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Digital transfusion into traditional realms

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Digital infusion into traditional realms

The computerization of carpet weaving graphs is helping revive the carpet industry in Kashmir. Traditionally the graphs were designed meticulously by hand by master craftsmen. Haroon Mirani reports.

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Srinagar, Kashmir
Feb 28, 2006:

Driven out by stiff competition and falling prices, the centuries old hand woven Kashmiri carpet industry is trying to infuse a new life with the help of hi tech computer designing and modern weaving technologies.

The credit goes to Srinagar branch of Indian institute of carpet technology (IICT), which has seamlessly blended the continuity of this old art of carpet weaving into the fold of digital technology.

Traditionally Kashmiri carpets are designed by master craftsmen by hand onto a graph paper, which is later converted into a set of codes called tale’em, a time consuming process. The weavers weave the carpet while deciphering the tale’em codes of design. Many a times the lack of designs would hamper the on time delivery of carpets, costing the craftsmen dearly.

But now thanks to the new software, Naqash (designer) designed by a local software engineer, Ashfaq, the entire process has been computerised and in turn simplified.

Zubair Ahmad Mir, Deputy Director at IICT Srinagar, explains the benefits of this software, “Earlier designing was a cumbersome process, but now an artisan can create a design in a couple of days and get the result as the printouts of tale’em”. “Nothing has changed” he ascertains “only we have replaced the pencil and paper with mouse and keyboard”.

The software has been a boon for artisans, as well as the customers. The artisan can preview the design, which earlier was impossible. He can modify the pattern with the help of 16 million colours available in the software.

“Even we can convert a photograph into the tale’em of any dimensions, with all the details intact, an unthinkable process earlier” says Ghulam Mohammed Dar 61, an artisan with 38 years of experience in traditional designing.

Dar believes modern technology will revolutionise the carpet industry, one of the biggest export earners for the state, with exports to tune of INR 5 billion annually. The software has also thrown open the option to realise the dream of custom-made carpets. A customer can order any design and any dimensional carpet, which will be made with simplicity.

“The software has also helped reconstruct hundreds of lost carpet designs, says Mir “and to ensure their preservation, we are building a design bank, which will store thousands of rare designs that are on verge of extinction”. Mir adds.

More than 200,000 workers are currently engaged in this highly unorganised sector in the Jammu and Kashmir. With stiff competition from Pakistan and China, Kashmiri carpets had been loosing its share of global markets. Dwindling prices have forced the artisans to look for other avenues.

Known for their designs and high knottage these hand made Kashmiri carpets can take months to years in making. These carpets are valued at anywhere from 50,000 to 1000,000 INR. Their proud owners include Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, late Pope John Paul II, former Beatle Paul McCartney, former US president Bill Clinton, pop star Madonna and Microsoft's co-founder Bill Gates. The institute has also modified the traditional handloom of Kashmir, used for carpet weaving.

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