“Mike” Tschebull on Bags from SW and NE Iran

On December 14, 2013, Raoul (“Mike”) Tschebull


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning here at The Textile Museum in Washington, DC, largely concerning Lur and Bakhtiyar flatwoven transport and storage bags from Iran

Mike was introduced by his friend and a long-time figure in the rug world, Russell Pickering,


who said that Mike grew up in N.J. in a home filled with oriental rugs and antiques. After graduation from college in 1963, he initially pursued a career in international banking and then later became a dealer and collector of oriental rugs and textiles. His primary collecting interest was in NW Persian and Caucasian material.  Mike has translated a number of German textile publications into English. In 1971 he wrote “Kazak,”


a landmark publication on this variety of Caucasian rug (and still referenced). He subsequently wrote a number of other articles and papers, especially in Hali, and frequently gives presentations at rug conferences and to rug clubs.  He was awarded the Joseph McMullan Award in 1997 and is currently president of the, McMullan founded, Near Eastern Art Research Center. He has contributed to museum catalogues and was the curator for the New England Rug Society exhibition of bags “To Have and to Hold”. Mike feels that the latter is his best work.  I’ll give you a link to it on-line at the end of this post under Bibliography.

Mike thanked Russell and made a few preliminary remarks on his subject.


He said that there are constantly new areas that come up in the market for rugs and textiles, Kaitag and suzani embroideries being examples.  In the past decade or so as Iran was squeezed more and more by embargo and isolation likely causing textile items to came on the market that had rarely been seen before.

In this session, Mike said, he would present 15 representative bags from the Lurs and Bakhtiaris in Southwest Iran, and more particularly, from an area southeast of Isfahan.  The specific villages where the picker got these pieces is not known. Nomads settled in villages over time, often with their nomad gear. They exhibit an unusual variety of weaves, of types not seen, or rarely seen before 2000.  John Wertime’s publication in the 1970s of Luri and Bakhtiari bags were mostly sumac, perhaps because pieces made in these techniques had more value at that time.

Mike said that he had counted as many as 19 different structures used by the Lurs, Bakhtiari and Kurds, evidently the groups with the most diverse weavings. In contrast, Turkman groups use the least variety of weaves and the Shahsavan wove a middling number of distinctive structures.

Mike said, as he often does, that the true nomads didn’t often weave pile.  Pile takes a lot of material and a lot of time and is, often, market-oriented.  This kind of expenditure was made mostly in areas where there was a prospect of financial gain.

Mike now moved to treat the pieces he had brought.



He said that this piece is probably Luri.  It is what is called a “salt bag” (narrow-neck), but was, in fact, used  for carrying “anything they didn’t want to lose.”  The structure is an overlay-underlay brocading technique.  This bag has its original strap, comprised of braided warps.  Its colors strongly suggest a Luri subgroup, including a characteristic rosy red in the field.  

This piece is in perfect condition. These things are not durable and an unworn condition after, perhaps,125 years seems remarkable.  Later Mike mused: “Where was this stuff in the 1960s and 1970s?”

T1 back


The back image of this piece shows more readily that there is a pile strip along the bottom. Such a pile strip is a typical feature of these  of these Luri-Bakhtiari bags.  Such strips are usually comprised of 5 or 6 rows of pile.  The pile strip on this piece is in alternating diagonal strips of blue and rose. 

Someone in the audience noted that the multiple stripes on the back side of this bag side are like borders on its front.



This piece is probably Bakhtiari  (it is hard to separate Lur and Bakhtiari and the subtribes).  This side has an overlay-underlay brocade structure and a wool foundation (suspect that cotton ones are made later).  Other techniques used in this piece include plain weave, supplementary wefts, and twining.

Here is the back of T2.

T2 back


The design on this back is dominated by a series of concentric diamonds.  As with the front, the back exhibits various techniques (see the top of this side).

Some of these bags were not sewn together.  Indicating that they might have been saved as capital for a later time.

Although largely undamaged, most of them were quite dirty with paint, food and grease.  They’ve been professionally cleaned.



This piece is probably Luri. 

It is the only complete sumak piece among those I have brought today. 

This design is common in SW Iran in pile and sumac (ed. it may be frequently encountered but, for me, it is one of the most attractive pieces Mike showed here).

The red dye of this oxblood color is typical for these weavers. Perhaps related to minerals in water in Chahar Mahal and nearby areas.

Note the pile strip on the bottom.

T3 back

T3backThe back, above, is woven in slit tapestry.

The professional who cleaned this piece also sewed up the sides.



This delicate little bag with warp predominant plain weave ground, has yellow warps and wefts.                         

Mike counted five structures, including overlay-underlay brocading, with twining on the top & bottom and pile along bottom.  

Ed.:  I also think this is a very attractive piece.         

T4 back


Note that this back is done in the same field designs as the front side, not in the plain-weave, which is more usual.

Most of these bags don’t have straps and possibly never had them.  Perhaps they were not meant to be used.  This one does have a small metal ring sewn into its top edge.


Mike said that he thinks it was intended to have a strap run through it, but the piece was never used.




This is a small, complete, khorjin.

It was woven in double interlock tapestry.

Mike said that again he has not seen the “like of this” before.

The oxblood and red brown colors also appear in the pile rugs of the area


The back, done in plain weave, appears almost as all beige, but actually decorated with subtle, fairly wide, darker, horizontal stripes




Probably a grain-flour bag (typically used with a cotton liner).  This bag would not survived actual use without substantial damage to its decoration.  It may probably have been protected from use and out of the light.

It exhibits various techniques, including plain weave ground, sumak, weft substitution, twining and a type of brocade, the ivory bands have a brocade swag design that is certainly not durable.

The black wool selvedges and tassel-straps are fully intact.

And there is no evidence of its being eaten by bugs, this, primarily, because Iran is very dry.

T6 back


Above is the back of T6.  It is wool (virtually none of these bags have cotton).

Notice that, as with T5, it seems to have an undecorated plain weave.


Here are some additional detail images of the front of T6.






T7 is another strapless bag, relatively small, decorated with weft-substitution weave.

Ralph Yohe’s similarly decorated  complete joined bags were in the “Bosphorus to Samarkand” catalog.  Here, below, is the black and white image and caption from that catalog.


Mike said “My piece came through Isfahan. I don’t know if Basari/Basseri were in this area or not, or if the bag came for somewhere else. There are some highlights of cotton.”  It was very dirty, cleaned up nicely by a professional.

T7 back


The back of T7 is characteristic of the type with multicolored selvage wrapping, and is a timeless and repeated traditional format that could have been made as late as 1920s or as early as 1600s.


RET #243, Basiri chuval, front side

T8 is another strapless all purpose bag, too big to be a grain bag.

It has a repeat design in ever-changing color combination.

It has the same weft substitution weave as the previous bag in slightly different colors.

Again, with some cotton for bright white highlights.

As you will see below, the back is essentially the same.

This one has been damaged in the lower folded corners, perhaps from a rodent.

T8 back

RET #243, Basiri chuval, back

This back on T8 is similar to that on T7.

This bag might have been intended as a bedding bag.  And if it was used, and it might have been held in place with a packband, one of which we will treat next.

Note the un-joined sides of T8.

Before we look at the pack band, below, here are some detail images of the front of T8.

Note the closure loops in the first detail.



RET #243 detail, back



This is the most comprehensive image of this pack band that we were able to take.  You can see that there is quite a bit more spooled on the right. 


Mike said that it is 23 feet long.

He described it as a narrow Bakhtiyari pack band.


It is wool and has been done in a warp-faced, reciprocal, warp weave. Colors are unusually clear and strong.


It exhibits a continuous border-like pattern of half rhomboid medallions in blue and light ivory outlined by a reciprocal saw-tooth border in red and brown separated with a yellow outline.


The wood buckle at the other end is typical of fruit wood, e.g., walnut, quince, pear or apple, crudely carved. (Mike said that such buckles are also sometimes metal.)


The other end has three braided ties recombined into a single tassel. This huge tassel seems not useful, but perhaps it is a talisman.

These bands do not last, and buckles are reused, but this band appears to be unused. Band weaving ended by about the 1960s, and the good bands were made mostly before the 1930s. Old bands tend to be wool, which is more elastic than cotton, less prone to break.


This is a large, Bakhtiari, salt bag, with bold stepped design, and tuning forks, in single interlock tapestry weave.  Mike indicates that an expert source on stucture says this is an unusual structure for this type of textile, but the coloration and the location where it was acquired militate toward a Bakhtiyari origin.

It is a very soft textile.

There are no closure loops, and one cannot know if there ever were any.

The characteristic rose-red color may be with madder dyed in an acidic bath using diluted fermented yogurt as a mordant.

T10 back

0-10b Bakhtiari salt bag back

The back of T10 shows horizontal stripes in weft-faced plain-weave.

Its palette includes several shades of madder red, including a purplish-red.



Bakhtiari salt bag with single interlock tapestry weave on front.  Minor zig-zag brocading in two of the broad stripes on the neck and one on the main front.

Very delicate and un-damaged.

It has mostly in the same colors as the prior bag, plus undyed beige and black wool on front and back.

T11 back


The back of T11 shows remaining bits of a braided warp strap in undyed ivory wool.

Here are some detail images of the front of T11.



Here are two detail images of the back of T11.





T12 is a “make do” bag (ed. that is “constructed”) put together from remnants connected back and front by warps and sewn up the sides. Salvaged from of a larger Bakhtiyari bedding bag that must have been shredded by use.

The original bags were very large and made in pairs to use over mules.

This piece has the typical oxblood color,

T12 back


The back of T12 is in supplementary weft weave, with pile at the bottom edge.  One can barely make out rows of marching birds.




Bakhtiyari khorjin. A complete double bag with closure loops.

It is predominantly warp faced.

Mostly 3 colors, red, blue and brown-black.

Touches of yellow in the strips of pile at each end (i.e., the bottom of each bag)


T13 back


The back shows converging wefts.

The weave on the back is in a different pattern as is usual with this type structure.

Here are two details of the back of T13.





T 14 is a bag with a plain warp faced structure.

Mike said that this piece is known to have been collected in a town southeast of Isfahan called Mehme (sp?).

Some white may be cotton.

A lot of color.  We count about 6 colors, but their juxtaposition gives the impression of more.

There are very few bags in this weave, possibly, according to the expert Mike consulted, because the structure/warp is is hard to prepare and inflexible in design implementation. To date, no jajim in this structure has turned up, but there’s still time.


Side selvedge closures done lovingly with different colors. Closure loops done in the common blue/dark brown combo.


Here is the back of T14.


 Two detail images of the back of T14.





The last piece among those that Mike brought was a geographic departure.

T15 is a salt bag is attributed to Kalat, a village/region in northeastern Iran. It was possibly woven by Kurdish weavers there.

There is weft substition with clear bright colors,


and braided warp ends of clear white wool.


Brown strips on front and back may be camel hair rather than beige sheep wool.

The surplus warp ends are braided on each side of the neck.

Here are some images of the back of T15.

T15 back



This was the end of Mike’s presentation proper, but a number of pieces had been brought in and we moved to treat them next.



This is a Qashqai khorhin face.  Both the field design and the border are familiar.



The next piece was another Qashqai khojin, this time one complete side of a set, opened up.  The striped back shows some of the structure we saw in the bags Mike treated in his part of the program.

Below are two detail images of this piece.  The first is its mostly pile face (although notice the flat weave techniques used on the bottom of the image (this area would be at the top of a closed up khorjin).


Then a closer look at its back.




The consensus was that this bag was woven in NW Persia.  Someone observed that it is very dynamic and attractive.  Someone else noted that it warps are cotton and opined that that would likely make it younger than if the warps were wool.  It was also observed that the central medallion was adapted from a border design.


This piece was placed in this orientation on the front board, despite that it warps run horizontally and the design is directional.


I have turned it here to give you a proper look.


One expert observer said it seemed an Afshar khorjin front. 

Another gave this longish opinion: “The cotton wars and the general textile and palette strongly suggest NWP Kurdish, although the design is like a Salor gul adaptation that one might encounter in the Veramin area.  Nothing else says Veramin, however.  The blue/white twining at the bottom suggests NWP.  I’m a bit puzzled by the 3 or 4 cord selvedges.  That look original, but unnecessary, if the was a bag front of some sort, which it seems to be by size and format.”



One experienced person said this is a Luri version of a Qashqai design.




The owner of this piece asked about it.  Seems Northwest Persian, Kurdish, pile (not sumak), Jaf design.  The owner said that it does not have the offset knots that might be expected in steep diagonals.

One expert said: Seems to me that it does have offset knots on the bottom border.  I can see them.  I would guess Sanjabi or Jaf Kurd.

Another said: Clearly this is NWP Kurdish.  The bottom skirt might well have offset knotting because of the steepness of the diagonals, but the rest of it might not use offset knotting.  The field is an adaptation of a border design.

Here are some details of BI6.






To me this is a nice rendition in the field of the “mina khani” design.  The flowers are naturalistic and the color usage is very effective (I especially admire the use of closer darker colors).

One expert observer noted: Baluch, probably a pushti or pillow cover. No evidence of closures.  Too long to be a khorjin face, but may have been a single bag, perhaps made without a back or, perhaps the closure panel was cut off.  Possibly made for market in Mashad.  Mike said, after, that he thinks all Baluch pile was made for market.

Here are some closer details of BI7.






One expert observer said “clearly Chahar Mahal.”  Two agreed that it is probably or possibly Bakhtiyari.  One said that some might call it Luri.  Mike said, after, “Chahar Mahal is a province in central Iran, an artificial construct for nomads.  Nomads didn’t respect borders. It could be Lur, nobody knows. I would agree that we can Lur-Bakhtiyar.”

Here are some details of BI8.





Someone suggested that this piece might be Veramin.  After, one experienced person said “Clearly a Veramin khorjin face.”  Another expert wrote: “Yes, the selvedges are typical for nomads from the Varamin plain. But which ethnic group wove it?  Dunno.”

 Here are some details of BI9.




BI10On experience person said that “with the extra border, some sort of Kurd.”  Another said, “Clearly Kurdish, possibly from the Sauj Bulag area.

Here are some details of BI10.






This is one half of a khorjin set opened up and showing both the front and back panels.  In use it would be sewn up on the side at a halfway point on its sides.

One observer said: Birds on the skirt are a Bakhtiyari feature.  Could also, possibly be Kurd.  Hard to tell.  Another said: “Another Charar Mahal khorjin.  Either Bakhtiyari or Luri.  I’ve never heard anyone call these Kurd.”

Here are some details of BI11.



The birds are upside down here but would be right side up when the back panel is folded upward and sewn up.




This is an Afshar piece in a familiar boteh field design.  Color is more muted than some of this type that we see.  Crisp drawing.  Effective use of outlining. Good framing by white ground main border.  Shame about the missing minor side borders.

Here are some details of BI12.







One experienced person said: “This is South Persian, but there would be debate about whether it is Qashqai or Luri.  I’d call it Qashqai.”

Here are some details of BI13





This seems like some Qashquai faces we saw earlier, but one person wondered whether the presence of the two animal forms might signal a Kamseh attribution.

One experienced person said: “This design is prototypical Qashqai, but the Lurs woven coarser versions of it.  Can’t tell from the images which it might be.  The closure loops look Qashqai.”

Notice that the two animal forms in the central medallion are upside down despite the face being oriented with the closure system at the top (as it would be when in use). 


Weavers are usually pretty good about remembering to weave directional items so that they will be oriented right side up when in use, but in this case, the weaver seems to have forgotten to do that.

Here is another detail of the front BI14.


BI14 has a back.

BI14 back


This is dramatic and colorful and is surprising when one turns it over.  It is nearly all in slit weave tapestry.

One observer noted that if one is using slit weave tapestry and wants a design with vertical color changes, the use of a zig-zig pattern makes the fabric stronger.

Here is a detail of it.




BI15 seems to be yest another Qashqai khojin front, this time with a 2-1-2 field design featuring Memling guls in both 2 positions.  Colors not as good.

One experienced person said that it is a Luri version of a Qashqai design.

Here is one detail of BI15.




One is tempted when birds appear to say “Kamseh.”  One experienced agreed that it is Kamseh.




This is clearly a Jaf Kurd piece.  The absence of more serious side border makes me wonder whether it could have been an end panel in a cargo-type mafrash, but I don’t remember seeing a Jaf Kurd mafrash.

Two experienced people agreed that is not a panel from a mafrash.  One said: “I think the borders were simply cut off.  One sees a secondary side border so it wouldn’t be a mafrash end panel.”




One experienced person said: “Baluch group.”

Here are two details of BI18.



Mike took questions,


and closed his session.

The usual audience migration to the front began.





Someone brought on of Mike’s “Kazak” catalogs for him to autograph.


I done it myself.  I found a copy in a Capitol Hill book store and told Mike I had paid $9 for it (it’s very pricey).

He offered me $12.  (Reading this Mike said that he only offered $5.  This is the way that individual memories work over time.)

I want to thank Mike for coming to make this presentation and for his considerable work after editing this post.  Jim Henderson provided me with a wonderful set of notes and and number of images.  Mike, Jim and Wendel Swan helped a lot with the descriptions of the pieces brought in.


The New England Rug Society has done some outstanding work pioneering on-line textile exhibitions.  They published one called “To Have and To Hold.”


This is the on-line exhibition that Mike Tschebull curated, and that he considers to be his best work.

I hope you have enjoyed this strong, unusual material and Mike’s authoritative treatment of it.


R. John Howe



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