Archive for January, 2013

Kirk Keshishian and John Howe on “Repurposed Textiles,” Part 1, the Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18, 2013 by rjohn

On December 1, 2012, Kirk Keshishian,


and John Howe (that’s me),


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, at The Textile Museum, here in Washington, D.C., on “Repurposed Textiles.”

Kirk is the older son of Harold Keshishian, for whom the RTAM programs are now named.  He  is a 2007 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a B.A. in economics and classics. 

He currently serves as the senior analyst for a financial services firm in Bethesda, Md. 

Born and raised here in Washington, Kirk became interested in textiles at an early age. He attended numerous rug mornings with his father, since he was a child, and has served on the Textile Museum Advisory Council since 2009. 

Kirk’s other interests include backgammon, mathematics, economics, and cooking.

Most readers will know that I am a collector, who lives within walking distance of the TM, and who “haunts” these programs, sometimes from the front of the room. 

During my work years, I was an instructional designer in private business, government and academia.  I retired in 2003.

 I been a collector for over 20 years and am a member of the TM’s Advisory Council.  I write and publish two internet blogs that treat textiles: 1) Textiles and Text (the one you are reading), devoted to providing virtual versions of some of The Textile Museum’s RTAM sessions to a larger audience, and 2) Eccentric Wefts, where I hold forth on aspects of the textile world that catch my eye.  I am active in the local rug club and, with Mark Keshishian (Kirk’s cousin), recently designed and conducted a workshop for it on “handle.”  I have presented more, previous, RTAM programs, than my level of knowledge and experience warrants.  But I do have a keen, continuing interest in textiles.  I try, always, to focus on the enjoyments that textile collecting affords.

 My wife Jo Ann and I live in a one-bedroom condo, populated by one champion collie dog, hundreds of collie artifacts (Jo Ann collects in this area), and way too many rugs and textiles.

During parts of 2011 and 2012, The Textile Museum had an exhibition, Second Lives, on recycled textiles.  You can still see a glimpse of it on the TM’s web site using this link:

The material in this exhibition was often opulent and rare, and, when it was up, I wondered whether it might not be useful to prepare an RTAM program on more accessible repurposed textiles, items more like those that might be found in our own collections.

I mentioned my idea to another experienced collector, who said, “But what could you say?  After you indicate that they’re “repurposed, there seems little else.”

He did have a point.  An array of additional things one might say, usefully, did not immediately suggest themselves.  

But, at bottom, I disagreed.

It seemed to me that the varieties of repurposing, even of textile repurposing, human beings have both considered and indulged in,

Courtesy of The New Yorker

might be wider than our initial sense of them suggests.

The program Kirk and I presented was composed of the two most usual RTAM components: first, a lecture (which you are about to begin to read), and, then, a show and tell of pieces brought in. 

This latter is treated in a separate, Part 2 post that you can find at this internet address:

In our lecture, we “passed the baton” back and forth, so to speak.

I began:

One of the first things we might consider is “why do people repurpose textiles?”  What is its “logic,” so to speak.

An initial set of reasons seem reflective of general tendencies toward frugality.  The Japanese have a category of textiles called “boro,” which means “rags.”

“Boro” items are made originally by sewing together such things as remnants of old clothing.  Boro items look to be made from patches, but are “patched” further as they become worn.

There are large “boro” items, like futon covers, but some instances are quite small, like this rice bag.


A second seeming frequent reason for repurposing is the need for inexpensive weaving materials.  

It has been known, nearly world-wide, and for a long time, that various worn-out and cast-off textile items can be woven into “rag” rugs. We are going to see that there are rag rugs in the U.S. and Scandinavia and Japan and Morocco and, in fact, it might be easier to attempt to identify what places in the world have not resorted to them.

Meanwhile, this is the sort of thing you will see frequently in antique shops or flea markets.


Third, repurposing occurs because folks find a particular application of a textile outside the context of its traditional use, interesting, attractive, useful or economically advantageous.

This is a big category and we will examine some of its components.

Here is just one example.  At ICOC XII in Stockholm, there was a dealer with two antique chairs upholstered with materials that were originally parts of Turkmen bag faces.


He said that he had six, with a matching table.

From another perspective, we could ask “what is the nature of a given repurposing?”

The most frequent and, perhaps, fundamental, kind of repurposing is something we don’t really think of as one.  It is when we “collect” a textile, or worse, place it in a museum.

Museum Like

No longer does it, nor can it, serve its original purpose(s).  We have, in one move, sundered it from the context of its creation. Joseph Alsop argues that the fine arts items we now “admire for themselves” rather than for any purpose, were all originally made to serve a purpose, be it conveying of a religious setting, or as “decoration” in a Renaissance palace or Greek public building. 

So, when we “collect” a textile, we force it into the “art for itself alone” category.  A fundamental repurposing.

Let me illustrate this point with two other pieces: first a Dida tube skirt from the Ivory Coast.


It is couched onto a backing and hangs on one of my walls, entirely separated from being worn at one of the  “prestige” occasions for which it was created.It is now a modest work of “art.”

A second piece makes this point in a somewhat less emphatic way.


This, most will know, is a fragment of a Central Asian silk ikat panel. It was , likely, once part of a coat, which it cannot hope to be again. It has been repurposed, initially, by being fragmented. But then, more permanently, as the result of being collected.

The more usual kinds of repurposing we see include:

Textiles woven, or otherwise produced, using materials taken from other textiles.

There are textiles , sometimes only fragments of textiles, used as covering of various sorts

We’ve already seen one upholstery use, but some pillow coverings were not originally made for that purpose, and are one of the most frequent instances of repurposing.

Textile fragments assembled to resemble other formats.  Coptic clothing or Greek Island embroidery fragments assembled to look like rugs or other formats. A particular textile made by cutting down a larger textile from another format.

Some salt bags are made this way. (Warning: Some textiles that may seem “constructed” in this way are not.)

Resizing.  Cutting down or supplementing a textile so that if fits a particular space or a different person.  (Perhaps a marginal case, since the basic purpose is unchanged.)

Let’s examine some of these kinds of repurposing more closely.

First, “Rugs woven or otherwise produced using materials taken from other textiles.”

We mentioned rag rugs, above.  Let’s do them first.

There are at least two different types of the “rag rugs” that are important components of this category.

The most common type is flat-woven in a weft-faced plain weave.  Here are two examples of this type.  

The one below is Swedish. 


The detail, below, you have seen above, and is from a runner woven in the U.S.


Here are a two more rag rugsfrom Sweden.


Rag rugs have been woven for a long time and in many of parts of the U.S. 

Here is a 19th century example.


And it’s still going on…vigorously.

There is an internet site you can find called “Rug Talk,” almost entirely devoted to the discussion of problems and techniques by folks actively weaving rag rugs. They are serious about their focus.  If you try to talk about anything except actually weaving rugs, they will throw you out.  Peter Collingwood, the late, famous English weaver, used to join their conversations.

The Amish frequently wove rag rugs. Here is an Amish example.


The colors look somewhat different in the closer detail, below, but this is the same rug.


I mentioned, early, that the Japanese wove rag rugs.  I only have one example, but it’s a formidable one.


This large, pieced rug was used as a bed cover.

I mentioned earlier that most rag rugs are flat woven and made with a weft-faced weave. 
But not always. 


Here is one flat woven rag rug that is warp-faced, a more difficulty and limiting structure.


There is another kind of rag rug that has rather recently emerged in Morocco. As settling occurred and traditional materials, especially sheep’s wool and goat hair became less available, Moroccan weavers have moved to other materials. These Moroccan rag rugs are called “Boucherouite,” (from scraps of material)


and are made from a variety of “non-animal materials , such as old clothes cut up in strips, synthetic fibers, Lurex, nylon and plastic.” The designs, only sometimes, echo the traditional, and the colors are often vibrant.


Despite having been woven in numbers only since the early 1990s, these rugs have already earned their first Hali article (in Issue 162) and several exhibitions.

Some “hooked” rugs are made from various cut up fabrics.  Often, old clothes.  But not all hooked rugs are in our “repurposed” category, since some are made with yarns that have not had a “previous textile life,” so to speak.  The fragment below is of a hooked rug made from yarn.

In the U.S., hooked rugs seem to originate in the mid-19th century.  Despite the fact that they could be sophisticated and opulent, they were known as “poor man’s” rugs.

The rug on the below is a 19th century rug of this more sophisticated type (notice the “3D” effects in the drawing of its field).   A poor man could no longer afford it.


Sometimes, the designs in hooked rugs seem nearly a matter of chance.  Color is used, but, mostly not to any real design purpose. This practice is a mark of economy.  Any color can be used anywhere without worry.  So no strip of hooking material is wasted. Only the narrow black strips in this rug need to be of a given color This is a hooked rug I bought in the local flea market. 


It may be older, but I do not know that.  It IS, though, made in a way that older “poor man’s” rugs were often made, largely, without design.

The need for borders point to a need, even with impoverished hooked rug makers for materials of a single color, for use in such borders and in background areas around specific designs.


This need, in turn, has called for strategies for producing a single shade from a series of materials to be used in hooking from a variety of colors.

One morning, looking around the internet for something else, I ran into some rug hookers, who acquainted me with a new term “marrying the coats.” Here’s their description of what that is in their own words:


“We rughookers call overdyeing fabrics without using any dyes at all – just using the ‘bleeding’ from one fabric color into another – the marrying of the coats.  While I am sure no one knows how the name came about, people used the technique to make varying colors of black, navy, wine etc. to meld together in a hooked mat especially for a background. One article of clothing was not large enough to complete the project so they put enough fabric together in a pot and simmered it on the back of the wood stove until the colors ran into each other. Usually, that is not what we want for our usual laundry, but for rughooking it’s ingenious…. using what we have without buying a thing.”

There are also the terms “marrying the colors,” stewing,” and even “marbling,”
(the latter has features of “tie-dye” in its process).

In each case, the process is approximately the same.


First, one selects the items to be used.  Some pay no attention to the various colors in the pieces, but in most versions, items are combined that have, say , “complementary” colors, or “analogous” ones together.The items selected are put into a large container to which water is added.  Then heat is applied to the container so that some of the dyes in the pieces are loosened and begin to color the water (if wool, actual boiling is avoided to prevent felting). The mix is “simmered” until goodly amounts of dye have been loosened and mixed together, re-coloring the items. Then vinegar is added to help set the dye as the temperature is reduced.Drying is usually done in a dryer, with a softener sheet added The result is a quantity of hooking material with the same basic color.

Designs of hooked rugs, since the process is digital, can be anything.

There are floral designs.


Geometric designs.


Landscape designs


Animals are popular.  One variation is the “animal-tree,” a design with deep historical roots.


Hooked rug type fabrics are employed for a variety of purposes. Room-sized and scatter rugs, and pillow faces were hooked.

Even the, historically, controversial ,“carpet bag” was often a hooked rug fabric.


It might be tempting to think that finer hooked rugs are more likely to have been made from yarn, rather than from cut-up textiles of with previous textile lives. Not so.  At least, not historically. “Grenfell” hooked rugs are among the finer sort and were made from cut up women’s silk stockings and other underclothing.


This is my favorite Grenfell from Paula Laverty’s nice book.


Let’s end our look at this large category of repurposed textile with this unusual hooked rug.  The dealer, on whose site I found it, indicates that it is unique in her own considerable experience. 

I am a sucker for compartmented designs.


One further instance of our category “Textiles woven, or otherwise produced, using materials taken from other textiles, is textiles made from raveling other textiles. 

Some Navajo weavings were woven, in part, from raveled cloth. Early, the Spanish “bayeta” cloth they raveled was fine, worsted wool, 100 threads per inch. Later kinds of bayeta were from “Germantown” (a mill near Philadelphia)  and included synthetic dyes.

NavajoBlanketSomeRaveled1870This Navajo blanket is dated 1870 and indicated as partly from raveled materials.

As we have considered our first category of “repurposed textiles, Textiles woven, or otherwise produced, using materials taken from other textiles,” it is not surprising that the first two occupants of it that came to mind were rag rugs and hooked rugs.

But if we think about repurposed textiles that seem clearly to reflect a general urge toward economy, it would be difficult to exceed that visible in the group of Japanese textiles called “boro.”


“Boro,” is a Japanese word the literal meaning of which is “tattered rags.”  But the term “boro,” is also used to describe patched and repaired bedding, clothing and some utilitarian bags, for example,
“rice bags.”

Items of boro are not only made by sewing together pieces of textiles, originally, part of something else.


When the pieced items become worn, the patches are, themselves, unembarrassedly, patched.


Boro is made in a number of formats. Futon covers are frequent.


Coats and jackets are also made in the boro mode.  Here is the front of one.


And here is its back.


Smaller formats, like rice bags, are also made in the boro mode.  This is the level of boro that I have been able, personally, to afford.  Rice bags can be quite small.


My own example is about 11 inches square when flattened out.

As you have seen, blues, grays, and some mild whites dominate boro coloring.

I have found one,  predominantly white, boro coat, but it seems more recent.


While researching boro, I came onto “Zokins,” traditional Japanese multi-layered  cleaning cloths.


Zokins have been used for centuries in Japanese homes, temples and schools to hand clean wooden
floors and tatami mats.  Zokins are made from
layered pieces of old fabric held together with“sashiko”stitching.  They were boro-patched, regularly, as holes appeared, reused again and again.”

I suppose that “zokins” could be considered a kind of boro, but an experienced Japanese textile collector told me that it makes no difference, in this case, since this example is not “collectible.”

So, if you want a challenge, look for zokins that are worthy of collection.

As I was completing my work on boro, Jeff Krauss, the serious Japanese textile collector, wrote me about another instance of Japanese textile repurposing.He wrote:

Did I ever tell you about my collection of Nagajubans (under-kimonos) made from
previous year sample bolts?

Each year the kimono fabric salesman would go around to the kimono shops with sample bolts showing the patterns that were in style for that year.  The following year, new patterns were created,
so some of last year’s sample bolts were cut up and made into nagajubans. They look like patchwork but they are continuous lengths of fabric with one pattern after the next.

The piece below is such a naganjuban, made from such sample bolts.


Here is another.


Kirk took us into our second category of repurposed textiles:


Textiles , sometimes only fragments of textiles, used as coverings of various sorts

He said: “Perhaps the largest number of objects that fall into this category are pillow coverings, not originally made for that purpose.”


We exclude from our “pillows” group those, like yastiks,


or Baluch balishts,


that were originally made for that purpose.

Here are some pillows made from textiles that were originally something else.


Here is a pillow made from part of a quilt with the difficult “cathedral window” pattern.


Quilts of this design, you can see, COULD, in turn, be made from material taken from old clothes, although they are often made from store-bought material.

This large pillow was made from a full width of an interesting NW Persian rug.


Here are two pillows made from flat woven materials from other 19th century formats. The one on the left is Anatolian: a Sivas cicim weave, wool and cotton, with brocading.


Courtesy of Marla Mallett

The one on the right is Kazak from Azerbaijan, wool in slit tapestry.

The pillow, below, is from the fragment of a Tekke Turkman main carpet.


Its maker shaped this pillow to make sure its designs were restricted to one part of the field of a Caucasian rug.


In 1980, Pinner and Franses edited a self-consciously serious piece of rug literature, “Turkoman Studies I. But contained in it are a few articles of a lighter sort. One of these is by G. Lownds, and is titled “The Turkoman Carpet as a Furnishing Fabric.” This is a broader version of the second category in our initial outline of kinds of repurposed textiles, which is:

Textiles, sometimes only fragments of textiles, used as coverings of various sorts.

Lownds admits that he does not know how long it’s been going on, but does know that it’s been for a very long time.

Here are two chairs which have been covered with 16th century carpet materials of recognizable designs.

The first is covered with a Lotto rug;


the one on the right with a “Holbein.”


In a recent issue of Hali, a similar chair was offered for sale.


Its description was:   Flemish tapestry, 17th century on Renaissance revival chair frame.

Lownds also provides an illustration of a view of a room in which Turkmen weavings have been used for particular furnishing purposes.


I’m going to show you a few more chairs upholstered with a variety of traditional textiles not originally woven for that use.

But first, one more Turkman example:


a settee covered with material from a Tekke main carpet, with pillows made from Tekke bag faces.

Here are some more chairs covered with a variety of antique textiles. The first example, below, is upholstered with an Indian, Robari wedding shawl material.


Below you can see what such an embroidered shawl looks like before this application of it.


The next example is done in a spectacularly colored and designed Uzbek suzani embroidery.


A third chair upholstery example is plural, and takes us back to Japanese “boro” materials.


The chair below is  upholstered with a Bangladesh textile that is pieced very much like Japanese boro. It is called “kantha.”


Kantha (pronounced kahn-ta), whose name is derived from Sanskrit word for rags, is the original recycling art.

Traditionally, old, well-worn saris were layered together and quilted using colored threads from the sari borders, to make warm, kantha blankets or clothing.

Hali, 174, that just arrived, as we are publishing, includes in its auction reports a pair of “verni covered armchairs.”  Hali admired the color and the quality of the upholstering. The pair sold for over $22,000, so someone else liked them, too.

And, Kirk said,


  John, reports, that he has done it himself. 


This is his favorite reading chair done in materials taken from a Caucasian rug.  He said that it gets admired even by experienced textile collectors.

John also has a small footstool, upholstered to match his chair.


This stool is a double example of repurposing. 

Inside, it has a horse-hair center, but its undulating edge is produced by placing tin cans around this core.   In some ages, nothing got thrown away, not even some of the tin cans.

Sometimes the “covering” is more casual, as in the case of this strip of Tekke main carpet, converted to serve as a table runner.



The next category, Kirk said,


in our “kinds of repurposing” outline is:

Textile fragments assembled to resemble other formats.

The most impressive example we have encountered is this Czar’s throne coverlet,


composed of pieces of two different Persian embroideries.

It came into the Russian Czar’s possession in 1582, but is much older. (from Daniel Walker article in Hali, 161)

Greek embroideries have also, famously, been assembled to convert “fragments” into sale-able formats, like this piece, a little over 2 feet square.


Here is a little closer look at this textile which has been assembled from the embroidery trim on fragments of old Greek tunics and costumes.


In 1982 , in a TM publication on Greek embroidery, Kirk said,


My father, Harold Keshishian,


wrote: “…the Greek peasant kept all fragments of embroidery from old tunics and costumes” and sensing demand “capitalized” (ed.) on it and “skillfully fabricated these fragments into so-called Greek Island embroidery” (ed. he references the one we saw in black and white above).

Here is another similar one. Again, put together from smaller pieces.



Despite being constructed, some of these Greek embroideries were bought, knowingly, by experienced collectors.

They are, after all, comprised of pieces of 19th, sometimes 18th century, Greek embroidery.

My father, Kirk said, owned a large one, with a niche design.  It hung sometimes in the hallway of our home.

Here is a poor photo of it, taken there, during a holiday party.



The next piece is a complete, constructed khorjin set that John thinks may have been put together to deceive.  Here is its front.


And here is its back (the back is pretty obvious, but might fool a novice).


Fragments of quite different textiles have been combined to create this “khorjin” set.  John found it a couple of years ago, in an antique shop in Pennsylvania, and bought it, inexpensively, as a teaching example.





Ten fragments have been put together to create a “complete” khojin set that might fool someone.

John has another entirely constructed bag, given to him by a dealer friend.

This time we don’t think anyone was trying to fool anyone; and they did manage to pick some old fragments for their combination.

That is, if you like a Yomut tent band front,


and a jajim back.


John handled our last constructed example,


because it requires a preliminary story from his experience.

John said:

‘My wife used to breed and show collie dogs and we’ve spent a lot of time, over the years, at dog shows.


One morning at one I was seated near an elderly woman who was a distinguished judge.

Soon a young man come in with a group of seeming acolytes to whom he was holding forth about the merits and faults of the dogs in the ring.


After awhile the acolytes left, and the old lady judge said “Young man, to like dog in spite of its faults, is understandable. But to like a dog because of its faults suggests that re-education is in order.”

It is usually thought that a constructed piece is inferior to one that is not, but I bought the next piece BECAUSE it was constructed, and following the old judge’s point, this seems to suggest that I need re-education, something may be the case regardless of how my tale here turns out.

Here is the piece.


It’s Coptic and, easily, the oldest textile I own.  Estimated 5th to 7th century. It’s composed of pieces of decoration taken from Coptic garments.

This is the kind of Coptic tunic on which these pieces occurred.   


One description of such tunics indicates that: Such Coptic tunics “often have stylized humans or animals and geometric designs, such as octagons or interlacing near their hem or running their entire length.”

These are the ways in which these kinds of decorated bands and areas were arrayed on Coptic textiles.

Coptic Tunics-D

My piece has an interesting dense central medallion with four outlying ones.   I’ve looked for representational indications in these dense devices, but haven’t found any.


Its main border has a, nicely, spacious “bird” design, with more medallions in its corners.



This textile is ancient, and has some interesting graphic features, but I wouldn’t have bought it if it didn’t look like a little rug.

So you see, the old lady judge was talking about me.

I have bought a piece and like it, mostly, because of what is widely seen as a “fault”: It is constructed.

Here’s how badly I apparently need re-education.   I understand the judge’s point, and agree with it, in general, but like this piece, anyway, for the wrong reason.

Kirk went on with the fourth item on our initial tabulation of kinds of repurposing.  It is this one.

A textile format made by cutting down a textile of a different format.

We were thinking of something like a salt bag that had been cut out of a piece of a larger textile and we don’t have one in the wool.

But we can show you what we mean.

Here is the back of a khorjin set.


You can see a loop about halfway down that marks it center.  If one needed a salt bag quickly and didn’t have time to weave one properly, it would be a relatively simple matter to cut this khorjin back down like this.

One would, then, simply fold it along its horizontal center line and sew up its sides.

When finished and ready for use one side would look like this.


And the other would look like this.


This exercise give some hints of how one might detect a bag that had not been made originally for that purpose, but was cut down from a larger format.

One might look for material that is continuous front and back of a bag without changing its character of its fabric or designs as is the case with our example above.  Not just shared warps front to back, but continuation of both the structure and the design.  

Or in the case of a salt bag, a separate piece as a neck might be worthy of further examination.

This “continuous” fabric indicator is not infallible.

There are bags made originally by folding over and sewing a single piece of material.  Sometimes you can tell that a suspected single, continuous piece was woven at the size of the bag (i.e. on a narrow loom).  Here is a bag that seems to have been made in this way.

Side 1
h58bbackSide 2

This bag (the guesses have been Luri or Char Mahal) was woven at the width this one exhibits, then, simply folded over and sewn up both sides.

A more, difficult to detect, legitimate, “constructed” usage is one in which the bag was, in fact, cut out of a piece of material larger than either of its woven dimensions, but was still made originally as the kind of bag it currently is.

Here’s an example of this second sort:


a piece made from what is likely a woven piece wider than its dimensions, but still not “constructed” in the sense we are talking about here, since, it was part of an apron-bag combination and likely made from a piece as wide as the apron.

It is folded vertically and sewn up the sides.

The back is exactly like its front.

Alberto Boralevi told me what it is. Likely, part of an apron-bag ensemble carried/worn by a Dalmatian lady. My bag was likely cut from a weaving as wide as this apron.


You would be able to tell that this bag was, originally, and legitimately, constructed only by being familiar with this costume combination and some of its features (like the top edge treatment) as Mr. Boralevi, who has collected and studied such apron-bag ensembles for years, is.

Here is my bag, again, together with a similar bag from Boralevi’s collection.


As for his being familiar with this format, Mr. Boralevi has an entire wall of such aprons,


and has published a small catalog them and their accompanying bags.

We should note here that all of our upholstery examples, above, entailed cutting down a larger textile.

We have retained one upholstery example for treating here, because it is such a clear case of cutting down.


This is a part of a quite old Tekke chuval that someone has cut down, very obviously, to fit as a seat cover on a particular upholstered chair.  Places for the chair legs of a specific chair have been notched out.

Our fifth and last category is sometimes another instance of cutting down, but it can also be the occasion for enlarging.

We’ve called it “resizing.”

Resizing can be seen as a marginal category, since it doesn’t change the purpose for which the textile was made, but let’s include it, anyway, because we have a minor instance of it that we like.


This is a boy’s great coat, in a West Point cadet-like style and shade, and estimated to have been made in the 1930s.

Here is a view of its back ‘


and attractive lining, with a boteh design.


But the reason for including it as a repurposed example is that, when one looks more closely at it inside, one can see that it was cut down from its original size to be worn by a smaller child.


It is an example of repurposing if you are willing to count its being adjusted to be worn by a different person.

By the way, so-called “cut and shut” rugs and textiles are in this category.  That is, rugs, cut, reduced in size, and then sewn back together to permit their use in a particular space.

John ended the lecture with a repurposed item that is, actually, an instance of our previously discussed category: creating a textile using materials taken from other textiles.

Here is the material taken from another textile.


It is the shoulder patch from the uniform of a U.S. Seabee in WWII.

The Seabees built roads, bridges, airfields, during the war, under battlefield conditions.  Recruiters were told to look for smart troublemakers.

In 1949, a known Seabee veteran in Virginia, decided to use his unit’s shoulder patches in a quilt he was making.   So he bought a goodly number and quilted them on a red backing in a medallion-like arrangement like this.


He made and quilted on a number of these medallions.


The result was this small quilt.


To a Turkman collector, the result was too interesting to pass up.

He even quilted in a minor ornament between the gul-forms.


My quilting expert friends tell me that his quilting is quite good.

I think this bizarre little quilt illustrates nicely our early caution that we should not be quick to say that the last word on repurposing has been spoken.

Kirk and John took questions, then, moved to treat the material in the room.

To see that you need to press your Control key and left click the link below.


R. John Howe

Kirk Keshishian and John Howe on “Repurposed Textiles,” Part 2, the Material Brought In

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18, 2013 by rjohn

This is Part 2 of a program Kirk Keshishian and John Howe gave on “Repurposed Textiles.” 


It was preceded by a lecture that you can access using the link below:

In this virtual version of  our “show and tell” segment, we will treat, again, some of the pieces, in the room, that that you have seen in our lecture,  but not all of them. 


And we didn’t observe the sequence of our lecture outline.

We began with the piece below:


This is a hooked rug from Kirk’s family’s collection.  It features a version of the “log cabin” design, used frequently on quilts.

This piece is one that has definitely been made from cut up pieces of other garments.  Perhaps the most emphatic sign of this is that the red squares are hooked from cut up strips of a knitted item of some sort.


With this piece in hand, you can see the knitted stitches in the red strips.  The yarn in these knitted strips was not raveled.

The next piece had been brought in by a member of the audience.  She said that it was a panel composed of the fronts of women’s blouses.


I think she said she bought it in India.


The next piece was a small, shallow, zippered bag with a front made from a fragment, perhaps from a Caucasian rug.


Kirk had two small Uzbek bags: one side in ikat, the other in needle point.



The next piece was a round pillow, made from a field area with a single gul device from an Afghan “Ersari” main carpet.


The next piece was a sleeveless vest, made from some, seemingly, Anatolian slit tapestry kilim.


Next, was pair of boots decorated with slit tapestry material.


Next, were two mounted and fragment fragments of exquisite Turkish embroidery, perhaps from the edges of garments.


My photos do not do them justice.


Next, a small bag, composed of at least three different fabrics, its striped area being entirely of silk.


Its owner was unsure of an attribution, but it resembles a bag published by Robert Nooter in his Rugs and Textiles from the Caucasus, Plate 226.  Nooter attributes his to the Shasavan.  I have seen one other similar example, owned by a Canadian collector.

Although this little bag set is clearly “composed,” it may not be “repurposed” (like the little Dalmation bag in our lecture), because it was made, originally, to be what it is.

John had a knitted sleeveless sweater that was an odd instance of repurposing.


The wool in this sweater came an Anatolian project that was primarily producing naturally dyed wool for use in weaving pile carpets.  Some of this wool was redirected and used to knit sweaters of this sort.  There are a number of known  sweaters knitted with wool from this project and we may talk about them more generally some day.

Next, was a fragmented Yomut okbash, with very good color. 


Most will know that okbash designs are woven at right angles of their warps.

Okbashes can have features that seem constructed, but in this case, no new format has been attempted.  This piece was repurposed in our broadest sense, when it was fragmented and could no longer serve to encompass and decorate yurt pole covers.  It has been more permanently repurposed by being collected.

The next piece was an example of a “Boucherouite,” the contemporary Moroccan rag rug, treated in the lecture.


You will recall that these rugs are not weft-faced plain weave, but instead woven with symmetric knots and pile that can be lengthy.

Here’s are a couple of closer looks at details of this piece.


The pile points down in the image above.

Here is a look at its back.


The rows of pile knots are separated by multiple rows of weft.

John rehearsed his comments on the large, conventional hooked rug he found at a flea market.


He said that this rug is not important in itself, but rather because it seems such a typical example of the “poor man’s” type hooked rug.

Despite its clear urge toward economy,


the result is not unattractive.


Next, was a composed Uzbek panel.


Applique with ikat.

Its back was a faded Russian commercial cotton that might have been pretty interesting, once.


Jeff Krauss had brought in several repurposed textiles.

First, was the interesting shirt he was wearing.


Jeff said that “It’s ikat, silk, from Thailand.  Made from material used for sarongs.  Purchased in a shop in Chiang Mai.”

Jeff had, also, brought the Boucherouite rag rug from Morocco, but is, mostly, a serious collector of Japanese textiles.

First, he had brought three examples of “nagajubans,” which you may remember from the lecture, are “under-kimonos.”  The variety that Jeff brought is those that are “last year’s samples,” and are continuous lengths with one pattern after another.  They can seem to be patched, but are not.

Jeff asked for his examples to be modeled and volunteers did that.


A second example was this one.


We managed a front and back image of a third example.



All three of these nagayuban examples seem more deliberately put together, pattern-wise, than those we saw in the lecture.

Jeff had one more example, a Japanese vest, made in the weft-faced plain weave variety of rag rug.


Here is it’s back and a closer look at its weave.



Notice the white, reinforcing “sashiko” stitching in the detail above.

Another narrow pillow had a center panel take from another textile.


This seems an item of sumac or brocade.


I’ve seen very similar pillows made from repurposed parts of woven hats of various sorts.

There were a couple of constructed contemporary purses.





Someone had brought the still connected side panels of two cargo-type mafrash bags to show the original format from which his following constructed khorjin had been taken.  Here, below are his, original, mafrash side panel examples. 



And, below, a khorjin composed of such cargo-bag, type mafrash panels.



The next example was a panel composed of sections of a quite lovely Kyrgyz tent band.


Its owner agreed that the dark ground is unusual.


The colors were remarkable.

At one point a young man came to the front of the room wearing clothing into which textiles, from other sources had been inserted.


The “athletic” jacket he was wearing had a vertical panel that was predominantly yellow, and seemed, possibly inserted, but which, I think, was an original feature.


But the truly repurposed aspect of this jacket is that it had been lined with a man’s shirt that had not be disassembled.


The shirt had been inserted whole with its buttons, button holes and shirt pocket all still intact.

The young man’s blue jeans also featured strips of cloth and decorative piping that also seemed likely not part of them, originally.


It was not clear whether he had undertaken these insertions himself, but he was enthralled with our program and group, and said that he had thought there were no other people in the world like him.  🙂

We ended with several pieces from Kirk’s family’s collection.

First, a saddle cover,  with the dramatic “butterfly” shape.


This shape looks exotic, and there may be a temptation to think it was sourced in the East.   But, in fact, attributed to British cavalry units.  It was only used in Tibet since the early 20th century, after a known, expedition there by a British colonial cavalry unit, that had this style saddle blanket as part of their uniform regalia.

Here is a British military saddle blanket with this shape from 1750.


And here is another, viewed from the side and looking as it would when it was on a horse.  This one is for a major general in a  U.S. cavalry unit during the Civil War.


We do not have a clear attribution for the Keshishian example.  Its rich, pictorial fabric looks, vaguely, Chinese.

Here are some closer details of it.




It is a quite beautiful piece of fabric that seems ill-suited for wear.


A second piece from Kirk’s family’s collection was this interesting “crazy” quilt.


One has to look more closely at this colorful piece to see its most dramatic feature.


Its patches are all of “satiny” fabrics of various sorts.  But the feature that draws the eye in a closer examination is that, at the joined edges of all the patches (and on some of the patches, too) this quilt face is full of large, exposed stitches that would invite damage in use.  These stitches are in contrasting colors and are, clearly, intended for dramatic effect.


Kirk says that he likes the bird.


This interesting piece was meant to be seen rather than used.

One last seasonal piece, just for fun (it was December 23, 2012, as we wrote this part).

Kirk had brought his father’s Christmas stocking.


It was cut from a piece of Caucasian sumak, with a nice, unusual light blue.


Kirk said his father did actually hang it up. 

I knew Harold, a little, and suspect that he also expected to find something in it on Christmas morning.  🙂

Kirk and I took questions and adjourned the session.





I want to thank Kirk for his work with me to produce and conduct this program, and for his editing of my draft of this virtual version of it.

Thanks, too, to my wife, Jo Ann, who took the photos in the room.

I hope you have enjoyed this post, and agree that, it may well be the case, that there is still be more to be said, usefully, about repurposed textiles.

Hope you have had fine holidays,

R. John Howe

Saul Barodofsky on “Camel Flowers”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 4, 2013 by rjohn

On December 8, 2012, Saul Barodofsky


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program here at The Textile Museum, in Washington, D.C., on “Camel Flowers.”

Saul, many readers will know, is a rug and textile dealer in Charlottesville, Virginia, who has been traveling to Turkey, the Caucasus,  Central Asia and other places, for 34 years,now, buying rugs and textiles.  He has presented RTAM programs at the TM a number of times, and has a definite “sticht.”  Harold Keshishian used to say frequently that Saul should have been in vaudeville.  And he is entertaining, but he also knows his “rugs.”

Saul has a number of “collections” which he does not sell, including over 300 animal decorations.  The pieces in this show & tell have been selected from this group.  He has been collecting animal decorations since 1978.

It should be noted that there are very few written materials of this subject.  Saul brought 3 books that had some information in them:

Animal Regalia by Moria Broadbent – self published – London, 1985.

Textiles of Baluchistan by M.G. Konieczny – British Museum, 1979

Horse & Camel Trappings from Tribal Iran by Parviz Tanavoli, Iran, 1998

The TM’s Members Magazine promised that Saul “…would show about fifty traditional Persian, Kurdish, Anatolian and Baluch nomadic animal decorations that are used to identify, beautify and protect prized animals…” and Saul delivered.


He began by discussing how important camels and horses are in tribal, especially nomadic, societies.  Owners of camels and horses want first for their animals to be protected, but also want them to look good, especially for important events.  And they achieve both of these objectives by decorating them, sometimes, lavishly.  Saul’s shorthand for one such decoration was “Camel Flowers.”

“Cowrie” shells, traditional trade goods from the Indian Ocean, are often used in these animal decorations, as are blue beads.  (For a discussion of their implied properties, see Saul’s previous T.M. talk on Nazarlik. also posted on this site.)


Saul told a story about how such shells have sometimes been, in his experience, implicated in the pricing of animal decorations.

Once, Saul said, driving from Ankara to Konya, he came to a crossroads,  a little south of Ankara, and there was a villager by the highway, selling animal decorations.  He had a great many of them.

Saul looked them over and then asked about price.  The man picked up the nearest decoration, counted the cowrie shells on it and gave a price of $1 for each shell. 

This is not as odd as it might seem, because there was a time when cowrie shells were trade goods, a kind of primitive currency, like the U.S. Indians’ use of “wampum” (also shells).

Saul listed the various components used to embellish the animal decorations he would be showing.

Mirrors to ward off the “evil eye,” which does not like to see it’s reflection.


Cowrie shells, as we have seen, bring intrinsic value, but are also felt to bring fertility in animals.

Hand-forged metal objects, often shiny, are seen to be protective.


Dangling things, like fringes and tassels, thought to distract “the devil.” 


Bells are included because their sound provides another kind of distraction.


Bright colors can also distract evil.


Buttons are very common.  Among their advantages is the fact that they are already pierced and so ready to sew on.  And they come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors.


Coins and found objects (image repeated) are also thought to give protection.


Saul had arrayed many of the pieces he would treat in three layers on the front board. 

This was the top layer.


Asked from the audience, he said that the objects on this level of the board were all decorations that went around the camels neck and/or dangled at its throat.


 This group of Camel Flowers, are all Anatolian.

You’ve seen closer detail images on some of them, above, but here are some more.





Saul moved to the next level on the front board.


He began with three baby camel head pieces.



Saul said these three pieces came from southeast Anatolia.

Next was a large animal headpiece, featuring spun hemp, beads and bells – with spaces for missing mirrors).



Next was a long ,narrow band, used to decorate the chest.


Its cowrie shells are arranged in an attractive graphic design. 


Here, it is turned to let you see it in an even larger version.


Saul said that these kinds of pieces are meant to decorate the animal is ways that “show them off.”

The next piece was a particularly elaborate example.


This is complete (connected) neck and head piece with part of what dangles down.  Notice the intense use of cowrie shells.

Here are two closer images of parts of it. 

First, just a slightly closer detail of its bottom part.


And below, a rotated image of its top part.


The pieces above are Anatolian, but the next neck piece was attributed to the Baluch of Afghanistan.


Below is this comprehensive image rotated to increase its size somewhat.


A second rotated detail takes us closer to the massed button decoration.


Next, was a large camel neckpiece, by the Taurus Mountain nomads, and found in the old Konya bazaar.


It may have been made for a small camel.

Heavily embellished with cowrie shells, it also featured distinctive, circular, disk devices in its tassels.  Made from various cloths with twined edges.  These discs are strung on wrapped, vertical strands that pass through their centers.



Saul said that the next decoration was from Central Asia.  It is a hanging chest piece.


When it was purchased, Saul said, he was told it was Uzbek.  Note the shells and beads and hanging tassels.


Below it on the board, was this felt neck piece.


Here is this comprehensive image, again, rotated to bring it closer.


And here are two more, horizontally oriented, detail images.



It’s attribution is old Turkish.

On the lower left of the board was this piece.  Notice its use of bells.


Saul said that the work in this decoration is very fine,


especially it’s tassels.


On the sides of this board were two decorative rope whips – used for show.  Cowrie shell and button decorations, in addition to colorful wrapping.




Here are two additional head pieces from Anatolian nomads and camel herders.


A detail of the piece above.


The last piece included on this level of the board.  Smaller and nicely composed.


An “at the throat” decoration – also Anatolian.

Saul moved to the third level of the material on the front board.


In general, Saul said, the pieces on this level o are very finely made.

He started with bright orange-red donkey head and neck piece with lead rope, from South East Anatolia.


He said that this is his “youngest” piece and that it features cowrie shells, traditional beads, wrappings, a length of chain, and pompoms.


The next  item was a Central Asian head piece – probably made for a Arabian horse.  Finely embroidered and embellished with mirrors.


A lovely, well-composed little piece.


Here is a Central Asian donkey chest decoration.


A closer detail.


To the left facing the board, were two similar pieces.

First, a Central Asian horse head piece that featured good color and reflective disk decorations.



Below it was this piece, explicitly attributed to Uzbeks in Northern Afghanistan.  Another donkey chest piece.


Colorful beads, weaving and “mother-of-pearl” buttons.


The next pieces were by the Baluch in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

The first of these was this piece, featuring tassels with nicely done bead bands.



The next piece is a single rein from South East Anatolia, and has many hand blown blue glass beads, and tassels.


photographs a little vaguely.


Along the lower left side of the board, were three similar camel knee decorations.  These are from the Baluch in the tribal area of Pakistan.


Here they are, left to right, a little closer.




Notice the embroidery work on the banding of the tassels.



Saul had an even more elaborate instance of this fine Baluch  embroidery, used at the top of one of the pieces that he held up. 

Here is a comprehensive image of this piece.  I want to treat it out of sequence here for comparison.


Here is a little closer detail of the fine work at its top.


There was one more camel knee decoration, but it has a different embroidery feature.


The distinctive feature was this small area of embroidered cloth.


The piece next to it,  had the same embroidery feature.  Same people – different purpose.  Probably used as hanging decorations from the reins.


Here is is in close-up.


An interesting decorative feature.

The next piece was a neck piece with carved wooden hangings.



Saul said it was from southeast Anatolia, and showed the artistic genius of poor artisans, with little ability to purchase beads, cowry shells, or other nazarliks, and had to create their own.  It is one of his favorites.

The next Anatolian chest piece featured horsehair tassels.  Probably West Anatolia.


Here is a rotated, comprehensive image to give you a little more size.


But a detail image is best for that.


The next piece was a slight departure: a plaited and embroidered horse head decoration.  Saul said it was sold to him as  Syrian and is made from mercerized cotton which looks and feels like silk. 


Nice, crisp, graphic design.



On both sides of this piece were plaited leather whips.




Saul took us next to two Qashqa’i chest pieces.


Here is the top one a bit closer.  Note the set of fortune teller discs, used as decorative nazarlik.


A half detail, that is closer still.


Here is the second Qashqa’i neck piece.


This time a center detail.


The next piece was donkey necklace nearly solid with turquoise-colored, hand-blown, glass beads.


Across the top of the board ranged a lovely, long-narrow band with a fringe.  Possibly made for horse or tent.  Saul brought it because it is the finest example he’s ever seen.


It is maybe eight feet long, and you can’t see it at all in the comprehensive horizontal image above.

For that you need a close-up detail, like this,


or this, that lets us see its embroidery, plaiting and tassels.


Saul said this it’s Central Asian, and, perhaps, Turkmen.

He took us, next, to a Taurus Mountain donkey belt on the far left side of the boards,


with lots of cowrie shells.


Saul said this piece is a donkey necklace from the Taurus mountains.

Nearby, was a metal-handled whip from the Caucasus.


Saul ended his presentation with a number of animal decorations too large, and three-dimensional, to place on the board.  They were held up instead.


This is a Qashqa’i headpiece with interesting features.


It has areas of intense beadwork.  Persian lions, appear, some with swords in paw.


Its tassels are luxurious.

One of them even has a design on its top.


A second “held up” piece was similar, but is estimated to be older.


Again, there are areas of intense beadwork, and lions with swords in paws, but there are also elk, a good luck symbol.  And the piece is inscribed. Note the sun rising behind the lion.


Here are the lower parts of its decorations.


The next “held-up” piece was a large Baluch assembly.  Headpiece and both reins.


Again, you cannot really see it in the more comprehensive image above, but, we’re going to work it over, a bit, with details.

This is a difficult piece both to display and photograph.


First, here is a detail of its very top.  Notice the feathers.


It is “seeded” nearly everywhere, in its main body, with small, white beads.


There are also buttons and beads, and plaiting with ending tassels.

The long reins, moving out on both sides are also heavily decorated.



The next piece was less extensive: Anatolian, without reins.


But it featured hand-blown glass beads.


A fifth “held up” piece was also Anatolian.


It hard to see with the pieces behind it on the board, but it has a red rein at its right side, and a blue on on its left.

Here is another view of most of it.


A plain blue rein with long tassels.


A sixth held up piece was also Anatolian.


Another comprehensive image of this piece.


A closer image of some of the bells.


The last of the pieces Saul had brought in was this example from Anatolia.


This elaborate camel head piece has lots of features.

Here are close-ups of some aspects of it.




Folks in the audience had brought in some pieces and Saul treated them next.

The first is a pretty spectacular camel headdress.


Here are a few images of it from different perspectives.  It was shown on a “paper mache” camel head, also the property of its owner.



This colorful, elaborate head dress is the, dust jacket, cover piece for Tanavoli’s book on such animal trappings.


The next brought in piece was the one below.


This is an embroidered fragment of a Turkman headpiece, probably Tekke.  This part would be on the animal’s “forehead” with the pointed end down.

The image below is a detail of a modestly decorated camel girth from northwest India.


Here is a comprehensive image of a similar one.


They are about 8 feet long, about 3.5 inches wide and have a palpable thickness of 1/4 inch.  They are/were used to attach saddles on riding camels.

They are made with a distinctive “split ply” technique, done with a needle, but without a loom, and that is a form of plaiting.  The material used is a very hard, scratchy goat hair.

Such camel girths seem crude and primitive, but Peter Collingwood, the late, famous English weaver once invested ten years and several trips to India to document the “split ply” technique.  He came away admiring the skills of the crafts people who make them.  The book he wrote as a result is  The Techniques of Ply-split Braiding, 1998.

The next “brought in” piece was this pile animal necklace attributed to the Luri in about 1900.


I have turned a detail of it here to let you see it better.


You may have noticed in the comprehensive image, above, that there are opulent tassels on both ends of this band.


The next piece was a long, narrow Qashqa’i band that stretched across the entire front board.


You cannot see it at all in the comprehensive image.  For that we have to resort to closer details.


That is a little better, but for real closeness we need rotated details.



You can see that this band is done in mixed technique with pile decorative devices on a flatwoven ground.  The designs on the front are nearly invisible on the back,


the knots are likely symmetric and tied on alternate raised warps. like Turkmen mixed technique tent bands are.  (I have a Siirt horse cover with the same structure.)

These same owners also had another small, mixed technique weaving, maybe also an animal decoration.


The next brought in piece seemed Baluch.


These bands are impossible to really see in these comprehensive horizontal photos, but I want to give you a sense of their length.  This one likely about 8 feet long.

Here is a beginning of seeing this piece: a rotated comprehensive image.


But we can only see it only, really, in closer, rotated details.  Here are a few.




A very nice band.

Saul, held up a small neck piece.  Seemed Central Asian.


Opened up and oriented vertically, it looked like this.


Here is a, marginally, larger detail.


The last piece of the day was this one.


Another band that you can’t really see in a comprehensive, horizontal image, except to note that is has a tassel system.

Here is the comprehensive image above, rotated.


It was suggested that this is a “chest” piece.

Here is an, additional, horizontal detail of it.


Saul took questions



and brought his program to a close.

People moved briskly to the front, and the after-session activity was more vigorous than usual.

You can eavesdrop.









I want to thank Saul for this interesting session on formats we don’t usually see in such profusion.  It permits comparison, and an in depth evaluation of the genre.

Thanks, are due, too, to Michael Spencer, Saul’s buddy,


who always appears to assist, when Saul speaks at the TM.

Thanks, also to Saul for permitting the production of this virtual version of it and for his editing, which in this case, was very much needed.

Amy Rispin, again, took a good set of notes for me.


I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of Saul’s RTAM on “camel flowers.”


R. John Howe