For the women of nomadic tribes in West and Central Asia, weaving rugs together was a family affair, and a skill passed on from generation to generation.
Inspired by their creativity and collaboration, Amy Blanchard, her husband James, and her brother-in-law, Bob Krul, teamed up to import these tribal rugs of days gone by and share them with the Winnipeg market. The result? Their stunning Exchange District shop and gallery, Rubia Darya. The 132 James Avenue space displays a myriad of these handwoven, tribal rugs for purchase as distinguished home décor.
“It’s something that was kind of a hobby of ours, but we felt that we’d like to share that with Winnipeggers – the history and the art of these beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces that were made by women,” Blanchard says. “They were all in tribal families, and they are truly artists. Not just the work they do with their hands, but also the creativity. They’re making the pattern as they go along.”
Her family forged a bond with an Afghan family in Pakistan, where James grew up, that ran a tribal rug business. They fell for the practice as well as the deep-rooted history woven into every piece.
“We feel good about the fact that they were truly made in tribal families – we only have tribal rugs,” Blanchard says. “These were women who were living in families, and these were something that they wove for themselves. Sometimes it was as a source of income, and certainly, over time, the family felt they were special.”
As an indication that families celebrate the pieces, Blanchard notes that some come with hooks sewn into them, allowing them to be hung up and displayed.
For centuries up until the 1980s, textiles were typically woven for practical purposes by these women – as storage bags to sling over donkeys and camels, to fill with food, or to stuff with supplies and serve as pillows.
The threads of family history
For the tribeswomen making the textiles, mothers would gather with daughters, often spending months or years working together to complete each piece.
Sometimes the materials were folded up and put aside until the nomadic families resettled to a new location (and after they were finished with other family responsibilities). Men would typically shear the sheep and do the dyeing. Whether for the simplicity of adding a little warmth to their tent floors or for a ceremony or wedding, each rug was designed to bring a little beauty to their environment and served as a family tradition.
Blanchard’s father-in-law first exposed her and her family to the practice of carpet weaving, and in due course, Blanchard and her husband would involve their two daughters, Andrea and Sarah, in selecting the rugs they choose to ship home.
“As a family, we handpick which rugs we’d like to bring here and to share (in our shop). We sometimes have seminars and talk about the rugs, or we screen films so people can sit on the rugs and just enjoy them.
“If you just isolate one and see the work on them and the beauty… you’ll love them in your home, with modern and other styles of décor.”
Made from sheep, goats and some camel wool, the rugs make comfortable, functional pieces for your home.
“It’s very fun to work with them. We see how unique they are and the pride that the artists would have had in their work.”
Visit Rubia Darya at #102 132 James Ave. on Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., or by private appointment. For more information, visit rubiadarya.ca and follow @rubiadarya on Instagram.