Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 1 April 2020

The humble carpet weaver bringing Afghan tradition to Dubai

Abdul Rahman was taught how to perfect the intricacies of rug making by his mother more than two decades ago

Abdul Rahman, an Afghani carpet maker, weaves centuries-old, intricate designs at his stall in Global Village, Dubai. Leslie Pableo / The National
Abdul Rahman, an Afghani carpet maker, weaves centuries-old, intricate designs at his stall in Global Village, Dubai. Leslie Pableo / The National

Hunkered down in front of a large wooden frame, Abdul Rahman tucks his bare feet underneath himself to act as a cushion.

The way he sits, while awkward to most, is how he works best.

Most days, the 34-year-old stays sitting in this position for up to 10 hours, weaving and knotting spectacular woollen carpets.

He was taught how to perfect the intricacies of rug making when he was just a boy, back home in his native Afghanistan.

The National met Abdul at Global Village in Dubai where he spends five months a year selling his wares.

Visitors can watch as he weaves — his lines of wool stretching the full length of his loom, the wooden structure used to entwine the tapestry.

Clutching a metal hooked knife, Abdul cuts and trims the continuous loop known as the warp. A weft, or horizontal thread, is then weaved in to hold the line of knots in a straight line.

“My hands are the machine,” says Abdul, as he explains his preference for handcrafted tools and equipment over modern machinery.

“I don’t like to work in factories because they create too much pollution.

“I was 12 my mother first taught me how to weave. My four brothers learnt how to make carpets too, it is a family tradition.”

I work on [one carpet] every day, 10 hours a day, for three whole months. I don’t get aches and pains any more, my body is used to sitting for long hours

Abdul Rahman, Afghani carpet weaver

The men and women of Afghanistan have been entwining handmade rugs this way for thousands of years.

For the most part, the craftsmanship used to manufacture these rugs has changed very little, despite the onset of modern technology.

Abdul has been practicing the art for more than 20 years, spending about 80,000 hours perfecting the trade he loves.

And over the decades, Afghanistan’s complex past has influenced their designs.

In the 1980s, floral arrangements and natural landscapes made way for images that told a tale of conflict and suffering. Portraits of life as a refugee life were often depicted on carpets weaved during the Soviet-Afghan war.

Abdul Rahman, an Afghani carpet maker, weaves centuries-old, intricate designs at his stall in Global Village, Dubai. Leslie Pableo / The National
Abdul Rahman can sit in the same position weaving a carpet for 10 hours a day. Leslie Pableo / The National

Every year, Abdul makes about four carpets measuring six by nine feet. Each contains more than seven hundred thousand knots; knots weaved by Abdul’s hands alone.

“One like this takes about three months to weave,” he says, pointing to a carpet he has been working on for 20 days.

“I will work on it every day, 10 hours a day, for three whole months. I don’t get aches and pains any more, my body is used to sitting for long hours.” A carpet this size costs about Dh1,000.

Bunches of coloured wool hang from Abdul's loom.

Abdul Rahman, an Afghani carpet maker, weaves centuries-old, intricate designs at his stall in Global Village, Dubai. Leslie Pableo / The National
Abdul Rahman makes a traditional carpet at his stall in Global Village. Leslie Pableo / The National

Brought to Dubai from his village in the province of Jowzjan, which borders Turkmenistan to Afghanistan's north, the hanging yarn comes from Afghan Arabi, a breed of domesticated sheep reared on his family farm.

Used primarily for meat production, the sheep's wool is of carpet quality.

Shades of reds, greens, oranges and browns are made using natural dyes from wheat, fruits and vegetables including carrots, barley and pomegranate.

“My mother and wife help to dye the wool,” he says.

“We usually grow the produce at home, but if we don’t have the food we need for certain colours, we will buy them from local farmers.”

Though a carpet maker by trade, Abdul’s skills stretch far beyond textiles. He has made the tools and loom he works with himself.

Effortlessly stringing and knotting thousands of threads together, he uses a beating comb to compact each line seamlessly.

A larger, chunkier version of the traditional hair comb, the “beater” is made of wood and metal. A tightly woven rug exudes true quality, he says.

Although Abdul uses centuries-old techniques to produce bespoke carpets for customers, he breaks character and pulls out his smartphone.

Scanning through his picture gallery, he proudly shows off pictures of his designs from years gone by, including a powerful portrait of the UAE’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed.

Updated: December 21, 2019 06:35 PM

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