Archive for July, 2012

Oriental Rugs: Kazak

Pakistani Rug with Kazak Design

Pakistani Rug with Kazak Design

“Kazak” is a city located in Northwest Azerbaijan with a population of just over twenty thousand people. What makes Kazak an important city is the fact that it controls an area consisting of a series of valleys that extend from modern Azerbaijan into Georgia and Armenia. Most “Kazak” rugs made in this region were woven by Azeri Turks or Armenians. Kazak rugs are associated with the geographical areas in which they were made rather than with any particular tribe. These rugs used to indicate higher social status of their owners and initially were placed in the homes of the rich, in churches, and in palaces. In older pieces of Kazak rugs, strands of silver and gold can occasionally be found. Not only Kazak rugs, but also other types of Oriental rugs made by Armenians were considered a luxury item until recent times as production took on a direction of a more commercial nature.

In most older Caucasian rugs, including the Kazaks, both the knotted pile and the foundation are wool, and they are woven with Turkish knots on wooden looms. In newer pieces, warp threads can be formed by undyed lighter yarn in one area and somewhat darker or mixed in another. The color and the number of selvedge bindings can often be an indication of the exact area of origin for Kazak rugs. These rugs have an irregular number of wefts passing over each row of knots, ranging between two to four, and predominantly made in traditional sizes like 4 X 6 and 5 X 7 as well as hall runners in different lengths. Any piece larger than 8 X 11 would be considered very rare.

“Kazak” is one of the most famous types of Oriental rugs. Antique examples stopped being made around 1920 and should not be mistaken with the so-called “Kazaks” which the Russians have been marketing for the past several years and which are poor-quality copies of a number of Caucasian designs, many of which are not Kazak within the traditional meaning of the word. The colors of a “Kazak” are usually bright reds, blues, greens and yellows, with a large amount of white. One of the most characteristic designs is the so-called sunburst which is in reality a systematic form of the Russian double-headed eagle. Rugs bearing this design are sometimes called Tcherkess. In general, Kazak carpets have a field filled with one or more large geometric medallions usually of rather peculiar shapes, although the Greek cross and a pattern resembling the cross of Lorraine are not uncommon. The border often bears a polychrome crab pattern on an ivory background. Because of the bold, colorful surfaces, and also the extremely hard-wearing nature of the weave, which is coarse but dense, Kazaks are very popular with collectors around the world. The decorative, geometric pattern of Kazak rugs makes them very much appealing to the Western taste. In recent years, Pakistan has been a major producer of rugs with the Kazak design, taking advantage of the beauty of natural dyes and hand-spun wool in production of these rugs.

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Persian Rugs: Tribal Saddle Bags

Among the tribal, flat-woven Persian rugs, the vast number of containers made by the Lor and Bakhtiari tribes are some of the most attractive fabrics ever produced. Saddle bags, flour bags, bedding bags, and salt bags are the most common textiles of this group. It is the intention of this article to take a closer look at the characteristics of saddle bags.

Old Persian Saddle Bag

Old Persian Saddle Bag

A saddle bag (called Khorjeen in Farsi) consists of two identical pouches or side compartments opposite one another with one continuous back that is shared by both. Saddle bags range in size from tiny to very big, the largest of which are woven by the Lors of Lorestan, known in that area as “Talis”. They can measure up to about 50 inches in width by over 70 inches all the way around. Flat-woven bags have certain common qualities: Around the bottom and a short way up the front and back faces, a straight strip of pile can be found, the function of which is to give the bags additional strength at the place of greatest stress and wear, and an added aesthetic quality which is best seen when these bags are full and placed, as they often are, on top of each other in the tent, the pile part alone meeting the eye. Another characteristic feature is their black, wire-like, goat hair selvedge bindings. They are closed by means of a series of black goat hair loops put through slits at the top of each face and then interlocked to form a chain-like progression across the mouths of the bag. Normally there is only one row of these loops for two sets of slits which overlap each other. In view of the considerable volume and weight that can be taken by saddle bags, a combination of flat-weave and pile is probably the best solution to the problem of strength versus weight. After being filled with the tribes’ possessions, they are thrown over the backs of pack animals, where they also serve as padding for a rider who usually sits on top of a cover of some kind.

In comparison to the enormous saddle bags of Lorestan, those from the tribes of Fars and the Bakhtiaris, while reaching sizeable proportions, tend to seem somewhat small. They have either straight pile bottoms or, as is often the case in the larger ones, bottoms that appear to be reinforced in the corners and indented in the middle. Their selvedges are usually of black goat hair, and their loops of the same material or occasionally of multicolored, braided wool or narrow, tablet-woven bands. A feature which distinguishes these bags from those of Lorestan is the use of a double row of loops instead of a single one, each row serving to close one of the two pouches. The Lori saddle bags from the Varamin area can also reach large dimensions, though rarely of the “Talis” range. Like those produced in Lorestan, they have straight pile strips along the bottom and only one row of loops. Selvedges are usually missing in the older bags. In the case of one which still has this intact, it is done in alternating white and brown stripes of hard goat hair. In terms of the quality of weave and decoration of the backs, these differ from those of their counterparts to the Southwest.

Generally speaking, no particular function or use can be attributed to saddle bags, being as they are multipurpose in nature. Only their sizes and the tasks for which they are needed usually determine how they are utilized. Today, old pieces of saddle bags come with relatively large price tags not because of their use or function, but due to their originality as antique pieces of artwork.

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Persian Carpets, Oriental Rugs: Designs With Animals And Birds

Persian Tabriz-Design with Animals

Persian Tabriz-Design with Animals

In the designs of Persian carpets and Oriental rugs, animals, birds, and insects are often featured. They can be highly stylized, or strikingly realistic like the wild animals on Persian rugs with the hunting design. Bat, bee, beetle, butterfly, camel, crab, deer, dog, dove, dragon, duck, elephant, lion, magpie, parrot, peacock, phoenix, rooster, scorpion, sparrow, squirrel, stork, tarantula, tiger, and tortoise are the animals most frequently found in the pattern of Oriental and Persian carpets. Most of these creatures have a symbolic value above and beyond their mere decorative presence and meaning.

The scorpion and the tarantula denote viciousness and poison, and also represent defense. They are often found in the borders of Caucasian rugs such as Kazak and Shirvan. Perhaps their continued presence beneath the feet teaches children to be unafraid and therefore reduces the risk of them being stung by attempting to run away from a live example. The camel denotes wealth and happiness. This is a logical symbol since this animal is both an invaluable transport of desert nomads and a great source of food. The crab seems to have no symbolic significance, although it is, of course, one of the great astrological signs. Three universal power symbols are the dragon, the elephant, and the lion. The elephant is a symbol of royalty in India. The dragon symbolizes evil in Persia and death in India, whereas it represents imperial power in China. The lion is an almost universal metaphor for authority, strength, and in some countries such as India, royalty. Where fighting animals are displayed on Oriental rugs and Persian carpets, the eternal struggle between good and evil is intended to be emphasized. Among Chinese symbols, the bat represents happiness, the bee immortality, and the beetle denotes creation. The butterfly, often shown on the border of Chinese rugs, represents vanity while the crow is a sign of bad luck both for the Chinese and the Indians. The dove universally indicates peace and companionship, and the duck is always a symbol of a happy and faithful marriage. The tortoise, perhaps because of its own slowness and exceedingly long life-span, naturally represents longevity and immortality as does the deer.

The parrot represents the messenger of life whereas the rooster often symbolizes the devil and is found on carpets as a charm against evil. The magpie, although seldom displayed on rugs, represents good luck. The squirrel is sacred to Hindus, signifying the God’s protection. Symbols of flowers and fruits, such as palm and willow, are also seen on rugs, often indicating deep religious significance and heavenly immortality through death. The presence of animals and birds in the pattern of rugs is not only for decoration purposes, but also helps in determination of their origin, although it takes a long time to be able to do this. A serious interest in Persian and Oriental rugs should have its own rewards specially if the student looks at, examines, and reads about as many rugs as he possibly can.

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Persian Rugs: Heris

Old Persian Heris

Old Persian Heris

Heris is one of the centers producing some of the most beautiful and highest quality Persian rugs. Heris rugs are woven in the villages of the slopes of mount Sabalan of Azerbaijan province, and benefit from the superior wool that is produced in the region and very suitable for carpet weaving. The region is sitting on a major deposit of copper which affects the quality of the water drunk by the sheep, thereby resulting in highest possible quality of the wool. The weaving of fine quality and delicate silk carpets has been practiced since the old times both in Heris and nearby cities and villages, and durable, good quality rugs with geometric patterns and typical colors of the region are still being woven with no use of modern technology whatever. The most distinguishing characteristic features of Heris rugs are the shape of medallions, the four matching corners, and floral motifs covering the background or the field of the rug. Colors, consisting of crimson red, light pink (obtained from madder roots), light blue, dark green, and a golden cream, make these carpets very unique. In Heris rugs, borders are often patterned with palmette flowers and lanceolate leaves, but designs known as “Tosbagheh” and “Samavari” as often seen in rugs of Kurdistan are also common.

Other rug producers of the region include Ahar, Bilverdi, Sarab, Gorevan, Mehravan, Bakhshaish, Karaja, and Sharabian, just to name a few. In many cases, rug weaving is the family’s main source of income. The pile of these rugs is thick, lustrous wool, with strong cotton as the material of choice for the foundation. Heris rugs have always been under great influence of Western markets and made according to the taste of these markets. Medium and large rugs, as well as runners in all measurements, are common in this area. Except for antique pieces, rugs of Heris group have cotton foundation of heavy material with two shots of weft passing over each row of symmetrical (Turkish) knots. Threads of weft are of different thickness and tension, causing pairs of warp to lie in two levels. Only Karaja and Sharabian rugs have a single weft with the pair of warps positioned on the same level. There is a group of very fine Heris rugs known as “Serapi” and it is believed that they have been woven in the city of Sarab, although there is no factual evidence supporting this assumption. Some also believe that a Dr. Sohrabi started collecting these fine pieces of Heris rugs many years ago, and as a result these high quality pieces were given the name “Serapi”. In most cases, hand-spun and naturally-dyed wool is used in Heris rugs; the pattern is highly geometric with almost always a center medallion. Heris rugs are very desirable in Western markets, very decorative, and come in various grades with an average knot density of around 120-130 KPSI (knots per square inch).

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Oriental And Persian Rugs: History Of Weaving

There are no records to definitely indicate in what land the art of rug weaving originated, or to disprove that it developed independently in different regions of the world. It is believed that, in ancient times, even people in Switzerland grew and spun flax, and had looms. It is probable that the savages of cold climates learned to weave garments with the wool of their sheep and the similar process of weaving mats as a floor covering for their huts would naturally follow. However, the existing evidence now points to the civilizations of the Euphrates or the Neil as the birthplace of this art. Although we do not know when the first rugs were made, without a doubt they existed before the pyramids of Egypt. On carved walls of palaces over three thousand years old, are detailed drawings indicating that rugs of outstanding workmanship were then in use. In the borders of some of the robes worn by the rulers are designs of rosettes and latch-hooks, very much similar to patterns that may be seen in rugs of today. Moreover, designs on pottery, tiles, bowls, and walls, similar in appearance to those found in the oldest existing rugs, display clear evidence to their antiquity and character.

Antique Flat-woven Rug

Antique Flat-woven Rug

This art, that necessity created, comfort nourished, and luxury matured, has been a process of slow development. From earliest times, mats of reeds, straw, bamboo, or other flexible material have constantly been made. At first they were doubtless without ornament; later they were colored with dyes obtained from roots and herbs to increase their attractiveness; and finally designs symbolic of nature or everyday life were decorated on them, to which more and more detail was added as wealth and luxury increased. However, the idea behind weaving Oriental rugs and Persian carpets, has initially been a device of warm and durable floor covering. Slow as was this development, as early as the Christian era, the work of the most skilled weavers of the Orient deserved to be classed as a fine art.

As the imperfect records available to us today indicate that the finest carpet collections of ancient times were in the mosques and palaces of Syria and Egypt, it has been assumed that they were woven by native artisans. To some extent, this could be true, as rug weaving was one of the oldest industries of these countries. But it is more probable that most of them were made elsewhere and later acquired as presents or by purchase. Some were made in Armenia, Assyria, and Turkestan. But the largest number, as well as the most expensive and elaborate, most probably came from villages and cities of Persia where many of the finest pieces are being woven today. In several of these towns as many as three or four hundred looms were constantly at work. Carpets of this era consisted of warp and weft only, so they were perhaps produced much more rapidly as opposed to modern rugs in which knots are tied to the warp. But if they lacked the richness of deep, heavy pile, they were magnificently woven with threads of gold and silver, and were often embellished with precious stones. Regardless of the historical origin of these wonderful works of art, they sure have the ability to lighten up any otherwise dull and boring space.

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Persian and Oriental Rugs: Back to Natural Dyes

For the past few decades, the vast majority of so-called Persian and Oriental rugs of “commercial” grade, have been woven with chemically dyed wool. In fact, the significant cost of preparing natural dyes has made the use of chemical colors somewhat tempting.

Natural Dyes

Natural Dyes

However, master weavers and producers of higher quality Persian carpets and Oriental rugs have come to the conclusion that natural dyes are a “must” if they are to achieve desired levels of quality in their production. They observed evidence that natural colors simply improve with time, whereas chemical dyes stay the same in soft light, but fade or are dulled by prolonged exposure to sunlight. A rug by a master weaver can often be authenticated by its colors. The time-consuming process of preparing natural dyes, resulting in the relatively higher cost of preparing them is briefly explained below.

Natural dyes, first discovered by shepherds and farmers many years ago, are extracted from plant or animal materials and fall into two categories. The first are naturally colored , the second need to be put through an elaborate process in order to reveal their coloring properties. Producers and master weavers of high quality rugs still use natural dyes, mixed by themselves or by working closely with a selected master dyer attached to their workshop. The ingredients, doses, and quantities used for the range of dyes are a closely guarded secret. It is extremely difficult to copy a color. As a new batch is needed for the continuation of the weaving, it is almost never going to be of the exact same shade produced by the previous batch. This results in variations of colors in hand-knotted Oriental and Persian rugs, and not at all considered a defect.

Master dyers use colors extracted from bark, roots, stalks and dried leaves, ground to a powder. For example, the dried skin of a pomegranate, a cream color in powdered form will produce a matt yellow color. Powdered walnut hull will color from a range of browns to black. Dried vine leaves will offer a range of colors from khaki to grey, and ground twigs of weld or sparrow grass give a strong, golden yellow that is particularly bright on silk. Also, the roots of the madder plant give a widely-known red or rusty red (Rounas).

Chemical Dyes

Chemical Dyes

The raw material in its powdered state is inserted into a bath of cold water which is then heated in order to release the coloring agents. It is then left to cool down to allow the color to dissolve. The hanks are plunged into the water at room temperature in order to avoid a thermal shock which would damage the fibers. They are then brought to simmering point for a specific length of time depending on the shade desired. According to the nature of the raw material and the color required, different mineral salts are added which alter the PH of the bath and allow the color to fix onto either the wool or the silk.

Unlike natural colors, chemical dyes are readily available, do not require difficult processing, and are therefore less expensive to work with. However, top producers insist on their use in their high quality products as no other substitute has yet been discovered. With the revival of natural dyes into the production of many Persian carpets and Oriental rugs being woven today, the future of the rug industry seems to be much more promising now compared to only twenty years ago. These rugs are sure to become heirloom pieces of tomorrow.

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