Though Abdul Khaleq – the only artisan known to weave blankets out of pure sheep wool in the country – has chosen his ancestors’ profession, his children have not followed his path
Abdul Khaleq, who is the only artisan known to weave blankets out of pure sheep wool in the country, now fears that the woollen blankets will no longer be available after his death.
Khaleq's father, grandfather and great grandfather were involved in this profession. Though he has chosen his ancestors' profession, his children have not followed his path.
"Even though this profession has been passed down through generations, my ancestors did not know much about designs. I learned different types of designs from my guru (mentor) Sitesh Babu. He lived in Bheripara area of Rajshahi city. He is no more," said Khaleq.
Abdul Khaleq, a resident of Nayagola Mahalla in Chapainawabganj, lamented that there was no one else in this profession.
"I cannot do hard work like before as I have become old. It will not be possible to sustain this craft. I requested the former state minister for fisheries and livestock Narayan Chandra to take initiatives to keep the craft alive. I hope someone can be taught the process of making this woollen blanket through training," he said.
Khaleq, now 65, has been making woollen blankets for 50 years. His blankets are sold in well-known shopping malls all over the country.
He made 20 blankets in just one-and-a-half-months this winter and sold all of them. He sold each blanket for Tk3,000.
In the beginning, Khaleq was a pedlar, who would sell blankets in Panchagarh and Thakurgaon. There was a huge demand for woollen blankets in the areas as the sheep wool blankets provided a lot of warmth, he said. At that time, he sold a blanket for Tk250.
Later, he sold a lot of blankets to Aarong, Aranya and Hand Touch. Now he cannot deliver blankets to them anymore. Buyers come and get blankets from his home.
Recalling his past, Khaleq said, "I had to stay at Mymensingh Agricultural University for two months once to trim sheep. It was just after the Liberation War. I made a blanket with sheep wool there and gifted it to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman."
"One of my blankets was sent to Australia through Mohammad Ali, the owner of Hand Touch in Dhaka. I was told to make blankets following the designs sent from that country. But my physical condition did not allow me to take the order," said Khaleq.
Showing the blanket he made on 11 February, he said the blanket was ordered by an official of Pran Company a month ago.
Ariful Islam, who works for a private pharmaceutical company in Chapainawabganj, bought three blankets from him this winter.
Ariful gifted one of the blankets to a physician in Dinajpur.
The other two were sent to two senior officials of his company, said Khaleq.
Ariful said they ordered the blankets after hearing about the making of the blankets from sheep wool.
Dr Mostafizur Rahman, Chapainawabganj District Livestock officer, said Abdul Khaleq was able to make blankets with pure sheep wool as there were a lot of sheep farms in Chapainawabganj.
"He has made many blankets. But now as he has become old, he cannot make more," said the official.
How the blankets are made
During summer, Khaleq travels to different districts to extract wool from sheep. For trimming each sheep, he gets Tk50. Some even pay him Tk100 for it. Earlier, he could extract wool from 60 to 70 sheep every day.
But now, because of his age, he cannot trim more than 20 to 30 sheep. Sometimes, he trims the sheep of the Animal Resources Department.
After trimming the sheep, he collects the wool and makes blankets with them. It takes him five days to make a blanket.
Wool from 12 sheep is required to make a blanket. Four kilogrammes of wool can be collected from 12 sheep. After washing the wool in water and then drying it, two kilogrammes of wool can be obtained from the four kilogrammes.
Cotton for weaving a blanket is made from the two kilogrammes of wool. Then yarn is made from the cotton using a spinning-wheel and the yarn is used in weaving the blanket on a handloom.
The blanket is usually three and a quarter cubits wide and five cubits long.
Abdul Khaleq said after weaving the blanket, it has to be soaked in hot water for three and a half hours. Then it is dried in the sun. Only then is it ready for use. This is because when it is soaked in hot water, the yarn becomes tighter and any extra wool falls off.