Kashmir pure silk carpets are regarded as being among the finest handmade rugs in the world, known for their beauty and strength. The tightly packed, intricate knots are what makes the rugs durable, and it is this structural integrity that allows the subtle tonal shifts of Dena Lawrence’s paintings to be replicated and enhanced in woven form. The density of the knots means that every nuance of a painting, from purposeful brushstroke to chance droplet, is faithfully captured in silk. It is perfectly suited to capturing the daubs and splashes of paint, created in an instant, into a rug that can last generations. This literal translation is achieved using a carpet-weaving language of symbols called Talim.
Initially, Dena Lawrence’s free-flowing abstract works, full of curvilinear gesture, were a challenge for Kashmiri weavers more accustomed to traditional Persian rug designs with a repeating pattern. The best masterweavers in Srinagar were employed for the project. Their expertise enabled a successful merging of expressionist modern art from Australia with the timeless technique of handknotted rugs, to create something completely unique.
Every Dena Lawrence Firesun Collection rug uses between 22 to 40 colours woven in a high density with 576 knots per square inch. The use of both symmetric and asymmetric knots facilitates an accurate replication of the painting. The lustre of pure silk adds a reflective glimmer that changes throughout the day, and seasonally, depending on the light. At the same time an intense depth of colour results from the soft pile which, felt underfoot, is the ultimate in tactile luxury.
Read more about Dena Lawrence’s inspirations and artistic practice.
Kashmir had more than 100,000 carpet weavers before the onset of armed insurgency in the 1990s. Three-quarters of the carpet weavers switched to street vending or driving auto rickshaws to survive through some of the darkest days Kashmir’s longstanding carpet industry.
Dena Lawrence was moved by the plight of these skilled artisans and pledges, and through the Firesun Collection was able to provide valuable work for the weavers of Srinaga, and to offer better working conditions and higher wages than those widely available. Every carpet woven to her designs passes through rigorous quality control by the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology in Srinagar IICT).
Read more about Dena Lawrence’s art therapy work in Kashmir.
Kashmir carpets and shawls have a long and distinguished history. Acclaimed worldwide for their exquisite craftsmanship, they have been cherished as jewel-like treasures for generations.
Rug weaving is said to have arrived in Kashmir with the Sufi mystic Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, a Persian poet, scholar and saint from Hamadan, Iran, who spread the word of Islam along the Silk Road in the 14th century. The region has been revered for the production of Kashmir shawls since Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin invited teachers and artisans from Samarkand to establish various craft industries there in the 15th century. In the 17th century, many fine carpets were woven in Srinagar, a trade-route entrepôt and the Mughal summer capital of Kashmir. With silk foundations and pashmina knotted pile, these were luxury commissions intended to satisfy the ambitions of members of the highest level of Mughal society during the reign of an empire renowned for its patronage of the arts. Being made of delicate pashmina—luxurious but impractical—they survive only as antique fragments, which are still much sought after by collectors and connoisseurs, regularly fetching considerable prices at auction.
The art of carpet weaving spread from Srinagar to remote villages in the hills of Kashmir where the technique is passed down within families, traditionally from father to son. Today, along with tourism, rug weaving is a significant source of income for both men and women in the Kashmir Valley. It provides a livelihood for thousands of people who are associated with the modern carpet industry—particularly during the winter, a quiet season for agriculture.
A huge number of specialist processes, perfected over centuries, are involved in weaving a handmade rug. In the local Kashmiri language, the nakaash is the rug designer, a kalimba is a weaver, and the ranger is the dye master. The weaving workshop is locally known as the kharkhaana.