Jeff Krauss and John Howe On Blue in Rugs and Other Textiles, Part 2, Pieces You Could Get Your Hands On

This is Part 2 of our virtual treatment of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning on “Blue” given by Jeff Krauss and John Howe on May 31, 2008.

Part 1, replicates the longish initial lecture part of this program and is treated in a separate post here

We have separated them because of the large number of images both entail.

Part 2 was devoted to selected “in the fabric, in the room,” examples of the use of blue.

The screen was taken down and the first level of textiles on the front-of-the-room board appeared.

John began with a selection of pile and flatwoven pieces.

The first piece was a complete, flatwoven Turkmen tentband, an end of which was draped over the board.

Textile A

Although the dominant color of this piece is red, in fact, it has a good range of color with a white, a brown, a yellow, a green and two blues.

Textile A1

The lighter blue seems clearly to be read positively, but how the darker blue in the body of the band is intended is ambiguous. Probably positive as well, but it could be read negatively.

This band is quite fine and its design is unusual in my experiece. Most would, I think, call it Yomut, but Pinner and Eiland have cautioned that we may not yet know enough about Turkmen flatweaves to make confident attributions. It appears never to have been used.

Textile B is a fragment of Central Asian ikat.

Textile B

A little closer look.

Textile B1

This fragment seems likely to be from a very delicate garment of some sort. The fabric is so thin that the colors and designs “wash out” when mounted on black. So the red mounting is a necessity.

Both the vertical striped area and that with diagonal striping are of ikat. The vertical area seems to have two close blues and the diagonal striped edge has a blue-gray. Most Central Asian ikats have red wefts. This fragment is unusual because it has blue wefting. Jim Blackmon notes that blue weft marks a distinctive group of Central Asian ikats and may be an indicator of age. Elena Tsareva, with it in her hands, said that this is the oldest piece of Central Asian ikat she has seen.

Textile C was the contemporary Anatolian yastik below.

Textile C

This yastik is included because all of the colors in it are natural and are said to be from woad. Here is a close look at them.

Textile C1

Jeff’s researches seem to indicate that, although woad is a clear source of indigo, it can also contain components that can be used with mordants to produce quite a range of other colors. This piece exhibits, in addition to a bright blue, a strong yellow, a brighter red, a rust red, a dark green, a brown, white, and a purple.

This yastik came from a Michael Bischof project. It was woven by Susan Yalcin about seven years ago in the Karaman area near Konya. Ms. Yalcin is, I believe, from a nearby Yomut Turkmen village whose ancestors came from Khorasan 200-300 years ago. We also know the name of the dyer.

The field design in this piece is a frequent one but without, I think, noticeable pedigree. The wool used in this piece is of exceptional quality and the saturation of its colors is outstanding.

I had asked Wendel Swan and Bob Emry to assist in this RTAM program and to bring and speak to some pieces with interesting uses of blue. Wendel spoke now to those he had brought.

He began with Textile D below.

Textile D

A closer look at a vertical strip of the left side.

Textile D1

Textile D is one side panel of a Shahsavan bedding bag from the Moghan-Savalan area of northwest Azarbayjan. At least four, but perhaps five, uses of blue are employed skillfully in the impactful graphics of this piece.

The designs and palette on this panel are nearly identical to those on a complete bedding bag published by John Wertime as Plate 69 in his book on “Sumak Bags.”

Wendel moved next to a small Shahsavan chanteh, or single bag woven in slit tapestry with a sumak border. The ground of this single bag is blue, a relatively rare feature.

Textile E

And here is a closer look at part of it.

Textile E1

Wendel called particular attention to the way that a shade of blue, slightly different from that employed as ground, has been used in some areas for outlining.

Not many collectors pay much attention to “city” rugs nowadays, but Wendel is one who thinks that there is sometimes worthy material in this arena. He next moved to a city rug that he thinks has merit.

Here is a full image of Textile F,

Textile F

which is a Jozan. Although sometimes called “Jozan Saruks” in the West, the Persians refer to them as “Jozan Malayer” because they come from a village between Arak and Malayer and are symmetrically knotted (like a Malayer) but have fully depressed warps.

It would be difficult, even if one is not especially attracted to “city rugs,” not to acknowledge that this is a beautifully composed, colored, and executed rug (noted resolved corner turns).

Here is a closer look at detail that permits you to better assess the use of blue in this mat.

Textile F1

You can see the myriad ways (e.g., just starting with different ground shades in field and borders) in which various blues are skillfully used in this piece.

And to digress, a bit, Wendel’s attribution of “Jozan” is interesting in, and of, itself. As indicated above, “Jozan” is often taken to be a reference to a species of Saruk. Willborg included Jozan as a Hamadan type (with bows to two-wefts and deeply depressed alternate warps, that seem more like Saruk usages). Edwards and others refer to the production of the town of Jozan.

Nevertheless, the use of blue in this piece is varied and sophisticated. We go on.

Wendel had also brought a piece with blue that he thought few could identify. Here is it:

Textile G

What is it? Where was it woven? How old is it?

Good questions. This is not a textile that even active collectors would encounter every day. It is a flatwoven cushion cover from southern Sweden.

Textiles of this sort are most usually done in a variety of “interlocking” or “dovetailed” tapestry. If they are, they are called “rollakan,” an instance, like the term “kilim,” in which a structure name has become the most used name for the general type. But such flatweaves are also sometimes made using “slit” tapestry. If so, the Swedes call such a piece “flamskvav.” This piece is rollakan.

Most such Swedish flatweaves have rectilinear designs, but surprisingly curvilear examples also occur.

Although Swedish pieces using these techniques are still being made, antique rollakans and flamskvavs are fairly rare and can bring high prices at auction. I think most who follow these Swedish textiles would estimate Wendel’s piece as first quarter of the 19th century, as does Wendel. A remarkable number of these pieces are estimated to the 18th century.

Wendel’s small piece is particularly well-composed and its blue is glad to play its part in what seems to me to be a very successful graphic coloring based on a quite restricted palette.

I had also asked Bob Emry to bring some pieces with interesting uses of blue and he had brought two. He talked about them next.

He said that he had brought two Baluch (or Timori) pieces because “…Baluch rugs are often considered the “other red rugs”–the poor cousins to Turkmen. But it is clear that Baluch–Timuri especially–knew how to use blue effectively.”

Bob’s first piece was a small rug with a striking “mina khani” design.

Textile H

Bob said that this “small rug…has several shades of blue along with a very good red, and enough white to make it interesting.” Here are two closer details of it.

Textile H1

Textile H2

Bob’s second piece was a khorjin type bag.

Textile I

Baluch-Timuri pile weavings can be notoriously difficult to photograph and Bob has supplied the images used here so that you have a chance to see their qualities.

Here are two more closer details.

Textile I1

Textile I2

Bob said that this “…(half khorjin) has at least two shades of blue, plus dark blue-green, and an aubergine hexagonal lattice– all so dark and so subtly different, that it is difficult to see the design without good light. Which leads me to suppose that the weaver must have worked in good light–probably bright sunlight.”

It would be difficult to call the next rug, one I admit to having pursued all the way to The Netherlands via the internet, a serious rug (among other things its warps seem to be neither of cotton or wool, a potentially alarming indicator of its possible youth). But it is a fun rug, with a nice graphic use of blue.

Textile J

This pictorial pile rug is Persian and is attributed to Firdowz in Khurasan. Tanavoi devoted a book to such rugs and includes several similar examples. They are nearly always white ground with this same spacious border. There are lots of Baluch and Arabs in Firdowz who weave, but Tanavoli says that these pictorial pieces are likely woven by other Persian weavers there.

Now the fun part. This rug is what Pat Weiler, a collector in Seattle, has called a “soap opera” rug. It portrays one instance in the lives of two star-crossed lovers, Khushraw and Shirin, from Persian folk literature. The horse is hers. If you get the girl, you get the horse. There are numerous episodes and all the characters in such rugs are identifiable. If you ask a Persian about these stories, he/she will tell you one and it will be different from the last one you have heard.

I do not like most pictorial rugs, but find these blocky figures appealing, and had a geographically misplaced hope that they might come down from some ancient Luri sculptures. It turns out that they are based on Russian icons and I know of two “Mary and Jesus” rugs with these same type figures.

The next piece was an Antolian grain bag that I bought in Bergama last year.

Textile K

The front of this complete bag has alternating bands of plain weave and more complex designs in brocade. Carrying straps are sewn firmly on the side. And the back

Textile K1

is almost entirely of stripes of plain weave with only small triangular devices done in brocade.

The use of blue in the brocaded cross-panels on the front is amibiguous.

Textile K2

It takes a little looking to decide that, nearly all, if not all, of the uses of blue in the brocade sections is negative.

These Anatolian grain bags can be beautiful and are still reasonably priced, and under-collected.

The last of the piece I brought was a lovely old, Chinese rug that I do not own.

Textile L

This rug shows how effectively the Chinese could use blue in their pile rugs (although Wendel suggested that this one may have originally had some red as well).

Here are two closer details.

Textile L1

Textile L2

(The “gray” area to the right of the medallion is the shadow of my hand, not something on the rug.)

For me the use of blue, white and tan in this piece exudes a peaceful calm.

The owner of this piece indicates that it has handspun cotton wefts, an indicator that would place it before 1850. The owner believes that it may be 18th century.

Now Jeff began to treat the African and Japanese pieces.

Textile M

He started with the modeling of four Japanese garments, one of which he is wearing in the photo above. The other three, Textiles N, O, and P Were worn (left to right) by Linda Powell, John and Marissa Huttinger (a TM volunteer who helped us, ably, in this session) in the photo below.

Textiles N, O and P

Textile M, the coat Jeff wears above is dark and needs close-up details to permit you to see its subtle designs.

Here closer look from the side.

Textile M1

A closer look from the back.

Textile M2

This is a patchwork Japanese jacket, made up of a number of different patterns of kasuri (ikat), a resist dyeing technique that involves resisting and dyeing the threads before the fabric is woven. The patchwork is perfectly left-right symmetric, so clearly someone put a lot of effort into making this from remnants that had seen others uses before they became part of the jacket. Cotton.

Textile M3

Linda is wearing an unusual piece: a cotton yukata robe resist dyed with indigo using a shibori technique, but mostly white.

Textile N

A closer look at a detail of Textile N. This design is achieved by pleating the cloth and wrapping it tightly around a core of heavy rope, and then wrapping twine around to secure the cloth, and then dyeing it. Most of the cloth is not exposed to the dye because of the way it is pleated and wrapped.

Textile N1

John is wearing a kind of fisherman’s coat.

Textile O

The back of this coat. This is resist dyed using a technique called tsutsugaki, which involves a paste made from rice that is squeezed out of a pastry bag. The craftsman lays down the paste on the areas to be resisted, and then the fabric is dipped into the indigo. After the indigo dyeing is done, the paste is removed and then other dye colors are applied. Cotton.

Textile O1

Marissa Huttinger, a TM voluteer who was very helpful, wears another cotton yukata robe.

Textile P

The back of Textile P. This is another shibori resist dyeing technique. In this case, the craftsman makes a running stitch through the fabric along the swirling lines, and then the thread is pulled tight, creating tiny pleats along the stitch.

Textile P1

A closer detail of this back.

Textile P2

Now Jeff moved to the pieces on the board.

Textile Q, below, was a Japanese indigo square cotton furoshiki (wrapping cloth) so dark that it looked almost black. It was resist dyed using the same paste resist technique as the fisherman’s jacket.

Textile Q

Jeff asked Ann Marie Moeller, an expert on Japanese symbolism who was in the audience to explain the symbolism in Textile Q. The symbols include the cloak of invisibility, a bottomless treasure bag and magic jewels.

The next piece on the board was Textile R below. This is another cotton furoshiki, quite old, whose design is achieved by a stitching technique called sashiko.

Textile R

The next two textiles had bright blues and more impactful designs.

The first was Textile S below with small irregular blue forms in an overall pattern. This is another type of shibori resist dyeing, achieved by looping a thread around small bunched up areas of the cotton fabric.

Textile S

It was followed by Textile T that features explosive-seeming designs. It’s another example of shibori, in this case made by folding the cloth and then clamping it between boards. This textile is actually a cotton baby diaper, and this was a common dyeing technique for baby diapers.

Textile T

Textile U, below, is darker again but with a design that includes clear fish devices. This was made using a stencil and “painting” a rice paste through the stencil. The white areas are where the paste resisted the indigo dye. Cotton.

Textile U

The following cotton Textile V, below, was also dark but with a readable design that included a version of the cloak of invisibility, one of the symbolic devices Ann Marie Moeller had explained earlier. The dyeing technique here is kasuri (ikat), whereby the threads are resist dyed before the fabric is woven.

Textile V

Textile W, below was a long dark cotton strip with another kasuri-dyed design.

Textile W

Jeff folded it back perhaps to show that the design is the same on both sides.

Textile W1

The designs in Textile W are subtle enough and complex enough to deserve a closer look at a detail. A crane is clearly visible.

Textile W2

Jeff continued with the next layer on the board now of African pieces.

The first African piece, Textile X was the very colorful one below.

Textile X

A closer look at a detail of this piece. This is a traditional kente cloth from the Ashanti tribe of Ghana, although it has more blue than most kente cloth. Woven in long narrow strips, then sewn together. Possibly silk, but more likely rayon.

Textile X1

The second African textile, below was lighter but still very colorful. This is cotton, from the Ewe tribe of Ghana. Also woven in long strips.

Textile Y

A closer look at some of these small panels.

Textile Y1

Textile Z moved back to predominantly blue shades.

Textile Z

A close-up of a small detail lets you see how these squares are composed internally. The design is made up mostly of floating wefts. This is probably from the Ewe tribe.

Textile Z1

Textile AA, below, was another of predominant blues.

Textile AA

A closer detail. The dyeing technique is warp ikat. Cotton, woven in long narrow strips.

Textile AA1

Textile BB featured circular designs.

Textile BB

Another closer detail. The dyeing technique is basically the same as Japanese shibori, using thread wrapped around the fabric.

Texile BB1

The last textile we had brought was from Tunisia.

Textile CC

This piece is a headcover of shawl.

Linda Powell, the TM Education Curator, spoke up from the audience to say that

there is a similar piece in the TM collection and that they were often given as dowry pieces and dyed after the owner was married.

In subsequent conversation Linda added that the TM description of its Tunisian shawl indicates in part that:

These shawls/headcovers are woven by Berber women in Tunisia. When the shawl comes off the loom it has a design of white on white. Unmarried women wore these undyed shawls.

On the occasion of marriage the undyed shawl is dyed either red or dark blue (the shawl in the TM collection is dyed red).

The TM notes on this piece also indicate that “deep red shawls with prominent decoration are thought to be appropriate for the festive occasion of a wedding and may allude to a wish for a long and fertile life.” The TM shawl is estimated to be mid 20th century.

The owner notes, on this piece, say, additionally, that it is from the Matmata region in Tunisia and was woven by a Berber weaver, but could have been woven in a number of locations in that region (they cite Toujaine as one possible candidate).  Because Matmata is the largest town in the area, it is used as a catch-all designation when a more specific provenance is not available.

They indicate that these pieces are woven in wool and cotton. They have plain colored grounds and narrow borders, the latter decorated with fine geometric designs that seem to be brocade.

Textile CC1

The TM notes and the literature say that such “head shawls” are woven “in a combination of white wool, black-tinted wool and cotton, working from the back of the textile.

The designs are given names by the weavers, but often the same design is given different names in different villages. The meanings the design names convey are not reliably known, but they “suggest physical comfort, protection and security.” These same designs are found in Tunisian pottery and tattoos.

It seems agreed in the literature that such shawls are often dowry pieces and are initially undyed and so mostly white. After a time (the accounts seem to vary as to when and for what reasons) the shawl is dyed, sometimes with indigo. [The seeming most frequent account indicates that traditionally white is for unmarried girls (as Linda and the TM notes suggested), red is for young married women and blue or black is for older women.]
Because the white, black-tinted wool and cotton take indigo dye differentially (this is especially the case for areas done in cotton) the patterns are readily visible only after dyeing. These shawls are excellent examples of this differential dyeing effect.
Our session on Blue came to an end, we took questions, looked at some pieces using blue that had been brought in, and adjourned. As usual, the looking was now supplemented with touching and the conversation multiplied.

Thanks to Carly Ofsthun, the TM’s Education Coordinator, for her assistance as we prepared, and whose idea this RTAM may have been. To Marissa Huttinger, for her assistance in helping put up, model and move the textiles during the session. Also to Jeff’s wife, Fern and to my wife, Jo Ann for the useful photos they took from the audience.

Jeff Krauss and I hope you’ve enjoyed our virtual RTAM session on Blue.


R. John Howe

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: