Archive for September, 2014

A Potpourri of Khorjin (Saddlebags) by Bob Emry, Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26, 2014 by rjohn

On July 12, 2014, Bob Emry


gave  a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on complete khorjins (saddlebags), at The Textile Museum building on S St, in Washington, D.C. 

As you likely know, The Textiles Museum has joined The George Washington University community.  GWU has built two new buildings for the TM and movement to the new building is projected for late Fall this year.  In the interim, some TM programs are still being held in the S St. building.

Bob Emry is a retired paleontologist who still does some professional work at the Smithsonian.  He is a long-time TM member and collector and has given several previous RTAM programs.

Bob said that today he wanted to focus on “complete” khorjins, that is, examples that have two pouches, with fronts and backs, connected by a panel. He said that he would treat the complete khorjins he had brought geographically, starting in Anatolia, and would then move to the Caucasus, and on to NW Persia, SW Persia, NE Persia, Turkman material, and end by mentioning one East Turkestan khorjin.

He said that before he began this geographic cycle, he wanted, first, to indicate more concretely what a complete khorjin is, and how they are woven and assembled.

He started with a Jaff Kurd example.



Emry RTAM 12 July 2014 003a

Such saddle bags are usually woven in the one continuous piece like the one above.  When taken off the loom the two ends are folded back and sewn up on the sides.  The center area is the connecting panel that permits to two bags to be carried on one’s shoulder or over the back of a pack animal.

Gordon Priest, a collector in Baltimore, and a member of our local rug community, has developed a visual aid to make the description above graphically clear.  I’ll just borrow it here.


In the case of a complete pile khorjin the weaver would start at the bottom red panel and weave a pile panel with any orientation features upside down (see animal, although Bob observed that in his experience this latter ideal is not always realized).  Next, the blue panel indicates the back of the first bag.  The yellow panel is next and becomes the bridge connecting the two bags.  Another blue panel is the second bag’s back and the top red one is the pile front of it, with any orienting design now woven right side up.  All these sections are woven on a single set of continuous warps.

Moving back to the Jaff Kurk example, the two ends would be folded back at about the tan vertical stripe near the right side in the image below.


Once the two ends had been folded back and sewn up the sides, the connecting panel


Emry RTAM 12 July 2014 008a



(sometimes quite short between the two bags, and sometimes quite long) holds the two bags together.

Bob said that another feature to notice in khorjins is the kind of system used to hold the top of each bag closed, securing items contained in them.  Closure systems vary, and some khorjins have none at all. But for those that do, here are the main variations that occur.

Some khorjins have slits near the upper edge of each face side,


and loops on the back side.


In a slit and loop closure system, the loops are put through the slits and then through one another creating a kind of “zipper.”

(I am using an example out of sequence below that shows this feature clearly; see two sets of red and white barber pole loops, threaded together on the horizontal.)


Sometimes the closure system features two sets of loop, one attached to the front edge of the bag face and the other behind, and at the level of this front edge but on the back.  Here, below is a Turkmen khorjin that has this loop and loop closure system.


In this latter case, the loops are put through one another in the same way as loops are put through slits and then through one another in that closure system.  You can see the loops through loops being laced at the right end of the lower row of loops in the khorjin detail above.

Bob said that there is another variation that occurs in khorjin closure systems.  It is that loops can either be woven into the fabric as the weaving progresses, or they can be sewn in after the weaving is done.  You can tell on the back whether loops have been woven in.  Here, below, is another, out-of-sequence example of woven-in loops viewed from the front side.



And here is a detail of this same bag showing that the loops in this piece were woven in (look at the “dotted” dark strips on either side of the blue-wine chevron at the bottom of the image below)  This indicates that these loops were woven in.


Loops can also be sewn in, but it’s harder to find examples visible in our post images here.  Below is a bag face that Bob said has sewn on loops.


Looking at the back, we see only the threads used to sew the loops in place, and not the threads of the loops themselves. These sewing threads are visible in the red-black/brown striped areas above and below the two polygons.


Khorjins, when used, can be subjected to considerable wear.  When they come into the market khorjin backs and connecting panels have often been  worn out, lost, or taken apart to facilitate sale.  So Bob’s indication that he would treat complete khorjins is a formidable requirement, since bag faces or separated backs are far more frequent than are complete examples.

Bob said he would begin with khorjins woven in Anatolia, then move to the Caucasus  and to nearby NW Persia.  He would then continue to SW Persia before moving to NE Persia, and then to Turkman Central Asia, and would finish with a piece from East Turkestan.

Bob began with a saddle bag from Anatolia.

Emry RTAM 12 July 2014 010a



Emry RTAM 12 July 2014 001a

The Turkish term for saddle bag is “heybe,” and until fairly recently they have not appeared much in the market.   Most heybes are flat-woven (pilel heybe faces are relatively rare) and have long, divided connector panels (to permit them to be worn over one’s head).  They seem, also, typically, not to include any closure system.

Here are some details of K2.  It has obviously  had a long life of hard wear.  The bottom corners of both pouches have been tucked in and sewn to close holes, and the bridge has been worn away at the sides and rebound, perhaps multiple times.  The vertical hole in the bridge probably started as a slit, and has also been worn and rebound.






A quick look at its back.


It is often the case that folks say that the backs of pieces are a better aid to attribution than the fronts.  The heybe is the only instance of which I know where authors have demonstrated the truth of this claim.

There is, as far as I know, one of two books in English that treat the heybe format.  The first of these is by Beiber, Pinwart and Steiner, and, toward the back of it, the authors provide an array of the backs of the 80 heybes of which the fronts have been presented in the previous part of the volume.  Their presentation is also an analysis, showing (back by back) which heybes were woven in which areas of Turkey.

Here is just one page of striped  heybe backs.


And here is the opposite page showing the geographic attributions for each of these bags.


The next piece was a graphically dramatic complete khorjin from Syria.  Most of us had not seen anything like it before.


WEmry RTAM 12 July 2014 013acropped

It features a warp-faced weave and red, white and blue crosses.

Here are some details of this interesting piece K3. (Color differences are from different cameras.)




The next example was nearly from the Caucasus.



This is a khorjin face in sumak woven by Shahsavan in the Moghan area of NW Persian.  It features silk wefts.

Here are two details of K4.



Next was another Shahsavan half khorjin.  A very beautiful piece published in Wertime’s “Sumak Bags.”


Swan cruciform medallion khorjin on blackPreferred

This bag has horsehair loops sewn on.  Notice the eggplant ground that occurs in two corners.

Cruciform medallion khorjin half detail RTAM

The back of this cruciform piece.

Cruciform medallion khorjin half back RTAM

There were several more Shahsavan pieces early and the next one is complete and a smaller-sized.



This piece features a white cotton ground, a diamond border and was woven in the Moghan/Savalan area of NW Persia.  The connecting panel is divided by a small vertical slit.  It has no closure system.

Here are some slightly larger details of K6.



The next piece was another Shahsavan khorjin.  A piece with good color and dramatic birds.



Here is its back.


The next Shahsavan piece had pile faces.



This piece is one of those with a very short connecting panel and no closure system.

Here is its back and one detail.



The next piece had a very similar field design, but was done in zili.  I have only one image of it.



The next piece was a complete Shahsavan khorjin.  This piece, estimated mid 19th century, has sumak faces and a slit tapestry bridge.  A red from cochineal and a supple handle.



Is has sewn in closure loops.



Here are some more details of K10.


Its back.


The next khorjin was another Shasavan piece.  It faces are in reverse sumak.  A very sturdy fabric.



It has a slit and loops closure system with the loops woven in. 


Here is its back.


The connecting panel is in slit weave tapestry.  The loops are through the slits and laced through each other in the image below.


The next piece is another Shahsavan from the Kamseh district.



There is some metallic thread used.



The back looks coarse because the warps are paired in its weaving.


K12 was also A complete Shahsavan kholjin.



It has rows of stepped polygons in slit tapestry, separated by narrower stripes of sumak.  There are no side borders.  The closure system has slits and loops.

Here are some detail images of K13.


Its back.



This next khorjin was either Shahsavan or Azeri from Azerbaijan.


Emry Karabagh khorjin full

It features a long bridge with a closure system having loops front and back, connected with a long cord.


It is plain weave with extra wefts.  There are blue warps in the side columns and red warps in the central zig zag area.  Note that the red is clear in the central areas, because both the warps and the wefts are red.  At the sides, the blue is clear because both warps and wefts are blue.  Some “triangular” areas show purple-ish shades because the warps are red and the wefts are blue.


Here is its back.


The wide stripes with a mixture of blue and white are due the use of white cotton wefts in this area.  Notice the different shades on the back are, as with the front,  due to  blue warps in the outside areas and red ones in the center one.


The next complete khojin was woven by the Azeri.



It has undyed dark brown ground wool.  Its design is from the use of weft wrapping on the diagonal.


The closure system is loops-through-slots, and the loops are woven into the fabric.

Here is its back.


The next piece is either Caucasian or Kurdish.



It features “chii” technique in which the designs of stepped diamonds are composed of small squares made with extra wefts.  It has slit and loop closure system.  Loops woven in.



Bob said that some of the dyes in this khorjin are most likely early synthetics.


Here is its back.


The next piece was a complete Shahsavan pile khorjin.



The field design features cruciform devices inside various colored diamonds, within a white-ground lattice.  Closure is slits with woven in loops.


The back shows a repeating sequence of one wide and three narrow stripes, except at the bottom. 


The next complete khorjin of Bob’s is a curiosity.


WEmry RTAM 12 July 2014 027a

First, the pile ground of the border is a teal green.


But its real oddity is a bridge done in weftless sumak.  Since this weave lacks structural wefts it is not very sturdy and is a surprising choice for a bridge that predictably get lots of wear.


The presence of weftless sumak may be an aid to attribution, because some experts say only Kurds use this weave.  Notice also that the design of this weftless sumak bridge is the same as that most commonly seen on pile Shahsavan bag faces, such as the one shown immediately before.

Slots and loops on this piece are sewn on and the top edge of each bag is reinforced with a strip of blue cotton cloth.

Here is the back.


The next piece had a zili structure.



Plain weave ground with weft wrapping.  White is cotton.

Closure loops are sewn on, in front and back.  “Chii” technique is used for the bridge designs.


Here are some details of this back.



Notice that the weaver seems to have miscalculated on how long the front face should be and so it continues a bit on the back.

K19eThe next khorjin was Kurdish.



It’s done in a flat-weave with wrapped wefts.  Good use of red, blue, yellow and green.

Closure system is woven in loops, through slots.


Very narrow stripes on the back.


The next piece was also Kurdish.  NW Persia.



WEmry RTAM 12 July 2014 031adetail

Woven in loops.  Very narrow bridge.


Here is its back.


The next piece, like the first, is an opened up (sides unsewn) complete Jaff Kurd khorjin.




Some supplementary weft designs.  It has no bridge–each faces has closure slots, but there is only one row of closure loops, so both faces were closed by the same row of loops.

Here are details of its back.



Below is this piece held together in the assembled mode.


The next piece was a very attractive, Bakhtiari khorjin in sumak.  From the northern Zagros Mountains.



Natural dyes.  Effective use of white against a dark ground.  Slots with loops woven in.  Narrow pile band on bottom, which continues over the fold onto the back. 


Here is its back.


The next piece was attributed to the Luri.  Coarsely woven.


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Brocade design on the short bridge.


Another Luri piece.  Hooked central diamond design.



The side bindings of this khorjin, and the previous one as well, are of tightly-spun, dark brown/black hair in a “herring-bone” pattern, which makes a very strong and durable side seam.    Slits and woven-in loops.  Very short bridge–each face has its own row of closure loops, but there is almost no space between the faces.


Here is its back, with diamond design in brocade.


The next piece was either Bakhtiari or Luri.  Both bags of this khorjin were present, but had been separated into two bags and made into pillows when Bob found them. Pile face that continues a short distance onto the back.  The  pile face has a stepped diamond with hooks.  



 Sumak closure with sewn in loops.  Interesting design in sumak panel with slits.   Also has the tightly-spun hair side finish. 


Here is its back.



The next piece was attributed to the Khamseh, near Shiraz.



The pile field panels are square with a design that features outward pointing arrows and a flower in the center medallion.

Slit and loop closure system.  Woven-in hair loops with two colors.


Here is its back.



The next piece was Khamseh with a serrate-leaf design.



The back of K28 is mostly red with narrow strips of white, blue and green.

The image below is to give you a sense of what the next few pieces will be.  Bob attributed all five to Qashqai.  I will treat them individually.

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The next complete khorjin was a Qashqa’i piece from SW Persia.  Herati design.



It has pile faces with tassels having blue beads.  Pile areas have red wefts.


Loops and slits closure system with loops woven in.

A detail of its back.


The next piece was another from SW Persia.  Qashqa’i.



Pile faces feature horizontal bands of “bird on a pole” designs.

Slit and woven-in loop closure system.


It has an unusual solid green back.


The next khorjin was warp-faced flatweave in blue, white and red.



Slit and loop closure system.


Front bag panels have a crisp lattice design on a white ground, and the design is completely done with warp substitution.


Here is a detail of its back, which is also done only with warp substitution..


The next piece was also Qashqa’i, and has a design that appears superficially to be much like the last one.



Different camera for this close-up detail.


However, in this khorjin the ground color is entirely made of ivory warps and wefts in a nearly-balanced plainweave, and the design is created with various colored supplementary wefts.  In the image below, one bag is opened to show the reverse of the “back” design, and the supplementary wefts of the face design.


Spun hair loops are woven in.  The face has tufts of silk or wool added, most of which are now worn away.


The detail below shows how the connecting panel of this piece would appear in the assembled piece.


The next piece was also Qashqa’i.



Red warps. Green and orange lattice design, made with supplementary wefts (like the previous one).


 No bridge.  A peek inside.


Here is a detail of the back.


The next piece was woven by the Afshar, east of Shiraz.



Field design is tessellated.  Chevron designs in the small panels between the closure slots.  Woven-in loops of spun hair in two colors.

The back is solid red (like the bridge section showing in the image above).  No image of the back of K33.

The next piece was also Afshar.  Plant forms in a lattice.  Diagonal use of color.  Meander vine main border.  Chevron slit area design.  Loops woven in.

A2 (numbers are not sequential)




Back has stripes in its center section, and a strip of “diamond in a box” design in weft substitution at the bottom edge of each back.


The next piece may come from the Zagros mountains.  It has a striking camel-colored, warp-faced ground.  Sumak designs.  No closure system.  Wide connecting panel.



An out-of-focus image of its plain back.


The next piece was another Afshar khorjin from South Persia.  Face design is typical diamond medallion with hooks.  Also like many Afshar bags in being wider than tall.  Woven in loops.



Here is a comprehensive image of the back of A8.  The back is entirely red, except for some narrow stripes in the center, which show between the two faces on the front. The back is woven on paired warps, which is typical of many Persian Bags.


Details of both the front and back of A8.



And a final detail of the back, showing the stripes of the bridge area, and also the interwoven sections of the closure loops, which in this khorjin are of dark brown/black and white hair.


With the next pieces we moved to NE Persia and Baluch weaving.


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The first of these complete Balouch khorjin sets was this one.  The field designs are flower forms.


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A detail of one face from a different camera.


Here is a detail of the back of A9a.


The next Baluch piece featured a “tile” design.  Each element shares design devices with its neighbors. 


WEmry RTAM 12 July 2014 051amiddle

A detail of one face.


Here is the back of A9b.




The third Baluch from the group image above, features red and blue coloration.


WEmry RTAM 12 July 2014 051aright

Different camera on detail images of A9c.



Closure system has woven in loops at the front and back edges.

The back of A9c. Its designs are produced with a fine weft float structure.  



With the next pieces we moved to Central Asia.  Turkman.

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The Turkman did not weave many bags in the khorjin format and most of those we encounter are smaller, even diminutive.   In the array above, only the one on the far left seems large enough to be used with a pack animal.  The two on the right seem more suited to being carried over one’s shoulder and the smallest one might even be carried on one’s arm.  The literature calls all these sizes “khorjins.”

Here are each of these pieces in turn, starting on the left.


This piece is sizable enough to earn the term “saddle bag.”    It features a set of conventionalized, kejbe-like designs.  May suggest a weaver working with an unfamiliar design.  Short, blue connecting panel is unusual, in its coloration, but has traditional Turkman design devices.  Looks Turkman, but it has symmetric knots, and the face designs lack elems that are so typical of Turkmen bag faces;  Bob suggested that it might be a product of  Khorasan Kurds, who often borrow Turkmen motifs.  No closure system.


Detail of K36.


As with most Turkman bags, the back is ivory plain weave (in this case with some ink or indigo dye spilled onto it).


The next piece was the smallest of the four. 



Bob called it a “bicycle” bag.  The typical Turkmen closure system is two rows of loops that interlace–one row sewn to the back and another to the top edge of each face.   Main border design looks Yomut.  Has bottom “elem” panels.  Its short bridge has a chevron design.

Next, is the third of these Turkman khorjins.  Bob wondered whether this set might be Tekke.  Two sets of loops sewn in.  Attractive compartmented bridging panel, in pile.  Both bag faces have elems.



Detail of bridge and loops.  Bob had interlaced part of one closure (the right end of the lower row below), but said that these Turkmen khorjins have so many loops that closing them completely becomes a tedious process.


Bob said the fourth Turkman khorjin was Tekke, with a former owner’s name on its back.



Compartmented field,  Elems at bottom of both bags.  Attractive, articulated chevron design in the narrow connecting panel.  Loops closure system.

Another Turkman piece was brought in, but I’ll treat it here.

H1 (numbers are not sequential)


This is the face of a Turkmen khojin.  Probably would, traditionally, have been attributed to the “Ersasi,” but nowadays to the “Middle Amu Dyra.”  Although it is off-topic because it is only a khorjin face, it is worth considering because, as noted above, Turkman khorjin faces are relatively infrequent.  No visible closure system.

Among the things to note about this piece, is that its seemingly simple design shows itself, on scrutiny, to be surprisingly complex.  It is also, likely the oldest of the Turkmen pieces shown in this session.

Discussion in the room wondered whether the next piece was Baluch or maybe Uzbek.  The flat-woven design also resembles some by the Afshar.  Loops are woven in on the front and sewn in on the back.



Image above shows on front panel folded up as it would be when the sides were sewn.

Here is a full image of its back.


Bob said when he started that his geographic path would end with a khorjin from East Turkestan.  He did not have one, and has never seen one, in the fabric,but he had found one in the literature.



Here is an attempt to let you see this piece a little closer.  The color is, of course, not accurate.  Loops closure system.  Compartmented bridge, in pile.  The central designs show Chinese influence, with a central circular medallion that is often seen on Khotan rugs.   It’s impossible to tell much about structure from such an image, but it appears so similar to the Turkmen khorjins just viewed that Bob suggested it might be a Turkmen khorjin with medallion design borrowed from a Khotan rug.  No elems.


This is the end of the material that Bob treated in his presentation, but a great deal had been brought in by audience members.

To see these additional khorjins you need to go on the Part 2.


R. John Howe

A Potpourri of Khorjin (Saddlebags) by Bob Emry, Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26, 2014 by rjohn

This is Part 2 of a virtual version of a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program by Bob Emry, on complete khorjin sets.  If you have not read Part 1, you can reach it using this link.



Members of the audience had brought in a lot of material and Bob treated it next.

We will jump around, geographically a bit more because the pieces were in a large pile on a side table.

The first of these  was a Baluch “packing bag” with lots of side tassels with shells.  Loops closure system.



The next piece was a Shahsavan sumak piece from the Kamseh district. Good color.  Its stepped polygons are a frequent Shahsavan design usage.


K43Next was half khorjin with Turkman-like designs.



The following piece was a complete Baluch khorjin.  Vertically striped field.  Slit and loop closure system but missing the loops.



Here is the back.


I have only a very fuzzy image of the front of the next piece, a smaller khorjin.



I do not have an attribution for it, but its interesting back, below, suggests maybe SW Persia.


Next was another fuzzy image of a complete Anatolian heybe.



I can do better on the detail images of K45.  Here is one of its faces.  This piece is from southeast Turkey.  No closure system.


Notice the typical long slit in the connecting panel.


Here is a full look at its back.


With the next piece we moved to smaller bags.  Qashqa’i.  (There are going to be some more fuzzy images now because pieces were being moved very quickly in order to cover the large number to be treated.)



Here is its back.


Another small piece was



Here is a better image of one of its front faces.  Qashqa’i.  Slits and large loops closure system.

K49frontdetailHere is its back.  Loops woven in.


The next complete khorjin was from Karabagh in the Caucasus.  Bold cruciform medallion and over-size border devices.  Sumak technique.



No visible closure system.


The next piece was also from the Caucasus.  Plain woven back with stripes.  Two sets of loops with an interlacing cord.  Probably Azeri. 



The next piece was Luri or Bakhtiari.  Sumak.  A great deal of white (cotton?).  Hair selvedges.  Pile at “bottoms” of the bags.



A peek at its plain-weave striped back.


The next piece was Veramin.  Slit and loop closure system.  Black and white loops




Here is the back.  Loops woven in.


The next piece was  a complete Jaff Kurd set.  Bob noted that this khorjin has had the side seams taken out at some point in its history and was then re-assembled.  Like the Jaff khorjin shown earlier, this one also has just a single row of closure loops, and as here, re-assembled, neither row of closure slots reaches to the loops.  It should have been assembled so that the pile “elem” panels that show here on the back were showing on the front instead–then both rows of closure slots would be opposite the row of closure loops.


K54The back. Notice two sewn-in blue beads.


The next piece was a leather-reinforced, pile Anatolian heybe.  The usual long slit.  Pile heybes are rare-ish.



A detail of its  back.


The next piece was Shahsavan sumak from the Kamseh District.



The next piece was Armenian.  Its  medallions are a version of the center of the “eagle Kazak” device.  Weaver did not weave “animals” upside down on one of the face panels so that they would both be oriented right side up when hung over the short connecting panel.



Bottom bag face is inscribed in an Armenian script above and in the medallion.

The next piece is a pile heybe face from western Anatolia.  The design is one of the most frequent seen on heybes from this area.



The next piece was complete and Kurdish.



It has slits and loops but the loops are mostly hidden in these images.  An unusual feature is a pair of pile squares at the sides of the mid-point of the connecting panel.


Here is a detail of its back.


The next piece was was smaller, complete Afshar.  Its field is taken over by over-sized rose forms.  This design is European, but was adopted by weavers in the Caucasus and areas of Persia and Turkey.  The design is called “cabbbage rose,” or “gul farang,” in the literature.

A colorful, chevroned-faced, slit and loop closure system.  Two seemingly ad hoc slits at the ends of the yellow-dark bounded central marker of the connecting panel.  These slits are woven-in –the sides of the slits have selvage finish.



Here is the back.


The next piece was Kurdish, with a bold eight-pointed star.



Detail of front face.


Here are two images of its back.



The next piece was another complete, leather-reinforced Anatolian heybe.  This time from southwest Anatolia.  Weave on the faces is brocade.  Owner said some dyes seem synthetic, but that there has been no color transfer to white areas despite lots of opportunity.  Leather is modestly embossed.  Said to have been woven in the Fithye area of southeast Turkey.



Here is the back with an unusual red, yellow, ivory, brown, bright blue striping.  Tufts of bright tassels sewn on, likely to distract the “evil eye.”


The next piece was Shahsavan khorjin set in which the two bags have been cut apart.  Very good color with an unusual red and white striped ground.  The field devices are also more articulated than are some similar Shahsavan pices




Here is the back of the first one above.


And here is the back of the second one.


The next piece was southwest Persia, probably Luri.  Red wefts.  Stepped central medallion with hooks.  Brocaded back.



The next piece was done in zili. Caucasian or NW Persian.  Probably either a chuval or part of a mafrash cargo bag.



The next piece was maybe Qashqa’i.  Central diamond medallion, hooked but not stepped.



The next piece was most of a khorjin half.  Bakhtiari.  Birds in compartment at the bottom of the face, but before the striped back.




The next piece was similar.  Bakhtiari.  Sumak and plain weave striped area on back.  Zig-zag field design on back.



The next piece was southwest Persian.  Small medallion tiled field design, with each tile sharing  one quarter to form another set of bi-colored tiles.  Slit and loop closure system.



The next piece was Veramin.  Eight-pointed stars in border.  Stepped cruciform field devices.



The next piece was probably Uzbek with concentric, stepped field designs.  Vertical side borders resemble NE Persian sofreh usages.  Loops visible for closure system.  Interlocking tapestry weave.



The next piece was also probably Uzbek.  Diamond field design resembles those seen in Jaff Kurd and flat-woven Kordi pieces, the latter, from NE Iran.  These pieces tend to be surprisingly fine.  No closure system.



The next piece was probably Turkmen.  The closure system is two rows of loops, sewn-on, identical to those of the Turkmen khorjins seen earlier.  The face design in extra-weft is similar to other flat-woven Turkmen torbas , but not often seen in a bag this small.



The next piece was an unusual, complete khorjin.  Warp-faced.  Woven as a long strip of this technique.  Seemingly done entirely in natural colored brown and white wool, with only traces of dyed wool in the wrapped selveges.  No closure system.



The next piece was Bakhtiari done in sumak.



Typical pile at the bag folds.


Slit and loop closure system with loops woven in and nicely decorated slit panels.


Back has another frequent Bakhtiari usage: plain weave stripes with white-ground sumak panels.




The next piece was possibly Qashqa’i.  Brocaded with decorative tufts.  Slit and loops closure system.



Back is brocaded in a similar way.


Bob answered questions and brought his session to a close.


The after-session conversations and examination of the material began.






I want to thank Bob Emry for this well-conceived program, for his permission to fashion this virtual version of it, and for some after-session photos, he took, and for his considerable editing assistance.

Thanks also to Wendel Swan for some useful images he provided.

I hope you have enjoyed this interesting, well-conceived, program.

R.  John Howe

John Wertime on “Primitive Pile Rugs”

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12, 2014 by rjohn

On February 15, 2014, John Wertime


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on “Primitive Pile Rugs.

Wendel Swan introduced John effusively. 


I will not attempt to repeat that, but the TM’s Members’ Magazine described Wertime as a “collector, dealer and writer” who would “discuss the possible origins and evolution of pile weaving in the ancient New East.”  It said further that “special attention will be paid to the continuation of ‘fossilized’ forms among tribal and nomadic peoples into the twentieth century.”

John’s program reprised and elaborated on his treatment of this subject in his seminal article “Back to Basics,” in Hali 100.



John began by recounting how his personal history sparked his eventual interest in the likely origins of pile weaving.

Wertime lived in Iran in Teheran in 1968-76.  He was a founding member of the Teheran Rug Society and associated with a number of knowledgeable and influential people there, including Jenny Housego and Parviz Tanavoli.  John said that this time was a “golden era for Westerners, as a great many textiles became visible in the market.  He was interested in various areas (for example, metal work) but the great variety of types of flat weaves especially drew his attention.

Returning from Iran, he worked with Irene Emory, the great student of the structures of fabrics, and published a piece on flat-woven structures.  Then, an article on weft-wrapping led to an interest in pile structures. The discovery of the quite sophisticated pile Pazyryk rug dated to 300 B.C., suggested a much earlier history.  Wertime has drawn on the work of Elizabeth Barber,


whose research and writings have mapped a great deal of this earlier period.

Wertime acknowledged that the study of the origins of pile weaving is speculative, but thinks that a possible chronology can be constructed on plausible arguments.  He distinguished “chronological age” from “conceptual age.”  He also thinks that glimpses of some of the early pile structures may still be visible in rugs woven in the 20th century, and in some types being woven even today.  He quoted a passage to this effect from something written in 1931. 

The new does not always slay the old, and some most primitive method may survive for special use, surrounded by the methods of superior culture.”

The earliest items that resemble pile weaving might have been wild animal pelts.  It seems that the construction of particular shapes and types of animal hides required thread-like material (likely sinew from the same animal that provided the hide), the invention of the needle (7,000 B.C.), and the notion of, and skill in, sewing. 

The availability of plant-sourced fibers for use as string (e.g. flax, 7,000 B.C.) predated animal fibers (5,ooo B.C.) that could be used in this way.  Flax had to be processed (including spinning, 1500 B.C. or earlier ) to create thread.  Once thread was available, both embroidery and simple weaving were possible.  The earliest plant-based textiles (plaiting a basket fita in here) seem to be plain-weaves or weft-wrappings.  Particular knives used in “wrap and cut” of “knotted pile” (3,000 B.C) may indicate the existence of pile.  In both of these woven structures there is a set of warps through which wefts are interlaced.  Weaving, as distinguished from plaiting or twining, requires that the warps be under tension.  Embroidery customarily involves a ground fabric affixed to a rigid frame.  Both warps and wefts can be selected for color from the animal’s wool (dyeing not needed) and that, in turn, permits woven designs.

An early source of animal fibers might have been those taken from wild animals, but this was chancy and a more predictable source of animal fibers had to await the domestication of animals.  Wertime suggested that the Fertile Crescent was an early place where domestication of animals occurred.


The modern-day countries with significant territory within the Fertile Crescent are Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, and Egypt, besides the southeastern fringe of Turkey and the western fringes of Iran.

The Fertile Crescent was primarily an agricultural society and it became necessary, as the number of domesticated animals increased, to keep them from feeding on the crops.  This might be a major reason for the development of what we call nomadic pastoralists, who migrate with their flocks seasonally to fresh pastures.  The animals (often sheep and goats) had to eat, but the agriculturalists did not want them to eat their crops.  So some members of society took the sheep away from the crops to other places where they could graze.

Another progression also occurred in domesticated animals, sheep especially.  The earliest domesticated sheep (7,00 B.C.) did not have much wool  (largely kemp) and it was mostly dark.  Such sheep were not a particularly good source of animal fibers and so were mostly raised for their meat and milk.  Through thousands of years, sheep developed longer, thicker and whiter wool, and were then raised for their wool and milk. Wertime said that the nomadic shepherds only ate meat on special occasions.

Eventually domesticated sheep became an important source of animal fibers, and, as this occurred, wool was increasingly used to make textiles.  As with plant-sourced fibers like flax, wool had to be cleaned, carded, and spun before weaving could occur and the early animal-fiber textiles were used initially in the same simpler structures (plain weave and weft wrapping) that plant based fibers had been.  Barber points our that it was also important that the animal fibers (wool in particular) had more of some physical properties, for example, resilience and “stickiness” from its scales) that made it easier to weave, than plant-base fibers had, and this made them more satisfactory in some weaving applications.

With this background of the prerequisites of pile weaving, Wertime offered what he thinks is the likely progression from flat weave to woven pile.  Here I want to “mine” his Hali article because he gives in it a nicely comprehensible illustrative sequence (Wertime, in turn, credits Irene Emory for most of its illustrations).

Note:  This is a place where you really need to click on the image below, to get a print size that is readable.


This is Wertime’s sequence, that he believes is the most likely evolution from flat weave to pile.

Now Wertime moved to the pieces that he had in the room.  Sometimes, if he didn’t have a given piece in the room, he held up his Hali article.  I have scanned most of these latter instances and to show you a larger image.John5

He began with a rug not woven but constructed using naturally dyed strips of pelt (left page, very small images, provided in larger versions below).

Below is the front of this piece.  It is composed of strips of pelt, dip-dyed and then sewn together in mostly concentric squares.  Concentric squares, we shall see, persisted in woven pile rugs and may have had symbolic meaning.


Although this is a very old technique, the rug is not old.  Wertime described it as “Kirghiz or Uzbek pile rug.  Central Asia, 19th or 20th century.

Below is the back of this piece with Wertime’s actual article caption on the right. (Again, click to get a larger image.)


Wertime next moved to the first of the pieces he had in the room. 



This rug was woven in southeast Turkey near or in the city of Siirt.  The Siirt environs are mountainous and in one of the “fertile crescent” areas where the use of animal fibers in weaving probably originated. This rug was woven in two pieces and then sewn together.

Siirt rugs of this sort were woven using undyed soft goat hair


(this is a Siirt goat; goat hair may have been employed in weaving before sheep’s wool).  There are no dyes in it at all.  The differences in color are from variations in color in the coat of the goat. 

It is woven with a plain weave structure,

W1 back



but then one side of it is raked with a plant-sourced tool (called a “teasel”)


that pulls up the fibers on that side, to form what is called a “faux pile.”  Likely, the “faux” reference is to signal that the pile fibers are not the ends of “knots.”  They are pulled up continuous wefts.


Below is an image of the “teasel” plant as it occurs in nature.


The Siirt rugs we have seem not to be old (they are still being made) but their “faux” pile  structure may be one of the very oldest moves from flat-woven textiles to those with pile.

There was another Siirt piece in the room.  Notice that W1 and W2 both have cotton warps.  Wertime indicated that the early versions of this weave likely had linen warps.



This piece illustrates not just that colors and designs can be produced from various shades of un-dyed goat hair, but that the area under the niche displays a further permutation of design produced by pulling the wefts up systematically in different directions to form a subtle, additional diamond design.


Here is the plain weave back of W2.


The two rugs John treated next in his in his talk are the ones in the image below.

W3 and W4


These two rugs have extra weft looped pile on a balanced plain weave.  There is no wrapping of the looped pile weft around the warps.

Here are closer views of them.



W3 is dip-dyed mohair.

Both of these pieces were woven in the Karapinar area of central Anatolia, where they are called “tulus.”


W4 un-dyed mohair.


Rugs like W4are still being woven in Turkey.  There is archeological evidence from 700 B.C. of this type of structure being woven then.  Notice that the concentric squares design apes that of W1, the rug composed of animal pelts.

Here are some detail views of W3 and W4.




Back of W4 below


The next piece had long-pile and a wonderful green color.  It was woven in angora wool in central Turkey and then dip-dyed after it came off the loom.



Here are some details of W5.


This is the first rug we’ve seen here that has “knots” tied on warps, with many intervening rows of plain weave.


Now we moved to two Scandinavian pieces that Wendel Swan had brought in and that had structures of the primitive type.



The first of these was an early 19th century Swedish rug, woven in two sections and then pieced.



Wendel said that this rug was made for use on a bed.  Wertime added that all of the pieces shown in this program were made for use as bedding, not on the floor.

Wendel said that the blue is probably linen, as are the warps.  The image below is a detail of both the front and back of this piece.  It has 8 to 10 rows of weft between each row of knots.


Each knot if half looped and half open.  The knots are pressed forward so that the pattern shows only faintly on the back.  Wertime said that this structure is a form of weft-wrapping.


Here are some additional detail images of W6.




Wendel’s second Swedish rug, with a primitive pile structure, was this one, which he attributes to Bohuslan in Southwest Sweden.


1828 rya a W7

This rug has looped pile (with the loops intact) and is woven so that the pile pattern is not visible on the back.


This back structure is weft-faced and so is distinctive from that of some Central Asian rugs that are woven with symmetric knots on alternate raised warps, producing a similar opaque, but warp-faced, back.

As you can see this rug is inscribed and dated.



Here are some additional detail images of W7.



Wertime said that he had included a blue Tibetan rug with a similar structure in his Hali 100 article,


but the loops in the Tibetan piece have been cut.

TibetanNicholas Wright

The Hali 100 article also gave you a look at the back of this Tibetan piece, showing that it is also weft-faced.


The next two rugs were Kurdish, woven with very long pile in east Anatolia.



(Wertime said that Saul Barodofsky, who has traveled Turkey for over 25 years, reports, plausibly, that long-rugs like W8 (it is almost 12 feet long) were used as sleeping rugs.  One places the rug on the ground, lays down on it and pulls the other half up and over, forming a kind of “sleeping bag” without sewn up sides.)

A “half” detail of W8.  (Color differences are from camera, lighting and color reproduction sources.)


Both W8 and W9 were woven with wool from sheep.  This wool has been dyed in different colors. 



The reverse sides of both of these rugs are heavily decorated.  Either side can be used as the visible one.

(I do not have an actual photo of the back of W8, but you can see areas of flat weave that would also be visible on the back.)


I do have some images of the decorated back of W9.



Here are some additional details of the front of W9.





John took us, next, to two rugs from northern Afghanistan or Central Asia that are similar in color, their weft pile and design.

John comparing sleeping rugs

They are W10 and W11.





W10 has warps and wefts of goat hair.


Here is its back.


It is a not a soft goat hair.  Woven in strips.  May have been woven by nomads.




W11 is woven in one piece.

W11bIts back is like a kilim.



Here are some additional details of W11.





The next piece was the one below.  Wonderful color.



Long pile, all wool, Uzbek.  Warp-faced ground weave; three rows wefts between knots.


Traces of the front design are almost invisible on the back.


The next two pieces were Arab julkyrs, woven in Uzbekistan or northern Afghanistan in the late 19th or early 20th century.





Here is a detail of W15.


This is what the back of W15 looks like.


The last rug that Wertime had in the room was the Yuncu piece below, woven in western Turkey in the late 19th century.



This rug has both long and short pile with intervening areas of striped plain weave and brocade decoration.  It is woven with symmetrically knotted pile on wool, weft-faced plain weave ground.


Here are some detail images of W17


Below is the back of this piece.  The flat woven stripes and decorative designs are visible.



Wertime talked about another interesting rug that he treated in his Hali 100 article.  It on the far right in the passage of his article that he is holding up.




John believes that this beautiful rug was probably woven in east Afghanistan by Pashtuns in the 19th or early 20th century.  It was woven of wool and goat hair in a rare structure.

It was woven using a slip loop on a plain weave ground.  The pile loops are held in place only by the plain weave wefts immediately above and below the knot rows.  John said that if you pulled on the side of a given looped pile row the entire row would come out.

I had brought the last piece of the day, which was likely off-topic for what Wertime was treating, but it had a simple structure and seemed an example of “primitive pile.”   I wondered whether it might be seen as an example of another path to primitive pile.



This is the front of a child’s rain cape made from plant fibers (coir) in southwest China by a non-Han ethnic group, the Miao.

Here is its back.


It is knotted, not woven. There seem to be no wefts.


But it has a very long pile and is made with a plant fiber, something used to make textiles before animal hair. 

It looks like a small bear’s pelt.


Wertime said that he had tried, in this session, to suggest how we got from primitive woven rugs with pile like this,


to sophisticated pile rugs woven with “knots,” like the lovely Persian Safavid carpet, below, that appears in an article by Murray Eiland, Jr. in the same Hali 100 issue in which Werime’s “Back to Basics” article appears.


Wertime took questions,


And brought his session to the close.

The surge to the front began.








I want to thank John Wertime for this authoritative, yet conversational program.  Amy Rispin took an excellent set of notes and both Wendel Swan and Wertime did the editing.

I trust you have enjoyed this permutation of Wertime’s seminal “Back to Basics” article in Hali 100.


R. John Howe