Silk and Cashmere and Bugs, Oh My!

Last week I visited a silk rug factory. Actually can you call something a factory if every item produced is made by hand and takes between 4 to 13 months or more to make? When I think of a factory I think mass production and assembly lines.

Shanghai General Carpet Factory was founded in 1921. It produces silk on silk, and silk on cotton rugs and tapestries. A small 2′ x 3′ rug takes 40,000 silk worm cocoons!

Here the factory owner shows us a loom with a rug in progress and all the spools of silk across the top

This is the pattern the weavers use

Close up (and blurry) you can see it looks a lot like a counted cross stitch pattern

Here he was demonstrating that the silk fibers are wrapped around two threads of the warp and knotted, rather than wrapped around one and knotted like on cheaper carpets. This makes for a stronger, tighter carpet.

The rug on the left is silk on cotton, 100 knots/square inch. The one on the right is silk on silk, 625 knots/ square inch. The one on the left is 40% less than the one on the right. The less expensive one is still a beautiful rug.

Here the weaver wraps the red silk coming from the ball under her arm around the white silk strings (the warp) and knots it. She then cuts it with the sharp blade in her right hand, about an inch away from the surface. She will make any where from 5-25 knots/minute depending on her skill and the complexity of the pattern. This is unlike weaving to make cloth, which weaves a shuttle of thread in and out between all the warp threads at once to create a flat fabric.

The tools of the trade

A close up showing the threads before they have been sheared down close.

Some of the rugs are sculpted like the rug on the left above. There is a pattern for the sculpting and it is a very precise and difficult task. Any slip of the very sharp scissors (note the gloves) and many months of work are all for naught.

A close up of the sculpting process. This takes hours and hours.

This is a small 2' x 3' rug done by one of the master workers. It took 13 months to complete and costs $3100 USD.

What sets it apart from other rugs is the high number of knots per square inch and the incredible detail. This is a spot that is about 2" x 2" on the rug

The weavers go to school for 2 years to learn how to weave the rugs. Master weavers spend many more years than that and are true artists in that the pictures on their rugs are actualized because of their skill in knowing when to put in the right color and at what time to create the best shape and color. They also work on rugs with the most threads or knots per inch–the brochure says 1200 lines, but I’m not sure what the reference point is. I just know that some of the “art” rugs that were on display had so many threads per square inch that it seems unimaginable that anyone could weave something that tiny.

The back is almost as beautiful as the front. Because it is made of silk, the colors on the front will change depending on whether the rug is hung right side up or upside down, or how you hold it in the light.

After the rug store we went downstairs to a cashmere goods store

The most impressive thing about the store was this woman who was in charge of helping us with our purchases. She seemed to be everywhere at once, throwing receipts and sweaters at her helpers to be weighed (price was calculated by weight!) and priced and the sweaters always came back to the right person!

We left the land of silk and cashmere and walked to the bird and flower market. The first thing we saw were giant bugs! Blech!

Cricket fighting is big in China. I've always wondered where people got their crickets. Now I know.

Miniature coffins? No! These are boxes for the cricket elite, because you wouldn't want to keep your best fighting cricket in a plain old box would you?

And if you need a whole lot of worms--we've got you covered.

Birds--always a favorite of the Chinese

These look too much like the pigeons that hang out in the parks in the US and try to steal your lunch

I'm wondering what the Chinese do with turtles--pets? soup? turtle racing?

Here's an exotic plant I haven't seen yet.

Here's another one. I think's it's called Buddha's fingers. Lemon tree on the left.

And if you can't grow your own, there's always plastic flowers!

Gaudy bouquets of flowers were the order of the day. Even though these are kind of tacky, I was rather drawn to them in a little girl kind of way.

On closer inspection, you can see they aren't real. Well, duh, no flower comes in that color naturally.

These were real, but they were also dressed with the gossamer strings.

Maybe a bouquet of teddy bears is more to your liking

I still think our elevator flowers rule the day.

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About DECRYPTKNIT: knitter on the loose in Shanghai

Hi, I'm Marisa Newhouse, a former pharmacist (for a brief time during the Reagan administration) who's real calling was probably anything that has to do with cooking, plants, literature and especially knitting; hence my last and favorite job, working at Woolyminded, a wonderful yarn store. But now, I have moved half a world away to Shanghai where my husband will be working. Lots of people are interested in what we will be doing here and I have always kept journals of our travels, so I thought I'd do it the modern way and keep a blog.
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2 Responses to Silk and Cashmere and Bugs, Oh My!

  1. Ramona Williamson says:

    Did you buy one of those beautiful rugs? Be nice to have!

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