Archive for August, 2012

Fine Rugs From Northwest Persia

Posted in Keshishian, Harold on August 24, 2012 by rjohn

On October 3, 2009, Harold Keshishian

052 Harold and map

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on “Fine Rugs from Northwest Persia,” here in The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.

He was assisted by his wife, Melissa (seated, left foreground) and his older son, Kirk (standing at right).

034 Melissa, Kirk, Harold, audience

As an attribution, “northwest Persia, is frequently said, jokingly, to be to admit that we really don’t know very specifically where a given rug was woven.

But the term has more legitimacy, if we are pointing more generally to a geographic area in Iran where a great many types of rugs were woven.  This latter was Harold’s intent.

Harold’s topic had a geographic dimension, but also signaled that he intended to focus on rugs from this area that he felt were of better quality.

He said that, despite the geographic reference in his topic, he had found, as he was preparing, that he had some Kermans of the order of quality he wanted to illustrate, and so he wanted to begin with a short detour to central Persia, so as to include them as well.

He had five of the six Kermans he had brought arrayed on the board at the front.

027 Kermans on panel

We’ll go through these pieces, and the one other, one at a time.

(Note: Some of the pieces shown in this session have been seen as recently as Harold’s “small bags” program, and I have sometimes supplemented the photos taken during this current program with images taken during that prior session.)

The first was the piece below.

002 fine Kerman assembled fragments

Harold described this piece as a “fine Kerman, composed of assembled fragments.  It projects the complexity of design that so enthralled Cecil Edwards.

Harold’s next Kerman was the piece below.

004 Qajar Kerman small figural rug

He described this as a “small, Qajar, Kerman, figural rug.”

The “Qajar” reference, many will know, is to a Persian dynasty of three monarchs that began in 1796 and ended in 1925.  A “Qajar” rug could have been woven at any time during this period, but Edwards says the “revival” of serious rug production in Kerman began about 1875.

The third of Harold’s Kermans was the one below.

006 small true Kerman

He described this piece as a “small ‘true’ Kerman.”

The “true” designation indicates that he sees this piece as woven more strictly in the tradition of Kerman city rugs rather than those of the region’s more general environs [e.g., many “Kerman-looking” rugs are Afshars, and even Ravar Kermans (although Edwards says the latter are indistinguishable from those woven in Kerman proper) were woven at a distance from the city].

Harold’s next Kerman was the one below.

007 figural Kerman

This piece is another figural rug with the sort of elaborate drawing and effective use of a wider color palette for which Kermans are noted.  Many will know that most Kerman reds are from cochineal rather than from madder.

We saw the next piece in a fairly recent “rug morning,” but it is one of Harold’s special favorites.

008 Kerman with rabbits

Three realistically drawn rabbits cavort among leafy foliage



surrounded by a wide main border, richly embellished with colorful curvilinear designs.


Harold’s fifth and last Kerman was the piece below.


Although full of rich, dense, colorful design this piece seems something of a departure from the “city” and “figural” pieces above.  Most will know that we can be confident that such a piece was woven in the Kerman region because of the distinctive three-weft structure used by Kerman weavers.

With this bow to the “fine” part of his topic in Kerman, Harold moved to the pieces he had brought from northwest Persia.

Harold moved around among the various northwest Persian types, eclectically, not treating those with a given attribution together.  We are following his presentation sequence here.

The first NW Persian weaving he showed was the one below.

010 Senneh mafrash side panel in pile

Harold said this is a side panel from a “mafrash-type” cargo bag from Senneh.  Three plain, diamond-shaped, medallions float on a rich herati field.

Some closer looks.  First, at one of the diamonds and surrounding field,


and, then, of a lower corner.


Here is his second NW Persian piece, a pile  khorjin face.

011 Hamadan khorjin half

This piece was attributed to Hamadan.  A great many rugs were woven in Hamadan, but khorjin faces are not encountered frequently.  The light blue border frames effectively.

The next piece was the square one below, attributed to Heriz.

012 Small square Heriz

This attractive rug has a large central medallion with a bright-ish, blue edge that nearly fills its entire field.  Nevertheless, there are graphically, strong corner brackets, that use white effectively, and “hold their own.”  A border of a much smaller scale and color frames the piece nicely without competing at all with its other elements.

I have heard Harold say that he is attracted to square rugs.  They can usually be displayed readily and with great flexibility.

The next piece took us back, again, to Senneh.

013 Senneh saddle rug

This is a saddle rug of the sort that was placed over the saddle.  The large dark area of the field contrasts dramatically with the balance of the piece that is ornamented with typical Senneh devices all approximately of similar sizes.

Here are some closer looks at this piece.


Notice the deliberate vertical red line coming down from the edge of the opening where the back of the saddle would come through.

And a lower corner.


The next piece was the one below.

015 cat rug

This is another of Harold’s favorite pieces.  He draws attention, when he shows it, to the “henna-dipped” paws (indicating, he believes, that this was a much-loved cat), and to the “Kaiser Wilhelm” mousthache, a style that was very much in vogue in Iran for a time.

The next piece is one in which Harold indicates an “NW Persian” is particularly appropriate.

016 Bastard NWP saddle rug

It has some Kurdish, some Malayer, some Senneh characteristics, and these are further muddied by some repairs.  So it is a piece of uncertain parentage, despite its nice looks.

Some people look down on fragments, and they do have their disadvantages, but Harold is among those who treats some fragments seriously.  The next piece he had brought was one of these.

018 Ferahan fragment

This Ferahan fragment features an light green ground (some see green usages as a “Ferahan” indicator) and a large-scale design device.

A second fragment

018 Malayer fragment

was from a Malayer rug.  It has good color usages.

A third fragment

018 Zili Sultan fragment

was from a rug with a “Zill-i Sultan” design.

“Zill-i Sultan” designs are composed of repeats of vases and floral sprays.”  The reference is to a Qajar prince who governed Iran’s southern provinces at the turn of the 20th century.

Harold now moved to three Bijar pieces, two of which appeared in his recent “small bag” program.

The first of these was this “gul Farange” example.

023 goli franc Bijar

Harold pointed to the good colors.

A second Bijar piece exhibits roses on a field with  striking “zig-zag” devices.

024 Bijar roses zig zag

A smaller scale border frames nicely.

The third Bijar piece in this sequence was the mat below.

025 Bijar mat

The color palette is close to that on the “gul Farange” piece above, but the addition of a gold hue enriches it further.

Harold’s next piece was the one below,

026 Veramin mafrash side panel pile

A well-composed, Veramin “mafrash” side-panel with clear Turkmen motifs.

When you walk into Harold’s shop, the fragment strip, below, taken from a Bakhtiari “garden” carpet, hangs near the counter.

074 Harold pointing to Bakhtiyari fragment

065 Bakhtiyari garden carpet fragment

Neither of these images quite does justice to its colors.

Harold moved to the rug below.

068 Inscribed rug

Notice the inscription at the top.

Harold’s next piece was a Manchester Kashan.

070 Manchester Kashan

He also had another Kashan, small, antique and with an unusual design and a pinkish red.

075 Small antique KashanNext was the antique Saruk rug with the white field below.

090 Antique Saruk

Next, Harold showed a Malayer.

091 Malayer rug

Pretty good width of palette.

Next, was another small Senneh.

110 Small Senneh bad

This piece does not come up to the aesthetic level of some of the other material Harold presented in this session, but he admires its fine weave.

The next piece was a Senneh kilim with botehs.

116 Senneh kilim with botehsThe drawing and instrumentation of the botehs in this piece resemble that in the great Garrus bag face that Harold also owns and that we will see at the end of this session.

Harold’s next rug was an Ingelas.

120 Ingelas

Many are seen to be among the higher quality Hamadan varieties.  This one has a darker palette than many Injelas rugs project.

The next to the last rug that Harold presented in this “rug morning” program was the Senneh below.

122 Senneh Herati rug

It features a typical Senneh palette and a herati design.

Harold ended his “NW Persian ‘fine rugs'” program with his great Garrus bag face.  It is a side panel from a cargo-type “mafrash.”

126 Fine Garus sumak mafrash side panel

Published in the “ground-breaking” From Bosporus to Samarkand flatweave catalog in the 1960’s, it still merited a place of honor in John Wertime’s quite recent Sumak Bags.


One of the finest and oldest superior quality sumak textiles known.

It is a source of continuing wonder to those of us you have had this piece in hand, to see (look at the right side of the image above) that, at one point, someone cut the right border of this wonderful bag face (why?), but that, almost miraculously, (mafrashes with borders all round on a  side panel do not, usually, have the opposite side panel similarly decorated) someone else found another piece of the same border and attached it!


It is a piece that many collectors envy ownership of.

Harold took questions,

094 Harold with Saruk and 2 Bijars

and the program came to an end.

Harold talks, sometimes, about a given Rug and Textile Morning he has given being his last.  We keep documenting them because it is important to capture, not just the enjoyments they afford, but also the rug knowledge and wisdom that reside in his long experience.

My thanks to Harold, Melissa and Kirk for permitting this virtual version of this program and for some editorial assistance after.  Thanks also to Wendel Swan, who did the final editing and took almost all of the photos used above.

I hope you have enjoyed, yet another, virtual Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program.


R. John Howe

Christine Brown on Romanian Textiles, Part 1: The Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2012 by rjohn

On June 16, 2012, Christine Brown

gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning Program here at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. on the subject:

Christine had recently traveled in Romania and, drawing on images from that visit and from the literature, she illustrated the use of  textiles in Romanian homes, churches, and public buildings and talked about such use in traditional Romanian society.  The announcement of her talk said that her discussion would include traditional embroidery, the specialized clothing of shepherds, woven bags, and carpets.

Christine is a student of traditional costume and collects ethnic jewelry.  She is a professional, working for USAID, who has traveled widely, both in her work and privately.   She has presented previous RTAM programs on textiles of Uzbekistan and the tree of life.

She began with an illustrated lecture,  an approximation of which follows.  I am often drawing verbatim on the lecture notes Christine has provided, but sometimes I will comment and diverge, in ways which I hope will not distract.  I have sometimes added illustrative images.  While Christine has read and made editorial suggestions about this virtual rendition of her lecture, and while I have attempted to implement them, this post remains, unavoidably, my report on Christine’s lecture, rather than the lecture she actually gave, and any remaining errors are mine alone.


In the fall of 2011, I had the pleasure of spending two and one-half weeks touring Romania.

The trip focused on traditional crafts and took us to the homes and workshops of contemporary artisans working in ceramics, egg painting, the carving and painting of wooden grave markers, sheepskin vest embroidery, felt hat making, wood carving, and weaving. 

We also visited four of the painted monasteries in the northeast part of the country, a 13th century fortified church, the famous Black Church of Brasov

adorned with over 100 Turkish carpets,

a collection of 700 icons painted on glass, and two open-air museums displaying traditional architecture from different regions of the country. 

In addition, we visited three ethnographic museums and two private collections of traditional clothing, textiles, and carpets from across Romania.  One of these private collections was put together by the man shown in the photo below, with his wife, children, and grandchildren. 

The  multiple buildings seen behind the family housed his large collection of textiles and other ethnographic objects.

Having spent only 2 ½ weeks in-country, I am in no way an expert on Romanian textiles.  However, over the course of the trip, I was blown away by the sheer volume of textiles, their diversity, creativity, and very high level of artistry.  I decided to put together this program in the hopes that it will inspire any of you who have not yet been to Romania to go.  For those of you who have been there, I hope the images and textiles you will see today will bring back wonderful memories of your own visits.

I will start by situating Romania geographically and will then talk about three things: 

  1. traditional clothing;
  2. textiles used to adorn homes and churches; and
  3. kilims and carpets.

Geographical Location

Romania is situated in Eastern Europe and is bordered by several countries. 

Starting at the top of the map and looking clockwise, there is Ukraine to the north, Republic of Moldova, the Black Sea, Bulgaria to the south, Serbia, and Hungary.   The colored areas within Romania are actually historical regions. Present-day Romania is divided into 41 counties, but I think this map corresponds more closely to the regional and ethnic variations in the textiles we will see this morning.

 In today’s presentation, I will show clothing from most of the areas shown here on the map.  I want to stress, however, that what we will see is only a very small part of the many clothing and textile traditions in Romania.  Sadly, I am omitting more than I am including. 

One program note:  I will use generic English words to describe the textiles we will be looking at to avoid mispronouncing or misusing the Romanian terms.   When known, I have listed the region of Romania where a textile is from and the Romanian term for it in italics in the text below.

The diversity stems in part from the role clothing plays as an indicator of a person’s station in life or place within a community, including:

  • Age;
  • Marital status;
  • Occupation;
  • Wealth and social status;
  • Religious affiliation; and
  • Regional and national affiliation.


Diversity is also due to the different purposes that clothing serves:

  • Elaborate clothing is worn in celebration of special occasions such as weddings, religious holidays, etc.;
  • Specific articles of clothing were traditionally believed by some to be protective or to bring good fortune and fertility, especially to newlyweds; and
  • As is true anywhere, clothing varies by season and protects the wearer from the elements.


The examples I will be showing will illustrate these different roles.


Let’s look now at traditional clothing.  I will talk first about articles of clothing specific to women, then those specific to men, and then two that are worn by both.  The latter include sheepskin vests and waistcoats, and an early style of shoes.

This is John Howe, interrupting for a moment to insert an aside here.

Amy Rispin, one of the “rug morning regulars” and another serious student of textiles, points out that, in her book “Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, ” Elizabeth Barber has shown that the basic elements of traditional European dress, especially women’s dress, are very deep.  Barber also treats this phenomenon in her subsequent “Prehistoric Textiles.”

I am going to draw on Barber’s work in some detail, below, but for the moment, here is a general point she makes about what the basic historical components of women’s clothes in much of Europe are, and how long they have been around.

Barber draws actual and “linguistic archeology” (the latter looks for the presence of particular terms for various items of clothing) to suggest that, for as far back as 3,000 B.C. ,the basic items of women’s clothing for much of Europe have been:  1) a white tunic; 2) belt, and 3) tubular over-wrap.  She notes that particular items of modern women’s clothing are not much different.

Now back to Christine’s lecture.




A basic component of a woman’s costume is the

full-length chemise with long sleeves, and usually made of cotton or linen.

[Photo: Oprescu, Pg 71]

Since other articles of clothing are always worn over it, only the areas that will show when the person is fully dressed are ornamented. These areas include the neck opening, front, back, shoulders, sleeves, and the hem when it shows beneath the other clothing being worn.  

Chemise sleeves are constructed in a variety of ways. 

[Photo:  Winkel, Pg. 21]

Some are voluminous and gathered only at the wrist, as shown in the photo at the top in the image above.

Others are gathered at the elbow and then flare out at the wrist, as shown in the  lower of these two photos.

A third type has the same voluminous fabric gathered at the wrist and ending with a short ruffle.

[Photo:  Winkel, Pg. 23]

In most cases, the sleeve ornamentation is composed of three sections:  a shoulder segment, a separating band that is often done in a contrasting color, and then designs running the length of the sleeve.   We will see more examples over the course of the talk.


A second basic component of a woman’s costume is the apron, or a skirt, or a combination of both, all of which are worn over the chemise.  The apron/skirt combinations vary widely, depending on the region and the ethnic group. 

In some areas, straight, rectangular aprons (catrinta or zadie) of similar size are worn, often in pairs, one in the front and one in back. 

[Photo:  Rosu, Pg. 31]

In the photo above (from Maramures), the mother is wearing two aprons and the daughter one.   The aprons have wide, horizontal stripes in red and black and are tied at the waist with cords.  The mother is wearing a sheepskin vest that opens at the front and is ornamented with tassels.  Both the mother and daughter are wearing headscarves.  Both are also wearing the traditional style of shoes and woolen socks that I will talk more about later.

 The husband is wearing a waist-length embroidered shirt, baggy white cotton trousers, a sheepskin vest, and a straw hat.  The sheepskin mantle (guba) he’s wearing around his shoulders is worn by both men and women.  

 In some places, the apron worn at the back is larger than the one in front.  It wraps about three-quarters of the way around the body to overlap with a narrow apron in front. 

[Photo Batca, Pg. 139]

In this example, her ankle-length chemise is heavily embroidered in red, with a contrasting band of color near the elbow.  Her front apron is a narrow rectangle, with a horizontal woven pattern, including two bands of human figures.  It is only a few inches shorter than the chemise.  The apron that wraps around from the back has a vertical, woven pattern and is several inches shorter than the front one.  She’s wearing a woven belt over both and a long piece of raw silk draped over her head and extending down her arm.

 Another variation (Oltenia; valnic) is a piece of wool fabric that is wrapped around the body, gathered at the waist, and held in place with a woven belt. 

[Photo:  Rosu, Pg. 20]

One source describes this piece as being up to 12 feet long and 3 feet wide.  It is worn over the chemise, and has a vertical, woven design of stylized geometric and vegetal motifs.  Note the broad, horizontal band of embroidery on the upper chemise sleeve and the vertical pattern running to the wrist.  The woman in the middle also has two bands of embroidery down the front.   Both are wearing traditional shoes and socks; both have their hair covered.

The man is wearing a white shirt with full sleeves cuffed at the wrist.  His narrow white trousers are decorated with black braid at the pockets.  He is wearing a wide woven belt and an embroidered sheepskin waistcoat decorated with the same black braid as the trousers.  He is also wearing a tall, black lambskin hat.

 A very different style of apron is found on the western side of the country (Banat; opreg). 

[Photo Winkel, Pg. 8; quote Pg. 30]

The description of this piece in the 1978 exhibition catalogue from the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, states the following: 

QUOTE:  Two dark blue velvet sections, worn front and back, from which hangs a long, multicolored cotton fringe.  A panel of gold Romanian coins (lei) is sewn covering the velvet.  Brass tree forms punctuate the rows of coins.  The coins are dated 1897-1905.  This is probably a dowry piece.  END QUOTE   

In the close-up image, below, you can see the coins sewn on side by side. 

The rows of tree forms are attached in between the coins and lay on top of them.  The bottom row looks like flowers.

 Here is another example with the same type of fringe but with a woven panel instead of velvet with coins. 

[Photo Batca, Pg. 127]

A wide woven belt sits above the apron.  The chemise is heavily embroidered on the front and the sleeves.    The sleeves are gathered at the wrist with an embroidered ruffle.  The sheepskin vest is ornamented with geometric designs and dark wool trim around the edges and armholes.

 John:  Again, Amy Rispin gets credit for reminding me that string skirts are the focus of a lengthy treatment by Elizabeth Barber in her “Women’s Work” volume.

The following draws directly, and in detail, on Barber’s treatment.

Barber says that fossilized, plied, fiber string that dates to 15,000 B.C. has been found in caves in France.”

Courtesy Barber, Women’s Work, 1994

She moves from this to show that there are Stone Age figurines of women from several European locations wearing “string skirts” (3,000 to 20,000 B.C.).

Courtesy of Barber, Women’s Work, 1994

She provides an image of a particular wool, string skirt found on the remains of a  young woman in Denmark in the 14th century B.C.

Courtesy, Barber, Women’s Work, 1994

Next, Barber argues that the function of these string skirts was likely not “covering” (some of them are too skimpy to do much of that) but rather to signal the availability of the woman for sexual activity.  She talks about once wearing a string skirt herself and how “exhilarated and powerful” it made her feel.  Why “powerful?”  She speculates that that feeling is perhaps  rooted in the predominant role of women in the creation of new life.

Barber then indicates that the string skirt is still alive and well preserved in the folk costume of south-central and eastern Europe.   

Folk aprons, worn both to the front and to the rear, that have clear string elements are illustrated in Barber’s “Women’s Work…” volume, including one attributed specifically to Walachia, a region of Romania. 

Courtesy Barber, Women’s Work, 1994

Here is a larger image of the Walachian apron (b. above).

Courtesy Barber, Women’s Work, 1994

Note that Barber describes it as a “front” apron, in the caption, but says that there was also a nearly identical, Walachian back apron.  Both of these Romanian aprons have prominent string elements as do the two Christine treated above.

Back to Christine’s lecture:

[Photo Batca, Pg. 170]

This skirt is comprised of one rectangular piece of fabric (fota) about five feet long and three feet wide that is wrapped around the body and fastened at one side.  The fabric is often wool, or cotton mixed with wool.  The skirt can completely cover the lower part of the chemise, as in this example, or it can be slightly shorter, allowing the embroidered hem of the chemise to show below it.   The skirt has vertical strips of geometric designs that contrast with the horizontal stripes in the woven belt. 

 This last example (Buzau District; androc) is a full skirt with side seams and a waistband. 

[Photo Batca, Pg. 31]

It has vertical stripes and a band of dark fabric added at the hem.

Let’s move on to head coverings.


 We have already seen two examples of head coverings—headscarves tied under the hair at the back of the head

and the long, rectangular raw silk pieces. 

I will now show a few examples of some of the more unusual head coverings.

[Photo:  Batca, Pg. 54]

This one is quite unusual but, I am sorry to say, I couldn’t find a description saying what it is made of or on what occasion it is worn.  There is a row of coins at the bottom that lay flat on top of her hair.  There is also a row of pearls or beads at the base.

Note from John:  “Each region had its own modes of traditional hairdressing, and in certain regions there were special ornate headdresses for wedding ceremonies called in Romania Cununã  (coronet) or in Hungary parta).”  It may be that the fancy head gear is most likely wedding dress, since none of the everyday head coverings are very large or elaborate.

This young woman (from Nasaud) is wearing what one source translated as “peahens” (paunite)

[Photo:  Batca, Pg. 186]

It is comprised of two circles made of black ostrich feathers decorated with concentric circles of beads, red artificial flowers, and a hairpin set in the center.  The peahens are placed over the ears and tied with a ribbon at the back of the head.  Although we can’t see it in this image, another five or six ribbons are sometimes tied on and hang down the woman’s back.  See the section on men’s hats below for the male version of this headwear in the Nasaud region.

 This bride (from Oas) is wearing a headdress translated by one source as a “bride’s wreath.” 

[Photo:  Batca, Pg. 187]

The cylindrical headdress was believed to protect the young bride against evil forces at the beginning of her married life.  It is made of red velvet and is adorned with fresh flowers in summer and artificial flowers in winter.  It is also covered with beads of various sizes and colors (predominantly red) and with coins.  She is also wearing multiple beaded necklaces.

 This style of headdress (from the Tarnave River area) is constructed in layers. 

[Photo:  Postcard]

A red scarf is tied on the head, so that it covers the hair and encircles the face.  A white circular frame is then placed on the head followed by white fabric that also encircles the head.  Decorative metal pins, set with colored glass, pearls, and beads, are attached to the frame across the entire width of the forehead.

Let’s look now at men’s clothing. 



 A basic component of men’s clothing is the shirt. 

[Drawings, Hedvig- MariaFormagiu, pp.56-57]

Shirts usually have a white ground color, can be either short (waist-length) or long (extending mid-thigh and sometimes to the knees and below), and are made of hemp, flax, wool, cotton, or raw silk.  Decoration is applied on the neckline or collar, either side of the neck openings, shoulders, and the cuffs or edges of the sleeves.

These men (from Maramures) are wearing short shirts with embroidered collars and cuffs over wide, summer trousers. 

 [Photo:  Batca, Pg. 212]

According to one source, these trousers are tied at the waist with a drawstring.  They are also wearing sheepskin vests with red and blue tassels and straw hats with flowers. 

This group of men were decked out in their finest apparel for an event in 1906. 

[Photo:  Postcard]

The man on each end is wearing a straight, knee-length shirt while those in the middle are wearing gored shirts that make them much fuller.   They are all wearing white, close-fitting trousers.  Note the various belts, the embroidered textile hanging from the belt of the man at the far right, and the shoe laces winding up to the knees.  The laces on the man on the ground at the lower right have pom-poms.

The man in the photo at left (from Dobrudja) is wearing a long straight shirt with sawtooth edging at the hem. 

 [Photo:  Batca, Pg. 15]

The sleeves are cuffed.  He’s also wearing a very wide woven belt, a double-breasted vest of dark wool ornamented with buttons and appliquéd braiding. 

The photo, below, shows an identical vest buttoned up, forming a V shape.

  [Photo:  Batca, Pg. 163]


Let’s look now at trousers.  The fabric used for trousers is usually white, but the type of fabric varies by season.  Winter trousers were “fulled” to make them thicker.  Fulling entails moistening, heating, and pressing woolen cloth to make it thicker and, therefore, warmer.  Winter trousers are usually tight-fitting while summer trousers, made of thin wool or linen, can be tight or wide.

 This man (from the Apuseni Mountains) is wearing tight-fitting summer trousers. 

[Photo:  Batca, Pg. 88]

He is also wearing a thigh-length embroidered shirt, wide leather belt, an embroidered vest, and a hat.

I think that’s enough said about trousers. 

Let’s look at a few examples of belts.


Belts are made either of woven fabric or leather.   Fabric belts are worn by both men and women and can be either wide or narrow.


[Photo:  Rosu, Pg. 37]

Here we have a very wide woven belt (from Dobrudja).  The end has designs woven into it and a fringe that hangs loose over the hip.  The middle section is plain except for two narrow stripes at the top.  The book this photo comes from states that men from the region where this belt is worn wear white belts when working during the week and red ones, like the one in this photo, for holidays. 

This is a close-up view of a very wide leather belt that is worn throughout Transylvania (Saxon heritage).  

[Photo:  Rosu, Pg. 37]

It is ornamented with narrow strips of dyed leather laid down in floral and geometric patterns and with eyelets punched into the round lappets.   Note the Ottoman-style tulip.

 Some belts of this type are decorated using a repousse technique, meaning the design is pressed into the leather from the underside, creating a raised pattern on the top side.  On others, thick metal thread, tin tacks, studs, and more recently, colored glass beads are used to adorn them.


[My Photo]

The photo above shows two musicians who were performing for my tour group.  The man on the left is wearing a beaded belt; the man playing the accordion is wearing a leather belt.  The photo below is a close-up of the beaded belt.


 These wide leather belts are often worn by farmers and woodcutters because of the support they provide.


Let’s quickly look at men’s hats.  As with the women’s head coverings, there is wide variation in men’s hats.  I am going to show three of the more intriguing ones.

In many regions of Romania, a man was expected to adorn his hat or cap on his wedding day.  In some areas, gold or silver coins, given by parents or godparents, were used in hopes the coins would bring the young groom wealth in his new life.

In other areas, different types of feathers were used together with flowers, beads, silk ribbon, small mirrors, and a variety of other things. 


          [Photo:  Batca, Pg. 73; Text Pg. 200] 

This spectacular headdress (from Bistrita-Nasaud) is the male counterpart of the “peahen” headdress discussed in the women’s head covering section above.  It is comprised of hundreds of peacock feathers set in a fan shape by a specialized craftsman.  It would only be worn by a wealthy person.  Note his shirt with its embroidered collar and ornamental edging on the sleeves, the sheepskin vest covered in tassels, and his wide leather belt decorated with colored strips of leather.

John:  This style is dramatic enough to earn a couple more views.  Here is one from different angle.

There are versions on which beads are prominent.


Some hat styles indicate the wearer’s profession, as with the case of shepherds. 

[Photo:  Batca, Pg. 207]

Their hats are often made of very stiff felt and come in different styles. The shepherd’s hat shown here is medium height with a narrow, turned up brim.  The shepherds hats made by the hat maker we visited were taller and more conical and are worn perched on top of the head. 

 Note the beautiful sheepskin mantle this shepherd is wearing.

The next piece is a beautiful example of a type of straw hat worn in the Maramures region in northern Romania.

[My Photo:  Maramures beaded hat]: 

  It is an exceptional example because of the beautiful beadwork and pompoms.  It belongs to one of the artisans we visited on the tour who plopped it on something on her work bench, which is why there is so much stuff around it.


Let’s look at two articles of cl othing worn by both men and women.


The first is the vest or longer waistcoat, usually made of sheepskin and worn with the fleece on the inside.  The white skin surface on the outside is embellished in a variety of ways, including with:

  • embroidery,
  • appliqué (often with leather pieces),
  • wool tassels or pompoms; or
  • fur trim.

 We’ve seen a number of examples already so I will only show a couple more.

[Photo:  Rosu, Pg. 81]: 

The four images above show the front and back of two types of women’s vests (Saxon heritage). 

The one on top is beautifully embroidered with floral designs front and back and has crocheted edging at the sleeve holes of the same blue color as the skirt.  The vest is held together with white buttons on each side laced up with a cord.

The two features I want to point out in the embroidered sheepskin vest in the lower two images are:

  1. The vest closure is at the side underneath the arm.  You can see the loops in the picture at the bottom right.   Many women’s vests close in the front.
  2. This vest is cut so that it comes to a point in the front and back, making it especially elegant.  The others we have seen have straight edges.  The neck and bottom edges are lined with black wool.

 Traditional Shoes

The last item of clothing I am going to talk about is the traditional shoes that are worn by men and women and can still be seen today in smaller communities.

 [My Photo]

I took these two photographs last fall.  In both instances, these ladies were sitting out along the road, whiling away the time spinning wool or chatting, and watching the world go by. 

The lady in the photo above is not wearing traditional shoes.

But two of the ladies in the photo below ARE wearing the traditional type of leather shoe (opinca; opinci (pl.)).

  [My Photo]

Note that all four women are wearing headscarves, and two of the four are wearing vests.

 As with the other articles of clothing we’ve looked at, there is variation in the cut and stitching of these shoes,

[Photo:  Batca, Pg. 77]

but this diagram shows the basic technique.  A shoe is cut from a single, rectangular piece of pigskin or cowhide.  The variation occurs in the way in which the hide is folded and gathered around the top of the foot, how the heel is shaped, and the manner of tying the laces, either around the ankle, as shown here, or wrapping around the lower leg.


[Photo:  Oprescu, Pg. 44]

The excess hide in the shoes worn by the woman (from Bukovina), in the photo above, comes to a point over her big toes and the straps crisscross her feet and wrap multiple times around her ankles.

 The shoes of the young woman, in the image below (from Transylvania) are similar, but different. 

[Photo:  Oprescu, Pg. 39]

If you look at her left shoe, the excess hide seems to be folded back over her foot so that the front is squared off.  There is less lacing over the top of the foot, and even though it’s hard to see, the lacing goes up much higher on her leg.

John:  This basic style, with the laces moving up the leg, have been used in the part of Europe in which Romania is located for a long time.  It is visible in one of the Stone Age “string skirt” illustrations we saw from Elizabeth Barber back near the beginning.  Here it is, again.

Stone Age figurines of women from several European locations wearing “string skirts” (3,000 to 20,000 B.C.).

And Barber makes sure we’ve notice this in her caption comment on drawing (d) above.


In the last part of her lecture, Christine turned our attention to textiles adorning the interiors of homes and churches.

She said: “The group I traveled with was fortunate to be invited into the home of this woman in the photo below.

 [My Photo]

The photo below shows the exterior of her house.

[My Photo:  Exterior] 

You can see the chopped wood piled up at one end and some clothing hanging over the rail.

The  image below takes us inside and shows a bedroom with embroidered towels hanging along one wall just below the ceiling. 

[My Photo:  Interior]

On the bed is a striped woolen cover and two pillows, each with pillow cases embroidered only on the closed ends.  There is at least one small carpet on the floor.

The photo below, shows her two black skirts hanging on nails from the ceiling beam. 

[My Photo]

In some homes, the quantity of textiles is substantial and practically covers the walls as well as the furniture.

[Photo:  Postcard]

Textiles hung on the walls are positioned according to the weight of the material they are made of, which can be wool, flax, hemp, or cotton. 

 In the image, above, you can see the layers of textiles encircling the room, beginning with the section at the top.  The larger piece below has at least two small embroidered pieces on top of it.  The square one at the left appears to have pictures in wooden frames hung on top of it.  There is a plaid wool covering on the table. On the bed, there are multiple pillows with embroidered cases

 Although we don’t see them in this image, there are often icons painted on wood or glass and ceramic plates or jugs hung in a row above the textiles.



[My Photo:  Sheepskin Embroiderer with Bread]

One other special textile shown in this photo is a long, heavily ornamented rectangular piece on which a special loaf of round, braided bread and salt are offered to arriving guests.  Each guest tears off a bit of bread, dips it into the salt, and eats it.

The man offering the bread is one of the few remaining artisans in Romania that embroider the sheepskin vests we saw earlier.  He is also the one who embroidered the vest we will look at during show and tell.  That is his wife to the right and his granddaughter presenting a plate of salt. 

Here is another “bread and salt welcoming” photo.

[Uncredited internet photo]

My “title” photo, back at the beginning was still another example of the use of textiles in this welcoming ritual.


Textiles are also used to adorn churches. Many of you know of, or have visited, Romanian churches that are hung with donated Turkish carpets.  

Since the focus today is Romanian textiles, I’m not going to talk about these Turkish carpets.

Instead, let’s look at this beautiful wooden church and the traditional woven fence with the slanted wood covering to funnel the rain away.


[My Photo]

Visiting this church was not part of our planned itinerary, but we asked if we could stop to look at the exterior of it.  As it happened, the pastor of the church happened to see us and asked if we would like to see the interior, which of course we did. 

 This is what we saw when we entered—textiles everywhere! 

[My Photo]

All of these embroidered cloths had been made for, and donated to, the church over time.

Here is a closer view of some of them.

[My Photos:  Church interior] 

Some of these textiles are  specifically sized to be hung over the arms of the chandeliers.

 [My Photo:  Chandeliers]

Woolen textiles also covered the side benches and the floor.

[My Photo:  Wool Bench and Floor Coverings] 


Finally, we come to kilims. 

The tour included lunch on the balcony of the refectory at a monastery.  We walked through a couple rooms to get to the balcony and I took pictures of two of the kilims that, I believe, were woven in the Oltenia region. 

[My Photo]

In the photo below, note the embroidered cushions on the dining room chairs.


[My Photo]

John: Note that there are curvilinear elements in the designs in many Romanian kilims.  These are likely produced using eccentric wefts.

Christine: The next two images were sent to me by dealers.


John: Here is one more dealer piece from the internet.

Here is a closer detail.

Notice that there are bird and human figures in this piece.  We’ll talk later about this sort of thing in the discussion of pieces brought into this session.

Christine: The small weaving in the photo below was hanging on the wall of a restaurant my group ate at during the tour. 

[My Photo]

It is about 18 inches wide and 24 inches long.

A last photo is of a contemporary weaver and her daughter from the region of Bucovina.

John: A number of us in DC are familiar with this kind of Romanian textile.  A year or so ago there was an exhibition of it in the French Embassy here.  A French artist had become interested in this type of Romanian weaving and had worked with some Romanian weavers producing it.  The entire exhibition was of this kind of contemporary Romanian weaving.  Both the color palette and the designs were identical.

Christine answered questions

and ended her part of this program.


For those of you who would like to learn more about the textiles of Romania, there are books available in English.  Christine said that those that she referred to when preparing this talk include:

Batca, Maria:  The Romanian Folk Costume, National Centre for the Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Culture, Bucharest, 2006;

 Gervers, Veronika: “The Historical Components of Regional Costume in South-Eastern Europe,” Textile Museum Journal, Volume IV, Number 2, 1975, pp. 61-78, Washington, D.C.;

 Oprescu, George:  Peasant Art in Romania, The Studio Ltd., London, 1929.

 Petresco, Paul and Paul H. Stahl:  Tapis Roumains, Editions Meridiane, Bucharest, 1966.

 Rosu, Georgeta; Maria Magiru, and Mihai Dancus: The Traditional Costume in Romania, ALCOR EDIMPEX, Bucharest, 2011;

 Winkel, Joyce:  Romanian Folk Textiles, Craft and Folk Art Museum exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles, 1978.

End of Christine Brown’s bibliography.

While preparing this virtual version, I (John Howe) have also drawn on:

Barber, Elizabeth Wayland: Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, New York and London, 1994.

Formagiu, Hedvig-maria: Portul Popular din Romania, Bucuresti, 1974.  Note: This is a Soviet era publication that strains too hard toward an abstract typology, so as to avoid much explicit treatment of ethnic differences, but still retains a good deal of useful information about basic components and variations of traditional clothing and especially where particular variations were worn.

Snowden, James: The Folk Dress of Europe, New York and London, 1979.

End of Bibliography

We now moved to examine the material that had been brought in.

To see that you need to follow the link below to Part 2:



Christine Brown on Romanian Textiles: Part 2: The Pieces Brought In…and a Few More

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2012 by rjohn

This is the second part of a two-part Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program given by Christine Brown on “Romanian Textiles.” 

The first part of Christine’s program was a lecture which you can reach using this link:

I need to be clear that this Part II is entirely my own treatment and neither Christine, nor anyone else I’ve consulted or drawn on, is responsible for any errors in it.

There was a remarkable amount of material in the room, and Christine moved to that next.

On the first level of  the front-of-the-room board there were four pieces.

The round piece is a cushion cover.


The second one was larger, a table decoration.


As we saw in Christine’s lecture, aprons are an important component of the traditional costumes of Romanian women.  The next piece was such an apron.


Some of the bands in this apron are woven.  Others are embroidered.  This style of apron is worn in the Nasaud region where the peahen and peacock headwear is worn.

On the far right side of the board, was this square-ish textile.


The five decorative devices on it are beaded rather than embroidered.

Christine had two items of embroidered sheepskin, shown under plastic to retain their dead white color.  The first of these was the vest below.

Here is a closer view of the front of this vest.

R5 front

Here is the back of this vest.

R5 back

There was also a hat.  Here are two images of it.

R6 a and b

We moved to the second layer of brought-in pieces.

To treat this material, Christine had invited a special guest, Nadine Dutcher, who taught English as a foreign language, in the years 1977-78, in an area of Romania close to Hungary.

Starting on the left again, she said that this first piece


was intended as a tablecloth, but was large enough to use as a bedspread.

A closer detail of this piece.


The item on the right side is also a tablecloth that is shown folded in half.


A closer detail of this piece.


My images of the four small pieces on this level of the board are not good, but here they are, for what they are worth.

The first of these four pieces is a small bag.


The other three are pillow covers.


The next two images below are deceptively large.  Both of these pieces are about the same size as the two above.



The remaining piece, on this level of the board, was the one below.


This is a signed wall hanging by a known Romanian artist in the 1970s.  Its designs depict carved wooden spoons.

The next piece was a sizable kilim.


The weaving is slit tapestry, but the curves in the designs in its field are accomplished with “eccentric wefts.”  In her discussion of eccentric wefts, Marla Mallett, in her book, Woven Structures, indicates that their use suggests “an extremely stable warp, held under excellent tension.”  Marla also notes that “shallow, curved shapes are easily created,” when a weavers is employing slit tapestry.

R14a and R14b

There were several more of these kilims.  I’ll just show them without much comment.






Notice that the designs in the kilim above include birds (we saw a kilim during the lecture that had birds and humans in its designs).


About such motifs, in Balkan kilims, Tim Hays (who was traveling and not able to attend Christine’s session) and who, with his wife, Penny, is a student and collector of Balkan textiles, writes:

“Tree of Life” motifs are very common on kilims woven by Christians in Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and elsewhere in the Balkans. They also appear on the kilims woven by Muslims in Bulgaria and Anatolia. But not the birds. These seem to be restricted to pieces woven by Christians. Many older Balkan kilims were woven by Christians for the Ottoman market and later for the European market. Serbian Kilims even have fish. These are a symbol of importance to Serbian Orthodox weavers.

This material seems quite young and designs can move rapidly from traditional usages, but the presence of birds in the 19th century would suggest that a given kilim was woven by Christian weavers.

Another member of the audience had brought two pieces she had bought in Romania.

The first of these was a table runner with embroidered ends.


The second piece was a bag with its source prominently indicated in its design.


Jeff Krauss brought a Romanian folk mask.


There are apparently various types of such masks that have been a part of Romanian tradition.

On the internet site “” I found the following passage and explanation.

“The traditional masks are ancient remains of the collective memory. Masks were used in the fertility rituals, rain calling rituals, hunting rituals or in ritual dances. They represent characters from folk mythology.

“The mask games are played in specific moments of the year (Christmas, New Year, etc.) or on the events definitive for humans� life (wedding, death).

“In Vrancea County, at the dead watch, men wearing masks on their face dance in the courtyard, at the fire. Accompanied by drums, they offer a last party to the one who passes the threshold between the two worlds.

“Only men wear masks. It is forbidden to say the name of the persons under the masks. These customs are probably the remains of ancient initiation rituals.

“Masks are made of fur and animal skin, of cloth, ceramic, carved wood, lime, fir or birch bark, metal rings or pieces, thick colored rope, bird feathers, hemp tow, horse or pig hair, beans and corn, straw, colored paper, beads, buttons, glass pieces, horns or pieces of objects. Some of these materials are colored.

“The most used tools for making masks are the knife, the clasp, the scissors, the hammer, the chip axe, the hand drill and the pincers.

“Masks are remains of a strange, symbolical world which is getting lost in the industrialized world of today.”

The next piece shown was much larger and looked to me as if it could have some age.  Someone suggested 1900.


As Tim Hays’  notes in his comments, immediately above, such “tree of life” designs were used by both Christians and Islamic weavers in the Balkans. There was a suggestion in the room that the border devices in this klim are a Turkish usage.

Here are some closer details of R20.

R23a, R23b, R23c

Wendel Swan’s daughter is married to a Romanian, and last year, they traveled there where he has family.

Subsequent to this program (which they attended) they sent Wendel some additional images of Romanian textiles.

The first of these pieces, below, is an item of contemporary tapestry similar to others we have seen above.


This is a piece they bought during their trip and brought back.

But the other two images are of textiles in the husband’s family.  These two pieces are still in Romania.

The first is a round table cover.  (The photo may not show it at its best.)


It’s not clear from the image what technique was used to create it.  Marla Mallett, looking at this photo, says it is likely done in needlepoint.  Tim and Penny Hays report that is similar to pieces they saw while traveling in SE Europe.

The third piece is a fragmented half of a large kilim.


Here is a closer detail of it.


This kilim has some interesting features.  First, its colors.  It has two reds, a lot of green, a clear yellow and a strong purple.  If from natural dyes, these colors could suggest some age.

Another feature that attracts my eye is the large scale of its design devices.  These seem larger to me than those we usual encounter in larger Anatolian kilims.

Tim Hays has consulted some European sources who indicate that this piece is definitely Romanian and may be over 100 years old.  He says it was likely woven in the Banat area of southwestern Romania.

The presence of some seemingly older kilims in the room tempted me,  as I built this virtual version of this program, to look about for some more older Romanian kilims. 

Tim Hays drew my attention to a lecture by Stefano Ionescu, the Romanian textile scholar and tour leader, entitled “Folk Kilims from Romania.”  If you want to hear Stefano’s lecture, you need to invite him to give it, but we have his permission to show you a few of these older Romanian kilims.

This first piece is described as  “Rupea, Ottoman kilim” and is estimated to the 17th century.  Stefano indicates that this is the only kilim surviving in the Church collections in Transylvania.


Rupea is in the north of Romania.  It is a town in Brasov county in Transylvania.

Here is a closer detail of it.


A second piece is described a woven in Wallacia, in the second part of the 19th century.


Wallacia is a historic area, parts of which are in today’s southern Romania.

The third of these folk kilims is said to have been woven in Oltenia and is dated 1788.


Oltenia is in southwest Romania and is a part of Wallachia.

Below is a closer detail of this third kilim.


The next piece was also from Oltenia.


This piece is said to be a “trousseau” weaving.  It is dated 1857 and the calligraphy on its right side in this image, reads “Made by me.” (the “me” apparently assumed to be self-evident to those who would read it).

Here is a closer detail of this piece.


This would have been a time when the presence of a bird would signal a Christian weaver.

Next is a kilim from Banat in south Transylvania.  Tim Hays suggests that its probably from the Romanian Banat.


The piece below is also from Transylvania, but this time from the county of Maramures, in its northern part.


The next piece is from the Dan Basta Collection.


It is dated 1835 and is attributed to Bucovina, a historical area, part of which is now in far eastern Romania, with the other part in the Ukraine.

The last piece I want to show from Stefano’s lecture on “Folk Kilims of Romania,” is attributed to Bessarabia. 


This is another historical region which has, over the years, been passed back and forth, divided up and combined with, some neighboring areas on the far eastern edge of Romania.  “Moldavia” is to its immediate west.

Here is a closer look at a detail of its field.

So you can see that there are some older “folk” Romanian kilims worth our attention.

Christine took and answered further questions and adjourned the session.

The usual interactions occurred.

Bibliographic Addendum:

There are also some remarkable sites on the web that focus on Romanian ethnic clothing (and often that of other groups as well).   Here are a few: has a costume page with levels:

The Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania has  a site:

A British web site Elsnik, has Romanian costume pages.

The Brooklyn Museum via The Metropolitan Museum of New York, has interesting, quality Romanian costume material.

As I indicated in the text above, I drew my description of Hungarian folks masks, from

And to repeat another credit, my eight examples of older Romanian “folk kilims,” were taken from an illustrated lecture fashioned and given by Stefano Ionescu.

Here, also is a link to information about a Romanian tour that Stefano conducted under TM auspices.

The above link may not be “live,” but you can copy it and paste it into your browser.

Stefano indicates that he will lead two tours in Transylvania (in 2013; one in May, one in June) based on a program, which includes dozens of Romanian Folk Kilims.

Ordinarily, this would be the end of such a post, but,  in this case, it is not quite.

Christine and I talked, as we worked on this virtual version, about how diverse traditional ethnic dress was in SE Europe, and how impossible it is even to suggest the diversity that in fact existed in a single lecture and program.

Still, “going out the door, ” here, we can try.

Here are some additional images of traditional Romanian dress we encountered as we went along.  They are not specifically credited, but all have been drawn from sources in the Bibliography or from internet sites.

Sometimes there are captions, but often not, and you may have to guess at what some items are.

Only one thing is certain: these are all items of traditional Romanian costume.


R. John Howe

The well-coated Romanian gentleman, above, wishes you adieu from the year 1844.

The End