What is a “Weaving?” What is Not? And Why? Part 2

Dear folks –

This is the second part of a post on a Rug and Textile Appreciation program I gave at The Textile Museum, here in Washington, D.C. on January 30, 2010 on the topic of “What is a ‘Weaving?’  What is Not? And Why?”

The first part of this program was a lecture that you can access at this link:


This second part presents and examines some example pieces brought in.

Because of the importance of close-up viewing of structure, I brought mostly smaller pieces and passed them out into the audience for closer examination after we had treated them from the front of the room.

We began with several examples of tapestry.

This first piece is, of course, a fragment from an Anatolian kilim done in slit tapestry.

A second piece, also in a finer version of slit tapestry was the Shirvan mafrash end panel below.

A third slit tapestry example is, what has been attributed by Alberto Boralevi (who has studied such bags and a related apron format), to be a small Dalmatian bag.

It was woven in what is now Croatia.

A fourth tapestry example is in horizontal stripes and so has no slits.

It is the back of a grain bag from western Anatolia.

It also provides examples of the sort of small brocaded devices

that can be mistaken for embroidery.

Next we moved to sumak.  We did not have an example of weftless sumak in the room, but I had brought two examples of sumak that is, incidentally, “woven” because it has interlacing ground wefts.

The first of these was a Yomut bag,

unremarkable excepting for the fact that the Turkmen seem not to have woven sumak much.

But the decorated bands in this piece are done in it.

Here is a slightly closer look at a detail of this sumak usage.

A second sumak example was more like the mafrash cargo bags and panels we often see, but a lot smaller.

It is a Shahsavan wallet 8 inches long and 5 inches wide.

Here is its rather plain back.

The next pieces were pile examples.

The one above is what we now call a “Middle Amu Dyra” chuval fragment with a mina khani design and lots of silk.

Here, it was our example of a pile weaving with asymmetric open right knots.

Below is a “straight-on” image of this piece taken earlier and outside.

A second pile piece was an Anatolian yastik.

This nicely composed piece was my example of a pile weaving with symmetric knots.

I reinforced the lecture indication that, using Marla’s conception of what counts as a weaving, both the immediately preceding pieces are “woven” only because of the wefts of their foundation interlace their warps, not because of their most visible feature, the pile knots.  Not, I think, the way we usually think about pile pieces.

(Here is an image of the back of the chuval fragment, showing glimpses of its horizontal structural wefts)

Another piece, nearby, on the board, was actually an instance of tapestry, since it was woven on a loom with weft-faced interlacing.

But after weaving some wefts on one side are pulled up to form a “faux pile.”  This example is related to the “inlaid loop pile” structure cited in the lecture.

Notice that the wefts pulled up are teased directionally to that another subtle level of diamond designs is created under the niche form.

Such rugs are inexpensive, still being made, but are  treated seriously by some experienced collectors because their structure is one of the oldest known.

The next few pieces on the board were examples of brocade.  The one below is an Anatolian cuval from the Bergama area.

The small, three-pronged devices on white-ground bands are instances of brocade that are sometimes mistaken for embroidery

There were also two examples of zili brocade.

Here is the first.

A second with better colors was the small, complete khorjin set below.

My embroidery example was part of a horse head dress assembly.

This component, which would have been on the horse’s forehead, is Turkmen.

Among my non-woven examples were three quilts, two of them quite small.  The first of the latter was a “doll’s” quilt in a traditional “nine patch” design.

This is an example of quilting built up by sections of cloth sewn together at their edges.

Here are two closer details.

The fabrics from which such quilt are made ARE woven but the quilting is all sewing.

A second quilt was the even smaller one below with a “school house” design.

This piece is 6 inches by 8 inches, close to the actual size here on your monitor.  It is a “doll-house” quilt and an example of a printed fabric.  A printed quilt face is called a “cheater” by quilters.  It is an acceptable, but admittedly less skilled way, to produce a quilt face.

This face is sewn onto a plain back panel with diagonally arrayed stitches.

You can see the woven character of the ground fabric in the detail above, but the printed design on the front and the hand quilting visible on the back are not instances of weaving.  So the quilting processes place it outside what we can call weavings.

Quilters estimate that this tiny piece is quite old.

My larger quilt example was also one of the use of felt.

This piece is a “penny” quilt, so called because of the coin-shaped circular forms that decorate its field.

This piece is 22 inches wide and 48 inches tall.  It was made by sewing three sizes of felt circles onto one another and then arranging and sewing the resulting “pennies” onto a plain colored field fabric.

Even the pointed “tongues,” that form a border at its edge are appliqued and sewn felt.

A pieced, but not quilted, item was the small Japanese rice bag below that I treated in my lecture.

This small cotton bag (it is nine inches deep and eleven inches wide when fully opened) is a item of “boro” (patched).

It is a reflection of Far Eastern frugality in which nothing is wasted,

that is, such pieces are constructed originally by sewing together at their edges, small pieces of fabric.

But they also demonstrate that frugality further requires that when wear occurs, worn areas are reinforced with patches.

The fabrics used to compose these piece are woven, but the method of construction and repair is entirely one of sewing.

Another non-woven piece was my needlepoint example.

Here are some additional views of it.

This is a likely minor, but still interesting item.  I have only seen one other example.

I am not sure, but I think the intended date on this second one above may have been 1919, although the second “9” is reversed.

They both have the same sort of needlepoint face, a double-buckle fastening arrangement and a leather back.  There is also a pouch on the back side.

The one I own has the names of English cities written in ink on the leather back.

I have conjectured that these belts were kits needle-pointed for soldiers and that the writing may indicate where one of them was stationed during one of the World Wars.

Another of my non-woven examples was the knitted sweater below.

Here is its back.

“Howe” do you like that?  Through absolute chance there is an “H.”

I bought this sweater from one dealer in Konya and had it repaired by another.  Its wool was from of one of the Anatolian natural dye projects mounted by Michael Bischof.

There are a number of such sweaters.   I think Samy Rabinovic has more than one.  And he knows of others.

Marshall Wolf has one.

Samy and I have talked about collecting as many as we can find and mounting a small exhibition of them on the pages of my other blog “Eccentric Wefts.”

In any event, this was my knitted example.

I did not have a crocheted piece in the room, but can share one with you here.

This is an odd crocheted array the function of which I’m not entirely sure I can place.

It is something likely made in the U.S. in the 20th century and seems to have a kind of “leaves and grapes” design.

It may have been intended to decorate a table top, but if so, it could be troublesome because the areas with the circular forms (and these seem wrapped rather than crocheted),

are thicker than the rest of the piece and items placed on it would be unstable.

Nevertheless, it suggests something about the range of items done in crochet.

Another non-woven category was the “hooked” or “tufted” group.

I had what I think is a substantial fragment of a throw-sized “hooked” rug in the room.

I am, nowadays, as a retired person, collecting on a restricted budget,  and so necessarily something of a “bottom-feeder.”  I found the piece above locally here in the DC area at a price so reasonable that I would be embarrassed to share it with you.

Not all my experienced collector friends admire it, but it quite “speaks” to me.

I did not have it in the room during my program, but can share with you here, a piece that I think is “tufted” rather than “hooked.”

This is a miniature piece (about 6 inches by 8 inches) done in an art deco design.  The appearance of its back

suggests that it may have been tufted rather than hooked, and what I think is its relative youth, makes that more likely as well.

As I indicated in my lecture, Marla has indicated that plaiting is often difficult to distinguish from weaving.  For me, this is especially the case as the number of strands being plaited increases.

I had some instances of plaiting in the room.

First, are two nautical items

On the left above is a marlin spike with an attached section of plaiting.

Things cannot be left free to roll on a sailing ship, so most everything is hung in some way.  This plaited addition likely functioned to permit this relatively heavy marlin spike to be hung on a pin or hook so that it did not roll about on the ship’s deck.

The piece on the right above is a handle that was used to pull and ring a ship’s bell.  Here is an unobstructed image of a similar piece.

This bell pull is a contemporary item made with 18th century methods.

Handles for sea chests, called “beckets”

are also plaited.  Although this kind of nautical plaiting entails the employment of a number of cords, I think it is less likely to meet the “shed” and “interlacing” requirements we have established as requirements for “weaving.”

In my lecture, I also cited Indian split ply camel girths

as having a structure that from an observer perspective appears to have interlacing, but the process of which seems distinctive in that it entails splitting of previously plied cords for its candidates for interlacing.

I had one of my own camel girths in the room

and we passed it about for those in the audience to examine.

There is similar uncertainty about Miao child’s coir rain cape from southwest China.

Again this instance of plaiting or knotting seemed less likely to be able to qualify as a weaving.

It was too heavy and fragile to pass around, but was on the board to examine.

On the other hand, the plaited Dida skirt from the Ivory coast

did seem to be the sort of plaiting that qualified as “finger weaving.”

Marla mentioned in our discussion of plaiting that some instances of “basket weaving” might also meet our conception of weaving here.

I had a nautical basket

made of rope that seemed (observer perspective, again) to have areas of interlacing.  But I don’t know.

I mentioned in the lecture that plaiting occurs in macrame and my in-the-room example of an item of macrame that had areas of plaiting was a plant hanger that I tied in the 1970s.

Here are some closer looks at this piece.

This is a design that I “stole” from an old, retired merchant marine sailor with one lung and one kidney, who used to bring pieces he had tied into the store where I bought my cord.

It is entirely “finished,”  That is, it starts with the loop that goes through the hanging ring at its top and proceeds through all its variations without any splices whatever.

But our chief interest in it here is that it has two areas of plaiting that use a goodly number of cords.

This species of plaiting is called a “wall knot” among macrame folks and, having tied it, I can testify that something like what Marla describes as “finger weaving” does seem to occur.

One does take cords over and under other cords in a way that could qualify as “creating a shed.”

But I don’t know.  I would currently place it as a possible but questionable candidate for being a “woven” structure.

For my last pieces in this program I went firmly back to the world of woven structures, first, with a large, but fragmented, U.S. coverlet on the board.

You saw this piece in the lecture, so I will not labor it further, excepting to say that I bought it in Pennsylvania this year for a very reasonable price.

But because this larger coverlet fragment could not be passed around, I had brought two smaller ones that could be, and I’ll take the chance of boring you a bit with them.

The first of these is the first coverlet item I ever bought. I’ve owned it for about 15 years, but cannot remember any longer precisely where I bought it.  Somewhere in Pennsylvania or Ohio.

It is about 22 inches square and with a strictly rectilinear design

seemingly in black, white and red.

But a little closer one begins to see that

there are also subtle uses of yellow and light blue.

The second smaller coverlet fragment was about 25 inches wide and almost 30 inches long.

Its diamond forms begin to exhibit some movement to the curvilinear and have, for me, a Escher-like character.

Its colors are strictly limited to blue and white (although there is shading), but, as is frequent with a narrow palette, its graphic character is strong.

Interestingly, despite its seeming move toward the curvilinear,

its design is entirely composed of rectangular forms.  The curvilinear effect is produced by varying the width of some squares.

This piece has been rather carefully patched in one place.

As I indicated in the lecture, such coverlets are woven on looms.  Sheds are employed and interlacing definitely occurs.

Note: Since publication an experienced weaver has indicated that the two coverlet fragments above are done in an “overshot” weave.  She said, “(ed. they) were done on four-harness looms, and are very typical of 19th century American overshot coverlets.”

Coverlets of this sort are still frequently encountered.  There were three yesterday (February 28, 2010) at the Georgetown flea market.  All three seemed to me of collectible interest.  One was complete, and each of them was priced at under $1oo USD.

Members of the audience had brought some pieces that we looked at next.

The first was the piece below.  The owners’ said that they had bought it in Vienna, attracted by its dramatic “flame” design and it colors.

This piece was not a familiar type.  Its design WAS striking and its colors seemed to vary a bit from most of the palettes we tend to encounter.

The owners’ primary question was whether it was “woven” or not.  I don’t have a close-up close enough to let you check me, but I said that it looked “knitted” to me.  I could not tell whether machine-knitted or hand-knitted.

The owners’ indicated in a subsequent conversation that they believe that it is hand-knitted, is likely 19th century, and, on the basis of some seeming attachment-like devices on its back (they’ve had it sewn onto a backing now), that it was used as a wall-hanging.

Wendel Swan had brought three pieces.

The first was the small khorjin set below.

This highly unusual small khorjin, on a camel ground, probably comes from Eastern Persia and as made by either the Kurds or the Lurs.  The lack of a closure mechanism for the bags is similar to what one encounters with Turkish saddlebags, called heybe.  In contrast to their Northwestern Persia counterparts, the khorjin of East Persia often have no closure system.

The drawing and execution are exceptional.  The diamond border is found in both Kurdish and Shahsavan bags.

The decoration is done in sumak wrapping with a wide range of colors on a camel, warp-faced ground.

Dating examples such as this which use traditional materials and natural dyes is often problematic, but this could easily be 19th century despite its pristine condition.

Wendel’s second piece was what seems to be a rare-ish Tibetan shepherd’s jacket.

This piece has an unusual structure that seems woven, but which has odd characteristics.

There is “stitching that” seems to have been put in on the loom and the character of the weave on the inside is very unusual.  My sense is that this is very clearly a woven item, but I cannot describe its structure.

The third piece Wendel had brought was a small, interesting pre-Columbian pile-covered cord.

(I’m referring to the piece on the board not the one in his hand.)

Wendel said that this furred cord is from the Nazca culture in Peru that flourished between the first and the eighth centuries, AD.  This textile probably dates from around 400-500 AD.

The dyed sections are camelid fiber affixed to a cotton base that creates a “weaving” quite unlike anything known in the Middle East.

Essentially, the weaver created a single line of pile “knots” perhaps 20 feet long, with the colors changing every several inches.  That long line of pile was then spirally wrapped around the cotton base and attached to it with threads.  As each color was wrapped and the next begun, it created the banded effect.  The wrapping technique can be observed in the image above.

The exact function of this piece is unknown, but a published illustration of a similar one shows it attached to a conch shell, indicating that it probably had some ceremonial use — something certainly not uncommon for pre-Columbian textiles that have survived.

This interesting piece was the last of the day.

I took questions

The session ended and the usual conversations and migrations began.

I want to thank Barbara Gentile, Marissa Huttinger and Wendel Swan, for some very able assistance in presenting this RTAM program.

I hope you have found this virtual exploration of “What is a ‘Weaving’? What is Not? and Why?” interesting, perhaps even a bit  informative in spots.


R. John Howe

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