The making of a John Lewis rug

In the rural town of Sri Perumbadur, just outside of Chennai, a small production unit is producing hand knotted and cut rugs. The factory is apparently the last hand knotting rug company in south India (the majority of rug manufacturing taking place in the north) and employs mainly women.

The organisation is an example of business supporting women’s empowerment in India. There is a convent and school next door to the factory which is financed by a trust set up by the company and offers free schooling and childcare to employees.

During a visit to their factory last month, I had a go at knotting a rug, sitting at the loom with other workers. There is a certain knack to twisting the wool around the warp thread. But once I knew what I was doing I got into a rhythm – I can imagine it being quite therapeutic and relaxing. However, I managed to cause a panic being a bit carefree with the cutting blade – I didn’t realise it was so sharp!

The rugs are made from 100% New Zealand wool. Once knotted, they are trimmed down to flatten the tufts and create a blank canvas. The pattern outline is marked out before the real cutting begins, using scissors to remove sections of the rug and create the raised surface effect. It would be easy to think this was done by some kind of machine; if I hadn’t witnessed for myself the true craftsmanship I would not believe it! The pattern shown is Greek Key and the cutting process takes a day to complete one design.

The unit produces a variety of rugs and work on bespoke project for overseas clients, however the Greek Key has been their mainstay product over the years, being sold exclusively to John Lewis in the UK.  John Lewis send a representative out to visit the unit regularly, and seem extremely committed to supporting small scale producers.

You can see the rugs on the John Lewis website, CLICK HERE

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