Fred Mushkat on Warp-faced Textiles of the Nomads of Iran

On August 6, 2016, Fred Mushkat

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gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here at the Textile Museum here in Washington, DC on the subject of

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Fred said that when he first started to collect textiles he was simply buying the most beautiful things that he could afford.  Then he decided that his real interest was ethnographic and this took him to bands and other warp-faced nomad textiles that seemed most likely to have been made for use rather than for sale.  Fred’s program also provided a preview of a book that he is writing on such textiles.

In his work life, Fred is a medical doctor, specializing in emergency medicine.  He is also a skilled photographer and is dedicated to making the best cup of espresso he can.

Fred began with an illustrated lecture.

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Qashqa’i dwellings were rectangular goat-hair tents that did not require tent bands for stabilization. Photo: Julia Bailey

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In this rare photograph, the roof of the goat-hair tent is adorned with lines of animals and large tufts. Hanging from the front edge of the roof are large tassels of colored wool attached to long braided cords. Sometimes a band with similar braids and tassels would be temporarily attached to the front of the roof on special occasions.

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In this photo, a Qashqa’i woman sits in front of the baggage pile that occupies the rear of the tent along the entire width. The baggage pile is covered with a flat woven textile. On the right side of the tent, a small bag is attached to the pole. These bags often held cooking utensils or weaving tools such as a spindle. Photo: Peter Andrews, 1970

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Qashqa’i tents could be quite large and tall, as in this photo of a khan’s tent. Photo: Peter Andrews, 1970. 

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In this tent, the floor is covered with carpets. A long gelim, typically woven with weft-faced patterning, covers the baggage pile. Along the front of the roof line hangs a cord attached to which are large tassels. Above the baggage pile, along the rear wall is another group of tassels that may be attached to a woven band. Photo: Peter Andrews, 1970

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A long gelim covers the baggage pile with bedding neatly piled above it.  The side of the goat-hair tent has been raised to allow ventilation.  The white cloth protects woven textiles from being stained with food. In the foreground on the left is a woman in Western clothing, perhaps a visitor.  The khan on the right, second from the end, wears the traditional hat of the Qashqa’i Photo: Roland & Sabrina Michaud, 1970.

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The baggage pile in this tent is covered by a jajim. This weaving takes less time to make than a gelim. It is neither warp-faced or weft faced, as it is made with a twill weave in which one side of the cloth is warp-predominant, while the other is weft predominant. Reciprocal triangles separate the narrow bands of color; the wider section has a long row of stepped diamonds. Large tassels are attached to the bottom length of the jajim. >Photo: Peter Andrews, 1970>

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The baggage in this photo is placed upon a bed of rocks to keep the bedding bags dry. The baggage (bedding bags) is then covered by an elaborate long gelim with horizontal panels, no two of which appear to be alike. Photo: Peter Andrews, 1970

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This is the same baggage pile with the gelim folded back to expose the separate bedding bags. Commonly called mafrash, the Qashqa’i refer to these woven containers as marfaj. They are generally woven with various structures of weft-faced patterning. Rarely, these were made with a warp-faced structure. Photo: Peter Andrews, 1970

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During transport, the bedding bags, which were made in pairs, were loaded on each side of a pack animal to balance the load. This required the work of multiple men. In this photo a camel is being readied for the day’s travel. Photo, Ullens de Schooten, 1956

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Here the man is loading a donkey in preparation for transit. He is using a plaited cord to secure the load on a donkey. In former times, warp-faced bands were used for this purpose. Photo, MohammadReza Baharnaz.>

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In order to prevent slippage that would cause the load to be unbalanced, the cord (or band) must be tightened as much as possible.

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Digard, an anthropologist who lived among the Bakhtiyari, drew a schematic for wrapping a load on a pack animal using a cord. In the drawing, there is a buckle that can be used to pull the cord as tight as possible to secure the load. 

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In this photo by Roland and Sabrina Michaud, Qashqa’i tribespeople are migrating. Donkeys, mules and camels are the pack animals; horses were considered too special to be used for carrying loads. In this photo from 1970, all of the visible loads are secured with plaited ropes. All of the buckles are intentionally placed on the right side of the baggage load. The buckles on the left and right of the photo appear identical.  

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Fred then moved on to discuss the various structures used to make warp-faced weavings. The most basic of these structures is warp-faced plain weave, as seen in this slide. Each warp goes over a weft, then under the next weft repeating succession. This gives the fabric the appearance of horizontal ribbing. Image from The Primary Structure of Fabrics, Irene Emory.

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By comparison, weft-faced weaving creates patterns by moving under and over warps. In this slide, each weft goes over a warp, then under the next, repeating until a color change is desired. This structure is known as slit tapestry weave. At the color change, the yarn reverses direction. This structure creates vertical slits between colors. To improve structural integrity, the vertical slits are minimized in length. Small cruciform designs and stepped triangles are used for this purpose. Note that the background pattern in weft-faced weaving creates a vertical ribbing.

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This structure is warp-faced plain weave with warp substitution. The pattern is created by warps moving over and under wefts, as in warp-faced plain weave, The unneeded warps float on the back of the weaving until a color change is desired to make a given pattern. At that point the different colors change position, with the former now floating on the back while the latter begin moving above and below the wefts. These are one sided cloths, as the pattern is clearly visible on the obverse, while the reverse side shows lengths of warp floats. Image from Woven Structures, Marla Mallett.

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This slide shows a structure known as warp-faced alternating float weave. A warp goes over three wefts then under one. The adjacent warps are one over then one under. The next warp goes under one weft (the middle weft of the three that the first warp traveled over) then over three. Image from The Primary Structure of Fabrics, Irene Emory.

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Alternating the float of the warps creates a slotted appearance of the face of the weaving. The Qashqa’i call this structure kalak. The repeating mirror image design of this band resembles the letter “A”placed sideways.

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On the back side of the weaving, the design can barely be made out.

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This is a detail of a Shahsavan band made with the same structure. The repeating motif is an identical detail to the sideways letter “A” seen in the previous Qashqa’i band. This design, which is rare in any other structure, is a reminder of the common origins of the Shahsevan and Qashqa’i.

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The most common structure for warp-faced bands is warp-faced one-weft double cloth. This structure is two-layered, with a common weft thread that moves from front to back as the weaving progresses. Used for tensile strength to hold loads on animals, this structure is the strongest of all the warp-faced weavings. The strength is derived from the two layers, but just as important, it is the exchange of warps moving from one side to the other that locks the two layers together. A limiting factor to the strength of double cloth bands is the absence of horizontal pattern exchanges, because the warps are not changing position between the layers. This band broke at this place because of a longer run without many such warp exchanges.

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Here the two layers are peeled apart up to the area of a horizontal exchange that covers the width of the field.

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Warp-faced one-weft double cloth creates a textile with the colors reversed between the layers. One side of the cloth “reads” better; in general, the side with a dark ground color in the field has clearer design elements. Light motifs on a dark ground in the top photo are more distinct than the reverse side in the middle photo. A common weaving error in weaving double cloth is “dropped warps on the underside as the weaving progresses. The bottom photo shows multiple areas in which the red warps miss, or drop, a weft on the underside of the band.

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These two photos are the outer and inner sides of a rare marfaj woven in double cloth. Unlike a narrow band, this weave is about a meter wide. When Fred examined this container closely, he noticed that  the outer side had dark blue wefts that are most visible between the undyed cotton warps that make up the quadruped (top photo). When he looked at the inside layer of the container, he noticed that the wefts were red (bottom photo). Rather than being one-weft double cloth, this weaving has two wefts, one for each side. This warp-faced two-weft double cloth is not documented anywhere in the textile literature. After finding this structure, Fred began looking at other containers and has discovered the same two weft construction on another marfaj and on a number of Qashqa’i single and double bags. At this time, no other weaving culture in Iran is known to have used this structure.

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At the beginning of the weaving of a band, it is difficult to pack the wefts tightly. The effect of this is to make the band wider, looser and weaker at the start of the weaving. To improve the structural integrity of the band and consequently to minimize breakage, this band had a few rows of wefts woven after which the end of the band was removed from the loom in order to tightly pack the wefts more than could be done on the loom. After the wefts were tightly beaten, the band was reattached to the loom and weaving was continued. Bands that had this treatment were significantly narrower at the start of the weaving, as this slide demonstrates.

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Qashqa’i women often marked the start and/or end of the weaving of a band by making one or more rows of weft twining. Typically these rows are in colors that strongly contrast with the rest of the weaving. In this slide, two weft twining rows are spaced a few centimeters apart at the end of the weaving, just before the braided end. Rows of weft twining also appear on gelims, skirts of rugs, and on bands of other groups, including Khamseh and Shahsevan.

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Bands are secured by pushing a loop of the body of the band through a hole in the buckle. A wooden peg is put in the loop and the band is tightened. This method makes a securely tight load on a pack animal.

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Dating of pack-animal bands is problematic. Peter Andrews did research on the Qashqa’i and Shahsevan in the early 1970s and noted that a pack animal band had a lifespan of about ten years. A wooden or forged iron buckle could be removed and placed on a new band. This band may be the only known pack-animal band with a date. There are three places where there may be a date of 1331.  In the solar calendar, the date is roughly 1952; in the lunar (hirji) calendar, the date is roughly 1913.

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Designs on double cloth bands are limited by the risk of weakening the structure. Long areas of solid color are weaker than areas with many exchanges of warps from front to back. Additionally, too much asymmetry from side to side of a design may distort the band and make one side weaker. This design, an “S” shape, has many slotted areas in the yellow design, and the image is symmetrical both horizontal and vertically.  The “S” shape appears in many structures and in many variations. It may represent a dragon. 

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This is a detail of the Berlin Dragon and Phoenix rug, which dates to the fifteenth century. It has an “S” shape in the minor border of this pile rug that is similar to the one in the preceding slide. Marla Mallett has written about how designs from a restrictive format, like double cloth, are more likely to have originated there rather than on a minimally restrictive format such as pile weaving. In other words, it is easier to adopt a design from a restrictive format to pile weaving rather than vice versa.

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This octagonal design is commonly found on Qashqa’i bands. It is named o’i guli, or the flower of the band. This design is also common on Qashqa’i double cloth containers.

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This design is a zigzag that the Qashqa’i call ILANAG. To maintain a sound structure, filler motifs are placed along the zigzag. 

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This is another design found on many Qashqa’i double cloth bands and containers.

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To demonstrate the similarity between this design among the Qashqa’i and Shahsevan, here are three versions on Shahsevan bands, some of which have only this one design in an endless repeat.

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Several known Qashqa’i bands display a snake-like design with what appear to be fangs, adjacent to a rooster.

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Others have human representations.  Some display genitals to distinguish the sexes. In this band, this is a male figure.

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Adjacent to the male is another figure without male genitalia and with blocky areas on the chest representing breasts.

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In this band, a male figure (on the right) is toe-to-toe with a female figure. I have shown this image in other talks and some people felt that the lines for the genitals on both figures are simply weaving mistakes.

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In another Qashqa’i band, there is a similar arrangement of two people, with similar genital representation. One such band with this design could be considered a fluke, but two such similar designs suggest that this imagery may be part of the Qashqa’i design tradition.

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Bands are woven on ground looms. In this photo, the completed band is moved underneath the unwoven group of warps on top. The woman is using a plank of wood with a narrowed edge for a weft beater. 

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A Qashqa’i woman wearing a white and pink skirt is riding a camel during a migration in the 1970s. The camel on the right has plaited cords holding the load instead of a woven band.

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This is a detail of a Qashqa’i warp-faced one-weft double cloth cover, woven in two pieces that if connected, would be roughly the size of a gelim.  To Fred’s knowledge, no other gelim-like weaving is known with this structure. On one of the panels, there is a single image, seen above, in brown on a blue background. The dealer who sold this believed the design is a representation of the double eagle that is part of the imperial coat of arms of czar Nicholas II of Russia. 

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Here is the double eagle. How could this design possibly appear on a Qashqa’i weaving? I asked Peter Andrews, who did field work among the Qashqa’i in the early 1970s and he mentioned that some Qashqa’i had a Russian samovar in their tent. These were made in an imperial factory and were marked with the double eagle coat of arms. If the design on this unusual double cloth cover is indeed the double eagle, then a Qashqa’i weaver could have copied the design on to her weaving because she liked it.

Fred had brought a number of pieces and moved treat them next.

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The narrow bag is a baladan, made to hold weaving tools like a spindle or to hold cooking utensils. These were placed on the rear pole of the tent. It is woven in warp-faced alternating float weave and was made in the United States by a Qashqa’i expatriate. She wove it in 2012. 

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Another weaving in warp-faced alternating float weave, it is the size of a small bag face. A Qashqa’i weaver in Iran made it in 2011. By far, it is the finest alternating float weaving Fred has ever come across. These continue to be made as gifts between family members and friends to be hung on a wall or placed on a table.

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C:This short band (2’2″) is a rump band. It has only one motif- a parade of quadrupeds all facing the same direction. The braids are decorated with small bone segments.  There have been many of these made for the market by breaking up a long band. This old example appears to have been made specifically as a short band for decorating an animal.

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At the top of this photo are two other short bands. The topmost band is about the same size as the previous rump band with braids and tassels. It appears to be unused. It was purchased in the late 1990s during a time in which many fakes of rugs and bag faces were appearing. Since one-weft double cloth became a rare structure after the mid 20th century, it seems highly unlikely that anyone would go to the trouble of making a reproduction (or know how), especially since the demand for such pieces was nearly nonexistent. Qashqa’i and other nomads were known to make containers, gelims  and bands then store them away until there was a need to put them into service.  For this reason, a number of exceptional bands show little or no wear. Small items like this band may have been keep as keepsakes to honor the memory of a family member. Likewise, the same circumstances may apply to the occasional container in other structures which were never put into service and never had edge joins that would close a bag face to its back. Such weavings did not enter the market until there was a significant need to sell it.

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The blue background on the top band is a deep blue-nearly black. This color is made by repeated dying until the blu-black effect is achieved. The Qashqa’i call this sorme’i. The workmanship is excellent; it may well have been saved as a keepsake for several generations before it was ultimately sold into the market.  The lower band is too short to have been used as an animal trapping. It is well drawn and does not appear to have been a practice piece. A number of the small tassels attached to the sides of the band are missing and the braids are worn, suggesting this diminutive band was put to use, but its function remains unknown.

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C:This tiny bag with a single design on each side is made with warp-faced one-weft double cloth. It is about four inches wide. Small bags this size were often the first bag a young girl made, although more often in a different structure. It was used to hold a small mirror. 

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This is an older example of a baladan, used to hold spindles or cooking utensils. These were often made in unmatched pairs, one for each rear corner tent pole. 

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Shown earlier to demonstrate weft-faced weaving, this is a small single Qashqa’i bag made with wool and white cotton in slit-tapestry weave. Each vertical step of the triangles is a small slit. Keeping these vertical slits small improves the strength and longevity of the bag. 

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This baladan is made with goat hair and is rather coarsely woven. It is difficult to determine which side is the front, as the back has an equally strong appearance

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C:A grouping of Qashqa’i bands, the narrowest is on the far left; the widest is third from the right. The two short fragments on the far right are used to help stabilize the tent.

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A detail of a band woven in warp-faced alternating float weave. the “over three under one structure creates the slotted appearance. Between the two “A” shaped motifs, in mirror image, are large and small “X” forms with additional horizontal arms, creating a spoke-like effect.

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This detail is from what may be the oldest Qashqa’i band known. The deep orange on a dark blue ground is uncommon. The top portion of the photo shows a tree-like design. Like the example before it and the following band, the borders of Qashqa’i bands are often alternating “S” or “Z” shapes in red or orange and green.

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This is another rare color combination on an old band-gold on dark blue. The large “S” shape at the bottom of the photo is often referred to as a dragon motif.

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Fred stated that he did not believe that the  three “X” shapes within its body of the quadruped represent unborn calves. Rather, they are filler motifs put there to avoid long spaces without any color change. Leaving the body of the quadruped empty would potentially create weak spots when tension is applied to the band.

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Tree and shrub forms are common Qashqa’i bands. On some bands, a bird sits or hovers at the top of the tree.

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In this double weave band, the individual motifs are separated by horizontal zigzags with tiny filler designs. The horizontally aligned double-hooked motifs on the ivory ground represent the clever use of ground reversal, in which the background color (dark blue) makes a pattern on the foreground color (ivory). 

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In this band the zigzag is aligned along the length of the band with large filler motifs within the triangles formed by change of direction of the main pattern. The design is reminiscent of the so-called “leaf and wine cup” border often seen on Caucasian rugs. 

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At nine centimeters, this is the widest Qashqa’i pack-animal band. It is also the thickest band of those Fred has examined. The wider format allows for larger motifs, creating a bold and striking appearance. 

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This is another grouping of bands that were displayed. The band on the left uses ground reversal to make a dark blue rectangle with six projections that loosely form an octagon, but this can be seen in different ways depending on how one groups the polygons.

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A grouping of bands and bags that Fred had brought in.

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Although not from Iran, Fred brought a couple of Anatolian weft beaters. Intricately carved, both have dates from the early to mid nineteenth century.

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These weft beaters are short because they were made for weaving bands that were narrower than its length.

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A group of designs from the wide Qashqa’i band, including one in the middle of the photo that may be an animal or animal pelt design.

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The quadrupeds in this band have a distinctive club-like tail

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This band and buckle seem to have been made for one another. The center warps are braided then looped around a narrow opening, then sewn tight around it. The buckle has characteristic stamped concentric circles and carved triangles.

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C:A number of nomadic groups, n one more so than the Qashqa’i. make a design of linked triangles. In this motif all of the triangles are aligned in the same direction and have projections at each base of the triangle.

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In this section of the same band, cruciform designs dominate.

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This portion of the band shows another version of the design shaped like an animal pelt, below which are two human forms.

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When the bottoms of the triangles face one another, an interesting ground reversal pattern in blue is created.

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Another example of ground reversal occurs in the rightmost segment of this band The pairs of white “S” forms are vertically stacked; in the ground reversal image, the “S” forms take on a more abstract shape with half of the “S” forms on each side of it.

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The orange motifs in this band could be a representation of humans with exaggerated arms and hands, or it could be a floral form. Nevertheless, the linked images create a complex zigzag pattern.

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This snake-like zigzag has a slotted structure to maintain structural integrity, which is also improved by having the diamond-shaped filler motifs at each change in direction.

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*The back of the same area of the band shows the color reversal of the front.

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A well-drawn rooster sits just above a tall shrub that is topped by a boteh-like design.

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A band made in warp-faced alternating float weave is shown (front and back) along with a baladan in the same structure with the same design. Bags with this structure are more common than the bands. It is likely that bands made in this structure were less able to withstand the wear and tear of use as a pack-animal band. This would make such bands less likely to survive and less likely to be made in the first place.

Fred also pointed out that if these weavings were museum holdings, anyone handling them would be wearing cloth gloves. In an effort to demonstrate the value of carefully handling our own rare textiles and giving them the care and respect they deserve, an assistant is wearing cotton gloves. Members of the audience were invited to handle these weavings after the talk and were also asked to wear cotton gloves, which Fred provided.

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The wooden buckle on a band made with alternating float weave is coarsely carved and has a slight twist along its length. The bent piece of wood from which the buckle was carved does not affect its function but does add to its appeal.

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Because there can only be two colors along any vertical span of a double cloth band, additional colors are introduced by adding tufts or pieces of cloth to the field or the edges of a band. These can be part of the weaving and applied while on the loom, or the tufts can be added after the band is removed from the loom.

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Fred brought a number of related weavings. This large cover is a jajim. The Persians call this type of cover a moj, a term that the Qashqa’i do not use but is used in the trade. It is not strictly a warp-faced weaving. Made with a type of twill weave, it is warp-predominant on one side and weft predominant on the other side. Qashqa’i jajims are made on a ground loom in one long strip that is cut in half and joined at the sides. This example has harmonious colors and is an example of woven minimalism.

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This is a rare example of a complete double bag (khorjin) with a structure of warp-faced two-weft double cloth. The Qashqa’i, more than any other nomads in Iran, often made the backs of their khorjins as or more interesting than the fronts, as this khorjin demonstrates. 

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Fred displayed a Qashqa’i horse cover with some unusual features. It has two halves, joined in the center. The only design is the o’i guli, the flower of the band. The bottom half of the field has numerous silk tufts, some of which are nearly worn away. The main body of the horse cover is made with warp-faced plain weave with warp substitution. The flaps at the top, which are to go around the underside of the horse’s neck, are constructed of warp-faced one-weft double cloth. It is remarkable that the weaver was able to carry the field and border designs seamlessly through this change in structure. It is likely that double cloth was used for the flaps to improve the longevity of the horse cover, since that is an area of increased friction and stress.

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 This weaving is a cover made with one-weft double cloth. The two unjoined sides were each made on a separate loom. The two parts were meant to be joined together, but it appears from its nearly perfect condition that the cover was never put into use and were never joined. There are no other covers known to have been made with double cloth. Fred pointed out the design in the lower portion of one side that has the appearance of a two-headed eagle, similar to the coat of arms of Czar Nicholas II.

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Notice in the images above that Fred is wearing gloves.  In this session, he made a point of recommending that we do so regularly when we handle textiles.  This is good advice that we almost never follow in these RTAM sessions.  In the next two images below, he is encouraging the folks, helping in his session, to “glove up.”

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Fred answered questions and brought his session to a close.

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People were eager to see this material up close and to ask more questions.

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I thank Fred for coming and giving us this excellent program on some material that is both beautiful and unusual.

As I said in the announcing email, Fred’s program drew on a book he had been working on for several years and that has since this program was held, is soon to be published./strong>

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Weavings of Nomads in Iran: Warp-faced Bands and Related Textiles

You can find it at:

https://www.amazon.com/Weavings-Nomads-Iran-Warp-faced-Textiles/dp/1898113807

My thanks, too to Fred for patiently working with me to fashion this virtual version of his program

Regards,

R. John Howe

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