We’ve been exploring new ground with the craft technique of Namda – traditional hand felted wool rugs from Kashmir.
It is a very laborious and smelly process. For the uninitiated, it is a series of sneezes and a cold that lasts the week! But the “namda” families carry on regardless. They are some of the most underpaid artisans in the valley, the rug itself costs a pittance while the embroiderers, who belong to a different sect earn three times as much. The middleman and the retailer earn the most and even then, you can buy a 4′ x 6′ piece for as little at 3000 rupees!!
It takes days to sort the smelly wool freshly sheared off sheep, wash it several times with soap and oil, beat it out to dry, wash it again, spread it in layers with wet sacking in between and then roll, unroll, roll, unroll, while on one’s knees, putting your whole body to work, often in synch with a fellow roller kneeling alongside.
After a few days of drying and washing and drying again, this rug is trimmed and beaten flat. It is then embroidered and given a final finishing. A long and laborious process indeed but the rugs are beautiful and keep you extremely warm in winter.
The Bakarwal women at Shepherdcrafts embroider free form designs during winter when they are safe and warm in their homes south of Jammu in the districts of Rajouri and Poonch. To keep the shepherd women’s embroidery traditions alive, these women have been encouraged to apply their art to locally made cotton too. It takes a woman a month to embroider a rug covering the entire surface with her stitches. The design and colours are entirely of their own choice. They take home to their campsites plain rugs and wool and appear in a month with marvels that can brighten up a dull day!
Here are some of the rugs they’ve embroidered.