Archive for July, 2010

“Mike” Tschebull on Transport and Storage Bags from Southwest Iran

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 by rjohn

On June 26, 2010, Raoul (Mike) Tschebull

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here in Washington, D.C. on the topic “Transport and Storage Bags from Southwest Iran.”

Mike is a familiar figure in the international rug world.  He is perhaps best known for his interest in and publications concerning Caucasian and Azarbayjani weaving.

He has translated some important rug publications from German, was one of those invited to write an article for the very first volume of Hali magazine, and curated an excellent on-line transport and storage bags exhibition for the New England Rug Society (

He has traveled to Iran and directly observed nomads, their locations, modes of life and travel.

Mike has given Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning programs here at The Museum in the past,

mostly recently, a presentation in November, 2009 (a virtual version of which is in our archives) in which he argued that warp-faced covers, such as Iranian jajims, are worthy targets for collection.

His most recent Hali article, volume 163, argues more generally for the virtues of rug and textile collecting,

presenting pieces from the collection of an anonymous dealer whose selections Mike admires.

Mike had a career in finance, and was a dealer in antique oriental rugs, but says that he probably should have been an anthropologist.

This virtual version of his RTAM program will present each of the Southwest Iranian pieces Mike showed from various private sources, as well as some unrelated to his theme, brought in by those in the audience.

In each case the descriptions will be by Mike himself, although I sometimes “kibbitz” a bit.

He worked through the pieces by tribal group, saying that the first group is probably all Qashqa’i Confederation weaving.

He began with this piece.

This is a complete Qashqa’i khorjin, commonly attributed to the Darrehshuri subtribe, woven with a wo0l warp patterning weave called “warp float patterning”.

There is “make do” repair to the right side of the “bridge”, probably done by the original owner.

This structure is allegedly hard and time-consuming to weave.

Here are some closer details of this piece.

In the detail above, you can see the closure loops are ivory and very dark brown, almost black, wool, and that the vertical margins of the bag are warp-faced plainweave in the same material.

The pattern is pretty basic and it is possible that the weaver was more interested in color than pattern.

It is pretty clear that flatwoven rather than pile-woven bags would be more practical for nomads to use – lighter in weight and quicker to weave – but it is not really known whether pile-woven bags were, in fact, ever woven or used by nomads in SW Iran.

Ann Nicholas and Richard Blumenthal have reviewed lots of period photos taken in Fars of nomads in situ, and there are no pile bags to be seen.

But three quarters of the bags I’m going to show are pile-woven.

Is it just that pile bags have more pizzaz for collectors?  Were they woven to a large degree for the Western market?  Why do some nomad groups in Afghanistan make totally undecorated transport bags, while many from Fars are quite elaborate?  Does this relate to available free time?

These types of conundrums are what should make collecting ethnographic textiles – and that is what these bags are – endlessly interesting.

The color combination in the piece above is uncommon in Qashqa’i flatwoven bags.

The second piece was the complete khorjin set below.

Also Darrehshuri, same technique and all wool, but in the more common blue/ivory combination, with red and green in the borders.

This bag  has incomplete selvedge wrapping (see upper left), and it looks like it has never been used.

One could conclude that some of these bags were woven and simply put away, never used, maybe as part of a “rainy day” fund.

In rural Iran, it is estimated that some villagers source 20% of their cash flow from weaving.  It is doubtful the percentage is as high for true nomads.

This pattern is the most commonly used among these warp float patterning bags.

You see predominantly warps in the details.  Wefting is dark brown wool, and is a minor part of the pattern.

The piece below has the same pattern, structure, and colors as in the previous bag, and is, again, complete, but this one is very finely woven and the ivory is cotton.

The range of dyes available to the weaver can be seen in the selvedge wrapping, but she was clearly bound by tradition to use blue/ivory, red/green.

The same color combination appears in nomad warp-faced pack bands, and one can imagine that it comes out of a very  long tradition.

There are – rarely – jajim-like covers in this weave and they are very striking.

Bags like this usually have dark undyed wool wefts.

Closure loops are braided wool.

The next piece is one half of a pile-woven khorjin; both halves are unworn, but moth eaten.

Very finely woven – 210 kpsi – with asymmetric open left knots, lots of colors, high quality dyes.

The field design is surely lifted from “reverse sumak” or slit-tapestry weaving.

The weaver here, with her broad array of colors, was able to construct a repeat design that is not boring.

This complete large khorjin is finely woven in a rare, “weft knotting” technique, in virtually the same field pattern as the previous pile bagface.

Despite the knotting technique used, the surface has no pile.

It was exhibited in the “From Bosporus to Samarkand” show in 1969, so it may well have come out of Iran before the ’60s/’70’s flood of material.

This is a densely woven, comparatively heavy, set of bags in unworn condition.  It is rare to see a set of bags this good that hasn’t been cut apart so the two halves could be sold separately.

Note the pile tufts in the field, which are often seen in jajim, but not so in flat-woven bags.

The color range speaks to the availability of high quality dyeing.  Is this piece special purpose weaving?

Closure loops are braided wool in red and blue.

The join is undamaged and runs part way around the bottom of the khorjin.

The back is a color almost never used for bag backs.

Here is one last detail on the back of the bridge of this piece.

The complete small bags (1’1″x 2’1″) below, are said to have come out of a Qashqa’i khan’s tent.

They have no wear (except for abraded selvedge wrapping), which is typical for pieces bought in Iran well after the period in which they were woven.

Even the closure panels are pile-woven.

Asymmetrically knotted.

Was this a rainy day fund weaving?  It seems probable.  Is this the kind of pile bag that existed in nomad settings, but that are not visible in the Nicholas-Blumenthal photographs, mentioned above, because they were, in some trunk, out of sight?

Many are too good to have not been woven with love.

Oguz design is the source for hooked diamond in this bag’s faces.

It has been observed that a lot of pile weaving in Fars was carried out in Firuzabad, probably in supervised workshops, and that some pile bags were woven in villages near Shiraz.

In this image, you can see five different weaving structures.

The chevron-decorated areas between the closure slits are pile-woven.  This doesn’t seem very practical.

The back of this bag is in slit-tapestry, which is not that common for Qashqa’i bag backs, and very uncommon for smaller bag faces.

One could assume that this weaver was also an ace slit-tapestry gilim weaver.

To illustrate what a slit-tapestry Qashqa’i-like chanteh (small single bag) face would look like, I brought along a Kordi slit-tapestry tubre/chanteh (ed. both Iranian terms for small bags).

It is complete, with carrying strap, braided dangles, and beads.

The nomads in Fars were celebrated for the great variety of weaving techniques they used and it is curious that they didn’t use slit-tapestry more for small bags.

Qashqa’i slit-tapestry gilim are an apex art form.

The image below is of back of this Kordi chanteh.

The bagface below has the most usual combination of border and field designs among Qashqa’i pile khorjin.

It would seem that the four elements in each quadrant of the red medallion were animal forms in Central Asia, where these nomads originated.

And the border meander design is also Central Asian.

This bagface is absolutely full of Turkic designs.

The central ivory roundrel is not uncommon as a mosaic felt design from Central Asia and is a shield design in a well-known Islamic miniature showing Mongol horsemen.

Mike had brought three pack bands of the sort used by nomads in SW Iran to tie bags or pack squares onto animals for transport.

This use makes them an integral part of his program topic.

Most of the Iranian nomad pack bands are 26-28′ long, and were purpose-woven, often for use on mules and horses, but also on camels.

Some, like this Qashqa’i band, appear to have hardly been used (this band has nubs of random silk knots) and retain their original wooden buckles, in this case, carved out of oak.

Bands wore out and the original buckle was often transferred to a new band, so, as a consequence, some buckles may be quite old.

This band has a parade of goat-like animals, “comb” animals, “Lesghi Star” motives – many elements that show up on pile rugs woven by settled peoples.

It is probable that bands were vectors for design, and that they well pre-date the first use of animal fiber in weaving, about 6,000 years ago.

The exact same goats are to be seen on 3,000 year old Iranian clay pots.

The meander design in this detail is pretty universal, and  has broad use as a concept in pile rugs.

These old buckles acquire a polished bone-like patina through use, and are to some degree collected separately.  They remind me of Neolithic bone fetishes.

The buckle appears to have been attached to the band by the weaver, that is, it is not a replacement.

Note the Lesghi star form in this detail.

Edges are warp twining.

Mike said that despite their attractiveness and ethnographic significance, few collectors seem attracted to the various kinds of bands that nomads used.

Fred Mushkat is a notable exception: a collector focused sharply on such bands.

This next group of bags is chanteh and saltbags – small bags, often with shoulder straps.

This small warp-faced piece is, according to my Iranian sources, from Meymeh, on the southwestern slope of the Zagros, and is probably Qashqa’i.  (I think Meymeh refers to a collecting point .)

It would have been used as a shoulder bag by men or women.

The strap, braids and tassels show that it has not had a hard life.

There has been some thought that bags like this are made up from tattered jajim, but this piece has atypical coloration for a jajim and black and blue twining as stopping, which probably confirms the bag is complete.

There are other bags around in this technique, same size, some with closure slits and braided loops.  But they seem to be rare.

Detail shows the stopping, upper left, as well as the blanket stitch hem.  The sawtooth pattern is created by alternating exposed warps.

The next piece was the one below.

Probably Qashqa’i, a tubre in weft substitution weave, with a large variety in color and design.

Very saturated color.

A basting stitch holds the bag closed; it was apparently never sewn up along the long sides.

Was it another “rainy day” asset?

The forged iron ring in the middle of the open end, upper right, was probably intended to be used as an anchor for the strap that was never sewn on.

You can see the dark basting stitch on the selvedge, left, origin, recent, USA.

The weft-faced plainweave back shows the intensity of the dyes used.

The butterscotch yellow (see stripe, above) was often replaced in the late 19th century Fars weaving by a bright synthetic orange, which may have looked good to the weavers, but is quite jarring.

The next piece was a salt bag.

Probably Qashqa’i, also in weft substitution weave, and, again, with intense colors.

Goat hair yarn was used for the join.

The red back has a make do goat hair repair of a small tear.

The piece below is another unused, and never sewn together chanteh, looking like it came right out of the box.

This piece is Lur weaving, and has an interesting back.

Such pieces probably date to the 19th or early 20th century.  Later bags have a different look.

Mike said the piece below is one of his favorites.

The structure in this fragile complete chanteh, which has hardly been exposed to sunlight, is a balanced maroon wool plainweave with sumak extra weft patterning in wool and cotton.

The back has brocaded cross forms in white cotton.

The border is an exercise in ambiguity of background vs. foreground.

There is no evidence of a shoulder strap having been attached.

This star design is fairly common in Qashqa’i pile bagfaces.

There is a horse cover in a private collection that looks like this piece.

If there other weavings like this, I haven’t seen them, but in this type of conservative weaving culture, nothing is really original.

Qashqa’i sumak weaving is quite a bit less dense than that of Azarbayjani nomads.

Closure slits

Somewhat of a mystery piece, but probably from SW Iran, the complete chanteh below is pile-woven.

The knots are asymmetric, open right.

It is fairly coarsely woven and dense, with goat hair joins and a red weft-faced plainweave back.

It doesn’t  seem to have ever had a strap.

Why are so many of these pieces unworn?

Most are, one way or another, Iranian-sourced in relatively recent times (post WW2), and therefore, if collected,  not subjected to Western floor traffic.

The next group is Khamseh weavings.

The bagface cum back, below, is not bowed from use in a Fars migration, but, rather, from serving as a feather-stuffed pillow on a NYC sofa.

It has been identified as Baharlu by Hamid Sadighi, and indeed, has symmetric knots, like other Baharlu work.

Kpsi is 200, which is very fine for a bag of this type.

Wool pile is high gloss, very straight and fairly long.

The iconography is what one would see in Qashqa’i work (See Qashqa’i bagface, previous).

Comparables are not known.

Mulberry as a ground color for the hooked medallion is noteworthy, but not all that uncommon.

Another symmetrically knotted, (probably) Baharlu piece, below, has the same wool type as the previous bag face.

The birds – chickens – are a reasonable identifier for a tribal group.

Some of the birds appear to have riders.  The same bird-animal/rider iconography appears in Azarbayjani sumak bags and Kaitags.

This band has been identified as Khamseh.

Most Fars bands, including this one, are “one weft double cloth”, which basically means that the design appears clearly on both sides, but in color reversal.

One side has a blue field, the other, an ivory field.

These bands are card woven.

There are silk knot nubs in this band also, and it also appears to have been used gently, as it is undamaged.

The colored tufts along each edge of the band are unusual.

The buckle is held on with a leather strap.

This is an old, highly polished buckle, probably made from quince or pear wood.

The other end of the band, a long braid, once it passes around a pack several times, is secured through the second hole in the buckle.

There are several published photos of nomads in migration, with their bags and packs belted on.  See, for example, Nomadic Peoples of Iran, Thompson/Tapper.

The detail shows well the warp-faced structure of the band, as well as the tufts.

These bands are strong as well as decorative.

Once nomads settled, the art of band weaving was lost.

Lesghi stars.  Since they appear on several different types of archaic-looking Fars bands, it is hard to conclude they are a “one off” and a comparatively recent Caucasian invention.

I think they arrived in the west as a structure-driven design and were transferred to pile weaving.

The large Basiri bagface, below, may have been part of a single “envelope” bag, with an opening along the long side.

I have seen similar format envelope bags in Iran, but sumak-woven.

It would be interesting to know what kind of closure system this bag had, or if it were part of a double bag.

The inner field, containing the red and white star, is a darker blue – almost black – than the main field.

Mike moved to the next piece

This complete Khamseh khorjin has the birds that are said to be hallmarks of Khamseh pile weaving.

In fact, in most of Iran, birds are scarce, and birds and green gardens they may live in are a dream for most.

This bag is very finely woven with asymmetric knots and retains the decorative tufts, (much like the Khamseh pack band, above) on all sides that surely would have been worn off with even moderate use.

Is this another piece woven and put away?  Was it woven for a special person or occasion?

Tribal weaving has historically been less valued in urban Iran than in the West.

The detail shows the slit-tapestry bridge, the pattern of which comprises the rest of the back of the bag.

The next two examples are said to have been woven by Kurds from Fars.

There are four sided bedding bags which have one pile-woven face, which is the side that faces away from the mule or camel carrying it.

Given the format (3′ long),  I think that is what this weaving is, and can imagine that the other three sides of the bedding bag were flatwoven.

This bagface is unlike similar bags from the plains of Varamin in its density and wool quality.

The piece in the image is upside down; in its present orientation, the boteh and comb animals are standing on their heads, but it is common to display bagfaces with any plainweave hanging at the bottom.  Furthermore, the bagface in migration would have been viewed upside down.

The end where the weaver began has a sewn-over hem with  two color twining, which is the bottom – or beginning – end of what would have been a bedding bag bottom and two sides (side-bottom-side), altogether about 6′ long on the loom.

A bit of a mystery piece.  As with others being shown, no floor wear.

This piece is like a good Baluch pile weaving, in that it sparkles with a lot of light.

Further reinforcing the idea that this is a mafrash side, there is a hand-forged iron ring, looking like part of an”O”, sticking up above the top hem (or bottom hem, from the weaver’s perspective) in this image, one third along the edge of the hem; two thirds along the hem, there is a place where a second ring has almost surely been pulled off the bag (see 1st image), where wefts are stretched or broken.

These rings, two on each side and perhaps one on the top of each end panel, were usually made of braided wool, were not iron rings.

They were used by nomads to loop a braided cord through that ran back and forth across the mouth of the bag and held a jajim in place that covered bedding and kept out dust and dirt.

A shallow bag, like the one below,

with its original tan (probably) camelhair back, must have been thrown into a pack square at migration time (assuming something like this was used by nomads).

The combination of a floral field and a “Turkmen” border might seem odd, but this border appears on a fair number of pile rugs and bags from SW Iran.

The bag is pristine and has no closure device, so one must assume there never was one.

A bit of the camelhair back peeks around the pile-woven front of the bag.

Knotted in high gloss, high fat symmetrical knots.

The next group of bags is Luri/Bakhtiyari.

This pair of (probably) Luri bags is approximately the size of Luri (double) bedding bags that are part sumak, part pile, part plainweave, often carried by mules and well illustrated by de Franchis/Wertime in Lori and Bakhtiyari Flatweaves.

Lur groups were scattered all over western Iran and wove bags in a variety of colors and shapes.

This pair, unfortunately incomplete, but it retains much of its striped plainweave back, has the wool and coloration of a cluster of Lur pile rugs which are typically 5’X10′.

Were the rugs, and therefore this set of bags woven by villagers or nomads?  There is no ready answer.

The bags themselves are very artful, but would have been extremely heavy to use for migrations.

It is best – calming – to accept that there are a number of theories concerning the “whys” of pile bag weaving in SW Iran.

The row of stars in red, green, blue, and yellow boxes at the top of the image are each bordered by slits for closure loops, just adding more weight.

The rosy red is an identifier for this group of weavings.

This is the end where the weaver began the bag.

They were probably woven on a ground loom.

These SW Iranian bags usually have wool or hair foundations.

The field medallion is a particularly Luri design.

The cotton ground Bakhtiyari chanteh, below, has its original tassels, some with Turkish light blue clay beads.

A lot of Bakhtiyari bags have this sumak structure, with designs not covering the plainweave field completely.

Similar examples can be found in de Francis/Wertime.

There are Chahar Mahal pile rugs, woven by villagers, that have the same main border as this bag.

The bag has the common pile-woven bottom, maybe originally to protect it from wear.

Field detail, weft-faced cotton ground.

The next piece was a Bakhtiyari saltbag,

with the, now familiar, pile-woven strip along its bottom end.

The wear could be from use in the field.

The warp is wool and the ground weft is dyed red wool.

Mike next moved to treat the khorjin he is reaching toward below.

This is a Bahktiyari pile bagface, probably missing its outside sawtooth side borders.

The warps are a mix of goat hair, dark wool, and reddish dyed ivory wool.

Detail shows the hair warps, multiple twining.

The field design was used over a wide geographic area.

Next was a pair of Luri(?) pile bagfaces,

partly smoked, with symmetric knots.

Here is a detail of the smoked area.

What may be markers for a day’s work are on the right hand edge of the piece, next to the selvedge.

This is the standard SW Iran bag medallion.

Next, is a different look in Lur pile bags, albeit with the same SW Iran hooked medallion.

This bagface retains its closure slits.

The “countered twining with irregular spans” borders on each side of the closure slits are typical Lur end finishes on gilim, bags and rugs.

Symmetrically knotted, mostly on hair warps; a small percentage of the warps is ivory wool.

There are three different red dyes in this bagface.

The details below of a 26′ Bakhtiyari packband, show a fantasy animal with four legs, eyes, nose and horns.

The whites are cotton and the buckle is missing.

Bakhtiyari buckles look like figure eights, with two identical large holes to secure the beginning and end of the band.

Peter Willborg, who has a lot of experience in Chahar Mahal, estimates these bands were not woven past about 1960, and that cotton may be more often seen in later pieces.

Most Bakhtiyari Bands have cotton whites, so cotton as an age indicator may not be infallible.

This band is very precisely woven.

Bought in Iran.

Bakhtiyari bands are for the most part woven in a technique called “warp-faced reciprocal warp weave”, which is less dense than one weft double cloth, and does not render a clear reverse image on the back side.

Borders are typically red and yellowish saw tooth designs.

Detail of the fantasy animal.

The iconography is seen again and again in old Bakhtiyari bands.

This band appears unused.

The hooked diamonds in this detail may be another design brought west to (greater) Iran and Anatolia with relatively primitive warp-faced textiles.

Border detail with warp twining on edges.

Mike passed one of the wooden buckles that are used with these pack bands into the audience.

He said that this one may not be old, since the wood on it seems milled, but it has the traditional shape and hole arrangement.

It was probably not made to deceive.

A group of Lur/Bakhtiyar pile pieces that may be Mafrash sides, or not.

Here is the first one.

Mike said that he thought that this piece was surely a mafrash side.

The main border and field ornamentation are common in Luri gilim, sumak, and pile weaving.

Kurds also used this field design.

Most old bags have damage somewhere – see sewn-up broken selvedge.

This is one pile side of a four (pile) sided bedding bag.

One of the bag’s pentagonal end panels is in a private collection in Ohio, and the other side went through a German auction house.

The complete bag, without its bottom, came into Istanbul and was cut apart.

Warp is dark brown wool, weft is cotton.

This is a very unusual piece.

A sumak version is fairly common.  The design of incongruent stripes in different colors must have pleased the weavers as much as they do us.

Cotton plainweave edges are about 1″ wide.

The mafrash-shaped panel, below, is one of a pair, woven as pushti, or decorative pillows.

They were allegedly bought off a sofa in Isfahan in the 1970’s.

The color range in the stripes is remarkable, and includes dark blue dyed on dark brown wool, giving the effect of black, and aubergine dyed on beige, giving deep purple.

This border is not normally used for mafrash panels.

Warp and weft are cotton and the piece was probably woven in a Chahar Mahal village like Chal e Shotor.

Detail of stripes

Detail of stripes

Detail shows the end finish with knotted warps and two color twining, typical for Chahar Mahal village pile weaving.

We now moved to pieces that members of the audience had brought in that were not related to Mike’s specific focus of SW Iran transport bags

The first of these was a Jaf Kurd bagface, with the same diamond pattern as the previous complete set of bags.

The detail shows the offset knotting that is usual for these bagfaces.

Below is a complete sumak  farmesh (ed. bedding bag) used by Qarabaghi nomads, probably dating to about 1900.

A closer look at one side.

It is typical for the whites to be cotton.

Closely spaced hooked froms may be derived from mosaic felts.

Detail of bottom of the farmesh, probably undyed wool.

The owner of the piece below said he brought it to remind that there were Turkmen in Iran.

Some authors report that Tekke groups wintered as far west as the Veramin area.

This this chuval could have been made by Yomuds who were on and near the shore of the southeastern corner of the Caspian Sea.

Good tomato red and two blues.

This design usually appears in flatweave.

This pile rendition may ape tendencies in flatwoven versions toward “wavy” diagonals in the drawing of the minor ornaments, despite clear weaver ability elsewhere to draw, straight, crisp diagonals.

The piece below could be a Kordi chuval, used to store grain or flour.

Detail shows mixed technique.

The back is striped plainweave.

The last piece of the day was the flatwoven khorjin face below.

This layered design is fairly common in sumak bags woven by Azarbayjani n0mads.

Mike said that he has been told that sometimes these bags have little dragons inwoven.

Mike answered questions,

and the session came to an end.

Folks moved to the front to examine some of these interesting pieces more closely.

I want to thank Mike for permitting me to share this virtual version of his program with you.

I am further indebted to him for his considerable work, providing the written descriptions of all of the pieces above.

I hope you have enjoyed this carefully prepared session.


R. John Howe

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