RUG-WEAVING in the Orient is an industry that, until recent years, has been carried on almost exclusively by women and girls. From childhood to womanhood, and on to old age, these weavers are at work. Girls of six years of age help their mothers, until they become experienced by long practice. Even ladies of rank and wealth weave rugs of fine quality for their own homes. In some districts, besides weaving for the market, girls weave one or two rugs for their dowry; this purpose furnishes them with enough excitement to keep them interested in their work and ambitious to excel. Now that there is a greater demand for rugs, and not enough women to supply the demand, men and boys have come into the business, but generally only in places where there are large factories, and especially in the cities. This is noticeably the case in India, where boys from nine to fifteen years of age do much of the weaving.
There are two classes of weavers, the sedentary and the nomadic. The former weave in their houses during the Winter, and in their courtyards during the Summer. The nomads spend the Winter in mud villages, and in the Summer go to the mountains with their flocks and live in tents made of goat’s hair. The manner of life of the sedentary weaver works havoc with her constitution even in her youth ; and consequently one is not surprised at her frail appearance. In Summer she is oppressed with heat as she sits before the frame, and in Winter she is almost frozen, for she has to work in the open air in order to have sufficient light. Hers is not an easy life. It would be pleasant to believe that in her toil, which she carries on with wondrous patience and in the hum-blest surroundings, the conscientious weaver finds the same inward satisfaction that comes to the true artist elsewhere.
The duties of the male portion of the family are to tend the flocks, shear the sheep, separate the various qualities of the wool into bundles, dye it, and make the framework for the rug. With the extension of the industry, a class of workers has arisen whose sole task is to manipulate and dye the wool for use. The reason why men do not usually weave is that the occupation, besides not being a paying one, requires an amount of patience not within the power of men accustomed to work out of doors. Nor is it a remunerative occupation. The reader, who is perhaps also a prospective rug-buyer, may be interested in the following calculation of the amount of labor bestowed upon a given piece of the best type, the cost of the materials, and its value when completed. A square foot of the best Persian rug is worth about ten dollars, and it takes a single weaver twenty-three days to complete this portion. This allows the weaver about forty-four cents per day for her wool and her labor ; but as three-fourths of this amount goes to pay for the wool, only eleven cents per day is left for her labor. The wages of the producer of the inferior article are somewhat better. A square foot of an inferior rug is sold for about sixty cents, and the time required for weaving it is but two days, thus allowing the weaver thirty cents per day for her wool and labor. She uses inferior wool, washes but little of it, and pays only a nominal sum for a cheap dye. The framework of her loom costs comparatively little, as the rug it produces is from twenty to thirty times the size of the superior rug. Thus it appears that, in the long run, the inferior weaver is better paid than the one who fatigues her brain with her efforts to produce a rug of the best quality. On the other hand, the weaver of the superior fabric has advantages which the other has not. As a general rule, she weaves to order, and is paid for her work in advance. This prepayment is of great importance, considering the poverty of the weaver. The situation of the weaver of the inferior article differs in that she has to buy her wool, dye it, finish her rug, and then watch the market for buyers.
The weavers live on the simplest fare ; bread, cheese, and a raw onion make an average meal. In some districts the weavers have to work in underground huts, for the air at the surface is so dry that the threads would lose all their elasticity out of doors. In these under-ground places the weavers produce enough moisture by keeping at hand utensils full of water.
Although the business is conducted with the manufacturer on a strictly commercial basis, it is very difficult to induce the weavers to keep their appointments and finish a rug at the time it is promised. In India, for example, the weavers are very superstitious ; and if a boy weaver be taken ill, the entire force on that loom will stop until he recover. If he die, the entire force of native weavers may be changed. This of course causes vexatious delay, not only of days, but often of weeks and months.
( Originally Published Late 1900’s )