Understanding Talim: Rug Weaving Code
We all appreciate the beauty and artistry that goes into making fine, hand woven rugs and carpets, but what about the technical details that take the weavers from the design to the completed rug?
If you step into a carpet factory, you hear the rhythmic sound of the looms. You see the delicately shaded colors of the threads. And working amid this sound and color, each worker weaves and knots, making carpets and rugs the way it has been done for thousands of years. Fine handmade rugs and carpets are hand-knotted on a frame formed by the warp and weft threads. The warp threads run vertically through the rug and are attached to the top and the bottom of the loom. The weft threads run horizontally through the rug and are used to secure the knots. A wool strand, tied to a pair of warp threads, forms a knot and the loose ends of the knots are called the pile. Confused? Just remember that wefts go from “weft” to right, instead of up and down.
Watching a weaver can be fascinating and hypnotic. When in the process of making a carpet, the weaver takes a strand of wool, ties it across a pair of warp threads, and cuts the end of the strand. This process is completed so swiftly and skillfully and it is almost impossible for the average person to follow. After one or more weft threads are woven in and out, the weft threads and knots are beaten down with a tool called a ‘comb.” Excess yarn is then trimmed with a pair of scissors. Hundreds and hundreds of times, using only simple tools, the weaver repeats this pattern until, at last, the carpet is complete. The variety of fine rugs and carpets is endless, but carpets of all sizes, made from wool, silk, or a mixture of both, begin with a talim.
The practice of creating the talim originated in making Kani shawls. When the shawl weavers changed to carpet weaving, they creating this practice. Although the talim may be only a small part of weaving a rug, creating the talim requires experience and skill, as a minor flaw in the talim could ruin months of work on a carpet. Keep in mind that two people working on the loom can easily require about a year to finish a handmade 4ft x 6ft carpet. The lost time spent in labor, not to mention the materials, means even a small mistake can be costly.
Today the knowledge of talim is rare and only a few weavers can decode the language In some areas, the talim is communicated with a chant, or a melody like a song. A weaver seated at each end of the loom will follow the chanted instructions which tell them which colors to use for each knot. To prepare a talim, first the design is drawn on a grid of graph paper. Each square is divided into 25 sections, each representing one knot, and colors are marked on the design. Then a Talim Guru prepares the talim into strips of written codes. A design may have hundreds of strips, depending on the size, designs and colors used. These strips may be mounted on a board or held in a plastic casing for safety.
Although little known, writing and decoding talim is an old and valuable skill. Weaving a rug requires not only the precision and manual skills of working at the loom, but also requires knowing precisely which thread goes where. Such skillful attention to detail gives us beautiful, handmade rugs which are prized both as household items and as works of culture and art.