Archive for June, 2009

Tunisian Rugs and Textiles: Part 1, the Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized on June 3, 2009 by rjohn

On March 28, 2009, Bill and Sondra Bechhoefer

BillandSondra

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on Tunisian rugs and textiles.

Slide 1 Picture1

Bruce Baganz, the President of The Textile Museum board of directors,

BruceBaganzintroduces

introduced the Bechhoefer’s, saying, in summary, that Bill is an architect and a retired, Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of Maryland.  He and Sondra have traveled widely, and lived in Tunisia during their Peace Corps days.  They have collected eclectically for a number of years, and Bill has served on the Textile Museum Advisory Council.

Their presentation on Tunisian textiles, here, is of special interest, because they know the geography first hand and can speak to questions of attribution with more confidence than most of us often can often manage, having seen textiles and rugs in the places where they were woven and used.

Bill began with a Power-point-assisted lecture.  They have provided me with a CD of it and I have used it generously in what follows.

One real difference:  Bill was often able to present several images in various justapositions on single Powerpoint slides.  Since wordpress limits me to a max width of 450 pixels, I have had to present most images in vertical sequences in order to retain comprehensible size.  This means that, sometimes, I cannot provide the sort of side-by-side image presentation that is most useful in some situations, but I can manage any length of vertical presentation, and hope that difference in orientation is not too distracting.

In their title slide Bill and Sondra acknowledged the sources on which they have drawn in this lecture.  They are:

Irmtraud Reswick, Traditional Textiles of Tunisia and Related North African Weavings

Centre des Arts and Traditions Populaire, Les Costumes Tradionneles Feminins de Tunisie

Favrod and Rouvinez, Lehnert & Landrock, Orient 1904-1930

Note:  One does not encounter books on Tunisian textiles frequently, but a search on the Advanced Book Exchange site for “Tunisian textiles,” yielded at least one of the books above and some others, all currently available.

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?kn=Tunisian+textiles&sts=t&x=51&y=18

A separate search on Reswick’s name, alone, brought the following listing:

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=Irmtraud+Reswick&sts=t&x=60&y=12

Bill began with the map below.

Slide 2, map

There is not room for explicit “country” labeling of it here, but Tunisia is that “wedge” on the Mediterranean sea, between Algeria and Libya.  Its city of Tunis does get specific mention, and the location at a strategic point in the Mediterranean accounts in part for the multiple cultures that have occupied the country.

Next, Bill provided a brief, compressed treatment of Tunisia’s long and varied history.

Bill1

He divided it into three broad periods.

First, he said, the Berbers are seen by some to stretch from as far back as 6,000 BCE to the present, and they are of great importance for textiles.

In 814 BCE, the Phoenicians of Carthage were in Tunisia and Rome was, subsequently, there, as well, with the Punic Wars ending in 146 BCE. The Vandals arrived in 439 CE and the Byzantines in 534 CE.

A second broad period of Tunisia’s history is taken up with the Arab Conquest in 670 CE and with the various , subsequent Arab and Berber regimes that included, the Ummayads, Aghlabids, Fatimids, Almohads, and the Hafsids.

A third period of Tunisian history, is marked by the arrival of the Ottomans in 1574.  Tunisia was under strong Ottoman influence until the mid-19th century.  In 1881, it became a French protectorate (there is some overlap between the Ottomans and the French, since the former empire continued in some form into the 20th century).  Tunisia finally achieved its independence  in 1956.

The postcard below, Bill said

Slide 3

is a “French orientalist” composition from the early 20th century.  Despite its intended exoticism, it tells stories of the cultural overlays that exist in Tunisia.  In it we see indigenous plain weave, some striped klims (ed. Arabic  transliteration), with some Berber decoration in front of Andalusian architecture.  The “eagle Kazak” is a mysterious inclusion, and he speculated that it was a “prop” from the photographer’s studio.

The two photos of the city of Tunis below also reveal historical overlays in the architecture.

Slide4, photo 1

There are North African, Ottoman, Colonial and Modern buildings.  Note the cathedral in the photo below.

Slide 4, photo 2 

Bill said that the image below is of the el Mnouchi family, their first textile collecting mentors in Tunisia.

Slide 4, photo 3

They were not always accurate regarding provenance, but had access to a variety of quality examples.

Tunis has an “urban” culture.  Its textiles have a strongly Ottoman character, as shown in the 18th century wedding dress below.

Slide 5, photo 1 

The textile below is in velvet and gold, and strongly Ottoman in character.

Slide 5, Photo 2

The image below is of an everyday 20th century “safsari,” woven in wool, cotton or synthetics.

Slide 6, photo 1 

The safsari as an outer covering has a long history, as shown in this early 20th century view of Tunis.

Slide 6, photo 2 

But by the mid-20th century, the black veil was rare.

Slide 6, photo 3

The merchant in the image below exhibits typical male dress. 

Slide 7, photo 1

He wears a white djebba and a red felt hat, called a “chechiya.”  Such hats are remanents of the fez.  (The fez is now for tourists.)  The djebba is the traditional everyday outer garment for men, and can be in cotton, wool or synthetics.

The image below in the Chechiya Souk in Tunis has some hat shops visible on the left side.

Slide 7, photo 2

This embroidered djebba is for special occasions and can be of cotton, wool, or silk.

Slide 7, photo 3 

The image below is of a calligrapher in Tunis.

Slide 8, photo 1 

We are looking at examples of Ottoman turga and figural calligraphy.  Some of the designs, like those in the border, find their way into rugs.

This vintage photo of a weaver prepares us for our move into Tunisia’s countryside.

Slide 8, photo 2

First stop: Kairouan.

Slide 9, photo 1 map

 Kairouan has been known for its silk, cotton and linen fabrics since the 8th century.

Slide 9, photo 2

Its most important pilgramage site is the Grand Mosque, which in its current form dates from the 13th century.  Seven pilgramages to Kairouan is said to equal one visit to Mecca.

The image below shows one of the arcades surrounding the main court; all the columns and capitals were scavanged from earlier Byzantine and Roman buildings.

Slide 9, photo 3

Zaouia Sidi Sahab, 17th century, showing typical Kairouan pile carpets in use.

Slide 10, photo 1

Pile carpets in Kairouan are decendents of Anatolian imports in the 17th and 18th centuries, and such rugs were first made in Kairouan in the 18th century.

Slide 10, photo 2

 Typical Kairouan type rugs.  Man is wearing a safsari to cover his shorts and short sleeves.

Today most wool is imported, and since the beginning of the 20th century dyes have been almost entirely synthetic.

Slide 11, photo 1


Slide 11, photo 2

The exception is for pieces made for home use like the shawls of the South, where local wool and natural dyes are used.

Slide 11, photo 3 

“Zarbia” rugs, as shown below, are the most typical Kairouan pile rugs. 

Slide12, photo 1

Their designs feature double “mirhabs,” eight-branched medallions, bouquets, roses, and kufesque borders.  They have symmetric knots and through the 19th century handspun wools and natural dyes were used.

Slide 12, photo 2 

In the 60’s there was a creditable French effort by the Office Nationale de l’Artisanat to research traditional motifs, but there has not been follow-up, ala a DOBAG-type effort to begin again to use handspun wools and natural dyes. Examples, as above, can be finely woven, but are over-reliant on cartoons, which limits the freedom and improvisation of the weavers.

In about 1913, one family, responding to dissatisfaction with the quality of wool and, especially, of dyes invented the “alloucha,” initially a rug made in natural shades of white, beige, brown and grey wool.  “Allouchas” were later made from dyed wool.

Here are two examples — the first woven traditionally, and the second being Artisanat production using dyed wool to simulate natural wool colors.

Slide 13, photo 1

Their designs feature rose or kufesque borders, bouquets, reels, assembly and Greek motifs.

Slide 13, photo 2

Here is a Kairouan zarbia from the early 20th century, which still has a sense of freedom and improvisation.

Slide 14, photo 1


The orange in the field is from henna, seen here in a local market.

 

Slide 14, photo 2

From the 17th century, Tripolitanian Berbers migrated to Tunisia, bringing with them more complex and fine geometries.  The “mergoum” technique was adapted to Kairouan carpets, with results as shown below.

Slide 15, photo 1

These are flatweaves, woven from the back in weft substitution weave.
Slide 15, photo 2

Many mergoums are woven in Oudref, which is further south in Tunisia.  The same motifs are found in jewelry and tatoos. 

Slide 15, photo 3

In Kairouan and many other places these designs have been adapted for textiles and carpets.

Bill continued with pile pieces from more rural contexts and Berber and Bedouin traditions.

The photo below is of a tent made of goat hair strips called “flij.”   It is loosely woven, but closes up when it gets wet to become water repellent. 

Slide 16, photo 1

The tent contains a horizontal loom for weaving “flij.”  The rug is a long-pile carpet called a “Qtifa,” a sort found across North Africa.  They were woven by itinerant male weavers called “reggam.”  These were luxury carpets and production was virtually extinct by the mid-20th century.

Slide 17, photo 1 

These two photos are of a tent in Tozeur.

Slide 17, photo 2

The “qtifa” piece, visible in it , has geometrical motifs associated with the Berber tradition, but they also assimilated other design ideas, such as those from Anatolia, as shown in the example below.

Slide 17, photo 3 

 Here, below, are two more Qtifas.

Slide 18, photo 1

The one below is an Artisanat effort that exhibits Scandinavian influence in its resemblence to rya rugs.

Slide 18, photo 2

 Bill concluded this part of his discussion of pile rugs by providing examples of the Anatolian connection visible in the designs in Tunisian rugs.

He showed this detail of a western Anatolian pile carpet

Slide 19, photo 1

and invited comparison of its designs with those in the three Tunisian pile rugs below.  The first is a qtifa.

Slide 19, photo 2

The second is a Kairouan zarbia.

Slide 19, photo 3

The third is a Kairouan type in natural wool, woven in Djerba.  The central motif is said to be an “octopus”.  All three are clearly related to the Anatolian example.

Slide 19, photo 4

While acknowledging that design similarity alone does not absolutely indicate influence, Bill noted that in the case of Tunisia, the Ottoman import of rugs is well established.

Bill now moved to treat the Sahel area of east central Tunisia, including El Jem, Mahdia and Jebeniana.

Slide 20, photo 1 map

It has a flat landscape with olive groves and water control.

Slide 20, photo 2

There was a Roman presence here, as shown by the coliseum in the photo above, and mosaics in the photo below.

Slide 20, photo 3

Its colliseum is the second largest after Rome’s…and better preserved.

The piece below is a shawl from El Djem known as a “mouchtiya,” in  the Berber tradition.

Slide 21, photo 1 left

The earliest examples of such shawls have simple stripes, but they have become more complex over time.

These shawls are woven in black and white cotton on wool and are subsequently dyed red.  Cotton resists the red dye and remains white.

Here is another of this type that the Bechhoefer’s own.

Slide 21, photo 2 right top

A closer look at a detail of the piece above.

Slide 21, photo 3 right bottom detail of photo 2

Bill drew attention to the orange henna markings on these pieces, saying that it is not known why they were put on –possibly for good luck , or simply to make the pieces sparkle.

The piece below is termed a “Wazra.”  It is a kind of blanket.

Slide 22, photo 1

 

The garment below is from “El Djem.”  

Slide 23, photo 1

Bill pointed to the embroidered ends of the shawl.

Here is the back of another piece, which is striking because of the red/black division of the ground.

Slide 23, photo 2 

It is silk and gold on wool with sequins.

This is the coastal town of Mahdia.

Slide 24, photo 1

 

Slide 24, photo 2

Square, gridded fabric, such as in the costume below, is found from here and farther south, and is often silk.

Slide 24, photo 3 female costume

The costume below is from Ksar Esouf, which is near Mahdia.

Slide 25, photo 1

The example below from the Bechhoefers’ collection is silk and gold on wool.

Slide 25, photo 2

Some of the designs are similar to those on the el Djem examples.

Slide 25, photo 3

There is conjecture about whether the round design devices represent oil lamps.  Bill suggested that the artist Paul Klee must have seen such things in his travels in North Africa.

Still further south and on the east coast is the city of Sfax.

Slide 26, photo 1 map 

This is a classic Arab-Islamic city on a Roman “castrum,”  or military encampment.  Sfax and Redayef , which is to the south and west, are in different regions, but are linked by the phosphate mining industry and migrations of Tripolitanian Berber mine workers. Therefore, textiles and carpets in the 2 places have affinities and can be discussed together.

 Slide 26, photo 4 

Below a French “cordon sanitaire” separates the old Arab city from the newer French Colonial city.

Slide 26, photo 3


The images below are of the Sfax “medina,” a term used to describe the old sections of Arab cities in North Africa.

Slide 27, photo 1

Sfax is known for its blankets and shawls.  High standards of wool and craft are exhibited.  Saddle makers were active well into the mid-20th century, but today there is less need.

 Slide 27, photo 2


Slide 27, photo 3

Here are some Sfax textiles.  The piece below is a Sfax shawl, white and black on white with “jewel” dots of color. The design language of Sfax is similar to that of El Djem and Jebiniana, although the open areas are more prevalent in Sfax and further south.  This piece was collected by the Bechhoefers and is now part of The Textile Museum collection.  The cushions are probably from Jebiniana.

Slide 28, photo 1 

The piece below is a Sfax shawl produced for the Artisanat.

Slide 28, photo 2 

The next piece below is a “klim-mergoum” woven by Tripolitanians who migrated to Sfax and Redayef in the early 20th century.  It was not necessarily made in Sfax, but is associated with it because of these phosphate workers.


Slide 29, photo 1

Now we move to the western side of Tunisia and slightly south of Sfax to Redayef.  These weavers are a particular group of Berber phosphate workers.  Here are two Redayef weavings.

Slide30, photo 1

 

Slide 30, photo 2 

Bill said that the larger motifs are possibly the result of influence by nearby Gafsa and Sidi bou Zid.

In the next sequence of images we move to Gafsa proper, including Sidi bou Zid and Tozeur.

Slide 31, photo 1 map 

Gafsa is an oasis in contrast to the austere landscape that surrounds it.Slide 31, photo 2

Below is an urban courtyard house.

 Slide 31, photo 3

There is also a Roman bath.

Slide 31, photo 4

Gafsa is known for its blankets and klims.  References to textiles from  Gafsa often include those from Sidi bou Zid and Tozeur.

The town of Tozeur has distinctive brick buildings.

Slide 32, photo 1

Here are some images of its market.

Slide 32, photo 2

 

Slide 32, photo 3

Notice the brickwork above the klims in the image below.

Slide 32, photo 4

 Tozeur weavings are flatweaves and include those from Sidi bou Zid.  Colors include a shocking pink.  The synthetic dyes used do not age gracefully.

The piece below is a “huli” and is five meters long, including two end panels.  The camel caravan is a typical motif.

Slide 33, photo 1

In this new example, camel drivers and fish are depicted as well as camels.

Slide, 33 photo 2 

The example below is typical of Artisanat production.

Slide 33, photo 3 

There also designs that feature squares, in a type called “ferachiya.”

Slide 34, photo 1

The older examples of this design had a softer palette.  It is often commercially produced now.

Slide 34, photo 2

The piece below is a typical Gafsa kilim.  It has a white ground with “caravan” and field designs, among others.

Slide 35, photo 1


“Eye dazzler” designs are also produced in this area, and are principally associated with Sidi bou Zid.  Here, below, are two.

Slide 36, photo 1

This second example, below, is new production.

Slide 36, photo 2

We move back, now to the east coast, to the island of Djerba.  Djerba is at the deepest indentation in the map below, between the words “GABES” and “Matmata.”

Slide 37, photo 1 map

Djerba is called “the island of the Lotus Eaters,” from Greek mythology.

Slide 37, photo 2

It is a place of legend, mentioned in one of the tales of Ulysses and sirens.

Slide 37, photo 3

It exhibits a unique small scale of building designed to escape the notice of pirates, as well as a response to scarce building materials and the climate.  The minarets of mosques all over the island are in sight of each other, allowing signals to be sent everywhere in case of danger.

Slide 37, photo 4


There is also an ancient and distinguished Jewish community there.

Slide 37, photo 6

The buildings below are “fondouk,” often restored for carpet shops and hotels.  They are  a distinctive form of commercial building, also know as “hans” and “caravanseris” in other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia.  Originally, there was commerce below and living above.  

Slide 38, photo 1

No textiles in the photos are typical of Djerba, although they may have been made there.

Slide 38, photo 2

To find local products one has to look for local workshops.

Slide 39, photo 1

This is Djerba silk weaving.

Slide 39, photo 2 

Below is a characteristic studio: the architecture is transverse arches with infill vaults.

Slide 39, photo 3

The costume below is winter dress, which shows the same gridded fabric we saw in Mahdia.

Slide 40, photo 1

A Jewish wedding shawl, embroidered in silk and gold  on a similar gridded fabric of raw silk.

Slide 40, photo 2

There was only one weaver left in 1990.  Such fabric has been replaced by cheaper machine-made versions.

Bill moved next to treat the Matmata region.  It includes Chenini, Medenine, Douiret and Tataouine. 

Slide 41, photo 2

This is the edge of the Sahara, where the culture is predominately Berber.  The landscape below shows underground houses.  Vegetation grows where water is captured in depressions and valleys.  

Some of the finest Tunisian textiles come from this area.


Slide 41, photo 3 


Slide 42, photo 2

Building underground is an excellent climate response, later emulated by the Romans at Bulla Regia.

Slide 42, photo 3

Here are some example of older and newer living rooms.

 

Slide 43, photo 2

Slide 43, photo 3

Many Tunisian women have tattoos, and the designs are the same as those found in the weavings.


Slide 44, photo 1a

And below is an older image showing similar dress.  The safsari, however, is not typical of the south, but was used by the photographer who posed the subject in Tunis.

Slide 44, photo 2

And a closer detail of this same image.

Slide 44, photo 2a

The tatoo design vocabulary is pervasive.  The designs appear in jewelry and pottery, as well as in textiles.

Tunisian women often wear head covers to protect shawls from hair oils.

Slide 45, photo 1

These headcovers are termed “tijara.”  Here are two from Matmata and Douiret.  The Matmata example uses tie-dyed henna stains, while the Douiret example has embroidery applied on top of the woven designs.

Slide 45, photo 2

 

Slide 45, photo 3

 This is a grain sack from Medenine, north of Matmata.

Slide 46, photo 2

This textile is woven in strips.

Slide 46, photo 3

Below is is a closer detail of the piece above.

Slide 46, photo 4

 Bill said this was a hitch-hiker who got them to Toujane.

Slide 47, photo 1

The houses there blend with the landscape.

Slide 47, photo 2

 

Slide 47, photo 3

 These shawls from the Matmata region are termed “bakhnug.”

Slide 48, photo 1

These shawls are woven with white cotton on white wool.  They are dowry pieces and are dyed only after marriage.  It is said that white is for young women, red is for mature and blue is for older women; however, there are enough variations on this idea to merit further investigation. [A similar color symbolism seems to be practiced by Turkmen who wear the chyrpy, although white, in the Turkmen usage, seems honorific, and is awarded to mothers (only) over 60 seen to merit it.]  

The shawl below is from Toujane.

Slide 48, photo 3

A detail of the piece above.

Slide 48, photo 2

Here is the front of one of these shawls dyed red.

Slide 49, photo 2

Here is the back of a related piece.

Slide 49,photo 1 

Chenini foum Tataouine

Slide 50, photo 1 

Houses are built into the hillside, as well as on it.

Slide 50, photo 2

Some of the best pieces come from this area.

Slide 50, photo 3

These shawls, both blue and red, are covered with beautifully woven decoration.

Slide 51, photo 1

Bill ended his lecture showing several examples of such pieces.

Slide 51, photo 2

Slide 52, photo 1

Bill and Sondra owned the piece below.  It is now part of The Textile Museum collection.

Slide 52, photo 2

Here are some additional closer details of it.

Slide 53, photo 1 

 

Slide 53, photo 2

Bill ended his lecture saying that these Chenini pieces, in particular, deserve to be better known and appreciated.

Bill4 

Slide 54, photo 1

We next moved to examine some of the material in the room.  Because there are so many images in this lecture, I have, again, placed our examination of the pieces in the room in a separate post.   To see it go to the following link:

 https://rjohnhowe.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/tunisian-rugs-and-textiles-part-2-the-pieces-brought-in/

Regards,

R. John Howe

Tunisian Rugs and Textiles, Part 2: The Pieces Brought In

Posted in Uncategorized on June 3, 2009 by rjohn

Dear folks –

This is part 2 of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning on Tunisian Rugs and Textiles, given by Bill and Sondra Bechhoefer at The Textile Museum, here in Washington, D.C. on March 28, 2009.

The first part of this program was a Powerpoint-assisted lecture and, if you have not seen that, it might be particularly advisable in this case, given that Tunisian textiles are not encountered that frequently, and the Bechhoefers provide a useful introduction to them, rooted in their own experiences living in Tunisia in the late 196os.  To go to the lecture, use this link:

https://rjohnhowe.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/tunisian-rugs-and-textiles-part-1-the-lecture/

The Bechhoefers had brought some of their own collection to be seen and examined “in the fabric.”  All of their “brought in” pieces were treated in the lecture, so further descriptions of them, here, will often be brief.

The pieces were treated as they were arrayed on the display board in the front of the Myers Room, and so do not follow the sequence of the lecture.

In fact, Bill began with a red shawl treated near the lecture’s end.

Textile1Bill

It is from Ksar Essouf, near Mahdia, and is similar to pieces woven in El Djem.

Here, again, are some closer details of it.

Textile1

The piece is silk on wool and is about 5 meters long.  You will recall that some see the round designs as “oil lamps,” inspired by Roman oil lamps that would have been in the area.

Textile1a


The next item was a shawl from the eastern island of Djerba.  This piece was thought to be a Jewish wedding shawl.  It is raw silk, with silk and gold embroidery.

Textile2

Some closer details of the piece above.

Textile2b

The shadowy figures in the dark area above get a little clearer.

Textile2c

As do the color usages in the lighter ones.

Textile2d

 

textile2e


A third Bechhoefer weaving was the one below.  This “tajira” is similar to one of two headcovers shown in the lecture, woven in Matmata in the south. 

Textile3


Here are closer looks at one corner and at its field.

Textile3a

Textile3b

The orange/yellow spots are the result of tie-dying with henna.  Many of us are fearful of bright oranges, but, for me, in this piece, regardless of their source, the orange highlights function positively, giving a pleasing, electric character to its aesthetics.

The next Bechhoefer piece was this “bakhnug” shawl from Toujane, in the Matmata region.

Textile4

 If you watch these blog posts, you will likely remember seeing this piece before. 

The Bechhoefers loaned it to Jeff Krauss and me when we were working on our RTAM on “Blue.”  There, it was noted that such pieces are woven cotton on wool, but white on white, and the intricate designs that are woven into them 

Textile4c

only become visible after  dyeing  (here with indigo) because wool and cotton take in the dye to markedly different degrees and the cotton areas remain nearly “white.”

Textile4a

I used images of it again in my recent post on “Easy to Weave; Hard to Weave,”

Textile4b

as an example of something woven in one color that is likely not easy to weave, since there is no color difference (only texture) to help guide one’s weaving actions while drawing these small-scale intricate designs.

To me, this is an impressive, stately piece of weaving.

The next textile treated in the room was this shawl from the Sahel area of central Tunisia, probably from El Djem.

Textile5

More intricate patterning and orange henna highlights.

Here is a closer corner of this weaving.

Textile5a

And a closer detail of its field.

Textile5b

 A sixth brought-in textile was this colorfully playful Gafsa end panel from a longer blanket, or “huli.”

Textile6

Bill suggested in his lecture that older pieces of this type have a softer palette.  Brighter colors and some visible color transfer suggest that this one is somewhat younger; the newest examples are much brighter than this.

The color combinations often used in Tunisian pieces are not those that many of us would put together ourselves.

Textile6a

A bright orange with maroon and pink would seem to tax the notion of analogous color usage a bit.  On the other hand, some 13th century Anatolian rugs use oranges and color combinations most collectors of today would reject.

Textile6b

Note that the use of dovetailed tapestry makes it possible to draw with long vertical color changes.

Textile6c

I don’t think you can claim, legitimately, that these Gafsa klims are not “happy rugs.”

The next piece was produced in Oudref, in the south, but the “mergoum” technique also influenced Kairouan production, as well as other regions.  In his lecture Bill noted that in the 17th century, Tripolitanian Berbers brought more complex and fine geometries to this part of Tunisia.

Textile7

This piece was made using weft substitution.

Textile7a 

Bill noted that they are made from the back, and I think these are like the Moroccan pieces woven in weft substitution in which it is at least remarkable, if not mysterious, how the weavers know what they are doing when they can’t see the design at all.

Textile7b

But it’s clear that they have assured indicators that they follow because they produce these fine, intricate designs with great precision.

 Textile7c 

The next textile was a grain sack from Medenine.

Textile8

 

Textile8a

Note the inclusion of whimsical detail.

Textile8b

The next textile was the one below.  It’s origins are not entirely clear, but it is similar to other klim-mergoum carpets associated with Sfax.  The dealer who sold it to the Bechhoefers described it as “nomadic.”

Textile9 

 

Textile9b

 

Textile9c

The handle is very stiff, with a feeling like canvas.  The dealer suggested that it would resist the bite of scorpions when put on the ground in a tent.

Textile9d

 

 

Textile9e

 

The last textile was brought in by a member of the audience and is shown below.


Textile10

It is a very fine “baknug” from Chenini, and represents some of the best weaving in Tunisia.

Textile10a

Like other pieces from the region is is woven in white cotton on white wool, and subsequently dyed red.  The wool ground takes the dye more thoroughly than the cotton, resulting in the contrast.

 

Textile10b

Wool for these pieces is local and hand-spun, with natural dye — probably madder.

Textile10c

The extraordinary skill of the weaver and the quality of the overall composition make this piece exemplary.

 Textile10d

 

 

Textile10e

 

 

Textile10f

 The session came to an end, and participants moved to the front of the room.

After4

 

After9

 

After10Bill

 

After11

Sometimes there are impromptu mini-show-and-tell events in the room after these programs. 

One lady had brought an embroidered dress that she did not bring out during the program because she did not know whether it was Tunisian.

After5

 Those sitting near her encouraged her to bring it out.  She did and began to point out its features.

After5a

I asked her to hold up her dress so I could “take” it.  She got brave and stood on a chair and held it up to make sure I got it full length.

After5b

Now I tried for some closer detail.

After5c

And even closer.

After5d

I don’t think it was decided where it was from, but it was a nice dress (there are embroidered Palestinian dresses that seem similar, but the color palette may have been “off” for that).

I want to thank Bill and Sondra for permitting me to fashion a virtual version of their interesting RTAM program.  Bill gave me a copy of his Powerpoint document and that helped immensely.  They both did important editorial work after to save me from myself.

This has been an especially enjoyable session to work on.  I hope you have enjoyed it, too.

Regards,

R. John Howe