Iran welcomes a lonely Kiwi rug repairer

02:19, May 24 2013
DREAM WEAVERS: Anna Williams with fellow oriental rug repairers in Ali's Tehran workshop, in Iran.

In the first of a series of readers' adventure stories, Anna Williams travels to tourist-free Iran to update her rug repair skills.

It is a lonely being the only oriental rug repairer in Wellington.

As I neared the end of a 15-year stretch as a rug repairer, I was desperate to go back to Iran. I badly needed to stock up on yarns and tools and I wanted to find some colleagues.

When I arrived in Tehran last November I stayed with Ali, who is part of a second-generation family rug export business. He has a large complex on the outskirts of Tehran, where old and new rugs are washed, then stretched and repaired.

He employs about 15 repairers, all of whom sit on a concrete floor in a large shed, surrounded by dishevelled piles of rugs.

His rugs come from all over Iran and he employs men to go to villages on motorbikes to buy any rugs they can find.

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At this factory there are only men, who welcomed this middleaged woman with smiles and handshakes, and gave me the first cups of tea in the best cups they could find.

I visited the Carpet Museum in Tehran and I admit I got teary-eyed as I looked at these dazzling rugs and wondered about the people who made them.

I was unsure of how to get around Iran on my own, so I employed a travel agency in Shiraz.

I travelled on local transport with male guides. It was a brilliant time to be in Iran because there were few tourists. I always deviated from any prescribed tour itinerary to spend time in the bazaars on my own, searching for tools, wools and cottons.

Then I would bully the guide into finding the rug dealers, who had repairers on site or restorers who were working away in attic rooms in the bazaars.

In Yazd my guide found another guide to take me to a desert village to see rugs being woven. There I spent time with a woman who had an enormous vertical carpet loom in her dirt-floored home. I wove two knots into her carpet of many millions of hand knots.

As I was saying goodbye to two of my guides, they admitted they had learnt much about rugs from me because they had never travelled before with such a rug obsessive.

Their flexibility and responsiveness to my needs meant I learnt even more about rug restoration, which has eased my professional isolation.

Anna Williams started her career in Wellington in 1992 when a Turkish rug store owner asked her to do some repairs after he learnt she had been hand weaving for years.

The Dominion Post