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

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.



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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


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(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.

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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.


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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.


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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.



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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. 


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A detail of one face.


Here is the back of A9b.




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


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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

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