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Khotan Rugs - Weaving Traditions

Updated on October 7, 2011
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Antique Khotan Rugs

The ancient oasis town of Khotan in the Tarim Basin was a crossroad on the southernmost branch of the fabled Silk Road, famous among merchant caravans for its fine jades and silks as well as for its beautiful rugs and carpets. Khotan is one of the places visited by the famous Venetian merchant traveler Marco Polo in the 13th century AD.

Khotan rug weaving traditions are very ancient. Archeologists have found pile carpet fragments at Buddhist sites that date back to the third century AD. By the ninth century, invading Turkic tribes from the west forced the local population’s conversion from Buddhism to Islam, but the Buddhist-inspired carpet weaving tradition lived on. The carpets themselves became popular items of trade along the Silk Road.

In the 18th century, the Tarim Basin was invaded by and trade to the west was officially cut off. Commercial carpets continued to make their way out of Khotan through the mountains into Russia, but by the time they reached the European markets, they were summarily renamed Samarkand carpets after the Central Asian city that was home to the world’s largest carpet market. Many antique Khotan carpets, therefore, remain misidentified to this day.

Some Khotan rugs were made from silk, but the majority were wool pile knotted around a cotton warp. A characteristic trait of the Khotan rug or carpet is that for every row of knotted pile, two or three shoots of weft were typically added. These asymmetric knots give the pile on Khotan rugs and carpets a Far Eastern quality. The highest quality rugs and carpets have 1,200 knots per inch.

Designs and patterns reflected the motifs of many different cultures with Chinese, Tibetan, Mughal, Persian and Turkish influences predominating. Arabesques, diamonds and flowers were borrowed from the Indian Mughal carpet weavers to the south, while the popular repeating medallion motifs were reminiscent of the carpets of Anatolia, Iran and India. The dyes were mostly the yellow, brown and earth tones produced by locally available plants, supplemented occasionally with bright dyes imported from Kashmir.

Khotan rugs and carpets were woven both in homes and in large workshops. Several women would work at one time on a carpet project, often taking as long as four months to complete a large piece.

Today, Khotan is called Hotan, and is a small town within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. The carpet-weaving tradition still persists although many traditional carpet making techniques have been lost and synthetic dyes are used. Carpet makers work from Chinese and Uyghur designs. A large Khotan carpet measuring 50 by 65 feet hangs on the wall of the Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, while others have begun making their way once again to the shops and emporiums of the west.


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