“Small Bags,” Part 2, Audience Pieces

Dear folks –

This is the second part of a two-part virtual version of a Textile Museum “rug morning” program that Harold Keshishian conducted with the assistance of his son, Kirk, on June 20, 2009

If you have not seen Part 1, it is probably best to start with it.  You can go to it using the following link:


this same link is in red at the top of this page or you can return to the blog title page provided in the announcing email and select Part 1 there.

Harold had treated the pieces he had brought in, but there was still a lot of unexamined material in the room.


Harold’s substituting in this rug morning was apparently successfully announced on the TMs’ web site, because the congregants brought pieces and they were, mostly on topic.

The first “brought in” piece was the small bag face below.


A nice field of rectilinear devices well framed by a yellow-ground border.

The next piece was a complete single Shahsevan bag.


This pile design is one of the simplest and yet most sought after among  Shahsevan varieties.  As with most examples of this design, the colors are glorious.

And not just on the front.


The back of this piece, with its wider stripes punctuated by narrow ones with white highlights, is one of those that would send you searching for a way to display it “in the round,” so to speak, so that both sides of it could be appreciated at the same time.

The next piece was that in the image below.  It may be NW Persian.


This, I think, was its back (things sometimes moved past my camera pretty rapidly).


The following piece was the small bag below.  Everyone was taken by the intensity of the blue in this piece.  Shiraz area.


I am not certain, but think that the image below may be its back.


The next piece was a graphically strong salt bag.


A very effective use of white.  I don’t have an attribution for it in my notes.

Again, I am uncertain, but think that the image below shows Harold holding it with the back partly visible.


The next piece was the bag face below.  SW Persian.


The next was another SW Persian piece with its design seemingly woven sideways in relation to its warps (note the opening at the top of the image above).


I have turned the image above 45 degrees to the left to let you examine this directional design with its elements pointing upward.


The next piece was a complete khorjin set with a long connecting panel.


Here is a slightly closer look at the bottom face in this set. It seems to be Caucasian, maybe made by Armenians.


A simple, effective design.

The next piece was a Shahsevan wallet done in sumak.


This piece is my own. It is 5 inches wide and 8 inches tall. I like its colors and the ability of the weaver to create a pleasing design in a quite small space.

Its back is mostly plain.


The next piece is also one I brought.  It is an Anatolian “cuval” from the Bergama area.


I like its crisp drawing and strong graphics, likely enhanced by a narrow palette.  Like Anatolian grain bags and heybes, I think such “cuvals” are still surprisingly under-collected.

The next piece was also one I had brought in.


Because it is made of one continuous piece sewn up the sides, there has always been a suspicion that it is a “constructed” piece cut down from something larger.

Here is its back.


Its assembly seems to suggest to most who have examined it that it is not “constructed,” but in the mode in which it was originally made.

It has good colors, is woven in a quite coarse sumak and its drawing has an undisciplined character that has suggested to me that it might be Luri.

Harold looked at it


and said that he had not seen a Lori sumak this coarse and that he thought it might be Char Mahal.

A fourth piece I had brought was the small bag below.


This was used as a tobacco bag.  It is 6.25 inches wide and 7.5 inches tall.  It smells of tobacco and had a cigarette paper in it when I bought it.  It is a hard, tight piece of weaving.  It has strong colors and some might see them as from synthetic dyes, but they are stable: there seem no signs of transfer.

But, again, because it is made from a continuous piece of fabric the possibility exists that it is “constructed” from something larger.

I have seen one other piece like this and they are both put together in the same way: sewn very firmly up the sides, with what seems like a hard, thin piece of felt as an intervening layer.

Here are two views of its side, one outside


and one that shows the connection on the inside.


Harold examined this piece again, as we were finalizing this section, and says, looking inside it, he can see that the wefts “return,” that is they are not cut off.  This means that the current width of the piece was that at which it was woven.  So on that score, at least, it seems not to have been constructed.

But the other suspicious thing about this piece is its distinctive end finish.  I have seen something similar before on other Anatolian pieces.  Take another look at the top of this bag, and I’ll show you my comparator.

First, notice that there is a narrow change in design at the top outside edge of this piece that seems to function as a kind of top border.  This narrow design does not occur elsewhere on it.

More, when one looks at the back of the top edge, where it has been turned over, one finds plain-weave in a dull reddish shade, the sort of thing that one would expect if this was the actual as woven top.


What is most suspicious about this bag is the end finish that rises above the turned over top edge.

As you can see, “warps” seem to have been gathered and then wrapped tightly, but then two wrapped sets are tied together toward their upper ends. (The heavier cord looped through these joined sets to close the bag at the top seems something added later.)

Now here is the seemingly similar Anatolian usage I’ve seen.


This is a small Kilim from the Van area.  It is Plate 83 in Ziemba, Akatay and Schwartz’ Turkish Flatweaves. Here is a closer but not sharply focused look at this end finish.


This usage shows that warps that are gathered together in braids are sometimes joined in pairs as in the end finish of my bag.  The description says that the gathering is done by braiding not by wrapping.  But you can see that the general appearance is similar.

Now, earlier, as I was writing the above, I sent these images and my text to an experienced friend.  The comments I received indicate that:

1.  this fabric was likely woven in the Kagizman/Erzerum area of northeastern Anatolia.

2. this specific top end finish is not among those known to be used by any particular group of weavers (although the “gathered warps tied together at the ends” usage does occur, as in my Van kilim example above, the warps are gathered by braiding rather than wrapping).  This wrapping, especially, makes the end finish on my bag suspect as a possible contrived “tourist” flourish.

3.  it is not clear whether what is wrapped are the warps of this piece or whether it is a set of fibers floating horizontally inside the turned over top and brought up periodically and wrapped and cut.

4.  the distance between the wrapped column is noticeably great, again calling into question whether the what is wrapped is really the warps.

I could resolve this “are the wrapped cords really the warps?” question about this piece or are they something else floating along the turned over edge, but I’d have to take it apart to tell for sure.  (So far what I can see peeking under what can be lifted with needle nose pliers is inconclusive.)

As I write I think the chances are about 50-50 that this is a constructed piece with a contrived “tourist” top, the wrapped areas of which are probably not its gathered warps.

I am not as offended by this possibility as perhaps I should be.  My fall back position is that traditional weaving communities are enormously practical, that most formats had multiple purposes, that someone in a traditional weaving community who needed a tobacco bag would likely be unembarrassed if the one produced had been constructed from a convenient piece of something else, just wide enough, that happened to be about.  If the latter is the case for this bag, then it could be “constructed” without being an instance of “tourist kitsch.”  And the visible turning of the wefts reinforce this possibility for me.

The only features I can see that may undermine my fall back thesis are: 1) that the top edge finish is wrapped rather than braided; and 2) that it is not certain that the warps continue to make these wrapped protrusions.  It may be, as we noted above, that the fibers forming the wrapped protrusions float horizontally inside the turned over top edge and are brought out periodically and wrapped and cut.   Usages with a generally similar appearance do occur in eastern Anatolian kilims and it could be, even if the protrusions are not the warps, that a weaver, making a family member a tobacco bag, simply tried to emulate a usage that exists in her areas weaving vocabulary.

But also maybe not…

Oh, well…

The next piece was a very attractive salt bag.  Probably south Caucasus or NW Persian.


This slit tapestry piece has great color and graphics.

Here is its back.


The next piece was a another small, pile, bag face.  Again, likely Shiraz area.


I find this a very attractive piece.  The colors are rich and deep and the white ground border,  although a bit gauche, works to frame the piece well.  I only regret that I didn’t get all of what seems like a colorful back into my photo of it.

Next was a khorjin half.


Again, nicely composed and executed.   Notice the closure slit area treatment.  It appears to have a back, but I wasn’t able to photograph it.

The next piece was salt bag with an unusual, even a bit funky, design.  Possibly Bakhtiari.


If it is, it seems, oddly, to have a pile front and sumak at the turn on the bottom, the reverse of the more frequent Bakhtiari usage.

Here is what I think is its back.


The next piece was the small bag face below.  Maybe a Shahsevan sumak.


This is a piece that gets better as you get closer to it.  Here is a closer detail.


It’s not fine but very steadily drawn.

The next piece was the one below.  Could be Caucasian.


Another well-composed bag face with good colors and use of graphics.

The next piece was the one below.


Good use of lighter colors and scale.  The blue in the dark ground border gives it life.

The next piece was the complete khorjin set below.  Caucasian.  The drawing of the large medallions smacks of the Lori Pambak Kazak.   Signed in Armenian.


The long image above permits examination of the whole.  Notice its  connecting slit tapestry bridge and closure system, its funky drawing, its ground color changes, and animal forms.

Here is a closer look at its inscriptions.


The next piece was a balisht format bag.


It is well composed and drawn.  Here are some closer details of it.

First is a corner that lets you better see its border systems and selvedge treatments ends and sides.


And the image below shows its field devices.


There are some very bright colors in this piece, but notice also an unusual maroon or wine.

The next piece was an Anatolian bag with a kilim design.  It has mixed flatweave techiques.


Here are some closer looks at the devices at its center.



The next piece was the complete khorjin half below.  Possibly Afshar.


Again, carefully composed and executed.  Notice how the slight tendency toward the curvilinear in the white-ground main border works to counter and to relieve, somewhat, this design’s mostly rectilinear elements.

Here is a glimpse of its back.


It appears to be mostly red plain-weave with an occasional stripe.

Here are some closer details of its “face” side.

First, a upper left corner that lets you see its borders and closure system treatments above its pile field.


And below is an isolated view of one of its field devices.


The next piece was the flatwoven Balouch salt bag below.


Here is its back.


Notice the seeming purple shades.

The next piece was a sumak side panel from a cargo-bag type mafrash.


Here is a closer detail of a central vertical slice of this piece.


The penultimate piece of the day was this complete salt bag.


A simple design but with good graphics and color.
Here is a closer vertical slice from one side.


Harold noted that many salt bags have been cut down from larger pieces, but we can see that this one was woven directly in the salt bag format.

Harold had held back as his ending piece a complete khorjin set published, as Plate 104, in the “Bosporus to Samarkand” catalog in 1969.


Someone has taken good care of it.

Here are some closer details.




A very high quality piece.

Harold answered questions


and adjourned the session.


The migration to the front of the room began.

There were lots of things to look at more closely and to get your hands on.






My thanks to Harold, and to his son Kirk, for being willing to have me produce this virtual version of their nice program.  They, and Harold’s wife Melissa, also gave me lots of editorial assistance after as we passed materials back and forth via computer.

Russ Pickering provided lots of useful memory of the Landreau years, the “Bosporus to Samarkand” exhibition and catalog, and the origins of the RTAM programs.

Leonardo Contardo bought my wife and I brunch as he talked about his memories of Textile Museum doings in the early days.

Dennis Dodds, consulted and wrote me, helpfully, from his “day book” references.

Marla Mallett answered my emails helpfully.

One never knows what one will encounter when you begin asking “early days” questions.

At one recent “rug morning” there was an older lady whom I recognized as someone who had been coming to The Textile Museum for years.

“What was the first Textile Museum event you ever attended?” I asked.  “Oh,” she said, “I was first in this building at a rug event before it was a museum.  We were met at the door by a formally dressed, black butler who served us martinis.”

Now there’s a lady who has some real “early days” stories to tell and if I can identify her (lots of us at “rug mornings” are familiar strangers and have only faces for reference) I will talk to her more to see what she can remember.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of Harold’s nearly impromptu RTAM on “small bags.”

Good job, Harold.  Both during and after.


R. John Howe

FLASH!!! An Addendum

I do not permit direct comment to the posts in this blog, but sometimes someone will write me with a comment on the side that is too good not to share.

I received the following note and images from Alberto Boralevi, the Italian rug and textile dealer and scholar.

Dear R. John Howe,

I am regularly receiving your email messages and I want to thank you for them.  Your blog is very interesting and informative and it is a real pleasure for me to have the opportunity of following the talks and presentations at the Textile Museum.  Living in Italy, I would not have the possibility of attending these Rugs and Textiles Appreciation Mornings, but reading your blog and looking at your beautiful pictures is like being there!

The latest ‘Morning’ you have recently posted is particularly interesting for me.  It was devoted to Harold and Kirk Keshishian’s presentation of “small bags.”  I was really amazed by the number of different types presented and I think I have never seen before such a large and complete collection.

All the pieces were correctly attributed and very well discussed from the point of view of the weaving techniques, but I think I can add a little bit of information, at least, on one piece of yours that you have published in the second part: the small ‘tobacco’ bag with what you call a distinctive end finish.


I know quite well this kind of flatweaves, having been studying and collecting them for years.  I also published a small brochure/catalog of my collection (Grembiuli Dalmati – Dalmatian Aprons) that I will be pleased to send you.

You will be surprised to learn that your bag was not woven in North-Eastern Anatolia as suggested, but much closer to me in the hinterland of the Adriatic Coast of Dalmatia (formerly Yugoslavia and now Croatia).  It is in fact a small bag (locally called torbiza) woven as part of the traditional costume of Dalmatian peasants.

Boralevidalmatian bags

It might have been used for tobacco and cigarettes as you wrote, but not necessarily woven for this purpose.  The name “torbiza” is definitely not of Slavic origin, but Turkish, deriving from the better known Torba, meaning bag, as you know.  The kilim technique (mainly slit tapestery) and most of the patterns can be associated to the Turks as for many other flatweaves woven in this area that has been under the control of the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

My research was mainly addressed to the traditional kilim aprons of women costumes (called pregace)

Boralevicover dalmati

BoraleviApron 1

but I have been able to find also a couple of bags, one of which is very similar in shape to your once and with the same peculiar tassles, although it is larger than your one.

BoraleviTorba 2

I attach herewith some pictures for better explaining to you what I mean.  I apologize for the bad quality of them but, I am presently on vacation and I don’t have any better image stored in my laptop.  If you are interested I can send you better images when I will be back at work next week.

(Ed.: I have used most of the images Mr. Boralevi provided in the text above.  Here, below is one additional that he sent with this email message.  It is labeled “Boralevi apron wall.”)

BoraleviApron wall

Mr Boralevi ended his email by saying:  “I hope that you understand that I wrote you just to add some information I gathered and not to criticize your work that is really admirable.

With kindest regards,

Alberto Boralevi”

(Ed: This is the kind of response that suggests that the work required to produce this blog is well worth the effort.

My thanks to Mr. Boralevi for this very interesting further information and comment.)


R. John Howe

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