once completed, the rugs are washed with water and a small amount of detergent. The rugs are washed on both sides; soap and water are squeezed through the pile with wooden paddles. The washing process causes the rigs to shrink a small amount which is why they need to be stretched in the final dying process. The outdoor sundrying process takes three to four days depending on the season and temperature. Because the sundrying can add a slight hue of yellow to the whitest of whites, we dry the lighter runs indoors in the shade to maintain the exact color match.
All rugs requires neat finishing which are done with Tibetan Scissors. The fine hairline carving is done along the contours of the different colors to promote color differentiation. This process is all undertaken by hand. Hand shearing is to an exact level – it’s a very skilled and specialist job – so that the final pile is smooth with an overall effect. Designs that call for a variation in pile depth are more complicated; different sections must be sheared to different levels for a more three-dimensional effect.