Archive for December, 2011

Steve Price on Silk in Central Asian Textiles

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2011 by rjohn

On December 10, 2011, Steve Price

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. on the topic “Silk in Central Asian Textiles.”

Tom Goehner, the TM’s Education Curator, introduced Steve,

saying that Steve was a long-time figure in the rug world.  He is most visible, nowadays, as the leading owner-manager of, and technical resource for,, a textile discussion board, now in its 14th year of operation.  Steve has also written for Hali, Oriental Rug Review, and has designed and conducted courses introducing college students to the world of rugs and textiles.  He has presented several “rug mornings” here at the TM.  In real life, Steve Price is a physiologist and professor at  Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

Steve said that the published title of his session here had been truncated a bit and that he meant to talk more generally, at least at the beginning, about the use of silk in textiles and some of the reasons why silk is attractive to textile makers.

First, he said, silk signals that its wearer has high social status.  He said that someone wearing this bright, graphic African textile,

was likely a person of some importance, even, perhaps, a member of African royalty.

A quality that reinforces silk’s ability to signal high status is the fact that it is often expensive to produce.

Third, Steve said, silk takes dye better than does either wool or cotton, and does so with a distinctive, often arresting, palette.

Silk has some physical aspects that make it attractive to textile makers.  It has a much higher tensile strength than does wool, for example. 

On the other hand, silk abrades easily, and so is not well-suited to use in textiles that would have heavy floor use.  But this deficiency in silk is used deliberately, sometimes, to enrich pile rugs that are mostly wool.  Initially, silk provides eye-attracting highlights among the wool pile fibers.  But even its more rapid wear through abrasion, can, after a time, be advantageous, since it provides attractive “sculpturing” effects in such a rug. 

The Ottoman rulers signaled their very high status, in seeming defiance of silk’s tendency to abrade, by using sumptuous and delicate silk materials not only for their clothing and pillow coverings, like this velvet yastik

but even for some flat-woven floor coverings.

So, silk has historically gotten the attention of textile makers in many parts of the world.  Steve had brought a few examples that moved beyond Central Asia.

The first of these is one you have already seen a bit above.  Let’s do it properly.


Steve said that this dramatic piece, is Kente cloth, made in Ghana before 1930.

It has been woven in a mixture of silk and cotton.

The person wearing this cloth would get attention in nearly any setting.  Steve said that is was probably worn by a member of African royalty.  Wrapped in it, he would look something like this.

Steve’ next pieces took us to southeast Asia.


This is a Laotian woman’s skirt.  It is woven of silk and cotton and was bought in the market-place.  Pieces bought in the market are frequently accompanied by stories to make them distinctive to prospective buyers.  Steve said that the story given with this one is that it was to be worn by a married Laotian woman on the occasion of her mother-in-law’s funeral.  That’s both a little more elaborate and specific than the stories I’ve heard in such situations.

Here are some detail images of S2.

The third piece was another Laotian skirt.

Like S2, S3 is a silk brocade.  The upper and lower panels of each are plainwoven cotton.

Here are two detail images of S3.

Steve’s next piece took us to Cambodia.


Steve said that this piece of silk ikat was a hip wrapper

and its quality indicative of a wealthy owner.

The next piece was another Cambodian hip wrapper.


Again a long garment in ikat silk.

Steve explained how such garments are put on and worn.

It is taken around the waist from behind, then the long remaining pieces in front are twisted together.  Next, this twisted piece is passed down between the legs and up behind and then tucked into the waist at the back.

When on, a Cambodian hip wrapper looks like this from the front.

A little closer look from the front.

And below is how it looks from the back.

Cambodian hip wrappers are worn by both sexes.  Steve said that in case you ever wondered, the “pantaloon-type”  garment that Yul Brinner wore in the movie “The King and I”

was such a hip wrapper (his vigor while dancing with Deborah Kerr wearing one, provides real evidence of how secure a hiphugger is while worn).

Here is one more detail image of S5.

Steve said that one of the interesting things about the use of silk in Central Asian textiles is that sometimes it is prominent, “in your face,” but in other instances it is extremely subtle, so subtle that sometimes you have to look again for a few silk knots in a Central Asian piece that you know (from having seen them before) has some.  Often we can only conjecture about why a weaver very deliberately placed eight silk knots in a piece that was otherwise mostly wool pile.  She certainly wasn’t showing off with silk.

Steve said that he’d treat the Central Asian pieces with silk that he had brought, starting with those in which the use of silk was prominent and then move to some where the use of silk was on the subtle side.

His first Central Asian piece with silk was a  gold-ground,Turkman chyrpy.


This piece is heavily and dramatically embroidered silk on silk.

Steve explained and demonstrated that chyrpys are worn over the head

with their false sleeved hanging down their back, held together by a short rectangular piece.

Chyrpy ground colors are age-status-specific.  Gold, as I recall, is worn by married women.  Dark-ground chyrpys are worn by single girls and women.  Green-ground ones are worn by older women.  White-ground chyrpkys are honorific, awarded to those, over 60, whom the community designates as  “good mothers.”

Here are some additional detail images of S6.

Steven held it open to show its lining of printed Russian commercial cotton cloth.

In this context, I cannot resist inserting a related piece I didn’t bring to this session, but only because I forgot I had it.

This is an item that I bought a few years ago at one of the best rug community parties I have ever attended.  It was hosted by Paul Ramsey at his Denver shop on the occasion of an ACOR in his town.  I can still taste the lamb.

I bought it on impulse because it was small (it’s “bookmark” size”) and because I liked it.  I didn’t know what it was, showed it around and found that lots of experienced collectors didn’t know either.  But Saul Barodofsky knew instantly that it was a connecting piece that held the false sleeves together on a Turkman chyrpy.

I acknowledge from time to time that I collect “on a budget” and that that impacts the sorts of pieces I can consider.  Steve collects entire chyrpy coats.  This item of mine shows with uncomfortable concreteness what “collecting on a budget” can come to.  🙂

Now we moved to Uzbekistan.


The Uzbeks were clothing dandies.  Such ikat coats (usually silk patterning warps and cotton wefts) were valued.  Steve said that one tale about them is that Uzbek rulers gave them as prizes for a certain number of enemy heads. They usually feature bright colors and strong graphics, as this one does.

Here are some detail images of S7.

A couple of peeks inside.

Notice a different ikat used as facing on the inside edges.

A second Uzbek ikat coat was this one.


The palette is more cheerful, but the graphic dramatics continue.

Again, a little look at the lining and edging.

Still in Uzbekistan, Steve now brought out an embroidered horse cover.


He said that given its fragile character, he suspected that this piece was placed on the horse decoratively when it was not being ridden.

Here are some detail images of S9

There might be a temptation to raise the Lakai – Kungrat distinction but it didn’t come up…yet.

Steve said that the next piece, was one that he and his wife especially value in their collection.


It is a Tajik wedding veil with strong colors and graphics.  It was placed over the bride’s head so that the meshed area

was in front of her eyes.  It is a piece that exemplifies the distinctive palette of dyed silk

Here are some details of this piece.

The large element below that occurs in the border design is interpreted variously and may not be representational.

The next piece was a Turkmen pile bag.


It is one-half of a saddle bag set.  Steve said it has wool, camel hair and silk represented in its pile.

The closure system, of braided interlocking loops,

is typically Turkmen.

Here are some detail images of S11.

The next piece was another Turkmen bag, this time a large, Tekke, mixed technique “ak juval.”


The “ak” indicates that the elem has a “white” ground.  There are also “kizil chuvals” that have red ground elems.

This piece is noteworthy in part because it appeared on the cover of the Oriental Rug Review in a 1993 issue. 

I have scanned this cover because it shows a feature of this piece that Steve treated then and in this TM session. 

He made an argument that he felt that the character and nature of the damage to the closure system on this bag, the closure rope abraded off about a foot short of the right hand side, indicated that it was most likely used to hel something like grain, which could be accessed through an opening about a foot wide.  An opening that size is too narrow for holding clothing or bedding.  The character of the open end is about what would be needed to put in a hand to scoop grain our or to pour from the opening.

The back of this chuval looks like this.

There is a tear on one side, but the plain ivory back is largely unstained, suggesting that it was used to hold dry matter of some sort.

Another sign that this very decorative piece was actually used is that it also has handles on its sides.

When I first saw this piece on the ORR cover, I thought it was one of the most attractive Turkmen pieces I had ever seen, and it looks very good to me still.

It has eight pile strips that alternate with sections of plain weave, plus a pile elem.  The pile areas often have very high knot counts.

The next piece was a similar, smaller one.


Again, pile strips and areas of flat weave alternate.

Here are some detail images of S13.

There are silk hightlights in the elem of this bag.

Next Steve examined the piece pinned on the right side of the front board.


Here is an unencumbered image of it.

This is a Tekke chuval with six “Salor” turreted guls.  Steve noted that early pieces with this gul device tend to have three larger guls of this sort.  The six gul usage suggests an age of about 1850.

Although it is severely worn, now, through abrasion, these guls are heavily done in silk.  Steve said that these guls would have projected a strong, shining opulence.

Here are some detail images of S14.

I can testify to the opulence that the heavy use of silk projects in Turkmen pieces.  I was once invited to attend the close examination of the famous Textile Museum Salor Turkmen trapping (Plate 14 in the Mackie-Thompson catalong Turkmen, 1980).  Here, below, is a detail of this cover piece (I have turned it to provide a larger image).

Here is a single gul on this piece turned back to the horizontal.

The pinkish areas of the gul are of brilliant silk that has not abraded.  This is to my mind the most opulent Turkmen piece I have ever seen.  Even Jon Thompson seemed a bit wowed in his catalog description.  He said in part “…In spite of the plethora of ornament and almost overpowering richness and brilliance of color, the effect of this piece is dramatic and astonishing…”

This is the sort of richness that Steve’s piece once also projected.

On the left side of the board, Steve had pinned this piece.


This is a classic Chodor chuval with “Ertman” guls in its field and an attractive elem.

Here are some detail images of S15.

Steve said that this is a piece in which the silk is hard to see.  There are some silk knots on the lower narrow horizontal borders.

Next were a couple of Baluch pieces, mostly of closely contrasting colors.  The first of these was the khorjin face below.


Steve said that this piece has some widely scattered silk knots in it.

Here are some details of S16.

Sometimes it’s easier to see silk knots on the back of a piece. This is a back corner of S16.

Steve tries to help us see the silk by pointing to another location on its back.

The other of these two Baluch bag faces was this one.


This is a published piece, formerly in the Marvin Amstey collection.  Steve said that one of the interesting things about it is that the “bird” devices in its field all contain exactly the same design components: the only difference is the use of color.  Color uses have contrasts so close that it’s often not possible in these images to make out the details of a particular “bird.”

Steve told the story of how he acquired this piece.  It came up in a auction and he bid for it successfully.  But then looking at it and researching a bit, he saw that it seemed very similar to a piece that appears on page 88 of George O’Bannon’s Vanishing Jewels, 1990  and is indicated there as owned by Marvin AmsteyThis is page 88 below.

Steve contacted Marvin who said no, the piece was not stolen, he had consigned it for auction.  Steve breathed some relief.  He says that it remains one of his favorite pieces in his collection.

Notice the technical description on page 88 indicates that the silk knots in this piece are yellow.

Here are some detail images of S17.

Steve said that there are seven silk knot widely scattered in this piece.  It’s not clear why the weaver used this little bit of silk.  Certainly, not for attention-getting purposes.  This is the sort of piece in which the use of silk is so unobtrusive that you have to go about looking for where it actually is despite having found and examined it before.

My notes say that there are two silk knots on the neck of the bird in the upper left corner.  I can’t see that, but think I do see two yellow bits in the neck of the “bird” outlined in white.

The next piece was a small, square item of Central Asian embroidery.


I think this was described as Uzbek without any attempt to go further with distinctions like Lakai or Kungrat. 

Steve did mention that the Lakai – Kungrat distinction seems to be one about which the indicators have been nearly reversed in recent years (ed. although there is still visible debate among experts about how properly to make it).  There used to be frequent praising of Lakai embroideries for their “wild, nomadic tribal” character and Kungrat embroderies were seemingly a bit denigrated, with descriptions that emphasized their regularities and “urban” character. 

Jeff Spurr, who has studied these embroideries closely and extensively, spoke about them recently at The Textile Museum, saying, in part, that there were “urban” Lakai’s who embroidered.  He also seemed to emphasize the great “precision and “control” demonstrated in Lakai embroideries.  But he also acknowledged that his findings are sometimes in conflict with those of other scholars, such as Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andy Hale.

Here are some details of S18.

The next piece was a small, embroidered Turkmen bag.


Here is its flap side.

Here is its other side.

Central Asian embroideries are sometimes made originally as constructed pieces.  That is, they are composed of pieces sewn together from their inception and are not, necessarily, “cut-down” from larger formats.  This bag may be one such.

Here are an additional detail of S19.

This was described as likely used as a Koran bag.

The next item was another embroidered square, this time attributed to the Kyrgyz.

Notice that the designs used are similar to those in the detail below of the huge Pazaryk felts.

Here are some additional detail images of S20.

The next piece was used to decorate the front edge of a stack of textiles.


The ends at the wide part of this piece were tucked into the stack of textiles at or near the top of a stack and hung down “chevron-like” in the position illustrated above.

Here are some detail images of S21.

A Kungrat attribution was offered.

The next piece was part of an Uzbek suzani that was originally about 5 feet by 8 feet.  Silk embroidery on cotton is most usual.


Suzanis are “urban” pieces and are usually attributed by city of likely manufacture.

Here are some details of S22.

Quality suzanis are still be made in Central Asia today.  Here, below, is an image of just one taken anonymously from a dealer’s site.

This contemporary piece is silk on a silk/cotton ground, and has a Samarkand design.

I have a ten meter length of this kind of contemporary Uzbek embroidery in the rug stack behind me.  I bought it in Istanbul in 2007.  My wife asks me what I’m going to do with it and I think I’ll do the  Uzbeks one better:  some day I’ll have an opulent coat made for myself…not of ikat, but of suzani embroidery.

The next piece is a lovely, small pile weaving attributed to the Karakalpaks.


This is a published piece.  It appears as Plate 29 in Jon Thompson’s volume, Timbuktu to Tibet, published in 2008 on the occasion of the NYC Hajji Baba Club’s 75th anniversary.

A Karakalpak term used to describe similar textiles is esik kas.  This term suggests a use related to the threshold of a felt, trellis tent. 

Thompson’s discussion suggests that this piece could have been place over the door on the inside in a decorative way.  More, fancifully, it might have been hung near the door in a kind of loop on which hats could be placed (it seems way too short for this use).

But Thompson seems to think that its most likely function is like that of the Kyrgyz “chavadan” format.  These were placed, long-side parallel with the floor, to decorate the lower front face of the family’s pile of textiles (the “juk” that faced the door on the far side of the tent).  Chavadans are bags.  Various valuable items were actually stored in them, so a back would be needed. 

This textile is woven complete without a back, so if it was to be used as a bag, a separate piece of fabric would have to be attached, an unusual Central Asian usage.  Bags that have a front and back woven on continuous warps is the nearly unvarying Turkman practice. 

Another feature that presses away from usual Turkman bag characteristics is that the warps are on the long side of this piece.  Most Turkman bags open on the long side with the warps perpendicular with the opening side.  If this piece were used as a bag opening on it long side, its warps would be horizontal.  Only some Turkmen sissor bags have this warp direction.

Chavadans open on the short side.

This piece could have played the decorative purpose of a chavadan without being a bag, but there seems no provision for holding it in place on the lower front side of the juk.  So the use for which this weaving was made seems conjectural.  We are left to enjoy its simple, but considerable aesthetics.  Here are some detail images of S23.

The next piece was constructed from a tent band, but beautifully so.


Bands are difficult to display because of their great lengths in relation to their narrower widths.  One strategy employed is to take a given back and forth (either horizontally or vertically) to form a more compact mass.  Although this is a fragment, probably about half  of the original tentband, that is what has been done in this case.

This piece is a mixed technique Turkman tent band that would have been placed (decoration facing in) inside the felt covering, but outside the roof struts just above the place where the roof struts are joined to the side trellis’.  It would have been about 44 feet long, a great, sumptuous textile indeed.

In many contemporary western homes there is a decorative border placed on the top edge of the walls next to the ceiling.  Below is an item of vintage wall paper border that you could buy in long strips to decorate the top edge of a newly wallpapered or painted wall.

You can see that this border has a width of about 5 or 6 inches.  Well, the Turkmen have done us somewhat better in the matter of top-of-the-wall border decorations.  Theirs are 9 to 16 inches wide and this one (about 12 inches wide)  is hand woven in a complex mixed technique and decorated with silk in some of its middle areas.

The structure of these mixed technique tent bands deserves comment.  The pile areas are tied on alternate raised warps.  This structure leaves almost no patterning on the back.  Josephine Powell and Marla Mallett believe that Turkmen mixed technique tent bands like this were likely woven by specialists because of this distinctive structure.  Full-pile tent bands of this sort that seem more opulent are easier to make because they are analogous to “long, narrow rugs,” but the weaving of mixed technique tent bands is a distinctive and likely more difficult undertaking.

Here are a few more detail images of this nice piece to enjoy.

The next piece was a small Tekke Turkman pile rug.


This piece is about as long as the so-called “wedding-rugs” but is narrower and has only two rows of guls.  (Mogul Andrews observed a wedding rug being woven by a Turkmen bride-to-be, but says we can’t identify which rugs were actual wedding rugs by distinctive features).

Another distinctive feature is that it has elems with entirely different designs.

There is silk pile in some of the triangles used in the central instrumentation of the guls.  I think I see some silk in some of the minor ornaments as well.

It seems to me that the silk pile in this piece WAS put in to enrich it, visually.  It was meant to be noticed.  Here are some more detail images of this interesting and unusual rug.

The next piece is one to make you cry.


This is about one quarter of a Middle Amu Darya chuval in which the weaver used quite a lot of silk and in ways designed to attract attention.  The tears, of course, are for: “Who dared to cut up the original?  and what happened to the rest of it?”

In addition to the opulent silk, the wool of this piece is of a very high quality.  It sits on the back of my chair as I write and I get to look at it close-up and feel its wool every day.

Here are some more detail images of S26.

Sometimes you can see the use of silk better on the back.

The next piece was a Uzbek ikat fragment.


Its owner said that it suggested that there were sometimes still things looking at at the Georgetown Flea Market.  It is silk on cotton.

Here are a couple of detail images.

The next piece embarrasses a bit because it’s been seen with fair frequently, but it seemed important to bring it to a session with a silk in Central Asian textiles focus.


This is a fragment from a very delicate, silk ikat Uzbek garment.  It’s ikat fabric is so thin that placing it on a black backing washed out its designs.  A red background was needed.

I brought it again because Eleana Tsareva has said on occasions long separated in time, that this is oldest piece of Central Asian ikat she has seen.

It is silk with dark blue cotton wefts (most Uzbek ikats have red wefts) and that may signal a distinctive group.

The last piece of the day was a Tekke Turkman rug.


Here are some detail images of S29.

The ending elem was a little unusual.

And a peek at its back.

It was estimated as likely woven in the 1930s.  Its owner brought it because he thought its warps, especially, looked “silky” to him.  Examination indicated that the warps are wool.

Steve answered questions,

and brought his session to close.

The audience moved toward the textiles.

I want to thank Steve Price for permitting a virtual version of his interesting RTAM program.  Thanks to him too for his editing assistance after.  Ruth McDiarmid took a good set of notes for me.

I hope you enjoyed this look at some “silky” Central Asian textiles.


R. John Howe

Colin England on “Chinese Silk Rugs”

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2011 by rjohn

On July 9, 2011, Colin England,

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. on the subject “Chinese Silk Rugs.”

Colin is an actuary, with an understandable background in mathematics, who has said that one thing that attracted him to the sort of finely woven rugs he collects, is the fact that they can produce designs that look curvilinear on a rectangular grid.  He said that when he first encountered this phenomenon that, despite knowing perfectly well, intellectually, what was going on, it seemed to him an instance of near and fascinating “magic”

Colin’s topic this particular morning was a subset of this general interest. 

He said:  “I had intended to do four sessions regarding silk rugs, and have only done three (a general session (1999), one on Persian silk rugs (2003) and one on Turkish silk rugs (2005)).  The session I have not done (ed. today’s session) is on Chinese silk rugs, which are almost exclusively a second half of the 20th century phenomenon.” 

Colin added that as he had worked through the sequence of sessions above it has occurred to him that it might be interesting to do one more, this one focused on silk rugs that are “…fairly recent, partially derivative (of both Persian and Turkish traditions) and entirely commercial…”   This, he said, he may do sometime in the future.

He began his treatment of Chinese silk rugs with a brief characterization of Chinese rugs in general.

Older Chinese rug weaving, he said, were mostly in formats such as “…mats, saddle covers and pillar rugs, not many floor rugs.”

Chinese rug weaving, he said, had in earlier time been mostly for internal consumption, but that starting around the 1880s became largely export-driven.

Some rugs, he said, that might seem Chinese are in fact East Central Asian: for example, silks from East Turkestan, the area around the Taklimakan desert (Tarim basin).

Silk (sericulture) has deep roots in China.  He said that one source he consulted made great claims for the achievements of early Chinese rulers and connected the wife of one with sericulture. This source held that Emperor Huang-ti (pre-Hsia dynasty, Yu so, pre-2205 BC, and other pre-Great Emprorers , so pre-2,600 BC) “defeated the barbarian Miaos, thus clearing North China for Chinese settlement; introduced government institutions; and was credited with the invention of coined money and the compass.  His wife taught silk culture and domestic work.  Other sources date silk culture in China from 1,400 to 1,200 BC.

So, Colin said, silk textiles have been produced in China for a long time.  They been used extensively in clothing.

Speaking generally, he said, the more recent periods of Chinese rug weaving are something like this:

    • East Turkestan (1800s)
    • Nichols/Art deco (1920s)
    • Traditional (1929)
    • Modern (ca 2000)

Despite its deep silk weaving tradition, extensive Chinese production of silk rugs did not occur until the 1960s/1970s. 

The designs used in this initial silk rug production were derived primarily from Chinese paintings.  During the 1980s/1990s designs in Chinese silk rugs began to copy Persian and Turkish designs.  There were close reproductions, but also revisions and enhancements of such Middle Eastern designs. 

Note:  Eiland claims that our western notions of “originality” and “copying” have to be reconsidered when we deal with Chinese weavers.  A Chinese artisan trying to make an exact copy of an antique artifact would see his efforts in positive terms, a species of paying homage to the original.

Colin noted that during the 1990s/2000s “Chinese” style pictorial carpets became more frequent.  These included photographic renditions, reproductions of other art (for example some poster art) and reinterpretation of Persian/Turkish pictorial designs.

Despite drawing on Persian/Turkish designs, Chinese rugs retained some distinctive structures, color palettes, signature practices, and designs not seen in Persian/Turkish rugs were often used by Chinese weavers.

He said that the aesthetic of Chinese silk rugs, in particular, was shaped by 1) fineness of weave, 2) perfection of design execution (craftsmanship), and 3) the art of the designer (i.e., the attractiveness of the design and its ability to be applied to a variety of media).

He said that Chinese silk rugs particularly attracted him because:

    • Of the allure of silk.  Its ability to reflect light gives it flash; it has high tensile strength; and,the small diameter of its fibers makes it it possible to weave fine patterns with it.
    • They are relatively inexpensive.
    • They are made in a wide variety of designs.
    • They can exhibit art in their designs, and fine craftsmanship in their execution.

Chinese silk rugs are commercial products made in a wide variety of locations.   We are seldom able to say where a given rug was woven.

Chinese silk rugs, he said, have silk pile and are woven on a silk structure, something that permits the use of knot counts approaching 2,000 kpsi, although many Chinese silk rugs have knot counts that are in the 500-600 kpsi range.  Above 300 kpsi the eye can be fooled into seeing seeming smooth curvilinear designs woven on a rectilinear grid.  Above that such designs can be produced on very tiny scales packed with colors and details.

Most Chinese pile rugs, Colin said, are traditionally of wool pile woven on cotton foundations, using asymmetric knots open to the left.  Alternate warps tend to be completely depressed so that one is directly above the other.  This produces the famous Chinese “closed” back. 

But Chinese silk rugs are different.  As already noted, they are mostly done with silk pile on a silk foundation.  But examination reveals that nearly all Chinese silk rugs are woven with symmetric knots.  Because the use of asymmetric knots is sometimes thought to make it easier (because of the “weak-sided” shape of the knot, composed of a “half hitch” on one side but only an “inlay” on the other) to draw smooth curves.  The squarer shape of the symmetric knot (composed of two half hitches, reversed in relation to one another) is sometimes seen to be a disadvantage in this regard. 

But, Colin pointed out, the fact that alternative warps are fully depressed removes this disadvantage for Chinese silk rugs woven with symmetric knots, since one knot node is completely buried and the actual drawing is done with a single knot node, precisely the same things that occurs when an asymmetric knot is used.

Dyes in Chinese silk rugs are likely nearly all synthetics, although some uses of indigo may be from natural sources.

Colin now began to treat the rugs he had hung on the front-of-the-room board.

He began by sketching with a few examples the kinds of Chinese rugs he would NOT be talking about.

He would not be treating, he said, rugs like this silk saf design from Eastern Turkmenistan.

Note:  Colin has provided me with a post-session set of notes that includes detailed descriptions of each piece.  I will place his description under the initial overall image of each piece shown below.  Note especially, the size, since a number of these Chinese silk rugs are miniatures.

19th Century, Western China/Turkestan

  • Pile, Foundation – silk pile, cotton warp and weft; 6-9 shoots blue & white weft;
  • Selvedge – wrapped, but not likely original
  • Knot count and type – 7 x 7 (50)
  • Design – Saf,
  • Border design – geometric, symmetric
  • Other – Five niche prayer rug
  • Size – 3 ½’ x  9 1/3’

Here are some closer looks at details of this piece.

Colin said that he thinks that this, worn, but still interesting rug, which IS silk and relatively coarse, may be arguably 18th century.

But is not,in the schema of his program, because it is not “Chinese” (although some Chinese might disagree).

A second type Chinese rug that he would not be treating is exemplified by the piece below.

Early 20th Century (1929), Wool traditional – traditional design, with “imperial” dragon; note outer border on both wool pieces, open with intrusions

  • Pile, Foundation – Wool on cotton
  • Knot count and type – 250, asymmetric, open left
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Design – field with dragons, flying fish, pavilion and waves
  • Border design – dark blue
  • Other – Note subtleties in coloration of pavilion, flying fish and dragon, with similar colors used close to each other, only noticible at close inspection.
  • Size – 37” x 60”

Again, a few closer detail images.

There are some color differences due to the way the camera handles light at different distances and from different angles.   The photograph below most closely approximates the colot of the field of this rug.

A third example of a type of Chinese rug Colin would not treat in this session was of the sort below.

Early 20th Century (1920s/1930s), Wool art deco “Nichols” – strong, non-traditional colors

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, cotton
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 100, open right
  • Colors – strong, vibrant red, emerald and dark green, purple and yellows
  • Border design – solid red border
  • Other – design is not typical “Chinese” design
  • Size – 49 ½” x 81”

Here are some closer detail images of this piece.  (Note: The ground color of this rug has a strong emerald green.  The camera may push some images of it toward gray.)

The group of rugs, Colin said, he WOULD be talking about is better exemplified by the rug below.

C.A. 2000, Square Chinese

  • Pile, Foundation – silk; 3 strand warp; 2 weft shoots;
  • Selvedge, end finish – three cord; ¼” plain weave;
  • Depression – full
  • Knot count and type – 23x 23 (529); Persian, open right;
  • Colors – light and dark blue; red and light pink; light and dark green; white;
  • Design – 5 layer medallion, quartered medallion in corners, flowers and leaves over dark blue field;
  • Border design – 8, with outside solid dark blue and four guard borders with large colored dots; repeating flower and leaf minor border; main border repeating and inverted flower and vase (?)
  • Other – text or signature at bottom right.
  • Size – 37.25” x 37.25”

Here is a closer detail on one upper quarter of this piece.

Colin reinforced his previous indication that the Chinese silk rugs he was going to focus on are relatively recent phenomenon, and are an instance of the Chinese beginning to weave nearly any kind of rug for which there is sufficient market interest.  With some exceptions Chinese silk rugs began to appear in significant numbers in the 1980s and the 1990s and most of the pieces he had brought were of that vintage or more recent.

Now Colin moved to the first level of the board on which were hung some of the Chinese silk rug that were the topic of his talk.

About this group he said:

Flat I – The Changing Styles of Chinese Silk Rugs

The earliest of what I call Chinese silk rugs dates to the late 1960s or 1970s.  These were often copies of Chinese paintings, and much less often copies of traditional Oriental rug designs.  Over time, many versions of traditional designs were made, with the Chinese adopting and amending the traditional designs to meet every demand.

Note the differences between the Iranian and Chinese designs and construction in the detailed description of the rugs below.

1980s – Chinese painting style rug

  • Pile, Foundation – silk; silk warp and weft;
  • Selvedge, end finish – wrapped, one cord;
  • Depression – partial
  • Knot count and type – 12 x 12 (144); asymmetric,
  • Design – boat, with flowers above, and caligraphy to the right
  • Border design – none
  • Other – “carved”, that is the pile at the edges of figures in the field are cut shorter than elsewhere, to accent the designs 
  • Size – 37.5” x 25”

Here some detail images of this piece.

The next piece was a smaller, very fine rug, featuring a detailed lake scene.

Late 1990s – Lake Scene – very fine

  • Pile, Foundation – silk, silk
  • Selvedge – three cord
  • Knot count and type – 44×44 (1,936)
  • Design – lake scene
  • Border design – cartouches with scenes of various creatures
  • Other – Where’s Waldo effect; possible to find most anything, if you look hard enough
  • Size – 5 ft. x 3 ft.

Here are some detail images of this piece.

There’s a lot to look at in this rug and we’re going to take our time with it.  Here are some additional detail images of it.

The next rug is quite similar but not quite as fine or colorful.

 Late 1990s – Lake Scene – fine

  • Pile, Foundation – silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 28 x 24 (672)
  • Design – lake scene
  • Border design – cartouches with animal scenes
  • Other – Note difference to Persian Isfahan, from much higher density of designs, althougth both have similar knot densities
  • Size – approximately, 5 ft. X 3ft.

Here are some closer details of the rug above.

The next pictorial piece was of a quite different sort.

 1970s – Isfahan Pond with Lovers

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, silk highlights; silk
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 25×25 (625); asymmetric
  • Design – pond scene with lovers, trees, flowers and birds
  • Border design – plain band
  • Other – note general spaciousness of design (at least compared to prior Chinese rugs), with plain field around central figures, although with very fine detail as well (see flowers and birds, for example)
  • Size – 3 ft. x 5 ft.

Since the scale of design in this rug makes it more accessible in the overall image above, two closer details should be sufficient.

Notice that the borders at the edge of the field are minimal.  Also notice that there are designs in each of the four corners that if assembled would produce a complete medallion but that the central position in the field is devoted to the loving couple.

The next rug was yet another type of Chinese pictorial rug, of recent origin.

2005s – Pictorial with harp

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, silk highlights
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 27 x 27 (729), symmetric
  • Colors – extensive use of shades of brown
  • Design – angel playing harp
  • Border design – none
  • Other – note that design is perpendicular to weaving
  • Size – 3 x 5

Here are some detail images of this flamboyant rug.

One more pictorial rug was the one below.

2010s – Iranian Qum – Pictorial with stream

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, extensive silk; silk
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 27 x 27 (729); asymmetric, open right
  • Colors – wide variety
  • Design – stream, with house, bridge and creatures
  • Border design – Outside plain dark brown, with two non-matching inner borders
  • Other – extensive use of silk in field
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some closer details of this rug.

Flat II – Small floral rugs

Colin moved to this next level on the board and said:

“I mainly collect floral and pictorial rugs, not geometric rugs.  So my fondness for the fine curvilinear rugs of the late 20th century is exemplified in these rugs.” 

“Note the significant increase in tightness of weave that occurs between the earlier and later rugs.”

Colin first drew attention to a single aspect of the two rugs immediately below.   He began buy stating that, in fact, these two rugs have very similar colors and designs.

But, he continued, they have been pinned on the board, one with its pile pointing upward, and the other with its pile pointing downward. 

Silk pile threads reflect light quite differently depending on their orientation to light.   

The result, in this instance, is the colors of one above appears lighter and quite different from those of the rug below.  

(Ed.: I can testify that this difference in color was much greater when one was facing these two rugs in the room than it is in these two images.)

Now Colin began to treat the rugs on this level of the board individually.

He began with the one below.

2-1 – 1985s – Blue field all over floral

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, Silk
  •  Selvedge, end finish – 2 cord; flat weave end finish;
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type –25 x 22 (550); symmetric;
  • Design – all over floral design, with light blue lobed (flowers are the lobes) central medallion and floral sprays in the location of traditional “anchor” designs above and below the medallion.
  • Border design – wide floral main border, with asymmetric inner and outer border and dark blue border at edge of the rug
  • Other – branches connecting central flowers in dark green, and not readily descernable from dark blue field, except at very close viewing (see in close up below); note flowing nature of design – compare to next rug
  • Size – 25 ¼” x 36 ½”

Here are some more detailed images of the piece above.

This rug is one of Colin’s favorites.  One sign of its fineness is that it has hard-to-see plant stems in the dark ground of its field.  You should see them in some of the closer details below.

The next detail is one in which you should be able to see the thin lines of these plant stems.

More details of this piece.

The next piece at this level was the one below.

2-2 – 1995s – Blue field all over floral

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, Silk
  • Selvedge, end finish – 3 cord;
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type –25 x 25 (625)
  • Design – Mille fleur, with arch and flowers in the spandrels
  • Border design – Main border with alternating sprays and vasses, symmetric inner and outer border, with last outer border a plain dark blue border
  • Other – Compared to prior rug, not as much of a sense of motion in the design
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some detailed images of this piece.

Now Colin returned to the two pieces used above to demonstrate how light reflects differently when the pile points up and when it points down.

Now he treated each of them separately, giving detailed descriptions for each.  Here, again, is the first one of this “appearance” pair above.

2-3 – 2000 – Small medallion, floral

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge, end finish – 3 cords, light blue wrapped; flat weave, pile, flat weave bundled and knotted warp;
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type – 38 x 40 (1,520); symmetric;
  • Design – Round medallion, with flowers and vines, red corner devises,
  • Border design – Series of floral borders, with outer unmatched blue border
  • Other – end finish pile design, diamonds.
  • Size – 23” x 18 ½”

Here are some closer detail images of this piece (note the color changes as we get closer and take from different angles).

Here, also again, is an overall image of the second piece above, with a detailed description.

2-4 – 2000 – Large medallion, floral

  • Pile, Foundation – silk/silk
  • Selvedge, end finish – 3 cords, light blue wrapped; flat weave, pile, flat weave bundled and knotted warp;
  • Depression – full
  • Knot count and type – 1520
  • Design – Round medallion, with flowers and vines, red corner devises
  • Border design – Series of floral borders, with outer unmatched blue border
  • Other – Note that medallion is larger, filling the entire field, also differences in end finish from prior rug
  • Size – 23” x 18 ½”

Two closer detail images of this second piece from above.

The next rug on this level of the board was a little larger and featured three arches and complex designs.

2-5 – 2000 – Three arched

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge, end finish –three cord, blue wrapped; flat weave, knotted warp.
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type – 40 x 34 (1,360); Symmetric;
  • Design – Three bilaterally symmetric arches, with flowers and cartouches.  Central medallion on top.
  • Border design – Symmetric, interwoven floral boarder
  • Other – Purchased shortly after imported, in 1999
  • Size – 24 ½´x 37”

(Ed: The look varies in the areas on which the board lights focused most directly.  That is the reason for the color variations in the image above.)

Here are some closer detail images of this rug.

At this point Colin departed momentarily from his treatment of Chinese silk rugs to show the small, exquisite piece below.

2-6 – 1970s/1980s – Hereke

  •  Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge, end finish –three cord; flat weave, bundled and braided warps.
  • Depression – Full
  • Knot count and type – 40 x 34 (1,360); Symmetric;
  • Design – central medallion, surrounded by rope design, which is matched in corners.  Otherwise floral and vine designs in field and borders.
  • Border design – Symmetric (except for outer white border); Interwoven floral designs;
  • Other – Hereke signature
  • Size – 12 ¾”x 18”

As the detailed description above indicates, this rug is a silk Hereke, woven in Turkey, not China.  Colin introduced it here, not just because it is a beautiful silk rug, but because the Chinese are getting so good at making silk rugs that (as we shall see with some specific examples below) that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether a given rug with a Hereke label was woven in Turkey or China.

Here are some detail images of this little piece.

Colin now moved to the next level on the board.

Flat III – Copies of the old masters – and improvements

Colin said that copying of others’ designs is as old as rug weaving.  And miniaturization of others’ designs has also been done in many places and times, but perhaps none so well as the Atiyeh rugs of the late 1980s and 1990s (the Atiyehs are rug dealers in the northwestern U.S who have commissioned a number of miniature versions of both familiar types and particular rugs).  The following four rugs are all from the Atiyeh production of Chinese silk miniatures of tribal types.

Perhaps the most recognized of the Atiyeh Chinese silk miniatures is a near copy of the South Persian rug that appears on the dust jacket (and in the book itself) of James Opie’s “Tribal Rugs.”

Here is a scan of the dust jacket.

Here is the actual rug as it appears in Opie’s book.  It’s 4 feet by 6 feet.

And below is the Chinese silk miniature rendition of it

3-1 – 1980s-1990s – Atiyeh rug – Quashqa’i/Khamseh Federation Lion Rug

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – two cord 
  • Knot count and type – 22 x 26 (572); symmetric
  • Design – Red lions on blue field, with 4 symmetric birds in center
  • Border design – Symmetric, geometric borders; note unusual end finish matching the “original” lion rug from Opie’s book
  • Other – note that lions face the opposite direction of those in the original Opie rug
  • Size – 24 x 16 ½”

Here are some closer details of this piece.

Here are some details of this rug.

It was pointed out by someone in the audience that the lions in this copy face opposite from the way they are oriented on the original.

Colin said that it appears that about 12 such copies were sold in the DC area.  We had two in the room during Colin’s session and we know of a third in nearby Virginia.

A second rug in this four-rug set was this one.

3-2 – 1980s-1990s – Atiyeh rug – Marsali Shirvan

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – striped flat weave end finish
  • Knot count and type – 26 x 26 (676); asymmetric, open left
  • Design – ascending floral field, with arch
  • Border design – multiple, geometric borders
  • Other – ascending flowers, with arch
  • Size – 22’ x 19 ½”

As the description above indicates, this is an attempt to produce a “Marsali” Shirvan in miniature.

Here are some closer details of it.

It was noticed that this miniature is much thicker than the other three.  Not clear why.  Perhaps the intent was to soften the fineness of the design, since the Caucasian rugs it is imitating use much lower kpsi, and so the lines and drawing are not as straight and clear, and the longer pile partially imitates that effect.

The third rug in this set was another Caucasian design, this time an Akstafa of the lattice field type.

3-3 – 1980s-1990s – Atiyeh rug – Akstafa

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – two cord
  • Knot count and type – 22 x 22 (484)
  • Design – flowers within repeating lattice, arch; central enclosed garden with quadrapeds
  • Border design – main leaf and vine border, with symetric barber pole guard borders and outer plain white border
  • Size – 32 ½” x 16

Here are some detail images of this piece.

The last rug in this set of miniatures was also a Caucasian design.  Its field sported three and a half Lesghi stars.

3-4 – 1980s-1990s – Atiyeh rug – Shirvan

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – two cord
  • Knot count and type – 22 x 20 (440), asymmetric open left
  • Design – 3 ½ Lesghi stars
  • Border design – Wine glass and calix main border, with symetric other borders (although colors don’t match)
  • Size – 33 x 17 ½

Here are closer details of this rug.

Colin also treated some other silk miniatures on this level of the board.

He described the first of these as a “fanciful saf.”  It is a Hereke, not Chinese.

3-5 – 1990s – Hereke – Fanciful Saf

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – multiple cord
  • Knot count and type – 26 x 26 (676); symmetric
  • Design – 4 niche, fanciful saf
  • Border design – asymmetric
  • Size – 24 x 17 ½”

Here are some closer details of this piece.

Colin turned this rug upside down and noted a particular feature.

Here are two additional closer details in this inverted position.

The last miniature rug that Colin showed on this level of the board was a “garden” design, in the style of earlier Persian and Mugal designs (although much smaller than its predecessors).

3-6 – 2000 –  Baktiari garden rug

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 2 cord
  • Knot count and type – 30 x 40 (1,200)
  • Design – repeating gardens in a square lattice
  • Border design – symetric outer borders around a floral and vine main border
  • Size – 12″ x 12″

Here are some details of this piece. 

Notice that the overall blue-ish cast of the rug is lost when we focus on this corner,

but is visible again when we move to the center.

Colin now moved to the last level of the rugs he was treating in his program.

Flat IV – Live or Memorex?

Chinese copies of other designs don’t always come out perfectly, but since they are often significantly less expensive, are often sold as from somewhere else.

Things to look for:

  • Thickness of pile (Herekes, for example are usually much thinner than their Chinese copies)
  • Stiffness of rug (very fine Herekes generally use thicker warps than very fine Chinese, yielding a somewhat stiffer feel to the rug, although neither rug is very stiff compared to wool rugs)
  • Extensive use of silk in an otherwise wool field (although note that the Qum shown earlier also uses a lot of silk in the field and some Isfahans and Nains also do, but this is more unusual for Persian than Chinese rugs)

Here is one example.

Late 1980s – Art Silk and Wool – Chinese

  • Pile, Foundation – wool with art Silk, cotton
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 17 x 17 (289)
  • Colors – light
  • Design – floral, with small medallion
  • Border design – Floral main border, with asymetric outer borders and plain beige outer border
  • Other – note that most of large flowers in field are what is called “art” silk.  Shown in close-ups below
  • Size – 4′ x 6′

Here are some closer details of this rug.

Another wool pile rug with silk highlights was the one below, although this one is from Isfahan, in Iran.

1970s/1980s – Isfahan

  • Pile, Foundation – wool, Silk highlights; silk
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 23×23 (529)
  • Design – center red medallion,
  • Border design – meandering main border, with symetric outer borders
  • Other – note use of silk only in highlights (white outlining), generally as a single thin row of knots separating other designs
  • Size – 3 x 5

Here are several details of this rug.

Colin moved to a new level on the board, continuing the theme of comparing Chinese rugs often misidetified as Hereke. 

He said that the Chinese are getting very good at weaving silk rugs.  So good, that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish a Chinese silk rug that is posting as a Hereke (woven in label and all) from a real Hereke.  Such “Chinese copies of other designs don’t always come out perfectly, but since they are often significantly less expensive, are sold as (ed. the real thing).

To demonstrate the difficulty of distinguishing a Chinese “Hereke” from one woven in Turkey, Colin put up the four pieces arranged vertically in small images below.

The first two in this sequence. are Chinese “Herekes.”  The last to are actual Herekes woven in Turkey.

Colin said that the indicators for detecting Chinese “Herekes” are not stable.   But things to look for include:

  • Chinese silk “Herekes” often have a thicker pile (they can also feel a little stiffer because of this, although the opposite is true in very fine Herekes).
  • But even experienced folks can be given pause as they attempt to make this distinction.

The four pieces immediately above are each repeated in turn below with larger overall and images and detailed descriptions, so that you have a can to examine them more closely.

Here,  again, is the first Chinese “Hereke,” above.

2000-ish – Chinese Hereke

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 600
  • Design – arch, supported by pillars, with lamp hanging from arch.  Four large birds surround lamp.
  • Border design – outer dark blue border, with inner colored borders, with floral designs covering the borders
  • Other – note small pile flowers in flat woven end finish and “Hereke” signiture in cartouche in outer border, at bottom of rug
  • Size – 1 x 2

Some detail images of this rug.

The next rug.

2000s – Chinese Hereke

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 500
  • Design – deer and other animals with trees
  • Border design – main and outer guard border have floral designs superimposed on them; inner borders do not repeat outer borders
  • Other – woven sideways; also note pile flowers in flat woven end finish
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some details of this rug.

Now the first of the real Herekes from above.

1970s/1980s – Hereke

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 500
  • Design – Arch, with pillers that do not reach arch
  • Border design – asymetric minor borders; large cartouches with caligraphy in main border
  • Other – metallic (silver) thread; note Hereke signiture in top right corner of border
  • Size – 1 x 2

Here are two closer details of this piece.

And the second of the real Herekes from above.

2000s – Hereke

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 3 cord
  • Knot count and type – 600
  • Design – arch, with large vase below it, surrounded with flowers
  • Border design – multiple symetric borders; main border of meander with flowers
  • Size – 1 x 2

Here are some closer details of this rug.

Colin’s next rug beckoned back to the drawing we saw on an earlier Chinese pictorial rug: the lady had a harp in that one.  This time she’s petting a fawn, but the character of the two rugs is much the same.

2005s – Chinese pictorial

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – 1 cord
  • Knot count and type – 900
  • Colors – 3 red/pink, 4 blues, 3 greens, white, 2 tan/khaki, 2 yellows,
  • Design – woman and deer, surrounded by flowers, ground and sky
  • Border design – None
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some details of this rug.

Colin’s next rug was neither Chinese nor Turkish, but instead a beautiful Persian silk miniature from Qum. 

He said he couldn’t resist showing it because it is so striking.

1980s Qum

  • Pile, Foundation – Silk, silk
  • Selvedge – wrapped
  • Knot count and type – 729
  • Design – large, flashy flowers
  • Border design – little greenish shapes, surrounded by yellow in main border;
  • Other –Gorgeous, vibrant colors
  • Size – 2 x 3

Here are some details of this lovely piece.

Colin ended this section by noting that since about 2000 Chinese silk rug with new designs have begun to appear.

Some of these are pictorial and could be seen as similar to pictorial rugs treated above.  But they are distinctive.

2000 – Pictorial

A second type of “pictorial” rug that has emerged since 2000 is the “photographic” type.

Here is one example with a floral design.

First, a nearly complete overall shot from one end.

And a similar shot from the other end.

Here are two  detail images.

Here is outline form are Colin’s ending, summary comments:

Characteristics of best Chinese rugs

  • Design – interesting, one that attracts you back to the piece; for me, curvilinear, creatures with flowers and trees; lakes and streams
  • Colors – wide range, with subtleties of shadings and comparisons to surrounding colors
  • Craftsmanship – well executed, without apparent flaws.  Abrash doesn’t exist, as the dye lots were purchased in sufficient quantity in advance
    • Comparison of straight lines – thin and straight indicate well done and fine

Range of design is quite wide, wider than any other rug weaving culture, probably due to commercial aspect of development of business

  • Persian style
  • Turkish style
  • Chinese style, from paintings
  • Western designs, from posters, paintings and photographs

Age of rugs

  • Nearly all “new”, i.e. well less than a century old
  • Unlike most other weaving traditions, design is very helpful in aging Chinese rugs
  • Inventive, marketable designs proliferate

How do you tell Chinese rugs from:

  • Some designs are only made in China
    • Painting
  • Persian
    • Isfahan – thicker, heavier pile, and not as delicately drawn; more silk in field; use of “art silk”
    • Qum – generally, thinner pile
  • Hereke
    • Floppier pile than Hereke, except in very fine (above 1,600 kpsi), where thicker warps leave very fine Hereke’s slightly stiffer
    • Thicker (although both are relatively thin)
    • Different colors (sometimes)
    • May have signature (although there are plenty of examples of Chinese rugs bearing a Hereke type signiture)

Two members of the audience brought in a rug.  The first is another of the Chinese silk pictorial variety, this time with a “Noah’s Ark” design.

Someone asked to have this piece turned with the pile pointed in the direction opposite to that in the above image to see how that affected the look of its colors.

It seems a little lighter to me in the image above but the effect is not dramatic in these two photos.

Here are some additional “right side up” images of this piece.

A second brought-in rug was the one below.

I do not have the owner’s description but it is full of traditional Chinese design features.  Note the resolved corner treatment, something, in my experience, occurs in even the the humblest of Chinese rugs (although notice that in the Atiyeh miniature of Opie’s south Persian “lion” rug design, the “butted borders” of the original are clearly retained).

Here are some detail images of the “brought-in” piece above.

The back of this piece drew examination.

Colin took questions and brought his session to a close.

I thank Colin for permitting the fashioning of this virtual version of his RTAM program, and for the considerable work he invested, after, in that regard.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at Chinese silk rugs, a group not treated frequently.


R. John Howe

Potpourri with David Zahirpour

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2011 by rjohn

On November 12, 2011, David Zahirpour

gave a “Potpourri” session of the Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning series here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

David is a long-time rug dealer, with a shop in the city.  He has, for years, been active with the TM.  He has given many Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning programs and is a fixture as a demonstrator of rug repair at TM workshop events.

“Potpourri:” anything goes.  Let’s see how it went.

David brought a few pieces,

but the bulk of those treated had been brought in by members of the audience.

He began with the flat-woven, Senneh, horse trapping below.

David said that this piece has been reconstituted from its original shape.  There would have been clear provision for a saddle and a front tab would have extended from both corners at the top.  These two tabs would go around the chest of the horse and be fastened together, as part of the anchoring of the horse cover, while in use.  These tabs appear to have been taken into the body of the current reconstituted version.

Despite its alteration, David considers this cover to be a “fabulous” piece.  It is finely woven with classic Senneh designs and colors.

It is a piece deserving examination in several closer detail images.

David estimated that this Senneh kilim horse cover was woven in the 1890s.

David’s second piece was more ordinarily Persian, but with a twist.

David described this rug as a “workshop” Saruk, woven in 1930s to the 1940s for the U.S. market.

Here is a closer corner detail image.

Its field design is a departure from the more usual Saruk design vocabulary.  It features European flower forms, primarily, roses. 

This field design also occurs in some Caucasian rugs.

David’s third piece was this one.

This piece is an unusual format.  One form of heating in Persian homes was provided by a small square-ish table

that contained a heat source underneath itself (electric or coals).  People sat on cushions around this table and ate, usually with a heavy blanket on the table that flowed onto the laps of those sitting around it, keeping the heat on their legs and lower body.  A decorative piece like this would be placed either directly on the table or over the blanket to catch food stains.

This format is called a “ru korsi” and this one is embroidered.

David said that this one was made by Jewish weavers, perhaps in Meshed.  Both the ground cloth and the embroidery are 100% wool.

Here are some details of this embroidery.

David’s next piece was smaller and square.

He said that this is a Baluch bag face, woven about 1910-1920.  It is finely woven of high quality wool.  Its center gul device in influenced by the Turkman, “Salor,” turreted gul.

Here are two closer details of this bag face.

The warps appear to be cotton.

David does not always bring to “potpourri” sessions only pieces with exquisite color or fine weaving.  Sometimes he brings things that are are unusual and/or that have pedagogic value.  The next piece he treated is one of these.

David acknowledged that this piece, which he said was woven in the Kuba area of the Caucasus, is not old (1910 – 1920), and that some of its dyes are likely synthetics that have faded and show signs of transfer to its warps.

Despite this, David said, this is an interesting piece because it likely has famous design ancestors.  He described it as having a field that is a stylized “dragon” design, the precursors of which included 18th century rugs like this one.

Notice that the old “dragon” rugs had lattices as well as devices read as “dragons.”  It would be possible to argue that the device in the quarter of David’s piece below is a lattice rather than a dragon, but there are examples of pieces in the old “dragon” group described as “dragon-less dragon rugs.”

So, although this example is a very stylized, perhaps tenuous, version of the 18th century dragon rug design, it is still defensibly and credibly a more recent rug that still (perhaps remarkably) retains visual echoes of this famous design group.

Here are some closer details of aspects of David’s example.

The last piece that David had, himself, brought to this session was the one below.

Here it is full-faced.  David described this piece as a half-khorjin woven in sumak by the Shahsavan in NW Iran.  He thinks it is a “terrific” piece.

Here are some detail images of aspects of it.

Now we moved to material brought in by members of the audience.

The first piece was this large Anatolian kilim.

This kilim is a member of a famous western Anatolian kilim type: the Yuncu, woven by Yoruks in Turkey’s Balikesir province in the northwest.

This piece is of the “polychrome” group of this type, defined by Petsopoulos.  It is similar to, but has a wider palette than, Plate 92 in the larger Petsopoulos book.  Such pieces can be very old.  Age estimates of early 19th century are frequent and some are placed in the 18th century.

This is a piece worth looking around on a bit.

As you can see, the colors of this kilim have the wonderful saturation and clarity of older Anatolian weavings.

The second audience piece was this small, complete khorjin set opened up.

David said that a bag this small would have served either as a school bag or as one in which a student carried a Koran.

Here are some details of this piece.

The top, front of both sides of the this small khorjin set have slits in its closure system.

Some felt that some of its drawing irregularities suggested that this piece was worked on by two weavers.

David said that it was woven at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century and exhibited Afshari influence in its designs and color palette, the latter, for instance, in it distinctive bright blue, seen in many Afshar weavings.

The next piece was a Kyrgyz “chavadan” bag.

The Russian scholar, Antipina, says that the “chavadan” has a pile front and a back made of homemade fabric.  The back and the front are sewn together to form pouch with its opening on a narrow side.  She says that is was used to hold “harnesses, women’s jewelry and personal items.”  It had a special place in the Kyrgyz yurt/house. 

At the back of the tent /housewould be one or more piles of textiles called a “juk.”  The juk shows off the family’s textile possessions.

The chavadan is always placed, long-side horizontal, pile out, at the front of the lowest level of a pile of juk textiles.  In the image above there are two chavadans employed, one at the bottom of the right-hand stack of textiles and the other at the bottom of the left stack (these “brown-tan chavadans, with cruciform field devices, seem to be contemporary).

Here is a partial half image of the chavadan brought into David’s session, just to bring it a little closer to you.

David said that this was a complete piece, not altered; that it had asymmetric knots; and that it is in wonderful condition.  He estimated that it was woven in the 1900s and said that the colors are “unusual” (many quite old Kyrgyz pile weavings have synthetic dyes).

The next brought in piece was this Uzbek hanging, cover or jajim, to use the Persian term for such a format.

Such pieces are woven in warp-faced structures on narrow looms and a very long length is cut into pieces can sewn together to form something more formidable in width.

Creating designs in warp-faced structures is difficult in part because all of the colors to be used must be provided by a separate warp cord of that color (the warps in the detail above are horizontal).  So warp-faced weaves are noticably more restrictive.

Here are some additional details of this piece.

Age is difficult to estimate since such pieces are still being woven, often in natural dye colors, but this is a well-drawn, richly colored piece.

The next piece was the, niche-format, Manastir kilim below.

Its owner said that it’s not entirely clear whether this piece was woven in eastern Bulgaria or western Anatolia, although some indicators point to the former.  The colors used, especially, the “Bulgarian” green are not those used in Manastir-type kilims woven in western Anatolia.  The wool in its structure is also very tightly spun, another factor said to suggest Bulgaria.

It was woven in the late 1930s or in the 1940s.

Here are some detail images of this kilim.

The next piece was African.

The textile is an all-purpose wrap from northern Nigeria.  It is hand-woven cotton, woven in two panels and then sewn together.   (It was held up with its warps and stripes on the horizontal, but I have turned it here so that its warps are vertical.)

Here are some closer detail images of it.

It was woven in the 1960s.

Another piece from northern Nigeria was next.  I’ll show it first, as it was held up, with its warps on the horizontal.

The piece, also woven in the 1960s, is composed of panels 10 inches wide and sewn together.  This one is more densely patterned.

Below I have turned it 90 degrees.  You can see that it is composed of six bands.  I didn’t examine it closely, in the Myers Room, but thought it likely that it is warp-face.  But the horizontal orange bands puzzled me.  So I asked an experienced person, who said that the weave looks weft-faced with tapestry and brocading.

Design variations are easier with weft-faced weaves.

The following detail images have also been turned so that their warps are vertical.

The orange bands seem to confirm weft-faced techniques.

The next piece was a Persian pile rug.

David said that it was NW Persian and woven in the 1930s.

The pile is wool on a cotton foundation.  David said that some of the dyes could be natural, but others seemed not to be.

Its field included anchored medallions.  There are traces of abrash.

David said that some restoration work has been done on this piece.  He did not say “Hamadan,” but its back (below) seems to show the bared alternate warps that result from single picks of wefting.

The next piece was a complete khorjin set.   David saw some evidence of restoration.

It has a Persian closure system with slits and loops.

Its goat hair selveges drew attention.

It borders are cartouched eight-pointed stars,

and its field is populated with larger botehs without outlining.

The connecting panel has an unusual pile square on each side.

Its back is striped in red, brown and blue.

It was estimated to have been woven in the 1920s by village Kurds, perhaps from NE Iran.

The next brought in piece took us to Central Asia.

It is a large torba-shaped piece, described in the room as Beshiri, but the sort of textile now described in the literature as woven in the Middle Amu DaryaIt is missing 2 inches on its lower edge.  Someone, likely a dealer, removed part of what was there in order to “even things up.”.

David described it as a “fabulous” bag face.

Here are some detail images of aspects of it.

The next piece was a large-ish flat weave, bought in Kabul.

David described it as “Afghan-Baluch” and said that it is a recognizable contemporary production being woven by “coop” projects.

He said that all of the dyes used are synthetic.

Here are some detail images.

David took us to the next piece: this small pile mat.

Here is a complete unobstructed view of it.

Dave said that it is tightly woven, with a single-weft,

and a” Ferahan green” in its corner brackets.

It has a “herati” field design,

He said such rugs were made in mat sizes for the U.S. and Eropean markets in the 1920s.  This one is finer than the average of this type.  He judged it a high quality decorative rug.

The next piece was described as a “pillow bag” woven by Persian Balouch.

David estimated that it was woven in NE Iran in the 1920s and 1930s.  It is very finely woven.

Here are some closer detail images of this piece.

The next brought in piece was another Uzbek wall hanging.  (I do not have a general, unobstructed image of this piece.)

As with the earlier one, this hanging is woven in narrow width, using warp-faced techniques, and then cut and sewn together.  David said this piece is not as finely woven as was the one we saw above, but he admired the beautiful reds in this one.

The color palette in this piece is “cooler” than the “warmer” shades of the earlier weaving.  David had the earlier piece held up in the image below to compare it with this one.

The next piece was a small, pile, Yomut group, Turkmen rendition of the asmalyk format.

This piece is too small to have been used on an animal and was likely used as a tent decoration.  It has the most usual designs for Yomut group asmalyks.

Here are some detail images of it.

Someone said once that a good asmalyk design requires a clear top border and this piece has one.  David said that the border wrapping on this piece gives the impression of age: before 1900.

Its colors include a green and its wool is soft.

The last piece of the morning was was a tube skirt from Africa’s Ivory Coast.

This skirt is Dida, hand-plaited rather than loom woven.  It is of plant fibers: raffia and is tie-dyed. 

The material is smooth on the inside, very stretchy, and has a heavily textured surface on the outside.

The Metropolitan Museum in NYC recently bought one they think is exceptional, since they took out an add in Hali to brag about it.  So such pieces are admired in fairly  high circles.

David answered questions,

and brought his program to a close.

The audience came forward.

I want to thank David for permitting me to fashion a virtual version of his “potpourri” program and for his editing assistance with the draft of it.

Thanks also to a member of the audience whom I can’t name for a nice set of notes.

I hope you have enjoyed, yet another virtual version of a program in The Textile Museum’s Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning series.


R. John Howe

Penny and Tim Hays on Manastir Prayer Kilims

Posted in Uncategorized on December 8, 2011 by rjohn

On September 10, 2011,  Penny and Tim Hays,

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here in The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., on the topic “Manastir Kilims In The Balkan Weaving Context”

They have collected textiles since the 1980’s and are active in the Washington, DC rug community.  Both Penny and Tim are long-time Federal professionals (Departments of State and Defense) with extensive experience overseas.  A posting to Berlin provided them with an opportunity to explore an interest they have in Balkan textiles.  They have traveled in the area of their collecting interest have have addition research-type trips planned.  They are serious students of their collecting interest areas.

They began with a lecture featuring projected images and I’ll just provide you a link to it, without attempting to replicate Tim’s  accompanying comments.

Here is the link:

Manastir Kilim Talk v4

Hold down the “Control” key and left click on this link.  When you do a screen will appear asking you either to “Open in a new window” or “Save.  Choose “Open in a new window” and click OK.

You will come up in the title slide for the lecture. Click “Slideshow”  and then “View Show” at the top to get rid of the small images on the left.  You can move to the next slide by pressing the arrowhead key on your keyboard that is pointed down.

There are 23 slides in the Powerpoint sequence.  When you have finished reading the last one, you can return to this page by clicking the “exit” tab in the top center of the screen. You may encounter some additional small screens, but just click the red “x” on them as well.

Tim and Penny now took us to the pieces in the room. 

Note:  The “person” will change in the following text as the description moves from John’s reporting to comments made directly by Penny and Tim.  We have not troubled to mark the latter with quotation marks.

In this presentation, they tried to illustrate how Manastir kilims fit into the Balkan weaving tradition or context.  Although most of the Manastir kilims they treated were of the so-called “prayer,” design format they illustrated several other types.  They began with some counter examples: textiles woven in some of the areas from which Manastir kilims came as well, but which are very different affairs.

The first of these was the large, striped blanket below.


Comment on M1:  Soldiers, in areas where the Manastir kilims were woven, were required when they reported for duty, to bring some particular items of equipment.  One of the items they were required to provide was a sleeping blanket. This type of blanket was produced by a group called the Pomaks.  The kilim blanket is constructed of wool which was woven in long strips, sewn together, and then semi-felted.  It is quite heavy, repels water, and is very warm in use.

Here are some closer details of this piece.


The pink tuft was almost certainly a identification mark for the soldier to find his bedding from among all those carried in the unit baggage train. Its possible the number 83 was a vakif number (a donation ID number) from a Bulgarian mosque. There is another such piece in our collection, with a different color scheme and with a similar tag attached. Most of the 15 or so such Pomak kilim blankets we have examined have such tags or other ID marks.


As previously mentioned, this blanket was produced by the Pomak people of Bulgaria.  Pomaks are a group which was originally orthodox Christian but who converted to Islam during the period of Ottoman control of the Balkans. There are other opinions as to their origin which hold the Pomaks were the original inhabitants of Bulgaria prior to the coming of the Slavs and included groups of Cumman and Kipchak nomads.

Today there are Pomak minorities in Bulgaria, Northern Greece, Macedonia, and Western Turkey. 

A second, counter example was the rather urban-looking piece below.


This is a relatively finely woven kilim from Bosnia. Its most likely from the period between 1878 and 1908 when Bosnia was administered by Austria-Hungary, but nominally part of the Ottoman Empire. During the period of Austro-Hungarian administration (before Bosnia was annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908) the Bosnian weaving industry was reorganized to better serve the needs of the Austrian and European market , rather than for domestic use in Bosnia.  This piece with its mix or natural and synthetic dyes probably served as a curtain or divan /bench cover.

Here are some detail images of B2.


The images of this piece show a color scheme pleasing to European taste and which combine Balkan and Anatolian design motifs. This example is a bit battered, but we use it  as a example of the diversity of weaving styles in the Balkans in the late-19th and early-20th Centuries.

Now we’ll move to the Manastir kilims of our session topic.

The first of these was the one below.


(numbers are not always sequential)

Although not a Manastir kilim, this ‘Sarkoy’ piece, from the area just north of Chiprovtsy, Bulgaria, is a good rural example of the very fine weaving characteristic of the Western Bulgarian/Sarkoy group. The piece has a very attractive green and red color scheme in slit and tapestry weave and areas of eccentric wefts. The fringe is goat hair and was added after the kilim was woven. Although the kilim design includes five tuerbe or tombs and multiple tree-of-life motifs, it was likely woven in a village north of Chiprovtsy in the Balkan Mountains by a population of mixed religious practice (Orthodox Christians and Muslims) for the Ottoman or home market. The border designs are pure Bulgarian Sarkoy. This piece can be dated to about 1850-1860.

Here are some detail images of various aspects of M4:





The kilim also makes good use of green and  blue.  Its overall impression is quite pleasing.

Penny took us to the next piece.

Here is a complete image of it.


This rather wild looking  kilim, made in two pieces is from the Vojvodina, what is today Northern Serbia, but that at the time, was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. It is similar to kilims made just to the east in the Romanian Banat.  The weavers were Serbian Orthodox Christians who came to this area from Kosovo in the early -mid 19th Century. This piece dates from the 1860-1875 period.  Colors appear to be natural although the design is an impressionistic mix of European and Anatolian components.

Here are some details of M5:







The green in this kilim is typical of the Balkans and the use of yellow indicates a non-Bulgarian, Christian origin.  Orthodox Bulgarian folk art does not make use of yellow as that color is traditionally culturally associated with sickness or bad luck.  Serbian Orthodox Christians and Bulgarian Muslims are not so constrained.

The weaving technique here is tapestry, slit tapestry and some eccentric wefts.

The next piece was the one below.


Comment on M6: This is Manastir kilim of considerable visual power. The composition, with five borders at its upper and lower ends,  has a definite Anatolian feel. There are no obvious Sarkoy motifs in the field, however, the color scheme suggests a Balkan origin.  Because of these conflicting visual indicators, this kilim is a good candidate for dye testing to better define where it originated.  The dimensions are also slightly larger than normal for prayer format kilims of this group.

Here are some detail images of this piece:



Comments on details of M6: In this piece, The yellow, blue, and red dyes are very saturated. The fine tendrils extending from the sides of the prayer arch are unusual. The inverted red triangle which reflects the apex of the prayer arch is sometimes seen in Manastir kilims of this type.  It may be an element in the design repertoire of Manastir weavings from a specific locale that we do not fully understand.

The next piece was nearly square:


Comment on M7: This is Pirot kilim table cover from Southern Serbia. I believe this piece is from the 4th quarter of the 19th century, after the production of the Pirot weaving industry shifted its focus from the Turkish to the European market. The piece is very finely woven and well executed. The overall feel is European and to us appears similar to  period patchwork quilts.

Here are some detail images of this piece.




Comments on details of M7: The outer most guard border with its three-dimnsional block pattern is absolutely indicative of its Serbian Pirot origin. The pastel-ish treatment of the color scheme is further indication this is late 19th/early 29th Century production. The overall design of this table cover is known as the ‘Jerusalem Pattern’ and was very popular in the region.

The next piece had a “tree of life” design in its field.


Comment on M8: This is a more traditional Pirot or Sarkoy design with its tree-of-life, vegetal, and floral motifs. The red color field is probably cochineal or another insect-based dye. Again this piece is very finely woven with much use of eccentric wefts and slit tapestry. The leaf fronds in the out border are a good indication of its origin in Pirot. The square cartouche at the base of the tree of life is not an identifiably Islamic motif and we believe it is a ‘trademark’ for the weaving atelier that made this piece. We plan to visit the Ethnographic Museum and the Museum of Applied Arts in Belgrade in Fall 2012 as part of a Balkan weaving research trip. Perhaps we can identify the specific workshop which produced this piece from their records.

Here are some details of this kilim.





The next kilim had a classic Manastir look.


Comments on details of M9: Obviously this is a Manastir yastik of a type made in both Bulgaria and Anatolia by the re-migrant Turks. This piece has cotton warps and it is the type of Manastir weaving most commonly seen by dealers and collectors. This type is usually ascribed to Western Anatolia, but the cotton warps make one wonder if it might not have its origin in Bulgaria.

Detail images of aspects of M9.




Comments on details of M9: Very fine slit weave and brocaded horizontal lines are also typical of the Manastir genre.

The next kilim was the piece below.


Comment on M10:  I think we can feel comfortable with attributing this somewhat battered Manastir yastik to Western Anatolia as suggested by its dye scheme.

Here are some detail images of this piece.





Here is the next piece shown.


Comment on M11: This is a larger type of manastir kilim of a type which we have identified as being used as women’s prayer mats. This is a mid-2oth Century piece with chemical dyes but with a traditional design and weave.  The piece uses tapestry, slit tapestry and brocading.  

Kilims of this type were in use in the women’s section of the principal mosque in Razgrad Bulgaria in 2005. There were no kilims in the men’s section of the mosque and its likely any pieces from there were sold or stolen in the 1980’s.  According to a local informant the women of the mosque prevented the mosque administration from removing the pieces in their section.

This particular piece was obtained from a dealer in Varna Bulgaria.  

Details of this piece.



Comments on details of M11: This type of kilim is well documented in the book ‘Bulgarian Rugs and Kilims; by Dimiter Stankov (1968).  Stankov’s volume illustrates two such pieces and attributes them to the Razgrad-Shumen area of NE Bulgaria.

The next piece was this one.


Comment on M12:  Compare the edge of both sides of the red field in this place.  Their differences suggest that it was woven by two different weavers.  Some see this difference as obvious lack of skill of the weaver on the left, but this assessment depends on prior rules stating  that 1) both sides should be alike,  and 2) that the more regular one is the desired version, something that is quite often not the case with similar design devices.

Here are some closer details of M12.




Comments on details of M12: The assignment of this long kilim to the Manstir group is speculative and based largely on its color scheme. Some have suggested it is a piece made in the Konya area before 1850. We particularly like the abrashed red in the central field which we believe looks like flowing lava.

This kilim now hangs in our living room where we can enjoy its mystery and stark beauty every day. The  scattered S and reverse S motifs in the field give the piece a sense of directionality which we have arbitrarily assigned to the up direction.

The next piece was another large “blanket” or cover format.


This is a large piece.  It laps over the top of the board, and as you can see continues on the right side. The color scheme is particularly attractive.  We credit a Washington collector-friend for alerting us to the presence of this blanket kilim on the US market. It has proven to be one of our most enjoyable acquisitions and a nice addition which helps us document the full range of Manastir weaving.

Here are some details of it.






Comments on details of M13: Bulgarian weavers wove different sizes of kilim, including this very large blanket or cover format. The color scheme of this large piece suggests a origin among the Manastir weaving group. Its handle is surprisingly supple and a Viennese expert to whom we showed the piece speculated it might be as old as the mid-19th Century.  It is unknown exactly how these pieces were used in the homes of the Manastir weavers. The kilim has light brown warps which reinforces a Bulgarian/Balkan attribution.

The next piece moved back to the niche format kilim type.


Comment on M14: Although this piece does not demonstrate the traditional prayer arch or mihrab design, the orientation of the principal motifs does provide a sense of directionality. A collector friend once remarked they were very taken with the type of compartmented designs which this kilim has in abundance. Typical of many textile types showing Islamic influence, this piece has the four and one arrangement. This example has five yurts or tuerbe (tombs) as its primary device and each tuerbe is internally elaborated with arches or nazarlik devices.  Although the color selection and weave of this piece are Manastir, most of the motifs in the field originate with West Bulgarian or Sarkoy weavings. 

It is interesting to note that Manastir weavings often share motifs with the Sarkoy group; but, we know of no examples in which obviously Manastir elements made their way into the Sarkoy weaving vocabulary. Compare the design of this kilim with that of the Sarkoy/Chiprovtsy example (M4) which is clearly a Western Bulgarian  or Sarkoy manifestation of the same design idea.






Comments on M14 details: The use of yellow, blue and red reinforces our perception of a Balkan Manastir origin for this piece. This is reinforced by the presence of many Sarkoy motifs and the use of scattered instances of small amounts of  of ‘exotic’ colors. The tendrils extending from the five tuerbe or yurts recalls the tendrils seen in the kilim M6. These tendrils are thicker and more robust then those seen in M6. We assess this kilim is 3rd -4th Quarter 19th century.

The was the next piece.


Comment on M15: This is a Manastir kilim of the eye-dazzler or ‘su yolu’  (running water) design. This piece shows more muted colors and a fine supple weave indicative of earlier weavings. Per Stankov this type of kilim originated in east central Bulgaria. The blue, yellow and pale pinkish red are striking in this ezample. The piece is loades with protective motifs including the so called ‘hacilar cross’ design.

Here are detail images of some aspects of M15.




Comments on detail images of M15: Here the warps are white/beige wool and the upper and lower border are of the “interlocking hands” motif.

Here is the next piece in their sequence: an unusual niche design.


Comments on M16: The designs of many Manastir weavings are imbued with a strong protective sense and this is especially so in this next group of kilims.  The European collectors and dealers who first brought these textiles to light refer to them as sharing the ‘bauk’ or womb design.

In this example, the patterned groups of lines or fingers enveloping the empty or sparsely filled interior niche or womb-like field invoke the image of a woman’s protective instincts. It’s interesting to note the line or finger has a white tip. Other examples with red or carmine tips on the fingers are known from this group. Others with a stronger feel for the Anatolian origins of these designs, see them as examples of the feathered wing design.

Here are some details of this piece:





Comments on details of M16: The central void is filled with less frequently seen motifs in an essentially Balkan color scheme.  The scattered motifs have a flavor of both Anatolian and Sharkoy origins. The soft pinkish red field is one of the two colors always associated with the Manastir genre. The other is obviously the yellow seen in many previous examples. The blue in the various pictured devices appears to us to originate from woad rather than indigo.

Here is the next kilim shown.


Comment on M17: This is another example of the ‘bauk’ or womb motif kilim with a yellow central field.  It is hard to be sure if this kilim consists of a yellow ground framed in red or a red ground with a yellow central niche. Regardles,s the piece again demonstrates a strong protective effect with finger, wing ,  and comb motifs. (Cf. M16)

Details of M17.




Comments on details of M17: The blue, reds and blues seen in M17 indicate a definite Bulgarian origin and like M16 may date from the mid-19th century.  Again we believe the blue seen here originated from the woad plant and the yellow from weld.

The next piece was M18.  It is a modified version of the “bauk” design which has begun to evolve into a more standard, but elaborately enclosed, prayer arch format.  All the colors and form here are pure Manastir and the design is replete with small scatter motifs characteristic of the Pirot or West Bulgarian Sarkoy group.


Comments on M18: This is obviously a red ground kilim with a large yellow central reserve or niche.  Excellent use of woad blue in the outlining and in the small Sarkoy devices.  As in many other Manastir kilims and rugs the warp threads are tightly spun and brown wool. The vertical dimension of this piece a some others we relate to it is slightly extended.

Here are some details on aspects of M18.



Comments on details of M18: Lots of examples of blue Sarkoy arrowhead motifs and an interior border on the niche of very short runs of slit tapestry weave.

The next piece was the one below.


Comment on M19: M19 is a more typical prayer format kilim in typical red and yellow Manastri colors. The motifs are a mix of obviously Anatolian nazarlik, obviously Sarkoy arrowheads, and barely identifiable floral branches

Here is a closer corner of M19:


Comment on M19a: Its hard to tell if the upper and lower horizontal borders consist of three or five bands. Based upon the separations by brocaded bands we feel this is a three band construction and may be a unique subgroup. The yellow central field is slightly oatmeal in tone which may be evidence of fading due to washing.

Here is the next piece shown.


Comment on M20: This is an example of a small subgroup of Manastir kilims in which the central field is filled with triangular motifs. This particular piece with its central field of mountain ranges of triangles is pure landscape art. The kilim is packed with color from the red of the central field, the classic Balkan green of the outer border, to the multiple colors of the mountainous triangles, and is a visual challenge. This kilim has a strongly impressionistic feeling. 

Here are a few detail images of this piece.






Comments on details of M2o: This piece is another with three bands in its upper and lower borders, each band is separated by a strip of brocade.  This Manastir may have outside influences, as it has obvious spandrels at each corner, a very unusual feature for Manastir kilims. The close-ups demonstrate the riot of colors in this piece.

The next piece was this one.


Comment on M22: We selected this kilim for display because it shows one the great challenges of collecting Manastir kilims in particular and Balkan kilims in general. This piece is very heavily worn and would probably be classified as fragmentary. The central field is somewhat discolored and the yellow ground has a brownish cast due to soiling.

Most of the Manastir kilims in our collection have old repairs in the field and show staining and soiling when they come to market.  Experienced collectors and dealers who handle these textiles expect and are used to this. But some collectors find these conditions unacceptable.  This may help explain why this group of kilims is so poorly known to mainstream collectors.

Here are some details of this kilim.




Comments on details of M22: Pale blue nazarlik in the field and seven rows of borders at top and bottom make this otherwise  standard Manastir prayer kilim of special interest to the collector.

The next piece was the following one.


Comment on M23: This is the only blue ground kilim of the Manastir group of which we are aware. It was acquired from a Viennese collector who purchased it from a Muammar Kirdok kilim exhibition in 1985. The piece was published in a black and white photo in Hali magazine in that year. It remains one of the highlights of our collection

Details on aspects of M23.





Comments on details of M23: With its red-tipped hands of Fatima or bird wing motifs in the left and right borders, the red tipped comb teeth , the skeletal tree-of-life, and the semaphore flags, this kilim appears to be a one of a kind design. This is the first time it has been seen in color since its 1985 exhibition in Vienna. Based upon the unusual composition and color scheme we believe this is a Manastir piece with origins in Western Anatolia (possibly Balikesir) and was likely the product of re-emigrant Bulgarian Turks. It also has brown wool warps.

This was the next piece to be seen.


Comment on M24: This colorful kilim with its unique ‘flying’ motifs (though they are probably floral in origin) is another which has been published in Hali Magazine.

Here are some detail images of this piece.






Comments on details of M24: With its Manastir yellow field, triple horizontal border, and array of colorful and outlined motifs floating or flying in empty space; this kilim is one of the most appealing and visually exciting in the collection. We believe this is another mid-19th Century example with its origins in NE Bulgaria.  The ‘flying’motifs are likely evolved from similar floral Sarkoy models.

Tim held up the next piece.

Here it is a little closer.


Comment on M25: This is Manastir yastik brought in someone in the audience, its likely to be Anatolian in origin although the yellow ground  is quite good. Its probably the work of Bulgarian re-emigrants.

Here is an even closer detail of one corner.


Comment on M25a: Again, the brocading and slit weave construction are absolutely typical of this type.

The next piece was this one.


Comment on M26: This small, finely woven kilim originated in Western Bulgaria around the town of Chiprovtsy.  Its not a Manastir weaving , but rather a rural version of  Sarkoy design from 1860 or before. For obvious reasons, we refer to this piece as our “space alien” kilim, with its rows of floral designs (typical of the Western Bulgarian group). The alien head or floral motifs have no. one, or two appendages. We refer those with two appendages as the “alien chiefs.”

Here are some details images of aspects of this piece.




Comments on details of M26: Obviously collecting isn’t always as serious endeavor.

The next piece was the one below.


Comment on M27: This piece was brought in by the audience and after some discussion its was decided to be of recent Turkish production.

Some detail images of M27.




The next piece was the one that follows.


Comment on M28: This was another piece brought in by the audience. Its not a Balkan or Manastir piece, but another recent Turkish product.

Here are some details of aspects of M28.




For their last piece, Tim brought out a very large kilim.


Comment on M29: This large kilim is later production (probably 1920-25) and has quite nice Manastir colors and well executed weaving. It is not as coarsely woven as you might think. but its large size makes it hard to store and collect. It is mostly naturally dyed and is about  3M X 2M in size.

Here are some closer details of this large kilim.



Penny and Tim took questions,

and brought their program to a close. They said the goal of their presentation was to make people more aware of the Balkan weaving tradition and the quality and diversity of its production.

End of program audience behavior was as usual.

I thank Penny and Tim Hays for this interesting program, for their permission to have this virtual version of it composed, and for their extensive, concrete comments on the pieces in it.

Thanks also to Catherine Rich, who took a good set of notes for me.

A number of these pieces were treated in an earlier post on my other blog, Eccentric Wefts.  That post reported on a similar, but distinctive session by Erhard Stoebe and Davut Mizrahi, of Vienna, Austria.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of one of the free Textile Museum Rug and Textile Appreciation Mornings, this one providing a “window” on Manastir kilims and the associated weaving genres of the Balkans.


R. John Howe