Regional Differences in Bag Faces, David Zahirpour

On March 1, 2008, David Zahirpour gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning at The Textile Museum, here in Washington, DC.


“Rug morning” programs have partly pedagogical objectives, introducing less experienced folks to the textile world. Such programs do not focus exclusively on material what would “move the hearts” of experienced collectors, but instead sometimes include items that are examples of what a less experienced collector is likely to encounter in the market.

David’s program was of this sort. On the front-of-the-room display board he had pinned 20 smaller-sized bag faces of various sorts and his handout provided information on some of the basic distinctions, for example, which of the basic weaves used in bags tended to be characteristic in particular geographic areas.

In his initial remarks he also contrasted the primarily utilitarian purposes for which bags were (and are) made in rug-producing societies, with the way in which they are viewed by folks who collect them avidly nowadays: that is, as beautiful objects. For example, Pinkwart and Steiner, in their book on western Anatolian grain bags, report that the weavers of these intricate and beautiful items are amazed that they are collected for their artistic aspects and are even placed in museums. After all, they’re just “grain bags.” šŸ™‚

David tended in this presentation to treat attribution in broader rather than more specific terms, and his age estimates were conservative. And because he is a skilled reweaver, he drew attention, knowledgeably, to materials, to structural aspects, and to side selvedge and end-finish distinctions.

He started with several pieces from southwest Iran.

The first of these is the somewhat unusual one below.


The white-ground border nicely frames the densely patterned field of this piece. A further undulating frame inside the minor border also works to help control any potential chaos. The distinctive blue might suggest Afshar to some, but there are enough chickens to support a guess of Khamseh. David did not claim either.Here is a closer look at a detail of the field.


During setup a child said she saw an “animal face” above and below the center cruciform device.

And here is a close-up of one corner.


Note the slight variation in warp colors. David spoke to this feature in the next piece.

David’s second SW Persian example was this Qashqai khorjin face.


He called attention to the uniform white warps at the top of this piece, saying that we would usually expect to see (as we did in the first piece) some modest variation in the color of the warps on a SW Persian bag. The uniformity of white warps suggests that this piece has been restored on its top edge and David said that this is the case.

A third Southwest Persian example, is this khorjin face with somewhat out-sized scale botehs.


David liked the size of these botehs and the way the smaller-scaled, white-ground border frames the field without competing with them.

The fourth SW Persian piece that David had brought was one that might seem from its design to be Quashquai. But he indicated that its materials and other indicators suggested that it should be designated simply “southwest Persian.”


David saw tendencies to the curvilinear in the drawing of this piece.

And although he treated it later in his presentation David had brought one more southwest Persian piece.


Like the immediately preceding piece, David saw curvilinear influeces in this pile khorjin face. He attributed it to the Afshar. Curvilinear influence in southwest Persian pieces is plausible because Kerman is not far to the east. And among southwest Persian weavers, the Afshars are placed closest, geographically, to Kerman.

Next David treated some pieces woven in sumak wrapping. The first three he estimated were woven in the southern Caucasus (others might attribute some of the following three pieces to the nearby Persian Shahsavan).

The first of the sumak pieces was this one.


David began this session by asking members of the audience to choose their favorite piece from this 20. This one is mine. Like David, I like the graphic punch provided by the “Memling-type” central medallion. But I also like the sizable “endless knot” main border devices that provide complexity plus additional graphic strength. Although, the border devices do not exhibit number of the levels that some versions of it do, still the “knots” appear to be mostly behind the squarish centers, displaying, arguably, three levels of depth because the centers are, in turn, crossed by arms that float a level above them to join in the center. If I was required to critique this piece, I would request that the “filler” devices in its field be left out.

A second south Caucasus sumak is this one.


This khorjin half drew a number of votes as the most attractive on the board and you can see why this might be.

Here is a closer look at a detail of its field.


David said that the weave in this piece might be the finest amongst this 20.


A closer look at one corner.


Another sumak piece from the southern Caucasus was this one.


This piece features a good range of attractive colors. Despite the fact that similar “bird” devices are used on both the field and the borders, graphic competition seems to have been avoided. Notice how the use of white devices enlivens the field.

The next of the sumaks that David attributed to the southern Caucasus was this one.


This piece is very similar to Plate 63 in John Wertime’s book “Sumak.” Wertime places Plate 63 in his “Northwest Persia” grouping and attributes it to the Moghan-Savalan.

David now moved to a piece made using a distinctive type of sumak, the “weft-less” variety.


“Weftless sumak” is so called because in areas in which this weave is used there are no structural wefts. The piece is held together in “weftless sumak” areas by the wrapping of the patterning threads around the warps. A frequent wrapping is over four warps then back under two.

David attributed this piece to Anatolia. Here is a closer look at a part of its field.


I asked David from the audience whether he saw “weft-less sumak” as an indicator of Kurdish weaving. He said that both designs and weaving modes tend to travel. Here is a closer look at one corner of this piece.


Considering this piece after this session, it seems to me that the combination of a “weftless sumak” construction and the “blue-reds,” that seem to be from cochineal, suggests that this piece was woven by Kurdish weavers in eastern Anatolia.

David had brought one more item of sumak. It is the piece below which he identified as likely woven by Caucasian Armenians. He said that the color palette, and especially the prominent cruciform device in its field, suggested that to him.


David pointed out the seeming synthetic dyes in this piece, but did not say directly that that would likely be disqualifying for many collectors. Perhaps this is one of the pieces included for more pedagogical purposes. He dated it to about 1940.

Next was an Anatolian piece, also with some suspicious colors, but the “gray” areas of which are done in metallic thread.


David noted that this piece is an example of the fairly successful transfer of the designs from a larger format onto a bag face. In this case, the large diamond form in the center of this piece is likely close to that on a large Anatolian slit-weave tapestry kilim. Other design elements are also arranged attractively here. There seems to have been an orange stripe at the bottom of this bag face done in a synthetic dye which has transferred onto the white warps. Again, perhaps a piece and indication with a primarily pedogogic intent, although, many less experienced people would likely find this piece appealing. Also dated to about 1940.

David now moved to a Jaff Kurd pile bag face with a familiar design.


He said that this piece has good wool and that he likes its use of color in an approximately diagonal mode. The treatment of the top edging panel also draws attention.

David’s next piece was the flatwoven one below.


David said that it is woven on a goathair foundation (notice dark warps) and that the side selvedges are also done in goathair. He attributed it to the Bakhtiari about 1910-20 and identified the weave as “reverse sumak.” He was asked from the audience whether this piece might not be Khorasan Kurd or even Uzbek.


He said that ,although the piece seemed Bakhtiari to him, other defensible attributions were possible.

David’s next couple of pieces were Turkmen. The first was the pile piece below.

This is a Yomut tent pole cover (an “ok bash”). As most readers here will know it is a somewhat less frequently encountered format.

This one is presented flat as it came off the loom. It does not show wear and may not have been used. To be assembled, the right side of the piece would have been sewn to the left side (pile out) to form a vertical tube. The the pointed ends would be taken in and sewn together at their sides. The result would be a pointed tube.

The Turkmen were nomads and lived in trellis tents, the roofs of which were supported by curved wooden struts. When the tents were disassembled for travel these struts were divided into bundles to be placed on the pack animals.

Such tent pole covers were fitted over the ends of these bundles as decorations. Some additionally suggest that they are placed over the front ends of the bundles in part to protect the pack animals from being poked in the eye by the wooden strut ends.

In any event, these are weavings that had clear functions in Turkmen communities. One reason that some collectors are attracted to such pieces is that they permit them to “participate” vicariously and at a distance in the cultures in which they were woven.

The second Turkmen piece that David had brought was interesting in part because its attribution is controversial.


This is a “torba,” a shallow bag, open at the top as presented here. The design elements were used by more than one of the “western” Turkmen tribes. It has deeply saturated colors and wonderful wool. David said that despite the fact that the knot is asymmetic open right, more than one Turkmen expert had attributed this piece to the Salor.

The controversy centers on the fact that the pieces thought most confidently to have been woven by the Salor have asymmetric knots open to the left. Some are doubtful about pieces with open right knots. But others, like Murray Eiland, Jr. have long questioned the “S-group = Salor” equation, have not believed the sometimes claim that the Salors “stopped weaving” about 1850, and so are quite willing to entertain the notion that younger pieces with open right knots could well be Salor. The authorities who have examined David’s piece seem of that persuasion.

Regardless, it is a striking Turkmen weaving.

David had brought three Balouch pieces. The first of this was this diminutive chanteh.


A bag small enough to be a handheld, David thought it was likely a Koran cover, perhaps for a student. It is nicely composed in a small space and particular care is evidenced by the use of pink silk in its design’s center.

A second Balouch piece was a khorjin face.


David called attention to the wonderful silky wool in this piece and to the evidence it provides of Balouch borrowing of Turkmen designs, especially in the case of its center “Salor” turreted gul. The piece also features a dinstinctive ground blue for which the Balouch are noted.

The last piece in this rug morning program was the large attractive Balouch khorjin face below.


David called particular attention to the central squarish medallion, saying that such designs with four compartments (the Turkmen engsi too) can often be interpreted to signify the four seasons of the year, starting (always he said) with Spring.

David asked for and answered questions and then adjourned the session. Folks came to the front to get hands on some of these pieces. After-session conversations started up. Here, below, David talks with Austin Doyle, a local Caucasian collector, who is president of the DC “Hajjis” rug club.


My thanks to David for permitting me to share his session with you.

Some readers will know that I have sometimes reported on related previous TM Rug and Textile Appreciation Mornings on Turkotek.

If you have not seen it, one such was a report on a fairly recent program by John Wertime on sumak bags. Here is the link to that:

And there is also a report on an earlier “rug morning” session on Southwest Persian material that David conducted.


R. John Howe


I have received some comments and additional images on the side. They are included below in the order in which they were received.

Dear folks –

Pat Weiler has written to make alternative attribution suggestions for two of the pieces in David’s presentation.

He says in part:

“The fourth bag, listed as Afshar,


I would call NW Persian Kurdish – on the basis of the colors, the design of the field, borders and smaller elements…I have posted a Kurdish piece with similar design on Turkotek.


(ed. notice that this is on an unusual “box cover” format. Here is a closer image of one of its “medallion” devices.)


Pat acknowledges that the “Afshars do use a superficially similar medallion motif in some of their carpets, but this use (ed. the one in David’s piece) is quite Kurdish.”

“And the flatweave


(ed. indicated as) “Bakhtiari” is definitely Tartari Uzbek, and not in reverse sumak, but more likely weft-faced plain weave and double interlocked tapestry weave.

“I have a similar piece and you can find another here as Plate 39 in a NERS internet exhibition:

“Ron Hort also currently has a similar Uzbek piece up on his site.”


End of Pat Weiler quote.

My thanks to Pat for these additional observations.


R. John Howe

Here is a second comment on a different piece from Yon Bard.

John, naturally I was interested in the possibly Salor shemle-gul torba. 14turkmansaloropenriht.jpg
As I see it, there are two types of pieces attributed to the Salor.

First, there are the “classical” pieces, presumably those predating the Salor defeat in the 1850s. These pieces are instantly recognizable by means of the following characteristics:

1. Open to the left knots (I am aware of the claim that perhaps 10% of the pieces are open right; so be it, but I have never personally seen one of those; no matter, the other characteristics are sufficient in themselves)
2. Deeply (but not necessarily completely) depressed alternate warps
3. Exquisite workmanship
4. Knot density more than 200 per square inch (except in main carpets)
5. Fairly strict adherence to prescribed design elements for each type of piece.

The second type of pieces are presumably later, perhaps woven by Salor women in their Diaspora. I don’t know what criteria the “experts” use to identify such pieces, but presumably the attribution is based on the presence of some, but not all, of these criteria, and the lack of obvious alternative attributions.

Coming to the piece at hand, what can we say about it relative to the classical Salor attributes?

1. Open to the right does not absolutely refute Salor attribution.
2-4. Warp depression, workmanship, and knot density: we don’t know. Perhaps you can find out?
5. Adherence to classical design: definitely not classical Salor. Just about all Salor torbas have a narrow band of rams’ horns just below the top; this one doesn’t seem to. All the Salor shemle-gul torbas that I have seen in the literature (Tsareva 13, 14; Jourdan 12, 13; Mackie & Thompson 11) have a vertical shemle design, i.e., similarly colored shemle guls form vertical columns, rather than the diagonal scheme of this piece, which is characteristic of Saryk (Jourdan 30) and other tribes.

Interestingly, a similar torba was just sold by Northeast Auctions on 2/24. It was labeled Salor in the catalog, and did have open left knots. Its warps were slightly and irregularly depressed, the workmanship was sloppy, and its knot count was only about 110. It lacked the band of rams’ horns, and the shemles were arranged in diagonal bands. The colors were quite striking with almost black blues, and there was much corroded silk. Clearly not a classical Salor, but no satisfactory alternative attribution comes to mind. The piece sold for $5600 (premium not included) on an estimate of $1500-2500. I am attaching a picture.

(ed. Here, below, is the image Yon provides.


And a closer detail of one end of it.)


You may use these comments as you see fit.

Regards, and thanks for making these fascinating shows available,


(ed.: end of Yon Bard comment)

Since this piece is available locally perhaps we can prevail on David to answer the questions that examination of it permits.


R. John Howe

And Saul Barodofsky sends a comment about the Anatolian bag below with the kilim design:


Saul: “the Anatolian kilim bag face with the suspicious colors and metallic thread is Kurdish (called Malaytia in the trade) and is rare in Turkey these days.”

End of Saul’s comment.


R. John Howe

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