Written by Paul Hagen

Weaving a Tale

Photography Courtesy Perennials India

“WE HAD THIS GREAT YARN that we used to weave our fabric,” explains Sutherland and Perennials COO Chris Morris. But what else could they do with this spectacularly soil-resistant fiber? The answer would change the lives of hundreds around the village of Manjusar—about three-quarters of the way up India’s western coast. Today, it’s the home of Perennials India. But it started with the simple desire to make great rugs.

Their Skills, Their Selves

India’s generations-long history of rug-weaving made it a natural choice. However, the local relationship to this once time-honored work had grown complicated. Most weavers could earn only a meager sum. “People would remark, ‘What will you achieve from this? Will this help you build your future? Weaving will lead you nowhere.’ ” remembers Shivmohan Yadav. Fellow weaver Pramod Yadav could not afford to pay for his children’s education or even groceries. But their situations were about to change. “Once we decided to do it ourselves, it was important to do it the right way,” says Callie Mooney. The Perennials Global Product Director prefers the simpler title “Rug Lady.” Mooney remembers touring the area with Ann Sutherland early on. “We were looking at potential housing,” Mooney recalls. Sutherland questioned the quality of a door. When told it was standard, “she said, ‘I don’t care if it’s standard. It should be something that we would want to live in as well.’”

So, they built a campus where all could hold their heads high. “It’d be hard not to be proud of what you’re doing when you walk into that facility,” Mooney says. Workers clock in via retinal scanners. And the near-immaculate white floor is a far cry from the dirt pits in which they’d weave at home.

Weave This Way

Weavers arrive with a variety of skill levels. But even the most experienced need training to adapt to the fiber texture, equipment, and other specifications. But most tend to stick to their specialties, such as Tibetan knot or flat weaving.

Once trained, each will work on crafting approximately three square feet of textile at a time. The same artisan will return to that section until it is complete, like painters to canvases. There is no second shift that picks up where the last weaver left off.

As each concentrates on his section, he must be aware of his fellow weavers. “Everyone has to be in sync,” explains Mooney. “When they’re pulling that bar back and packing that yarn—if the guy on the right has been working out more or the guy on the left is sleepy that day—the width won’t be the same.” On simpler designs, weavers might accomplish eight to sixteen inches per day. But abstract patterns or subtle gradients may grow no more than three inches in that time.

Finishing Touches

When rugs leave the loom, most are unrecognizable before the finishers. These artisans trim to reveal the extraordinary patterns that lie beneath. Both Mooney and Morris are quick to credit Amol Biniwale, managing director of Perennials India, for the quality of these creations and success of their makers.

The makers appreciate it, as well. “After I joined Perennials, my life has changed for the better,” says Pramod Yadav. “Perennials is like my newfound family.”

Perennials may even be helping reverse attitudes toward rug-making. “Coming to Perennials, I got the chance to practice my craft,” says Sarfaraz Alam, “Perennials has nurtured me and helped bring out the true artist within me.” It’s one more of many beautiful side effects made possible by simply setting out to make some rugs.

Photo: Labyrinthine patterns like the Walkabout or the Maze Crazy Drop Stitch may be unrecognizable when removed from the loom until they are properly coiffured by a finisher. Like weavers, finishers have specialties in which they train, and their painstaking work can reveal complex patterns like this Whirlpools Tibetan Knot.

Photo: “You get a sense of the quality of the rug when you flip it over,” explains Morris. Where other manufacturers may “fake it” by altering the front, Perennials rugs “look great from the back, as well.” That’s true whether it’s being checked for quality in India (above) or at home in your warren.