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Meet the designers weaving kolams on rugs

Designers Tania Singh Khosla and Sandeep Khosla push the boundaries of carpet-making in a unique collaboration with Jaipur Rugs. Lounge seeks to understand the design language 

Kolam motifs come alive in this portion of a carpet from the new collection 
Kolam motifs come alive in this portion of a carpet from the new collection  (Jaipur Rugs)

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Jaipur Rugs, founded in 1978 with two looms and nine artisans, today works with 7000 looms and over 40,000 artisans across the country, using age-old techniques to make handmade carpets while working directly with artisans and providing them and their communities with a sustainable livelihood. Recently, the company launched its new retail store in Bengaluru's Indira Nagar, designed by the well-known Bengaluru-based architects Sandeep Khosla and Amaresh Anand of Khosla Associates.

The store opening also prompted a unique collaboration between Jaipur Rugs and the designer couple Tania Singh Khosla and Sandeep Khosla: The Kolam Collection, a collection of handwoven carpets inspired by kolams, the ritualistic folk art of creating patterns from rice flour at the entrance of homes every morning, practised largely by women across the south Indian states. Lines and loops are drawn around an underlying grid of dots, bringing together the geometric and the organic. While preserving the symmetry of kolams in individual forms, the designers break free from traditional rules in their overall approach, creating a unique study in colour and form.

The Seaside Blue carpet from the collection
The Seaside Blue carpet from the collection

Lounge spoke to the designers about the design language of the collection in an exclusive interview:

Using kolam motifs in rugs is unusual. How did this collection come about?

We have lived in Bangalore for 25 years and experienced the joy of having a new kolam created at our threshold every day, to usher in good fortune. During festivals like Diwali and Ugadi the designs are especially complex and exuberant. It is at these times that we’ve been intrigued by the brilliant versatility of this ancient folk-art form and mesmerized by the skill and grace of the maker while drawing it. This prompted us to explore kolam further, to see how we could interpret it in exciting new ways.

Kolam means ‘beauty’ in several South Indian languages. Composed of rice flour, lines and curved loops are drawn around an underlying grid of dots, bringing together the systematic and intuitive, geometric and organic, and this forms the basis of our design approach.

We had been working on the idea of a carpet collection for over 3 years. It is only once we had the designs worked out did we approach Jaipur Rugs. They loved our collection and said that they would be happy to collaborate.

What about kolams inspired you to weave their essential motifs into rugs?

Kolam is a transient ritualistic folk art, as the rice flour used to draw the patterns is consumed by insects or blows away in the breeze, and each day a new kolam is created. We found it exciting to make permanent this ephemeral quality of kolam through each handwoven knot. Both crafts adorn the floor and both have a meditative quality in their making.

Some of the motifs we’ve used are traditional forms that are commonly seen, like the three-petalled flower. Others are our own creations that emerged from our explorations of the grid. Kolams are most commonly rendered in “outline” with white powder. If at all, the counter forms are filled with coloured powders or flower petals. Interestingly, in our interpretation, we have filled some counterforms with the same colour as the outline. This gives the motifs an abstract, contemporary and unexpected dimension.

What kind of colour palette did you choose for this collection and what dictated that choice?

We thought it would be exciting to juxtapose the decorative motifs with a more ‘Western’ colour palette. Rather than use a saturated Indian colour pallette, we created a nuanced mid-century pallette of powder blue, dusty salmon, mint, ochre, garnet and charcoal black/grey. We wanted the rugs to be contemporary and appeal to a global audience. 

As a graphic designer, Tania has had years of experience working with colour, backed by deep theoretical knowledge. So colour interaction is definitely one of her strengths that reflects in the nuanced colour palette of the collection, while Sandeep's experience as an architect/interior designer looking at the relationships of objects within a space, and their proportion, informed the way we composed the carpets – the play of scale and orientation. Having said that, both of us in our individual practices enjoy a bold use of color and contrast, which is evident in the Kolam collection.

The rugs seem to share a minimalist, modern design aesthetic. Did you feel at any point that this might be at variance with the traditionality of Indian rugs, which are more ornate and symmetrical with repeating patterns?

Symmetry is funadamental to both kolam and traditional Indian carpets. For the kolam artist, symmetry denotes universal balance or the Hindu aspect of Shiva-Shakti. While we preserved the sacrosanct symmetry in individual forms, we broke the symmetry in the overall compositions to create dynamic, bold and layered designs.

We set our own rules based on our research on the principles of using the kolam grid. It is the juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary motifs, symmetry in form and assymetry in compostion, that make the carpet so exciting.

What was the experience of collaborating with Jaipur rugs like?Were they open to your ideas?

We had been working on the idea of a carpet collection for over 3 years. We took our first trip to Badhoi, UP in early 2017 to understand the various processes involved in making hand-knotted carpets. The collaboration with Jaipur Rugs came about only once we had finalized the designs. We were looking to collaborate with a design-driven company that was also mindful of social impact. We approached Jaipur Rugs as their philosophy of supporting 40,000+ artisans across the country deeply resonated with us. They are an innovative company finding intelligent new ways of engaging with weavers through design autonomy.

When we approached Jaipur Rugs with our concept, they were immediately very excited about the possibilities, and we hit the ground running almost immediately. Our first visit to Jaipur Rugs was an eye-opener. There are more than 82 different stages that a single carpet goes through from dying to a finished piece! What was most intriguing was the carving that happens at the end where you actually sculpt depth into the carpet. Their design and technical team were essential in helping us interpret our desgns from vision into reality.

What materials did you use in the making of the carpets?

In terms of texture and material, we’ve used bamboo silk and wool. Bamboo silk has a beautiful sheen and the color reflects from it differently depending on how the light falls on it. Wool is matt, more raw and textured. We worked carefully in balancing these two materials to create the impact we desired – wool formed the base, while bamboo silk was used to higlight certain dramatic colors, forms or patterns. We further accentuated details in both yarns through the ‘carving’ or ‘gultarash’ process where forms are raised to different degrees giving the carpet a more ‘worked-on’ refined look.

The biggest challenge was interpreting the colors from screen/print into yarn. We were keen on achieving a heightened textural quality in the rugs and this could be done with a high-temperature dying process. In this technique the yarn itself is dyed in a range of lighter to darker shades of the desired color, thus created a beautiful ‘abrash’ texture once woven. This was fairly new to Jaipur Rugs as well so there was an element of risk and experimetation involved in the dyeing. But the Jaipur Rugs team are masters at colour and the finished carpets are very close to how we envisioned them. There were some surprises in the translation of colour from screen to carpet, but embracing the beauty in these ‘imperfections’ as a natural outcome of the process has been liberating and a wonderful learning.”

Tell us about future collaborations and any other interesting projects you are working on?

While we’ve both collaborated on products before (furniture and tiles) the carpets were especially exciting as we were both treading into totally unchartered territory, in terms of our technical understanding of weaving, and the many other processes involved in making a hand-knotted carpet. We both had to go through a learning curve before we could approach the design in a holistic and informed way. We’re hooked, this is just the beginning! Given the response to Kolam, we are currently working on expanding the collection in terms of colour – ways and motifs. We’re also working on a second collection of carpets that we’re really excitied about. There is also some furniture that we are ideating on that is on the drawing board. So lots more to come, we hope – as we juggle our individual design practises.


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