On February 4, 2012, Neslihan Jevremovic,
presented a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on the topic “Carpet Production in the 20th Century.” As its primary, current, director, Neslihan spoke of the experience of Woven Legends, the well-known, natural-dye, carpet producing company.
Tom Goehner, the Textile Museum’s Curator of Education introduced her, saying:
“Neslihan Christobel Jevremovic, one of the foremost carpet designers and producers, will discuss how she and her company, Woven Legends, weave rugs that are highly traditional, as well as those that have modern designs. Neslihan is an authority on carpets and sole owner of Woven Legends, the noted source for handmade carpets. She is an Istanbul native, who helped found Woven Legends Inc., a Philadelphia based company, operating in Turkey, India and China, that produces and imports handmade carpets which are often referred as “antiques of tomorrow.”
Neslihan said that she began her work with rugs in 1981, as a young engineer of 25.
She said that the work of the Dobag project inspired them, but that its approach was “too strict for us.” They wanted to give the weaver and themselves more freedom, just as it has always been in rug making. She said, the Woven Legends experience is distinctive from the Dobag effort.
She said when they make custom rugs and face some colors, which are simply not possible to produce with natural dyes, they employ sound chemical dyes for them when a customer insists. This is a rare occasion.
Neslihan started with a projected lecture in which she described the Woven Legends experience and the processes through which it produces the rugs it sells. She invited questions from the beginning and got them, so this post will be even more virtual than usual, since I will be drawing on her Powerpoint images, a set of notes taken for me, and my own memories. I will, often, not honor the actual sequence of discussion in the room.
Neslihan started with this image of a young weaver they had used in their early days.
She said she would never forget this young woman who looked straight at the camera, not shy because the photographer was a woman, too. Neslihan said she often wonders about this young woman and what she looks like now. (She referenced the internationally famous photo of the young Afghan girl, with the startling, blue eyes, who was found again, and photographed, as a markedly aged woman in her 40s. )
Neslihan said that she has production in a number of locations around the world, but that many of the Woven Legends rugs are woven in eastern Turkey.
She said that the Turkish weavers are usually young unmarried girls, and that it is unusual for a weaver to continue to weave after marriage.
Because these young girl weavers stop weaving when they get married, there is a constant turnover of weavers and the need to train new ones.
She said that today Turkish weavers from Eastern Anatolia weave in their own villages, but not at home. A weaving facility is established in the village and that is where the weaving occurs.
Looms are partly financed by the Turkish government and partly by Woven Legends.
She said they have only rarely had male weavers, but one boy, who loved to weave, was accommodated by giving him a place at home to weave i.e., when he became a young man and the parents of the girls did not like it. In response to a question, she said there is no pressure for men to take over the weaving in the village centers (the questioner had heard that there was usually such pressure in traditional settings, once the weaving was moved outside the home).
In Mongolia, she said, the government is more involved, and her weavers there have disabilities.
She said that Woven Legends supplies all of the dyed wool, in the colors desired, for a given rug,
as well as a cartoon with both the design and the colors specified.
Each village weaving operation has a “teacher.” This is a desirable job and can be the focus of patronage pressures (she said that Woven Legends has sometimes stopped its work with particular villages, if there is too much interference). Ideally, the teacher is a woman with superior weaving skills.
Woven Legends weaves rugs that are not only accurate to a particular design and in particular colors, they also weave to very specific structures. This last requirement affects how soon a weaver can be assigned to weave a particular structure. Neslihan said that it does not take very long to teach a young weaver to do pile weaving using a simple structure, but that some more complex weaves require a longer learning curve. She said that it takes a weaver about a year to learn to weave, as desired, a Mamluk rug
that is not only accurate with regard to design and color, but that also has a structure like a 15th-century Mamluk pile piece.
She said Woven Legends often works from books like those of well-known rug scholars, like Jim Burns, collector aand Kurdish rug authority, to weave a classic Kurdish design and size upon a request from a customer. She said Kurdish rugs can also be very difficult to weave, in part, because they can have nearly any structure.
She said that a great deal of their wool comes from “fat-tailed” varieties of sheep in eastern Turkey.
The sheep are sheared and the wool is washed.
(She said that at first they used mostly “mountain” sheep, but encountered complaints that there was “too much stuff” in the wool even after washing.)
Next, the wool is hand-spun,
and the spun wool is put into bags to await dyeing.
Woven Legends does all of its dyeing, centrally. Below, workers are collecting and transporting plants that are natural dye sources.
Neslihan said that they’ve located their dyeing plant in Malatya in eastern Turkey, primarily, because of the availability of a good source of water.
Next, comes the actual dyeing.
While the dyeing is going on other preparations are being made from a different perspective.
A good proportion of Woven Legends work is custom, that is, they are making a rug with a particular design, often in particular colors, for a given customer.
Let’s say a customer wants a particular antique carpet reproduced.
First an image of the antique rug is obtained.
Neslihan said that most Turkish weavers only need a cartoon of perhaps a quarter of the rug to be woven, if it is, mostly, symmetrical.
This next rug and cartoon are not Woven Legends examples, but they illustrate Neslihan’s point here.
Here is an image of a a classic 18th century Bergama rug.
Here is the cartoon, supplied by another Turkish source, from which a Turkish weaver could produce the entire rug above.
Neslihan said that Turkish weavers are used to rotating and reflecting such a cartoon to weave the complete rug desired…more, it gives them some license to “go their own way” a bit in some places. She said that Chinese weavers are very different in this regard: they want a knot-by-knot cartoon of the entire rug and will follow it closely.
Originally, design cartoons were done by hand, but now that process is done using a computer program.
Regardless of how it is produced, the cartoon for the antique rug in our example above, looks like this.
The colors used in the cartoon are garish, day-glow shades so that the weavers can identify them and distinguish them readily. The number of the color of wool to be used for a particular cartoon color is listed on the side and changes as the colors change in different areas of the design. The color coding on the cartoon above is too small to read in the large rug image above (although you may be able to spot it on the right edge). Let me give you, again, the image, below, of the cartoon of a smaller rug (that you saw above),
that lets you see what the weaver is looking at and how it changes from area to area.
Lets pause here for a moment to pick up a step on the dyeing side of the production process. When the cartoon has been drawn, it is decided what shades are needed from Woven Legend stocks to weave a rug like the antique original. The cartoon permits the identification of each color needed and the quantity needed of it for that rug.
Signals are sent, to the Woven Legends dye component, about what quantities of what colors are needed, and they assemble bundles of dyed wool of particular colors by destination (that is where they are needed for weaving). The white tags you see in the photo below (you also saw this photo earlier) indicate the number of the color that you see on the graph.
The needed colors in the appropriate quantities dictated by the graph along with warp, weft material and the graph go into bags, marked for the actual loom and village.
So the needed wool arrives and the weaving proceeds, and eventually there is a Woven Legends rug of the sort the customer wants. This one looks like this.
A couple of side points about cartoons here before moving on (the process is not at its end, yet).
Below is a set of Woven Legend shelves that contain hand-done cartoons.
But N28, below, is what I think Neslihan said the current cartoon archive looks like. These are prints of a graph lined up, laminated and grouped ready to go to a loom; see the photos N6 and N63.
Now to return to our woven rug. A number of “finishing” processes are performed on it.
First, it is washed. Large rugs may need to be washed in a space like this.
Smaller rugs can be washed by machine.
This washer can wash a number of rugs at one time.
Next, the rug needs to be dried. Neslihan said that they prefer to dry rugs outside in the sun,
but that they can dry rugs inside as well.
A rug taken off the loom and washed and dried may not always be the exact size or shape intended. New rugs shrinks some during washing and sides may not be impeccably straight.
Processing also includes placing the rug down on a flat surface, moisturizing it slightly, and the stretching and fastening it so that it is the size and shape desired.
A newly woven rug has considerable flexibility in this regard. Neslihan said that a room-sized rug might be stretchable as much as one foot in length.
The stretched rug is permitted to dry and will retrain its new size and shape after doing so.
The next step in processing is to clip the pile. The height of the pile has a great deal to do with the finished character of the rug. The design on a short-pile rug will be clearer and sharper and the handle will be more flexible. Neslihan said customers have clear preferences about pile height and many want it clipped very closely. Spanish and Italian customers often want rugs made for them to look like antiques, so they end up with no pile.
Traditionally, pile clipping was done using hand shears, and was a high-skilled, high-status job, performed by specialists.
Woven Legends rugs are clipped by hand at the loom after each row of weaving. Hand held shearing, as one of the final steps of finishing, has its advantages, mainly increased uniformity.
New rugs contain a great deal of “dust” that is composed of particles of their contents retained within them after the weaving is complete.
New rugs are tumbled, sometimes mechanically,
to remove as much of this dust as possible.
And as odd as it may seem, newly woven rugs sometimes need repair.
So repair is a potential part of the final finishing of a newly woven rug.
Neslihan brought a number of design-color cartoons with her and I’m going to put up a few of them next. Sometimes, there may be related rugs and I’ll signal when that occurs.
The design above was enlarged to create the cartoon for a larger rug below. One feature of cartoons created with computer programs is that they can quickly be modified for rugs of quite different sizes.
The Woven Legends rug below was woven on the basis of the design-color cartoon above.
The flexible use of the aspects available in this this computer-based cartoon,
(notice that you’re only seeing a large detail of it above here) make it possible to produce a large Mamluk rug, like the one below.
This flexibility permits cartoons and rugs like this,
Here is an overall shot of a Woven Legends rug with a subtle design adapted from the computer-based cartoon for a larger Mamluk rug with an overall modern design.
The cartoon, N48, below is for a South Persian design that we will also do “in the wool”
The cartoon below is for a classic Ushak medallion rug. The Woven Legends rug woven from it is in the room, and will be seen “in the wool.”
Neslinhan also had some slides of Woven Legends rugs without associated cartoons. Here is a Heriz design seen to be at the “Serapi” level of quality. We’ll see this rug too.
The image below is of the same rug, where the weaver made a mistake and made the field green. It turned out to be a good mistake..
Below is a decorative Oushak carpet, Woven Legends collection name: Uskudar
Below is a fine Malayer, some call it Kurdish, some call it Qashghai. Woven Legends made it in a fine Qashghai weave.
As Neslihan indicated at the beginning, Woven Legends weaves more modern designs as well as the classic traditionals. The design below is of a modern piece.
Here is a closer look at the lower “cartouche” in it.
This is a playful mat without borders.
Some other cartoons were take-offs on Ottoman textile designs.
A rug produced on the basis of the cartoon above.
A different Woven Legends rug based on an Ottaman textile design. Again, no borders.
Neslihan talked about some of the large and prestigious rug projects Woven Legends has undertaken over the years.
One such was to produce 800+ carpets, totaling 6200 square meters, for a facility in Sea Island, Georgia, USA. The lobby carpets had Mamluk designs.
The rug below was produced for G8 room for the same project.
This is this rug as it was being woven.
A little closer detail of the finished product on the floor.
Here is another large custom carpet. A Mamluk design has been chosen.
A closer detail of this carpet on the floor.
Neslihan had noted earlier that Spanish rugs were among the more difficult to weave because of their distinctive structure.
This is the cartoon for one such Woven Legends effort on a stately classical Spanish design in mild colors.
Neslihan said that she wanted to show this rug at a major European rug show, but the timing of completion was so close that she left to travel to the show without knowing whether the rug would be finished in time. Fortunately, all went well and the rug arrived on time and was shown.
Here is a south Persian “lion” design with a slightly fuzzy image of the associated cartoon.
Here is another prestigious rug project, this time for the entrance area of the main house on the Henry Ford Fairlane estate, in Dearborn, Michigan.
Woven Legends was asked to weave replacements for the two rugs in this entrance area. There is a larger rug that takes up most of the space in the photo below, but also a smaller one that you can see in front of the stair case in the lower center of the photograph.
N71, below, is the larger rug that Woven Legends produced. This rug is 11′ 7″ by 30′.
Here are two closer details of the rug above.
Woven Legends considered the patterns in some antique rugs in determining the pattern to be used in the smaller rug.
N72 is one of the antique rugs considered.
N73 is another antique piece and pattern considered for this second rug.
Ultimately, the second rug was woven for the Ford mansion was N74 below. The rug is 5′ 10″ by 11′ 3″.
Again, the customer was very happy.
With these two custom rugs,Neslihan ended the projected part of her program and moved to treat the pieces she had brought to this session.
(In some cases, as we indicated earlier, she also had the associated cartoon for a given piece.)
The first piece on the front of the room board was this Woven Legends remake of a classic Tekke Turkman engsi design.
The red is deeply saturated and the drawing is crisp.
Here are some closer details of this engsi.
Wendel Swan, who helped facilitate this part of Neslihan’s program, volunteered that the back of this new engsi looks like a traditional Tekke weaving.
Here is a closer look at this back.
You saw this cartoon a couple of time above. Here it is, again, to permit convenient comparison with the rug produced from it.
A closer vertical half of the rug above.
The next piece was this small mat, largely without pattern or color.
A closer vertical half. No visible design, but some pinkish areas.
The next piece Neslihan had brought was a Turkish yastik design and format.
Here is a closer vertical half.
(color differences are due to camera and lighting effects)
Not sure of the intent here. The light, bright blue all around seems a less than traditional coloring.
Here is a detail of the back of the piece above to let you see the weave a little. Tallish knots and two red wefts between rows.
The next piece was a seeming part of a larger design.
Not quite a vagireh, since it does not provide a clear, complete design repertoire for weaving a complete carpet.
Drawing is disciplined, but colors seem “off” somehow, perhaps a customer specification.
Here are two closer vertical halves.
Neslihan said that some customers want the dyes in their rugs “antiqued,” and while this is a separate operation and charge, Woven Legends will do this on request.
The next piece was especially interesting: it was a part of a larger Woven Legends rug, a Spanish design, woven with the distinctive structure that the use of the Spanish knot (which circles only one warp) requires.
Here is a scan of the illustration and description of the Spanish pile knot in Eiland and Eiland, 1998, p. 37.
Notice that in this depiction knots are offset from row to row, there are two shoots of weft between each row of knots, but these two wefts move over and under the same warps going and coming.
Wendel noted that the knot nodes on the back of this piece are squarish in shape.
Notice that it is because each Spanish knot encircles only one warp, that the Spanish structure is unavoidably “off-set.” That is, (to repeat the point made with the line drawing, above) the knots in each row shift from the warps used in the previous row to adjacent ones [rugs woven with knots that circle two warps are arranged (mostly) in columns]. If you compare the positions of the knots row to row, in the image above, you’ll see this off-set characteristic.
Although it’s hard to see, there is a bare warp between each knot. That’s because of the offset knotting. Notice also that, in contrast to the two-weft usage in the illustration above, this rug has only one unplied weft between each row of knots.
This offsetting has the effect of dispersing the pile evenly over the surface of the warp-weft structure, ensuring that the pile covers it on the pile side.
The next rug was this south Persian design.
We saw the cartoon that guided the weaving of this rug earlier.
There are lots of filler devices in the field of this rug. Geometric, animals and human figures.
Wendel flipped through the cartoons available, saying he was looking for one that required an anatomically correct depiction of a human figure.
He didn’t find one.
There was another cartoon-related happening in this session. It didn’t necessarily happen here, but going through the Woven Legends cartoons, Wendel encountered one that interested him a lot.
Wendel is the owner of a glorious Shahsavan pile rug with monumental palmette designs in its field. It looks like this.
While leafing through the cartoons Neslihan had brought he found this one,
You can see that it has three columns of palmettes, lots more filler devices in its field and a different and less spacious border, but the monumental palmettes that are a dominant feature of Wendel’s rug are very much in evidence. Wendel was excited to find this cartoon
Neslihan and Wendel also called attention to the wide color palette and, especially, to the handle of the next piece.
Wendel said that, although the feel of the back was slightly more sandpapery than an old South Persian rug of this sort would be, that the character of the handle was very flexible and more like that of a lighter-weight material than a pile rug.
He said that the remarkable thing about some of this contemporary production of traditional rugs is that not only are the designs and colors right, but, often, the look of the weave and the handle of these new pieces can be very like that of their older relatives. This rug has silk red wefts, a traditional feature in some old Qashqa’i weavings.
He predicted that, in not very many years, it is going to be very difficult to distinguish some of these new pieces from those that were woven much earlier. He has seen contemporary Saruks, already, that could fool quite experienced people.
The next piece was a Caucasian type with a classic Shirvan design.
We also saw the cartoon from which this rug was woven earlier.
It was mentioned from the audience that while the cartoons for these piece often seem a bit stiff and mechanical, the rugs woven from them are less so.
Here are some closer details of aspects of this Shirvan design.
Although the colors used in this piece might have been specified by a customer, I would have preferred to see a palette closer to the wider one usually used on Shirvan pile rugs.
Wendel noted that, again, the handle of this rug, and especially the look of the weave on the back, with its wavy wefts, are very like what we, by convention, call a “Shirvan.”
The next rug was a Heriz, woven at a level of quality meriting the “Serapi” designation.
Here are some closer details of aspects of this carpet.
Wendel turned its corner to look at its back, and was again impressed with the accuracy of the reproduction of a weave with a Heriz “look.”
We saw some large Mamluk style carpets earlier
and some of the cartoons that guided particular Woven Legends Mamluk variations,
in the projected part of the program, but Neslihan had brought one for hands-on examination.
It is very long and hangs over the top of the board. Here is the best overall, unencumbered shot I managed of it.
Here are some details of aspects of this large piece.
I remember, a few years ago, when Woven Legends first began producing Mamluk-style carpets, that The Textile Museum had some hanging in a exhibition. I was in a local shop that carried the Woven Legends line, talking to a very skilled repair person I knew there. I said to her that I was impressed with how closely Woven Legends had reproduced the designs and colors of the Mamluks hanging at the TM. She smiled and said “Look at the back.” In her view, the Woven Legends folks had also reproduced something close to the look of the 15th century Mamluk weave.
Not many of us get to see the backs of 15th century museum rugs, but Wendel is indicating, in the photo below, that he, too, is impressed with the distinctiveness of the weave of this Woven Legends Mamluk-style carpet.
The following detail is an attempt to let you see the appearance of the weave on the back of this Mamluk-style Woven Legends carpet for yourself.
The next piece was an contemporary design and featured longer pile, lots of mild purple, and angora wool.
Its design suggests a large double bag opened up, but I think it is in fact a rug.
Here is a closer vertical half, followed by three, smaller, detail images.
(again, color differences are due to camera and lighting)
Up close, you can see that there is a wider range of color than one might initially suspect.
Neslihan had talked about some Woven Legends rugs based on Ottoman textile designs.
Here is one, with Wendel thrusting an unrelated cartoon into the picture.
Here is an unobstructed detail of most of the rug above.
This rug has good graphics, a narrow palette and no borders. It likely simplifies and abstracts, a bit, the Ottoman textile on which it is based.
Neslihan ended her program with this classic Ushak medallion design (again the rug is longer than the board and so what you can see is a large detail).
Here are some images of aspects of it.
With it in his hands, Wendel said that it was very supple and had “wavy, salmon, wool wefts.”
Neslihan answered questions, and brought her program to a close.
As we fashioned and edited this post Neslihan shared a few additional thoughts with me.
First, although she is a serious business woman, she bonds with her weavers. Below, is a photo taken in 1984 in the Ayvacik market (the Dobag area).
She says that she finds this bonding between herself and Anatolian women is stronger than ever.
She added that she has recently begun talking more openly freely about her work with Syrian weavers. The photo below is of a Syrian refugee camp, weaving workshop.
She said “This is one of the eight Syrian refugee camp workshops I have. I now have over 200 skilled Syrian refugee ladies earning a considerable income from weaving Woven Legends rugs. This project now has a life of its own. I am very proud of it.”
I want to thank Neslihan for coming to The Textile Museum to speak about her company’s experience with weaving rugs in today’s world and market.
Too often we want to talk to those who weave the rugs that interest us, and find that we’re 200 years too late. But it appears that a great deal of the historic skill and craft related to weaving rugs is still alive and Neslihan and Woven Legends have daily experiences with them. It was refreshing to hear from, and to be able to talk to, someone who is “doing it.”
Thanks, also, to Neslihan for permitting the fashioning of this virtual version of her program and for her considerable editorial assistance as we did so.
Wendel Swan is owed, again, for some knowledgeable commentary and skillful facilitating.
Margaret Smith provided me with another useful set of notes.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief look “through the door” into the world of weaving quality rugs today.
R. John Howe