The history of Tibetan rug making dates back to some fifteen hundred years but a standard piece from that date is virtually nonexistent these days. Rugs in Tibet historically were practical, everyday objects, woven locally for use in homes and monasteries where they would over time wear out and be discarded. There were also no such royal collections or elaborate burial customs by which the rugs would have been preserved over a long period. Furthermore, there was no tradition for exporting the rugs to the outside world. The antique Tibetan carpets that we see in the market these days usually date from the late 1700's to the mid 1900's.
When China took over Tibet in 1959, thousands of Tibetans fled to the neighboring region of Nepal, India and Bhutan. Rug production began innocently in a few valleys in Tibetan refugee camps with the sponsorship of Swiss government. By the mid 1970, Tibetan rugs are exported to Europe in small quantities. It was only in the late 1980's that finer Tibetan and Nepalese rugs with modern designs became a major force in European market.
Today’s fine Tibetan and Nepalese rugs are boasting more modern designs and are commissioned by American or European markets and can be of exceptional value considering all the work that goes into creating the masterpiece as well as the fine fibers such as natural silk and Nepalese wool that is used in their creation. They are highly durable and admired for their remarkable beauty and fine knotting.
One mystery for scholars of Tibetan history is the origin of the basic knotting technique used to create Tibetan carpets. In most of Asia, either Turkish knot or the Persian knot is used to create the pile or depth of a carpet but Tibetan weavers utilize an elongated knot called a Senna loop. Same loop is found in 1500-year-old carpet remains in Egypt by researchers. The rug makers in Scandinavia still use a version of that knot. No other cultures are known to use the Senna loop. Whether the Senna loop was developed independently in Tibet or was adopted from another culture is unknown. Tibet is geographically very isolated but it has always maintained outside ties by trade routes through the mountains.
The influence of other cultures is reflected in the motifs and colors employed by today’s Tibetan and Nepalese artisans. The oldest elements are rooted in Tibet's ancient shamanistic culture. The introduction of Buddhism from India in the 8th century had an enormous impact on imagery in Tibetan carpet along with close ties with China and Mongolia. Traces of textile design from Bhutan and Nepal are also very apparent. The recent rugs from exile however reflect influence of India and western world. Bold colors, vibrant geometric patterns, and sophisticated use of abstract and naturalistic images and symbols combine in a wholly unique art form.