Dhurries; What, Where, How?
“The charm of the dhurrie lies in its simple treatment of the decorative details, and the principles of symmetry repetition”
Dhurries are functional, decorative and extremely durable. These cotton rugs are made by weaving horizontal and vertical threads.
In the C19th Dhurrie manufacturing entered a new phase, which led to several exhibitions of dhurries in Europe and India. The first major Industrial exhibition in Europe promoting international trade and manufacture was the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, London 1851.
Weaving was originally divided into three distinct categories:
Private Workshops in towns. This category was predominantly driven by the British owned cotton mills.
Prison There was fierce competition between the private industries and prison workshops and inter-jail rivalry. This category was pioneered by the Maharajas who wanted to ensure the inmates had a skill and a way of making money once they were released and had the added bonus of helping make prisons a little more profitable with the sale of the Dhurries. The practice of prison dhurrie production still continues today and many of the prisoners are in fact paid for their skills.
Village This tradition is still passed from mother to daughter and is an integral part of village life for women. Originally the cotton was hand spun by the women with the yarns being sent to be dyed by men.
India is renowned for its vibrant colours and the natural dyes produced gave subtle, even colours which faded equally when exposed to light. Some colours and dyes were specific to certain areas so can be used to age and identify original dhurries. Chemical dyeing which was introduced in the C19th produced harsher colours, although much cheaper to produce, they don’t age as well as the vegetable dyes. Since the 1990s, and mainly through Western demand, attempts have been made to reintroduce natural dyeing by craftsmen.
Originally, cotton was hand spun on a wooden spinning wheel called a charka. It is a laborious and time-consuming task in which everyone participates, often sustaining village economy and traditional lifestyle. This craft continues today. Although rare, woollen dhurries can still be found though they are now made primarily for export. These were originally made for the Northern regions of India and Pakistan where the climate is much cooler.
Gul/Medallion 55493 There is the never-ending medallion design which covers a dhurrie or the smaller design with a central row of medallions or one central large medallion. Guls were derived from a lotus blossom motif and were a particularly prevalent design in the late C19th. 55479, to the right, is an example of ‘hooked’ guls.
Inexperienced weavers often started with a simple striped dhurrie before incorporating more colours and more intricate designs. Striped dhurries have always been favoured by the British who have been importing them for centuries. Striped dhurries were regularly used as underlay for the more intricate and expensive carpets and rugs in palaces.
Weavers often graduated onto geometric designs after learning how to weave striped dhurries. Geometric designs would often incorporate emblems or architectural decorations from within the palace or fort the dhurrie resided. The tile design features heavily within this geometric category (55488) and a ‘tile’ design dhurrie was used as the backdrop of the Indian pavilion at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Stylised birds, in particular, peacocks can often be found portrayed in dhurries as these birds are very auspicious in Indian culture. Wealthy families would commission extravagant pictorial dhurries as a way of displaying their wealth.
Flooring – Used as a floor covering during cooler months or outside for festivals and social gatherings.
Prayer – Both the Hindu and Muslim faiths rely on the Dhurrie as a form of prayer mat.
Contemporary Interiors – Over the years the dhurrie has become less functional and more decorative. These rugs have had a resurgence of late as they lend themselves to contemporary interiors with their fresh colours and geometric patterns.