Back in January 2015, Gwen Repeta sat beside a rug designer-in-training at Bunyaad’s office in Lahore, Pakistan and watched him work. As they chatted, Repeta, Winnipeg’s store manager and Canada Rug Program coordinator, noticed how he drew the same small pattern over and over again on graph paper, trying to perfect it.
Eventually, his mentor reached across the table, turned the design around – and promptly erased the whole thing, gently urging him to try again.
“I was thinking, ‘I don’t want that job!’” she says months later, laughing.
That incident is indicative of the sheer amount of artistic talent, quality control and even physical labour that goes into each and every fair trade rug that comes out of the Bunyaad facility. And although many of us probably guess the majority of the time and energy is spent tying the thousands of tiny knots at the loom, that’s only half the story.
“It’s a huge job. It can take many months for fixing, straightening, binding, stretching and shearing,” says Repeta.
So, exactly how much work really goes into a Bunyaad rug? Here’s the reality: at least a dozen artists, knotters, washers and others will have touched each one that comes to our Winnipeg, MB and Oakville, ON stores or travels across the country for rug events. Some rugs will be months or even years on a loom before they’re touched by anyone else.
Here are only some of the steps it takes for a rug to take shape:
A master designer spends weeks or months creating the design, drawing out the pattern on graph paper, and then uses it to make a special “rug language” called a talam.
- Fairly paid adults – often women in their own homes – take the talam and follow the directions at their looms and hand-knot the rug.
- Small mistakes are marked and fixed.
- Rugs are washed thoroughly. And we mean thoroughly! It can take over an hour of hard scrubbing to get the dust and debris out of the rug.
- Rugs dry for at least a week outside. If it rains, it’s back to the drawing board.
- Knots are painstakingly moved back into formation to create the perfect shape.
- Experts take large scissors and shear each rug – very carefully – and the back is burned to eliminate straggly bits.
“We assume the rug comes off the loom and gets washed, sheared and is ready to go, explains Repeta. “No. Not by a long shot.”