Archive for September, 2012

Persian Carpets and Oriental Rugs: Caucasian Daghestan

Perhaps the best of Oriental rugs known as “Caucasian” have been woven in Daghestan, “the mountain country”. It is no surprise that this region should produce distinctive types, when it is considered that it has a length of over two hundred miles, that its topography is diversified by glaciated mountains, barren steppes, and fertile valleys, and that it is occupied by numerous clans, many of whom differ in origin as well as religion. Some of the rugs come from the city of Derbend on the Caspian Sea, some come from Kuba in the Northeastern corner, others, called Kabistans, are produced in the country about Kuba, a few are made by the Lesghians who live among the lofty mountains, and in other parts of the region are woven pieces which formerly were sent in large quantities to America and Europe, where they soon became known as Daghestan.

Caucasian Daghestan

Caucasian Daghestan

The rugs that acquired the trade name of “Daghestans” are different from almost all other Caucasian pieces. This is largely because the province is bounded on three sides by a sea and a nearly impassable mountain range, which render communication with surrounding territory difficult, and create a natural isolation, where in the course of many generations a distinct type was developed. Moreover, these same physical conditions have prevented both the introduction of synthetic dyes, so that even among modern pieces fake colors are not frequently seen, and also the adoption of new designs so that the patterns of two or three centuries ago are still largely used.

It is among the oldest rugs of Daghestan that many of the best examples of Caucasian textile art can be found. The dark, rich reds and blues of the fields, which are brightened by the ivory, light blue, green, and yellow of the small designs, resemble the fine coloring of Persian carpets. But the patterns are totally dissimilar, for it is only in a few rare old pieces, in which are copied some designs such as the lotus, or the running vine with leaf and bud, that there is any likeness to the realism of Persian floral ornamentation. The drawing, however, is never crude, and on account of the short nap and strongly contrasting colors always appears with clear definition. With the exception of conventionalized pears, the three-leaf sprig, which is commonly seen in the field, and the narrow border stripes of carnations, almost all of the figures are geometric, and are so carefully drawn, so closely clustered, that they represent an appearance frequently compared to mosaic work. Even when the patterns represent large medallions or stars, they contain smaller concentric forms, or are divided time and again into smaller stars, diamonds, or tessellated figures, so that the effect is the same. In some form or other the latch-hook is seen in almost all these pieces. Of small designs, the octagonal disc is almost invariably found, and animals, human beings, and the pear are often seen.

A Typical Daghestan Rug

A Typical Daghestan Rug

As a rule, the borders of Daghestan rugs consist of three or four stripes separated by colored lines. Only in the secondary stripes are any floral forms displayed, and these, with the exception of the carnation design, are rare. The reciprocal trefoil is most characteristic as an outer stripe, the serrated line is also employed, and it is not unusual to find next to the field a broad stripe of diagonal barber-pole bars, on which are small dotted lines. In these rugs, the rows of knots are not firmly pressed down, so that their alignment is even and the warp shows at the back side. The foundation is almost always of wool, and a single thread of weft crosses twice between every two rows of knots. The pile is wool and clipped short. Some older Daghestan rugs are valuable pieces and considered as collector items around the world.

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Oriental and Persian Rugs: Turkish Ushak

Turkish Oushak Rug

Turkish Oushak Rug

A major center of rug production since Fifteenth century, Ushak is a relatively large city in Western Anatolia. This is why Ushak rugs are generally known as “Anatolian rugs”. This group of Oriental rugs were heavily exported to Europe during Sixteenth century, still beautifying many rooms and hallways of European homes. Ushak is known for the excellence of its dyes and the wool which was taken there from other parts of Turkey to be washed, spun, and then sold to the weavers of surrounding areas. With its rising population, Ushak is now home to more weavers than any other Turkish city. The weaving is done entirely by girls and women, and although they mostly work at their private homes, they are under the direction and supervision of large companies who furnish the wool as well as the patterns in accordance with market demands of the West.

Within different grades of Ushak rugs, some important distinctions can be made. Some are known as “Turkish Kermans” in which Persian designs are frequently introduced, others are of finer workmanship and a relatively higher number of knots per square inch, but the oldest and coarsest pieces were formerly known as Yapraks. These are distinguishable by sharp shades of red, green, and blue, of which only two are seen in a single rug (as a general rule). Their foundation of warp and weft, which are dyed in the same colors (if not, then the weft is dyed red), is loosely woven and often of an inferior grade of wool. Looking at the back side of Ushak rugs, one will notice that the rows of knots are not closely pressed down. Each of the two threads encircled by a knot is equally prominent from the back, or one is slightly depressed below the other. A thread of weft crosses twice over every row of knots. Their pile is clipped long, and their border usually consists of three stripes. Sides are finished with a double overcasting (binding) and occasionally a selvage. Many of Ushak rugs are just too large and heavy for domestic use, but are well adapted for bigger spaces and public buildings.

A Typical Turkish Oushak Rug

A Typical Turkish Oushak Rug

With slight variations in pattern and almost none in color, Ushak rugs would be of little interest were it not the fact that their prototypes were striking pieces woven by artisans whom “Sultan Soleyman” brought from the Northwestern parts of Persia, when he conquered it in the Seventeenth century. Some of them appear in the paintings of old masters, and when compared to the modern fabrics indicate the great decline in the craftsmanship of the weavers. Of the beautiful well-balanced designs once represented in the fields, only large stars and diamonds, defined by less pleasing lines and placed with less regularity, remain. All of the graceful arabesques and dainty floral motives that appeared as sub-patterns are omitted. As works of art, the modern Ushak rugs are little admired. However, their durability, depth of pile, and wealth of color make them excellent objects of utility.

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Persian Rugs: Rare Pieces

Although the majority of Persian rugs have been woven solely for the purpose of exports during the past seven or eight decades, there are some areas in which only a handful of these rugs have ever been produced. Some of these Persian rugs are no longer being made, and others are woven in such small quantities that they never reach Western markets. Examples of such scarce rugs include those made in Tehran, Gulestan, Gharegoze, and Bibikabad, just to name a few. Occasionally, old pieces of these rare Persian rugs can be found in museums around the world. However, it is believed that most of them have been – and still are – in the hands of either collectors or rug exporters from the previous generation.

Close-up of an antique Tehran Rug

Close-up of an antique Tehran Rug

Tehran rugs have been woven within the central part of the capital city of Tehran, mostly by master weavers immigrating from other cities and villages. The typical pattern of Tehran rugs consists of the Herati design or some floral form covering the central field, in which the length is two or three times the width. They have Turkish (symmetric) knots, each of the two threads of warp encircled by the knot is prominent at the back, and both warp and weft are cotton. The borders are wide, and the sides are finished with a two-cord selvage binding. Perhaps the highest quality and most valuable of Tehran rugs are the few pieces woven by the master “Asghar Kermani”, always distinguishable by his signature appearing at the top in a beautiful hand writing.

Gulestan is “flower garden” in Farsi language, and the rugs known as Gulestan were once made in a district not far from Kashan, where rose bushes bloomed profusely. The fields may be occupied with conventionalized floral and leaf designs, or may contain roses naturalistically drawn with extended petals, as if viewed from above. The most striking characteristic is the opulence of color such as red, blue, and yellow softened by shades of brown and green. Even the weft and the webs of the ends (fringes) are red, blue, or brown. The sides have a two-cord selvage binding, warp and weft threads are usually of cotton, and one thread of warp to each knot is depressed at the back. These rugs, which formerly came in large sizes, are no longer being produced.

A Rare Hamadan "Yousef Zanjani"

A Rare Hamadan "Yousef Zanjani"

Only a short distance to the Northeast of Hamadan is the region known as Gharegoze, which is occupied by a large tribe, who in the past have woven some of the best of Persian rugs. The people are industrious, and not only cultivate the land but also engage in weaving. Some of their rugs closely resembles the Kurdish pieces, and others correspond with high-end Hamadan carpets. In fact, in the style and technique of weave, they often follow the Hamadans. On the outskirts of this district is the town of Bibikabad, where very good quality rugs have also been produced. As for color scheme, motif and pattern, as well as weaving techniques, Bibikabad rugs also come very close to the Hamadans, mostly with one single shot of weft inserted on top of a row of knots, a coarse weave, and a cotton foundation.

Even though such decorative, rare pieces of Persian rugs are not normally on display at showrooms and warehouses of rug dealers, some rug lovers travel around the world to get them, often at excessive cost. On the other hand, the use of antique and scarce rugs has become popular again as they easily create the foundation upon which the remainder of the room can be built. Revival of natural dyes and production of new rugs with patterns of old and rare carpets will make it so interesting to see what reaches the rug market within the next few years.

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Persian Rugs: Karaja (Gharajeh)

Located 35 miles to the Northwest of Tabriz, “Karaja” is a small village in Azerbaijan province that belongs to the family of Heris rugs. It would be fair to claim that some of the most decorative pieces of Persian rugs with the nomadic feel and geometric designs come from the villages around this area. In their color scheme, length of nap, and texture, Karaja rugs resemble many of the Kurdistans; but in the technicalities of weave they show a marked difference. As a rule, a single thread of weft crosses only once between two rows of knots, or in a few pieces, two weft threads pass side by side as if they were one. In this aspect, Karaja rugs resemble those of Hamadan, but the alignment of their knots at the back is more regular, their weft is inserted with some slack, threads of warp are sometimes of wool and sometimes of cotton, but their weft is almost always of wool specially in older pieces. To distinguish rugs of Karaja from other types of Persian rugs, note that in these rugs, each of the two warp threads encircled by a knot is equally prominent at the back where the filling of weft stands up as high as the knots resulting in a relatively even surface. They also have a heavy double binding at the sides.

Old Persian Karaja Runner

Old Persian Karaja Runner

Karaja rugs usually come in smaller sizes and some long runners are common among them. They have  a long nap of soft, lustrous wool and rich colors. The pattern of Karaja rugs is always geometric, often with more than one single medallion covering the field, a simple geometric border of three stripes in royal blue or navy, and different shades of red and ivory in the detailed background. The pattern in some other Karaja rugs – although not very common – consists of a small bush or sprig of leaf and flower disposed in formal array throughout the field. Sometimes the floral forms are placed within the diamonds formed by a trellis pattern, but more frequently they are arranged in rows like the pear or paisley designs of Saraband rugs. In some pieces, they are very much conventionalized and suggest similar figures seen in rugs of Southern Caucasia, and in others, stem, leaf, and flowers are very realistic. However, the pattern most frequently followed consists of three or four large diamond-shaped medallions extending from one end of the field to the other. In older pieces of Karaja rugs, the vegetable dyes that were used for coloring, have mellowed, and display a richness of tone that is accentuated by the depth of pile and softness of wool. Karaja rugs are very durable and attractive pieces of Persian rugs with an average knot density of 60 KPSI.

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