As Product Manager for Wendy Morrison Design, my role involves working closely with our production teams in India, where our hand-tufted rugs are made, and Nepal, where the hand-knotted rugs are created. I recently visited both workshop sites in India and Nepal, and this is a snapshot of my stay in India. One that, I hope, captures a sense of the wonderful people we work with, the traditional skills they maintain, and the caring, sharing way in which they work.
The beauty of building relationships
I joined the Wendy Morrison team during Covid, a time when travel was not an option. My counterpart in India, Kiran, the Workshop Manager in charge of production, and I speak every day, and have done for the last two years. We have a great working relationship, but being able to meet someone in person takes that relationship to another level. And meeting the wider production team at the workshop in India was a revelation. Despite thinking I understood the hand-tufted rug-making process, I learned so much seeing just how many stages there are from choosing yarn to the finished product. I feel in awe of the team there, the work they do, and the joyful way they go about it.
Situated around 95km north of Delhi, there are two bases to the workshop: one the general production and weaving unit, where yarn is brought in and tufting done, and the finishing unit, where the combing, shearing, carving, backing and labels are added, and final inspection completed.
Sense of community spirit
The workshop compound is much like a community, with several workers living on site, some of whom have been employed since the business started 16 years ago. Children often follow in parents’ footsteps and take up one of the rug-making skills, which builds a real sense of community and continuity.
What is beautiful about India is that traditional methods are still used. Rug makers there still rely on the sun, as yarn and rugs dry outdoors. Age-old processes and traditional tools are used alongside modern technology, such as the tufting guns. There is a real pride in using skills that have been learned over generations.
Feelings of awe
I was completely in awe seeing all the processes, of which there are many, that go into creating a hand-tufted rug. Although the work is very detailed and technical, the workshop atmosphere is relaxed. Both men and women tuft, the women dressed in exquisitely detailed, colourful saris - not a drab piece of workwear in sight, despite the practical nature of the jobs.
Traditional music plays and tufters take up the position most comfortable for them, some sitting, some standing, some on a stool, everybody has their own way of doing things. Co-workers help each other out, moving frames or setting them up, regardless of whether they are tufters or not. Each process is carried out in designated areas - it’s incredibly efficient and well organised. And everybody stops for lunch at 1 o’clock every day.
Back to the beginning
I am very familiar with a finished Wendy Morrison design, the beautiful, luminous shimmer, and combination of colour and pattern. Until now, I didn’t really know what the beginning and the middle stages of the rug-making process looked like. This trip felt like going back to the start. It was like somebody rewinding a film, saying, ‘here’s Birdsong Yellow as a finished rug, now let’s see what she looks like right at the beginning,’ and I absolutely loved that.
I also loved seeing a design come together. I was there for five days, so I saw one rug go from the design trace stage right through to tufting. It is lovely to see pops of colour take shape and the design emerge. Much like an artist painting a picture.
Acknowledging our artisans
At the moment, all Wendy Morrison rugs have care labels on the back and we include the name of the tufter in English. What we will now include is the tufter’s name in Hindi too - an extra connection between the two countries. It feels a lovely way to be able to acknowledge the work of these artisans.
Summing up my trip, the word ‘inspiring’ is top of the list. I also left in awe of everybody involved in the process of creating a Wendy Morrison rug. I’ve gained insight into how things work, how each process seamlessly leads onto the next, how skilled every individual is.
I saw and did a lot while I was in India, but it was the people I met who transformed this experience into such a wonderful one. They could not have been friendlier or more welcoming.
The joy of human connection
Kiran speaks English and acted as a translator, but, despite the lack of a common language, people still wanted to communicate with me and went out of their way to do so. ‘Namaste’ was our shared greeting - used many times a day!
I’ve certainly come back with a stronger relationship with the workshop team - a group of people who should be incredibly proud of themselves, the work they put in and the rugs they create. I went to India with the hope of further developing our working relationship, but I feel I got so much more than that; I enjoyed real human connection.
The weather was so beautiful while I was there, one day I asked Kiran if we could work outside. Working on the outdoor patio in the fresh air, with the sun shining, drinking fresh milk straight from the coconut, felt like heaven. I loved it. I would go back in a heartbeat.