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Remembering Ralph Yohe

Posted in Uncategorized on May 16, 2017 by rjohn



(If you click on most images in this post, you will get a larger version.)

Ralph Sandlin Yohe, was an important U.S. collector of oriental rugs and textiles during the approximate period from 1945 to his death in 1994.  He is one of those who is gradually disappearing from historical view and this program is an effort both to make his work visible and to lay down a documenting marker about it.

 In 1965, Yohe was an early member of the International Hajji Baba Society, in Washington, D.C.  He was also a member of the NYC Hajji Baba Society, co-founder of the New York Rug Society (1970), and of the Moroccan Rug and Textile Society (1991).  In 1989, he received the Joseph V. McMullan Award for Scholarship and Stewardship in Islamic textiles.  In 1994, he was honored as a Life Member by the Chicago Rug Society.  He was a long-time Trustee of the Textile Museum.  At the time of his death, he was President of the Near Eastern Art Research Center and a Trustee Emeritus of the Textile Museum.

Yohe was born in 1920 and reared on a family farm, near Mount Erie, Illinois. 


He graduated from the University of Illinois, School of Agriculture, in 1943.  He then served three years as a naval officer in the Mediterranean.

Yohe established a career reporting on agriculture.  In 1946, he became the executive secretary of the Illinois Poultry Improvement Association.  In 1948, he joined the staff of the Prairie Farmer, as science editor.  For a number of years he was Editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturalist.


Yohe took jobs, but may not have needed one much.  He had independent means that enabled him to work, as he seems, often to have done, as a free-lance reporter, traveling internationally, and writing, largely, as he pleased.

bookwhatusfarmerscanlearnIn 1953, Y0he published a book, “What Our Farmers Can Learn from Other Lands.”  The dust jacket says that “in 1949-50 he traveled through 15 European and Middle Eastern countries.  He returned to Europe for five months, in 1952, a trip that took him to the Arctic Circle.  Over a period of three years, Yohe traveled more than 40,000 miles abroad gathering material.

Yohe had a crisp, clear, journalist style, easy to read, and he wrote in areas beyond agriculture. 


I found a geography-sociology-history textbook ,“Exploring Regions of the Eastern Hemisphere,” that he wrote, seemingly, as the lead author, with three associates, sometime after 1965.  It treats the countries of the eastern hemisphere, broadly defined.  Great Britain, France, Germany and some countries of Eastern Europe, are included. 


Interestingly, there are sections of this book that treat northern Africa, so Yohe had some familiarity, then, with Morocco.  As many readers will know, Yohe, Pickering and Pickering’s daughter, Brooke, subsequently, did seminal work on Moroccan rugs and textiles that resulted in two important books.

Pickering reports that Yohe’s interest in oriental rugs began in 1948.  One day, Yohe noticed a Persian rug, over the bar, at the famous Shepeard’s Hotel in Cairo.


(The Persian rug may have been “over the bar,” in 1948, but apparently, nowadays, one is on the floor.)

Jerry Franke,

an important figure, himself, in the Chicago area club, says that Yohe’s initial interests were in more “classic” rugs.

Yohe must have been collecting seriously in the 50s and the 60s because he is one of ten businessmen-collectors featured in a Fortune magazine article, May, 1968. 


Mike Tschebull, looking at this picture, could identify many of the rugs in it and even the plaques on the wall at the back left.  Mike sees only one “city” rug in this array: a solitary Saruk, so Yohe must have before 1968 broadened his collecting interests well beyond “city” rugs in the direction of more “tribal” varieties

That same year he and McCoy Jones of Washington, D.C ,curated an exhibition of Turkish Rugs at The Textile Museum here. 

They also published a catalog for this exhibition under Textile Museum aegis. 


This catalog, mostly in black and white images featured material from the TM collection, but also that from a number of noted collectors.  Yohe owned two of the rugs in this exhibition and one of them (on the right above) was one of only three selected for treatment with a color image.


In 1969, Russell Pickering and Anthony Landreau curated and wrote the catalog for the ground-breaking exhibition “From the Bosporus to Samarkand,” the first effort to treat flat-woven textiles seriously. 


Four of Yohe’s pieces were selected for this traveling exhibition, none of them in color, but here, above, is one with good graphics.


And here is another, an Anatolian kilim with some complexity.  Woven in two pieces.


In 1971, Yohe and McCoy Jones were joined by Jeff Boucher to curate another Washington Hajji, Christmas exhibition, at the TM, this time on “Persian Tribal Rugs.”  A catalog was published entirely in black and white.

Yohe contributed eight pieces to this exhibition.


Here, on the left is an Afshar rug with a “tulip” design that Yohe contributed.  The image on the right is of a very similar piece in color that lets you see its richness.


In 1971, Mike Tschebull published his still admired and useful catalog, “Kazak.”  Mike says that Yohe was one of a group of collectors who “knew much more than I did.”(Joe McMullan wrote the Introduction for “Kazak”)  

Tschebull says that Yohe was very helpful as Mike prepared this first ever study, strictly focused on Kazak rugs. He was impressed with Yohe’s interest in and knowledge of textile structures and with the “anthropological” perspective he took on textiles. He was interested not just in the weavings, but in who the weavers were and how they lived. 

Yohe contributed two rugs to “Kazak.”


This is one of them.  Tschebull says that it is precisely drawn, has wonderful color and is entirely unworn.

Beginning in 1973, Yohe joined Anthony Landreau, a curator at the TM (who would eventually be acting TM Director) and Landreau’s family to conduct field research in Turkey.


They were studying a particular group of Yoruks in coastal, south central Turkey.


The group of Yoruks they were studying lived in coastal areas during the winter and migrated north into the mountains during their summer yaylas.



This Landreau-Yohe field work continued for a number of years, with several more trips, culminating in their curating the traveling TM exhibition “Flowers of the Yayla.”

They also wrote the catalog for this exhibition.

I’d like to delay saying more about their effort, until we get to 1984 in the chronology, but it is important to note here that both Yohe and Landreau were among the last collectors and TM curators who did actual field research.  I mean that they did not just travel to weaving areas, and observe weavers, but that they conducted systematic, structured, field research during their stays.


Russell Pickering reports that in 1976, he and Yohe took the first of many collecting trips to Morocco.   Russell’s daughter, Brooke, joined them in a number of subsequent trips.  These trips would, eventually, produce two or three collections and two important books.

I want to defer treatment of these books on Moroccan weaving until we get to the dates on which they were published.  The first, “From the Far West,” came out in 1980.


In 1977, Pickering published his remembrance of Joe McMullan, entitled “Don’t Forget to Smell the Flowers Along the Way.”  This volume contained a series of “portraits” of McMullan by people who knew him.  Yohe wrote a wonderful Introduction, so good I want to include it here.

(If you click on each of the two images below you will get an image with legible size type.)

Here is the first page.


And here is the second.

slide23There’s a story that goes with this Introduction. 

In 1976, Yohe and Pickering stayed in the MaMounia Hotel in Marrakesh.  This was during their first trip to Morocco – the only time Brooke was not able to come with them – as she did for the next 12 years.

Russell says: “On the second evening, we met a charming and attractive lady from Paris in the cocktail lounge and invited her for drinks in our suite.”  He says this suite was quite something, with a balcony overlooking the hotel’s larger garden, and a view, beyond, onto the High Atlas Mountains.

En route to the suite, Russell says he is thinking “How do I get rid of Yohe so I can take the lady on a moon-lit carriage ride around Marrakesh?” Russell was making the drinks and admits he may have “loaded” Yohe’s.  


After dinner, Yohe decided that he would write his introduction for their book on Joe McMullan’s life (Russell said that he’d been pressing Yohe to do this).  So Yohe headed for the garden and Russell and the lady had the carriage ride (Russell says that this carriage ride is a must for anyone who goes to Marrakesh.)

After the carriage ride and back in the lobby, the lady turned and said in her attractive French accent, “Roosell, I sinck you are very attractive, but my boyfriend arrives from Paris tomorrow morning and I do not think he would like to see you around.  Good night!” and she disappeared into the elevator.  So much for Romeo Russell.

Upon his return to the suite, Russell found Yohe asleep on the couch with the draft of the Introduction: “The Second Day of Ramadan.”  As you have seen, it begins “At my back a fountain splashes in a small pool, edged with bright spangles of mosaic tile…”  It goes on in that vein for a page and a half.  Russell says often that he thinks it is the best piece of writing he has ever seen in a rug and textile book.

So while “Romeo Russell” struck out, the “Flowers” Editor in Chief, Russell, struck gold.



In 1980 (a year full of important rug books), the first 20th century book on Moroccan weaving, “From the Far West: Carpets and Textiles of Morocco,” was published. 

It was edited by Patricia Fiske, a curator at the TM, and by Pickering and Yohe.  There were, also, important contributions by a number of other students of Moroccan weaving.


Pickering wrote the introduction, saying in part that “this book is the most definitive work on Moroccan carpets in over half a century.”  He also said that it was the result of “interest, travel and study by representatives of The Textile Museum over the last ten years.”

Yohe wrote a 10-page contribution, entitled “Al Maghrib Al Aqsa: Islam’s Far West. 


He said, in part, that Morocco is “further west than Spain or Portugal, or even Ireland.”  His writing is concise and accessible, even elegant, and a bit poetic, in places.  It is another instance in which he has demonstrated that he can write.

A number of Yohe’s pieces are included in this volume in color.  Here are three.


On the left is an older High Atlas pile rug, Ouaouzguite.

On the right is its back.  The structure of this rug is such that the bright colors used for the wefts show only on the back.


Above is an Oulad Bou Sbba pile carpet.  A 4-1-4 plus 2 array of diamond devices with small human figures.slide30

A third carpet is wonderfully abstract.  Its design resembles those of some paintings, such as the work of Mondrian (we’ll see this rug again).


In 1980, Yohe became an active breeder and promoter of the Turkish Akbash dogs, a large white breed that lives with and protects livestock (not a herding breed).  These dogs are familiar with their owners, but wary of, and alarming to strangers. 

Jerry Franke tells of visiting Yohe at his “farm” with some other rug collectors.  Yohe told them, “When you arrive, stay in the car.  I’ll come get you.”  Yohe had a number of these dogs and continued to work with them until his death in 1994.   


Now let’s return to the 1983 exhibition and catalog, the result of Landreau’s and Yohe’s field work with Yoruks, in the south central Turkish coast and the mountains immediately to the north.

There are a number of pieces in this catalog, presented in color, but there is no ownership indicated for any of them.  They seem to be older Yoruk material. 

Here are two of them.


Strong graphics.


Yohe, of course, contributed a number of pieces to this catalog.  They are all in black and white.



The Landeau-Yohe field work also illustrates how difficult it is to do this, unless one is a near member of the group being studied.  “Outsider” field researcher, especially males without the language of the studied group, are, unavoidably, and seriously, dependent on others to facilitate their research. 

Landeau and Yohe openly state that a primary facilitator of their research was an Anatolian dealer.  They say in their beginning Acknowledgements that this dealer “…traveled with us, along many dusty roads and frequently treacherous miles, through the the “yayla,” and on roads clinging to the sides of the mountains. He introduced us to the people in the Yoruk villages and camps; he acted as friend, guide, adviser and activator.” 

Now every field researcher needs such a facilitating resource, but there are signs that those on whom Landreau and Yohe were dependent had objectives distinctive from those at which they aimed in their field work. 

Some familiar with Turkey and this research effort say that the folks helping Landreau and Yohe took them to ostensible “Yoruk” villages in which there was no longer active weaving, and may have sometimes “seeded” them with possible “Yoruk” weavings to be bought (Landreau and Yohe acknowledge that some of the “yayla” locations they visited had no looms set up).


On the other hand, Landreau and Yohe show several women, held to be Yoruks, spinning and weaving.  Here is one example.  This woman is said to be weaving at Narhkuyu on the Mediterranian coast, using a vertical frame loom (as we have said, some Yoruks lived on the coast part of the year, but migrated to the cooler mountains during the summer).


Above is another piece woven in the area that Landreau and Yohe visited.  Good color. (From their article on their Yoruk field work in Hali, Vol.3, Issue 3, p 184)


Now about Landreau and Yohe being dependent on their Yoruk hosts, here is a seemingly, telling example.  The catalog caption for this piece says that it’s a Yoruk weaving from the Kozan-Digne area.  Digne is in eastern Anatolia due east of Konya.

Now one needs to remember how relatively little was known about textiles, even in the early 1980s, but this piece would now be firmly attributed to the Fars area of Iran.  It is not “Yoruk.”  It is not even Anatolian.  It is the kind of thing that indicates how dependent field researchers are on their cultural facilitators.


There is also some of Yohe’s “Yoruk’ material visible in Walter Denny’s Hali review (32, 49-51) of a 1986 exhibition curated by Jerry Franke and displayed at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee gallery.

Denny described the piece, above, as a Yoruk “keyhole” rug from east central Anatolia.  He said that it has some age.


Denny described this Yoruk rug as one with a “sensationally sober, multiple-gul field from the Malatya area.”  He praised its colors and said that, despite its late age, it was “one of the most evocative and beautiful pieces on exhibition.”

We need to back up a little to see something else that Yohe was participating in in 1983.


The Mary Block Gallery at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, in conjunction with the Chicago Rug Society, staged an exhibition entitled “Discoveries from Kurdish Looms.”  A catalog was published, edited by Robert D. Biggs.  Yohe contributed seven pieces to this exhibition.  Here are two of them.


First, is this interesting Kordi bag shown in a black and white photo.


Second, is this Kurdish kilim woven in the Malatya area of eastern Turkey.


In 1987, Jerry Franke curated an exhibition in Chicago, at the Nahigian Bros. Gallery, and two of Yohe’s rugs appeared in it.

The first of these (above) is a Yuncu kilim from western Turkey.



The second of these is a crisply drawn, spacious, niche-design kilim from the Sivrihisar area of Turkey.  Note the pale green ground.

We talked to a number of people who knew Yohe.  (Some of what we report below, from these conversations, will echo a bit what we’ve said above.)

Mike Tschebull was one of these.  Here are the questions we asked and the answers he gave. 

When did you first meet Yohe?


Through Russ, probably in 1969, when we lived on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. We had a blowout rug collectors’ party around then with Joe McMullan and Ralph included. A lot of gin was drunk (it doesn’t stain rugs when spilled). At that formative event, I got a polite bit of feedback that what I thought was good in the rug world really wasn’t.

What was Yohe collecting then?

Ralph was on an eclectic collector. He had great Remington bronzes, and all sorts of other applied art.

Howe: Let me stop here a moment at the beginning of my interview with Mike to show you something of Yohe’s eclectism.  Mike has already said that there were Remington bronzes, but there was much more. 


Joe Fell, another close friend of Yohe’s, pointed me to the catalog for an exhibition put on by the The Art Institute of Chicago, but that drew on items from a number of collectors, including Yohe.  This exhibition included textiles, paintings, ceramics and metalwork.

Yohe had 20 pieces in this exhibition.  Some textiles from Yohe’s collection were included.


But a number of the metalwork items were also his.


The piece on the left, above was the back cover of the catalog. 

On this page, alone, 14 of the metal objects included in this exhibit were Ralph’s.

Back to my interview with Mike Tschebull.  (This is Mike talking, again.)



Yohe had at least two world class Caucasian rugs and lots of early Turkish pile pieces, bags and kilims from all over.



Yohe had been in Iran before “Bosporus” exhibition and catalog (1969) was put together.

He had a set of attributions for a class of Fars nomad bags, from the Bassiris in Shiraz, that may still be the be the most accurate available, because it was gotten way before these things were popular and people formed unfounded opinions. The type of bag in question is #91a in Bosporus (see above).  Yohe owned this piece. 

I still use his attribution indicators for these “complementary weft” (Marla Mallett’s recommended term) bags, even though names coming out of Iran for these have changed.

 What kind of person was Yohe?

He was a valuable look-over-the shoulder editor for the Kazak catalogue. Lent several pieces,

including a drop-dead gorgeous, large rug with Memling gulls. He seemed diffident to me, but there was an age and experience gap between us. He helped me a lot.

 Yohe loved gin. It made him make sniffing sounds.

 What is your evaluation of Ralph’s collection?



We had a collectors’ weekend in Racine in 1972 and we got to see everything in his apartment. Pretty, pretty good.

What are some other things you can remember about Yohe, about which I should ask you?

Early on, he put up a multimedia presentation entitled “People of the Horse.”  He had video, stills, and a tape recording: horses running – hoof beats, snorts, etc. – all in coordination.  It was a fabulous, way ahead of its time, experience.

Howe: a number of people remember this program, but no one seems to have the materials.

Jerry Franke,

shared a number of images of pieces that Yohe owned.

The next few slides feature shots that were taken to select pieces for an exhibition and are often not full “all edges” photos.  But they give a further sense of what Yohe collected.



















Howe:   I have been asking what the textile in the center above is, but have not yet found anyone who can tell me.  I’d be curious to know.




I think it not inaccurate to suggest that the acme of Yohe’s career as a collector and student of oriental rugs is marked by his work with Russell Pickering on Moroccan weaving. 

The publication of “The Far West…” volume was an important step into this world, but its culmination is unavoidably, the publication, with Brooke and Russell Pickering, of “Moroccan Carpets”

Here, in turn, are Brooke’s, and then, Russell’s remembrances of Yohe, and of their time with him.

Brooke’s remembrances:


I knew Ralph from early childhood, and from those years remember him as one of the many beloved rug-world characters who came through our apartment.


I really got to know him, though, as a teenager and later in my twenties on our trips to Morocco.


The typical routine after a day of pouring over rugs in the medina, was for Dad and Ralph to settle into the hotel room’s balcony at drinks time with a bottle of scotch and some olives and nuts, with their latest purchase draped on the nearest chair or laid out on the floor of the room.  


As the daylight downshifted in that special Marrakesh way, they’d review the events of the afternoon while admiring the latest great buy.  


This object would, of course, always grow more fabulous and beautiful as the evening went on.

Ralph had such a spirit of camaraderie – he made these evenings a celebration of our collective eye and of the fact we hadn’t let a “great” one get away.  

What strikes me looking back on those times is not just his joy, but also the fact that, even when I was just a teenager, and still called him “Uncle Ralph”, he always wanted to hear my opinion and treated me as a full, equal member of the crew.   He really seemed to enjoy the idea of our team of three.

Traveling with Ralph was much more than an education in rugs.  


His knowledge of agriculture and rural life was deep, and for me, born and raised in the city, it was hugely helpful to hear Ralph explain what we were seeing as we drove through the Atlas Mountains.  


What were they growing/doing/selling over there in the field or by the side of the road?


Ralph almost always knew the answer.  And because of this, he was able to connect the art with the people who made it and with the way they actually lived. We gained so much from his perspective.  He often related things back to his travels in Turkey.  And so we learned about Turkish rugs and Turkish people too.

He always wore a no-nonsense button down the front, usually short sleeved shirt (white or blue) – very mainstream 70’s – with at least two big cameras around his neck. 


We frequently had to stop the car, at a moment’s notice, usually at a perilous curve in the road, on the side of a cliff, so that he could take pictures.

I don’t know how much attention my father and I were paying to these photography sessions – we were probably thinking about lunch or dealing with the army of little kids that would inevitably come running towards Ralph (he was, interestingly, kind of a little kid magnet).  

In the early nineties, when I started giving talks on Moroccan textiles, in typical Ralph style, he gave me an enormous box of his slides of trips to Morocco.  

Well, with that I started paying attention!


There were photos of animals on hillsides, 


shepherds in the fields,


women at looms,







misty mountainsides,




people selling jugs,


loads of produce….

Ralph had the eye of a poet, and of a person who appreciates, not just physical beauty, but the soul behind it.

Here are some photos Ralph took during our Moroccan trips that I put in this poetic category.








* slide91

This is a tannery in Fes.

And here are four more that I like.


This is the road to Chichaoua.


A view of Fes.


This is a man clipping the pile of a finished rug with scissors.


It’s funny about this photo, because I can’t see it objectively.  That’s because I was there for it.

 It was very early in the morning (1977) and we were driving in the Atlas Mountains outside of Marrakesh.  We came around a curve in the road and saw this girl and her donkey in silhouette against the clouds. It looked as though she was walking along the edge of heaven.  

When I see this picture I see my full memory of the scene and I have no idea what it looks like to someone who wasn’t there!  


I used to love hearing Ralph talk about his dogs, which he did often, as he missed them greatly, when he was on the road.  

I remember him becoming teary one night, talking about one of the dogs he trained as service dog for a woman in a wheelchair.  I loved that about him.

 I think along with Ralph’s understated Midwestern straightforwardness, came an open minded and artistic free spirit. In fact, this combination may be what made him a great rug collector.


He loved the good traditional pieces.

(Plate #75 From the Far West: Carpets and Textiles of Morocco, TM).


But he was also charmed by the playfulness of animal motifs (Plate #82). 


And then there is plate #87.  This one just about says it all.


When I bought my first oriental rugs (like many collectors) I was just trying to decorate my NYC apartment.


But I happened onto a group of folks, who, it turned out, were helping U.S. rug collecting and scholarship get to its initial “feet.” 

We often didn’t quite know what we were doing, but some of it turned to be pretty important, and we had fun – as Mike has pointed out, it was good that we were usually drinking gin, because it didn’t stain the rugs.


There were some members of this group that were particularly important to me.


I’ve, long ago, now made my tribute to Joe McMullan, in my remembrance “Don’t Forget to Smell the Flowers Along the Way.” 


And with the able help of the then TM Librarian, Lydia Fraser, we’ve, recently, tried to make sure that the contributions of Arthur Jenkins are not forgotten.

slide104Ralph Yohe was another of these people.

He had done a lot of work in the world of collecting, before we first met, and since he was a journalist, he could flat out write.

And, like me, he was particularly interested in new things – textiles that had not been collected or treated much in the literature. 

He contributed importantly to the Textile Museum exhibition and catalog “From the Bosporus to Samarkand, Flat Woven Rugs, that drew attention to flat weaves and made it legitimate to collect them.


He was, as we have said, one of the few collectors, who (with the then Acting-TM Director, Anthony Landreau, left above) did real field research on Yoruk weaving in Turkey’s Toros mountains. 

And when I happened onto Moroccan rugs and textiles as the result of a chance family vacation there in 1971, Ralph joined me (and subsequently Brooke and me) in a number of trips to Morocco, during which we assembled one of the first serious collections of Moroccan rugs. 


This work also resulted in an exhibition and two books: “From the Far West” and “Moroccan Carpets.”


I first met Ralph in 1967 at a New York Hajji meeting.  We almost immediately became fast friends, which continued until his death in 1994.

As I said, one of the reasons that we began to work together is that we were both interested in new things:  textiles that hadn’t been treated much.

Secondly, he was one of the practitioners of a kind of collecting creed that I’ve tried to recommend to other collectors. 

I have argued that it’s not sufficient to assemble an array of interesting, even noteworthy textiles.  One should also examine them closely, record your findings, compare them with those in the literature, and even write about your collection, if only for yourself.  This credo underpins the McMullan Award. 


I see it as a triangle, moving counter-clockwise from the lower left.  First Search and Seizure.  Then across to Study and Analysis, before moving to the acme of Stewardship.

As Brooke has said, Ralph was a real and generous human being.  He had real skills and ability.


He traveled widely and had seen a lot of the world and its cultures.  He was curious and open to new things.  And he had a record of accomplishment. 

But he was also truly interested in people.  He liked working in a team.  As Brooke testifies, even when she was young, he treated her and her opinions seriously.  You can see why he was a “kid magnet.” 

He genuinely cared about his fellow creatures.  Not just his big, white dogs, but also the lady in the wheel chair that he was training one of them to help. 


And he was fun, especially, when the gin made him make sniffing sounds.


Yohe was one of the best people I have known and I’m still daily grateful for our experiences together and our great friendship.


In 1994, the year in which Yohe died, we published the “Moroccan Carpets” book, based on material Yohe and Brooke and I had collected over nearly 20 years.

It is a fitting epitaph.

John Howe: 

Brooke Pickering wrote me, the afternoon before I was to give this presentation at the Textile Museum, saying that her dad had passed away early that morning. 

Russell was the driving force behind this remembrance of Yohe. 

I gave it to him repeatedly, in practice, and know that he was pleased with the result.

His last phone message (probably the day before Russell died) said that he was not well and apologized for not being able to be there.

Paul Kreiss: Using Books to Learn About Rugs and Other Textiles

Posted in Uncategorized on March 21, 2017 by rjohn

On March 11, 2017, Paul Kreiss gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program, here at The Textile Museum, in Washington, D.C. on Using Books to Learn About Rugs and Other Textiles.


Tom Goehner, the Textile Museum’s Curator of Education introduced Paul.



Paul is one of the few book dealers in the U.S. who specializes in rug and textile books.  He lives in Baltimore, Md. His firm is The Rug Book Shop. He has a web site:

but also sends out periodic listings to a mailing list.  He has been operating his business for over 40 years.  He knows something about rug and other textile books.

Paul is trained as a biologist, and taught biology at the college level for a number of years, so he has an appreciation for information about rugs and other textiles that is grounded in scientific evidence.

Paul began by saying that there are a number of different ways to learn about rugs. 

You can look at some, with them in hand. 


Looking at a rug, in hand, you will be able to see the colors and designs accurately, be able to feel the wool, and tell whether the handle is firm and thick or thin and floppy. 

But looking at a rug won’t tell its you age, its site of manufacture, the meanings of its motifs, what its quality is, or how much to pay for it.  For these you need to consult additional sources.  Dealers are one such.

  • Dealers will give you prices and may be willing to talk to you about what they think they know about rugs.  If, a given dealer knows anything, and if he/she is analytic enough to tell you how they know what they say they know, they may be able to answer questions like:  
  • Why is this rug Persian? 
  • Why is this floral-designed Persian a Nain and not an Isfahan, Sarouk, Qom, Kashan, Kerman or Tabriz?
  • How can you tell that this rug was woven in the early 19th century?
  • Why do the 5 flowers in the corner ward off evil?
  • Why is this a “princess Bokhara?”  Another dealer told me that it’s a Tekke ensi.

Rug and textile collectors are another source of such information.

A further way to learn about rugs and textiles is to consult books, and other textile literature, about them. 



Although the information about rugs in books has its own problems of accuracy, one advantage of learning about rugs from books is that you can, very efficiently, see a great deal of information about a lot of them.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about today: using books and related literature to learn about rugs and other textiles.

A first question might be: “How many books are there on Oriental Rugs and other textiles?

The first book, solely on rugs, was published in 1877 by Julius Lessing.



There was a rapid translation in 1879.



Since then a great many rug and textile books have been published.  Paul said that he estimates that the current total is about 3,000.

The components of this estimate are as follows.

In 1994 George O’Bannon published an extensive Bibliography.



He listed about 2100 items.  Paul said that about 400 have been published since and that perhaps an additional 500 are missing.

In addition, he said there have been about 1500 auction catalogs, about 400 issues of magazines on rugs and about 200 articles in journals.

So that’s the estimated universe of rug and textile books and related publications.

The balance of Paul’s talk was taken up with discussion of particular books or groups of books.

He said that to return to the question of why consult books to learn about rugs, an early book by Mumford is relevant.

Mumford had some ideas about why it’s advantageous to consult rug books:

1. to consider the deep and enjoyable meaning of Oriental floor coverings

2. to throw light upon the life and work of the weavers

3. to place the reader in possession of such information regarding the rugs, both genuine and spurious, now  generally offered for sale, as shall deliver him from the mercy of the decorator, the salesman and the auctioneer

4. to emphasize the superiority of the old vegetable dyes

5. to give an idea of what constitutes the value of, of the comparative worth of the various Oriental weavings, and the means of distinguishing them.

Mumford’s ORIENTAL RUGS.   1900, 1st edition, 284 p., 32 illus., 16 in color, 28.5 x 20 cm, is one of the standard early works on Oriental rugs. 

The author was associated with Kent Costikyan, one of New York’s major Oriental carpet importers and dealers.  So he knew much more about rugs than  many other authors of      that period.  So this book is still useful today.  

The plates are useful for illustrating rugs available at the turn of the century and they have to be 19th century or earlier.  Mumford’s description of modern rugs (i.e. circa 1900) is  useful, since these rugs are today’s antiques.

Attributions are not always accurate.  He started the erroneous notion of “Kazak” being related with Cossacks.   He uses the term “Bokhara,” and says that they were woven by Tekke weavers, but says that he’s using it only because he doesn’t want to add new terms.

There are a number of editions.  The 1900 edition is the 1st.  But there are also editions in 1902, 1905, 1915, 1923, 1925, 1929, 1937 and 1981.  This book contains an Index, and two folding maps.

Paul said that his own list of the advantages of consulting rug literature is different from Mumford’s.

1. to get an idea of prices for rugs

2. to see what variety of rugs is available

3. to see rugs which are not commercially available, e.g.  classic rugs in museums

4. to explore a weaving area: Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, Turkestan, East Turkestan, Tibet, China, Belouch

5. to explore a specific area, as for example,  Turkish kilims, Persian pictorial rugs, short pile Caucasian rugs.

Paul added:

To get an idea of prices for rug (very few books give prices) use auction catalogues, rug dealer’s stocks, and the internet.

These sources will also let you:

see what variety of rugs is available, lots of color pictures from a variety of areas

(for a beginning collector) see 19th & early 20th century rugs, so you can determine whether you want Persian Heriz carpets or Anatolian “prayer” rugs

see plates of rugs that are commercially available 

see rugs from all over, something it is hard to do in person 

see the range of designs for a given area.

For books in general, it is desirable to have an author: 

who grew up in given areas, or who has traveled to them, 

who speaks the languages, 

has good taste,

knows about rugs themselves, 

has knowledge of the related literature, 

is able to evaluate what he or she has heard with a fair amount of skepticism

are able to explain the reasoning behind his or her statements  

is able to illustrate the rugs, in color

Paul divided the balance of his talk into three groups of books.

  • More general introductory books
  • Books about rugs that are not usually commercially available (e.g. rugs in museums)
  • To explore a particular weaving area: Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, Baluch, Turkestan, East Turkestan, Tibet, China

General Introductory Books

He started with a listing of general introductory books. (Note: Paul will often refer to books not treated here in his comparisons.)



Eiland, M.L.  STARTING TO COLLECT ANTIQUE ORIENTAL RUGS.  2003, 192 p., 178 illus., 170 in color, 24 x 19.5 cm.  A book for the beginning collector, with sections on where to buy, what to look for, care and restoration, materials and techniques, dyes and designs, and then coverage of the major rug producing areas: Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, India and China.  Flatweaves and modern rugs are also covered.  Hardcover.

Next was a book by Bennett.

*    *

Bennett, I. RUGS AND CARPETS OF THE WORLD. 1977, 2000 printing,  351 p., 500 illus., 160 in color, 33 x 24 cm. 

An advanced introduction to rugs, comparable to Eiland’s or Hubel’s in depth & tone, but tending to emphasize older rugs more; also a section on Navajo rugs. Hard. also a 1983 printing.

Howe insertion:  While we are talking about general treatments of oriental rugs, I can’t resist inserting one of my own.


Here is Paul’s description, from his web site, of this book and its several reprints.

Hawley, Walter A. ORIENTAL RUGS, ANTIQUE AND MODERN. 1970 reprint of the 1913 ed., 320 p., 87 pl., 11 in color, 23.5 x 15.5 cm. A standard early work, which was one of the two best general guides for about a 30 year period; it is now mostly useful for the illustrations of rugs which predate 1913. Hardcover and paperback reprint. Out of print.

Howe:  I have a large format 1937 edition of this book.  The reason I’m inserting it here is that it seems to be one of the earliest systematic treatments of technical aspects of oriental rugs.  I was not sure that these technical descriptions were included in the original 1913 edition, but Paul says they were.  Here, below, is one instance of the technical information Hawley provides:


Hawley includes a technical summary of this sort at the end of each of most of his treatments of rugs from a given area.  It seems to me a remarkable thing that he may have published such technical information as early as 1913.  The general rug literature seems mostly not to have begun to include it until the 1970s.

I’ll stop messing with Paul’s listing now.



Thompson, J.  ORIENTAL RUGS. 1988, 2nd ed., 175 p., 159 illus., 148 in color, 29 x 21 cm. Exhibition catalogue, with rugs which vary from commercial to antique.

The text is a nice introduction to rugs, dividing them into tribal, cottage industry, village/city workshop, and court rugs; the rugs are nicely supplemented by pictures of rugs in use and being made; the text serves as a useful general introduction to Oriental rugs.

The second edition is the same as the first except for added sections  with some advice for buyers and sellers, a glossary, and some notes on rug and flatweave construction. Paper.



Ford, P.R.J.  ORIENTAL CARPET DESIGN. 1981 (1989 reprint), 352 p., 800 illus., 400 in color, 33 x 24.5 cm. An advanced introductory book, based on the idea of identifying rugs by first examining the complexity of their designs and not by the country of origin. It is extremely well illustrated. 

The author was a buyer in Iran for  OCM, the Oriental Carpet Manufacturer company in the UK, and the book relects the knowledge he gained from that.  Chapters are based on designs: border designs, boteh, herati, tree, vase, prayer rug, garden, picture, geometric designs with and without medallions, and floral designs with and without medallions.  

Within each chapter Ford describes production of that type of rug from about 200 different villages, cities, and regions in Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, Turkestan, China, Tibet and to a lesser extent Pakistan, India, and Romania.  As might be expected from his buying background, there is more detail on rugs from Iran.  The focus is on current production, that is the middle of the 20th century, so there is coverage of manufacturers in Pakistan, India, China, and Romania.  19th century and earlier rugs are illustrated mostly to show the evolution of designs.  

More so than many other books on identification, Ford bases a lot of the identification of the origin of a rug on the construction: color and composition of warps and wefts, feel of the wool, tightness of weaving, colors of the rug and sizes.  Ford also does not hesitate to comment on prices, on the quality of a design, of wool, and of colors. 

This, along with the books by Thompson, Bennett, and Eiland, is one of the best general books on Oriental rugs.  Paperback.  Originally a hardcover.



Eiland, M. L. Jr, & Eiland, M. III.  ORIENTAL CARPETS. 1998, 4th ed., 368 p., 365 illus., 330 in color, 31 x 24 cm.  The first three editions were excellent for their times; this one follows the footsteps of the earlier ones. 

There is more emphasis on attribution and the text reflects the developments in rug scholarship that have occurred since the previous, 3rd edition. 

As with the early editions, there have been major changes, and this is an essential book for every serious rug collector.  Hardback.

They have traveled in Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, and Central Asia. They  do know the literature, and comment on things accurate and inaccurate.  They are a psychiatrist and an archaeologist, which means some degree of a science background and thus some awareness of why evidence is important. 

Lots of illustrations and color is good. Much of the time gives evidence for attributions or explains why there is none. 



MacDonald, B.W. TRIBAL RUGS. TREASURES OF THE BLACK TENT. 1997, 1st edition, 302 p., more than 200 color plates, 28 x 22 cm. 

A survey of tribal rugs: Turkish, Turkmen, Caucasian, and Persian, although the focus is on Persian, reflecting the author’s fieldwork in Iran.  The specific areas are Turkmen, Anatolian Yuruk, Kizil Bash, Caucasian areas, Shahsavan, Afshar, Qashqa’i, Khamseh, Lor, Bakhtiyari, Baluch and Taimuri.   Most of the examples are 19th century and many are localized to specific tribes or sub-tribes.  Colors are good; quality of the rugs are good.  Rugs include carpets, kilims, bag faces, sofrehs, and bags including salt bags.  The comments on the textiles have some focus on symbolism.

For example, a small Shirvan bag with 8 deer or gazelles in the field “here we see the interpretation of life in paradise – the light colored animals representing the males and the dark colored animals representing the females”. 

There are brief sections on the historical background of the areas.  One chapter on modern rugs to show the contrast with older ones, and one chapter gives advice on what to look for and what mistakes to avoid.  Hard.   There is a new edition coming out in 2017.

Rugs Not Commercially Available,

(e.g., Museums)

Paul’s next set of rug books was those not commercially available: for example, museums.  Visiting museums can involve a lot of travel, and arranging to get into storage areas.



Metropolitan Museum of Art: Dimand, M.S. & Mailey, J. ORIENTAL RUGS IN THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART. 1973, 353 p., 318 pl., 19 in color, 28.5 x 21.5 cm.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has one of the best 3 collections of rugs in the US; this is the catalogue of this  collection, with discussion of the major rug producing areas.  The text is informative and puts rugs in the context of other Islamic art.



Victoria and Albert Museum: Kendrick, A.F. and Tattersall, C.E.C. / Victoria and Albert Museum / Department of Textiles.   GUIDE TO THE COLLECTION OF CARPETS.  1931, Victoria and Albert Museum, 120 p., 52 black and white plates.  Third edition. 

68 pages of text describing the rugs: Persian, Caucasian, Turkish, Central Asian, Chinese, Spanish, North African and European; then plates of them.



Museum fur angewandte Kunst Völker, A. DIE ORIENTALISCHEN KNÜPFTEPPICHE IM MAK (Oriental Carpets in the Museum for Applied Arts, Vienna).  2001, 436 p., 168 illus., 160 in color, 31 x 22 p. 

A catalogue of 150 rugs from this major museum, ranging from Mamluk rugs (5 of them!) through 16th century Persian and Turkish to 19th century Turkmen and Moroccan.  There is a 30 page introduction on the museum; most of the book consists of the plates with brief comments about the rugs.  In German.



Iparművészeti Múzeum  / Museum of Applied Art Batari, F.  OZMÁN-TÖRÖK SZŐNYEGEK (Ottoman Turkish Carpets).  1994, 216 p., 184 color illus., 28.5 x 19.5 cm. 

A catalogue of the Turkish rugs from the Iparmuveszeti Museum; there are 176 of them, from the 15th – 19th centuries; all are illustrated.  This is a major collection of Turkish rugs, and this is the major description of this museum’s holdings.  

The text describes all the rugs, with technical descriptions and references to previous publication; there is also an extensive bibliography.  Colors look good, but maybe a bit pale.



M.H. de Young Museum Cootner, C., ed. FLAT-WOVEN TEXTILES. THE ARTHUR JENKINS COLLECTION.  Vol I, 1981, 221 p., 62 illus., 40 in color, 31 x 23 cm.

An analysis of the 62 flat-weaves in this collection; the flatweaves are from Iran, Turkey, and the Caucasus.  Cootner provides an extensive essay on flatweave production in Iran, Turkey and the Caucasus and on the specific textiles. 

The second part of the book contains  5 essays: Cootner: Flat-weaves and knotted pile: An historical and  structural overview; Bierman: Medieval flatweaves in the Urban Middle East; Beattie: A note on zilu; Wertime: Weft-wrapping in in nomadic and village flat-woven textiles from the Near-East and Central Asia, and Wertime: A guide to flat-woven structures.  

This is volume 1; there was no volume 2.  Hardcover.



Cootner, C.M.  ANATOLIAN KILIMS. THE CAROLINE & H. MCCOY JONES COLLECTION. 1990, 275 p., 172 illus., 115 in color, 32.22 (hard), 30.5 x 21.5 (soft) cm.  Colors are good; kilims are mostly pre-19th century. 

The text describes the colors and designs of each kilim; this is done briefly, which is just as well, since the reader can see the colors and designs him- or herself; the major part of the text attempts to analyze kilims as art and in the context of other crafts: basketry and pottery



St. Louis Museum with Ballard’s rugs Denny, W. B. and Farnham, T. J. THE CARPET AND THE CONNOISSEUR.  THE JAMES F. BALLARD COLLECTION OF ORIENTAL RUGS.  2016,  240 p., 279 illustrations, 272 in color, 28 x 24 cm. 

Ballard was a wealthy drug manufacturer, who collected rugs in the 1st quarter of the 20th century, when 16th, 17th, and 18th were readily available (to wealthy individuals).  He at one time had some 300 rugs.  

This catalogue accompanied a 2016 exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum of the rugs Ballard left there.  The exhibited items are the most important of Ballard’s rugs: 50 carpets and 2 Persian tents.   All have interesting comments about them by Denny, and are illustrated in full with smaller illustrations of details of the back.

The rugs are 16th to 18th, with a few later ones.  Most of the rugs are Turkish: Lottos, Ushaks, a variety of classical prayer rugs, but there are also Persian, Caucasian, Mamluk, Turkmen, and Mughal examples.   An appendix has illustrations 51 more items of less importance. 

Chapters: one on Ballard as a collector by Farnham;  the general topic of rug varieties in this collection in a larger art historical context by Denny; and introductions to each geographical area by Denny.



Vakiflar Museum Balpinar, B. & Hirsch. U.  CARPETS OF THE VAKIFLAR MUSEUM ISTANBUL / TEPPICHE DES VAKIFLAR-MUSEUMS ISTANBUL.  1988, 343 p., 83 color pl., bl & wh illus., 31 x 22.5 cm. 

The long-awaited sequel on carpets of this museum.  Most of the carpets are Turkish.  There are two 13th century Seljuk carpets; most of the rest are from the 15th – 17th centuries.  There are two 17th to 18th century Iranian carpets, and ten Caucasian carpets including four Dragon carpets from the 17th and 18th centuries.  Dating is done in part by comparison with similar rugs in dated Western paintings and illustrations in manuscripts, and with designs in woodwork and other Islamic arts. 

The text describes the museum and the origins of the collection; then analyzes each carpet illustrated, in detail.  Many of these rugs are well known in the rug literature and the text summarizes what other authors have said about them.   Hard. 



Balpinar, B. & Hirsch, U. FLATWEAVES OF THE VAKIFLAR MUSEUM ISTANBUL.  1982, 295 p., 120 color pl., 32 x 22 cm. Catalogue of the rugs collected from the Vakif (Pious Foundation) mosques throughout Turkey.  The kilims are impressive; the text describes possible tribal origins & flat-weave techniques. Hard.



Russian Ethnographic Museum / Rossiiskii Ethnographicheskii Muzei Tzareva, E. TAPPETI DEI NOMADI DELL’ASIA CENTRALE.  CARPETS OF CENTRAL ASIAN NOMADS. 1993, 142 p., 66 illus., 30 in color, 27.5 x 21 cm.  

Based on an exhibition of rug, tent bands, sacks, felts, suzani from the Russian Ethnographic Museum, St. Peterburg; detailed technical descriptions, including analogous published examples.

Many were given to the museum by Bogolyubov, who collected them before 1900, and Dudin, who bought them between 1900 and 1902; thus many are clearly 19th century or before. 

There are short sections on the museum, on Turkmen, Kirghiz and Uzbek nomads; on yurt furnishings; on the symbolism of red; on textiles for weddings.  This is an  interesting look at Turkmen textiles from a major Turkmen collection. Italian / English text.  Hard.



Philadelphia Museum of Art Ellis, C.G.  ORIENTAL CARPETS IN THE PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART.  1988, 304 p., 182 illus., 76 in color, 31 x 30.5 cm. 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has one of the top 5 collections of rugs in the US.  This is a scholarly discussion of  81 15th to 19th century carpets.  Most of the rugs come from the collections of two wealthy Philadelphia businessmen: McIlhenny and Williams and were bought in the first quarter of the 19th century. 

For each rug, there is a detailed description of the pattern, comparison to other rugs with the same or similar field or border designs, summary of and comments on earlier mentions of the rugs, a list of European paintings with this or similar rugs (which gives information on the age of the rugs) and technical descriptions.

The color illustrations are of the rugs in the Museum; the black and white illustrations are of paintings and similar examples.  The text is interesting, as are the rugs. Hardback and paper.

And then there are the books on the Textile Museum rugs.



The TM has nothing on the entire collection:  Kühnel, E. & Bellinger, L. CAIRENE RUGS AND OTHERS TECHNICALLY RELATED, 15th CENTURY – 17th CENTURY.  1957.    



Mackie, L.M. & Thompson, J. TURKMEN TRIBAL CARPETS AND TRADITIONS.  This is the catalog that accompanied a 1980 exhibition of Turkmen rugs at The Textile Museum. 

It was one of the books that marked the shift to tribal names and increased attention to technical descriptions of materials and structure. Text by Thompson, detailed technical descriptions by Mackie.  This is the book in which Thompson proposed some Imreli attributions (questioned and quickly withdrawn).

Articles at the end: Hans Konig on Ersari Carpets; Robert and Leslie Pinner on Tekke chuvals; and Mark Whiting on Dyes in Turkmen Carpets. Hardback. 239 pages.

This catalog was considered by many, until recently, to be the standard treatment on Turkmen rugs and other textiles.



Mackie, L.M. THE SPLENDOR OF TURKISH WEAVING. 1974, 86 p., 48 pl., 4 in color, 25 x 18 cm.

Exhibition catalogue from the Textile Museum of Turkish silks & rugs from the 13th to 18th centuries



Landreau, A.N., & Pickering, W.R. FROM THE BOSPORUS TO SAMARKAND: FLAT-WOVEN RUGS. 1969, 112 p., 113 pl., 9 in color, 28 x 20 cm. A good exhibition catalogue, with an introduction to flat-weaves in general. From the Textile Museum.

Seen by some to be the first U.S. publication that treated flat-woven material seriously.     



Landreau, A.N. & Yohe, R.S. FLOWERS OF THE YAYLA: YORUK WEAVING OF THE TOROS MOUNTAINS.  This Textile Museum catalog reports on an effort by Landreau and Yohe to do systematic field work on “Yoruk” weaving in Toros Mountains of Anatolia.  One of the few attempts to do serious field work by a U.S. curator and a U.S. collector.



Ellis., C.G. EARLY CAUCASIAN RUGS. 1975, 112 p., 37 pl., 10 in color, 28 x 22 cm.

Exhibition catalogue from the Textile Museum, with an extensive introduction to early Caucasian rugs; 37 rugs, mostly from the Textile Museum.    



Krody, S.B. FLOWERS OF SILK AND GOLD. FOUR CENTURIES OF OTTOMAN EMBROIDERY.  2000, 160 p.,180 color illus.,  29 x 24 cm.   This accompanied a Textile Museum exhibition, and provides a detailed discussion of Ottoman embroidery, including techniques used in making them, as well as the social, political and economic factors influencing their production and consumption.



Al-Sabah Collection Spuhler, F.  PRE-ISLAMIC CARPETS AND TEXTILES FROM EASTERN LANDS.  DAR AL-ATHAR AL-ISLAMIYYAH.  THE AL-SABAH COLLECTION, KUWAIT.  2014, 160 p., 112 color illus., 28.5 x 22.5 cm. 

As might be expected, these textiles are fragments; they include Sassanian carpets and flatweaves and a variety of Sogdian textiles.   They come from  Central Asia or China and Eastern Iran and range in age from 4th to 12th centuries, as determined by radio-carbon dating. 

The text describes the textiles in the context of history of art in Sassanian and Sogdian cultures.   Hardcover.  

Two minor collections with special interest:



Smith Collection McMullan, J.V. & Reichert, D.O. THE GEORGE WALTER VINCENT AND BELLE TOWNSLEY SMITH COLLECTION OF ISLAMIC RUGS.  n.d.(1970), 169 p., 75 illus., 12 in color, 25 x 18 cm.

Most of these were purchased in l893 and l897-l898; the rest were purchased by 1905, so nearly all are l9th century; most are village or nomadic rugs from Turkey, the Caucasus & Turkmenistan, with a few Persian. This is then an invaluable documented record of 19th century village and nomadic rugs.  Paper.



Allen Memorial Art Museum Roberts, E.H.  ISLAMIC CARPETS.  In Bulletin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 36:4-113, 1978.  71 illus., 5 in color. 

About 50 of these rugs were donated to the museum from the estate of Charles Hall, one of the two inventors of the Hall-Heroult process, used to make aluminum from aluminum ore.

Hall died, quite wealthy as might be expected,  in 1915, so these rugs are 19th century. 

4 more came from another donor in 1904 and the other examples in this exhibtion are also 19th century, including a 19th century Caucasian dragon sile flatweave used as wrapping to ship an archeological altar from Pergamon to the Berlin Museum. 

The rugs are mostly tribal and village.  The collection is unusual in that at this time, many collections were of classic and city rugs, so this is an interesting snapshot of what village and tribal rugs were available around 1900.  

There are 20 Persian, 22 Turkish, 10 Caucasian, 13 Turkmen, and 6 Indian and Chinese.  Illustrations are sometimes fuzzy. New. Paper.

To get depth on a weaving area:

The next reason for reading books is to explore, in depth, specific weaving areas: Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, Turkestan, East Turkestan, Tibet, China, Belouch



Turkey: Brüggemann, W. & Böhmer, H. RUGS OF THE PEASANTS AND NOMADS OF ANATOLIA. 1983, 356 p., 114 color illus., bl & wh photographs, 29.5 x 25 cm. The winner of the 1983 Quatrefoil Award; this book is the result of an exhibition of 19th century nomad & peasant rugs from 4 German museum and 30 private collections. 

Both the rugs and the quality of the color plates make this book valuable; there are comments for each rug, a technical analysis which includes a dye analysis. 

Brüggemann’s introductory essay – 80 pages – covers ethnic groups in Anatolia, problems in attribution, colors, design construction, motifs and symbolism; the flavor of his writing can be gotten from this sentence “At all times, the woman at the loom had only this in mind: sorrow and hope, rejection and devotion.” He also has two short essays, one on the development of a motif in Turkish rugs and one on stepped mihrab rugs. 

Böhmer’s section – 30 pages – is on dyes – including nice drawings of various dye plants – and how they can be used to determine ages and origins of specific carpets. Hard. There is also a German edition.



Butterweck, G. & Orasch, L.  HANDBOOK OF ANATOLIAN CARPETS. CENTRAL ANATOLIA.  1986, 229 illus.,22l in color, 356 p., 30 x 21 cm.

The value of this book lies in the huge number of pictures of Anatolian rugs, kilims, and tulus, with attributions to specific towns in central Anatolia.  The areas covered are Konya and towns nearby, Kirşhehir, Mucur, Avanos, Ürgüp, Kayseri, the area between Nigde and Taşpinar, Samsun area, Mihaliççik area, and Ankara. 

The rugs are from private collections and dealers.   A few rugs have dates in the 19th century and some look worn enough to be old; many look to be 20th century.   Since some of the towns do not produce good rugs, not all the rugs are attractive. 

The text is organized around rug-weaving areas with some information on the characteristics of that area and a lot of digressions; it did not need, for example, a paragraph on Nasreddin Hodja and a page on the Dutch tulip craze.  It is also not obvious that the designs in the border of a Ladik prayer rugs represent unripe and ripened poppy capsules with the unripe ones shown sliced open for eventually making opium and thus representing profit, and the ripe ones, because of the oil from  their seeds, representing food for the farmer. 

Hard. No dust jacket, as so issued. In German/English.

There seem to be a lot of books on Turkish kilims:


(no image)


Brüggemann, W. YAYLA. FORM UND FARBE IN TURKISCHER TEXTILKUNST. 1993, 424 p., 149 color illus., 30 x 24 cm.  A very much expanded exhibition catalogue, with sections on the history of flatweaves in Turkey, culture & religion, dyes, structure, designs, as well as descriptions of the textiles in the illustrations; most are flatweaves. In German. Hard.



Davies, P.  ANTIQUE KILIMS OF ANATOLIA.  2000, 160 p., 160 illus., 80 in color, 27.5 x 24 cm.   This is a revised and expanded version of his earlier book on kilims. 

There is substantial, informative, and balanced text which starts with wool: the best areas on a sheep and how the difference between carding and combing creates wool for threads and wool for felt, continues through the virtue of hand-weaving for creating threads for different purposes in a rug, through dyes and looms and how the split-weave tapestry technique can limit the range of motifs in a rug. 

There is a good chapter on the meaning of symbols, or rather how hard it is to assign meanings to symbols; a chapter which gives the evidence for each of the three theories on the origin of kilim production in Anatolia; a chapter with an argument that the designs of  three-colored Yüncü kilims originate in Central Asian felts; and a chapter which explores the esthetic sense of Turkish weavers in how they determine which kilims are beautiful. 

Illustrations of 73 kilims from a variety of areas; nearly all are 19th century.  Hardcover.  




This is the catalogue to Dr. Martin Posth’s collection of 19th and a few 18th century rugs and kilims exhibited at the Bumiller Collection – University Museum Islamic Art in Berlin.  The 58 textiles are of excellent quality and from a variety of places in Anatolia; each is illustrated. 

The extra illustrations are small and are of similar pieces gleaned from a huge number of sources: other books on Oriental carpets, books on museum collections, rug dealer’s catalogues, auction catalogues – there is a 14 page bibliography.  

The introductory essays focuses on how the motifs in the rug and the composition of the design can display symbols that show the traces of Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, Caucasian, Byzantine and Buddhist influences on this Turkish art.  Some of the rugs have been previously printed in Posth’s earlier book.  Paperback.  New. 



Koll, H. and Steinbock, S.  DIE POESIE DES EINFACHEN. EINE SAMMLUNG ANATOLISCHER KELIMS.  (The Poetry of Simple Things.  A Collection of Anatolian Kilims).  Aachen 2015. 292 pages, 131 color illus., 30 x 30 cm. 

This massive book come from these dealers’ activities as sellers of high quality kilims.   The large size and photographs of details permits close examination of details of the weave and color.   

The wide range of kilim types includes early examples and a number of completely unexpected material which contributes to the formerly discussed and previously published spectrum of the Anatolian kilims created in the 18th and early 19th century.  

It is remarkable, among different systems of ornament, the large number of kilims reflecting patterns based on fascinating rhythms of stripes, as well as of flatwoven items containing camel hair.   In German and English. One of 70 or 100 copies.

Books on kilims and rugs, not solely on Turkey:



Hull, A. & Luczyk-Wyhowska, J. KILIM. 1993, 352 p., 649 illus., 370 in color, 33 x 25 cm. Hull travelled a lot in Asia; Luczyk-Wyhowska had a kilim store.   Many illustrations, although some are drawings of designs or enlargments of parts of rugs; there is an attempt to give distinguishing features of kilims from different areas; the emphasis is on Turkey, the Caucasus & Iran, but there are sections on North Africa and Central Asia as well as some advice on collecting (with a list of about 100 dealers in Europe, the US, New Zealand & Australia) and on new kilim production.  This is now probably the best introductory book on kilims in these areas.  Hard.



Caucasus: Bennett, I. ORIENTAL RUGS, VOL I: CAUCASIAN. 1981, 376 p., 491 illus, 336 in color, 25.5 x 21 cm. This is designed for the serious collector of Caucasian rugs woven after 1800; the 491 examples, from the Nagel auctions, are analyzed in terms of how old they are, where they were produced, and what other authors might call them.  Hard.    



Wright, R.E. & Wertime, J.T. CAUCASIAN CARPETS AND COVERS. 1995, 184 p., 132 illus., 34.5 x 25 cm.  A comprehensive survey of Caucasian weaving, using travelers reports and 19th century Russian literary sources to localize specific rug designs to specific areas, and also using census data to identify the ethnic groups making rugs and flatweaves.  There is some focus on flatweaves & utilitarian objects, since the authors argue than these were more traditional than the piled rugs, many of which were made for the Western European or Russian export market, although the Czarist government did encourage use of traditional designs.    Hard. 



Kaffel, R. CAUCASIAN PRAYER RUGS. 1998, 192 p., 170 illus., 160 in color, 34.5 x 24.5 cm. 

The author has a database of over 2000 Caucasian prayer rugs, and has used 97 of them as a base for this survey of rugs. 

There is an introduction on what is know about rug weaving and the rug trade in the Caucasus, and on the various types of prayer rugs.  Hardcover.



Tschebull, R.  KAZAK: CARPETS OF THE CAUCASUS. 1971, 104 p., 40 illus., 23 in color, 28 x 20 cm. 

Pictures & descriptions of superb Kazak rugs, from some 20 private and museum collections.  There is a short introduction by McMullan, describing the Kazak weaving area, pointing out that there is very little evidence for assigning Kazak rugs to specific towns, and describing what technical features define Kazak rugs.  Paper.



Nooter, R.H., Koshoridze, I., and Tatikyan, V.; edited by J.T. Wertime.   FLAT WOVEN RUGS AND TEXTILES FROM THE CAUCASUS.  2004, 255 p., 436 color illus., 31 x 23.5 cm.

The first author is with AID and  the World Bank; Nooter’s part of the text is based on interviews with weavers on his field trips in the Caucasus plus data from Russian and Azerbaijani museums, plus what he has gotten from rug dealers in the Caucasus; the other authors are from the Caucasus and specialize in textiles from this area. 

Most of the examples are flatweaves; chapters on kilims and palases, sumakhs, zilis and shaddahs, jajims, mafrash, khorjins, and Georgian textiles.   The text focuses on geographic attributions, and the authors provide justification for them, based partly on what was observed in villages and partly on attribution by dealers.   The examples are early 20th century and late 19th century, a time when flatweaves were being woven for personal use and not for commercial sales. 

Gives places where the pieces were bought and the prices paid for them.

An excellent book on Caucasian flatweaves.  Hardcover.



Edwards, E.C. THE PERSIAN CARPET. 1953(1967 reprint), 424 illus., 4 in color, 28.5 x 21.5 cm.

This is a re-issue of the 1953 edition & is the standard work on older Persian carpets. Iranian rug production, especially city and village, from circa 1880 to 1950, although with hardly any color plates. 

Edwards was a rug buyer in Iran for many years, and this book reflects his first-hand experience. Each area is covered in detail, almost village by village, and provides a comprehensive view of rug production in Iran up to 1950.  In Hamadan between 1911 and 1923 where he set up factories;  returned around 1950 to gather information for the book; with OCM and was eventually a managing director.  Hardcover.   A new reprinting appeared in 2016.

General flatweaves:



Tanavoli, P. PERSIAN FLATWEAVES.  2002, 350 p., 244 color illus., 28 x 22 cm.  An extensive survey of Persian flatweaves of all areas in Iran and all construction. 

The information is based on Tanavoli’s personal knowledge and on wide reading in the European and Iranian literature.

The first part of the book is a history of flatweave production,  showing example from Safavid times and pointing out the extensive trade in flatweaves.

The second part provides examples, largely 19th century, of flatweaves.  Areas covered include  Azerbaijan, Khamseh area, Kurdistan, the Alborz foothills, Mazanderan along the Caspian, the Northeast, Bakhtiyari, Loristan, Khuzistan, Fars, Kerman and Sistan.  

Multiple examples are presented for some 60 different areas and towns of all types of flatweaves: weft-faced ones and with with various kinds of supplementary wefts.  

This will be the definitive book on Persian flatweaves.  Hardcover.




Willborg, P.  CHAHÂR MAHAL VA BAKHTIÂRI.  VILLAGE, WORKSHOP AND NOMADIC RUGS OF WESTERN PERSIA.  2002, 404 p., 407 color illus., 30 x 25 cm. 

A dealer’s monograph on Bakhtiari and related rugs, based partly on field trips to Iran; so the author is able to talk about specific features of rugs of some 40 villages.  Well illustrated; a major publication in this area.  Hardcover. 




Willborg, P. HAMADAN. 1993, 51 p., 86 color illus., 24 x 21 cm.  Dealer’s exhibition catalogue of 43 rugs from the Hamadan area; most of the items are from the 1st third of the 20th century and are localized to villages.  Technical analyses; each rugs is illustrated front and a detail of the back to show weaving technique (a la Neff & Maggs).  Paper.



Runge, T.  ONE WOMAN, ONE WEFT. RUGS FROM THE VILLAGES OF HAMADAN. 2002, 152 p., 165 illus., 155 in color, 30.5 x 24.5 cm.  2/3 of the book consists of illustrations of 75 Hamadan rugs, front and a small detail of the back; the rugs are attributed to specific areas. 

The introductory text describes the sociology of rug production in this area, based partly on letters from Hamadan by Clara Case Edwards (A.Cecil Edwards’ wife), and then goes over rug types from the various villages in the Hamadan area; the text is interesting. 

The author argues, successfully, that among the huge production in this area are many good rugs, and also that they are undervalued.  Technical descriptions.  Hardcover.



Stanzer, W.  KORDI. LEBEN KNUPFEN WEBEN DER KURDEN KHORASANS / LIVES RUGS FLATWEAVES OF THE KURDS OF KHORASAN. 1988, first edition;  1997, 2nd edition, 248 p., 98 color illus., 29 x 23 cm. 

Stanzer has travelled in this area; the textiles are from the Adil Besim Gallery and both Besim and his partner also travelled in this area.  

The book is on this group: how they got there, recent history, nomadic life style, rug production, tribal subgroups.

The section on the recent history discusses how the impacts of Turkmen raids, forced settlement by the government, droughts and hard winters have affected nomadism and types of rug production.  The replacement of camels by trucks, for example, has wiped out the production of camel trappings. 

Very detailed; good color, 19th to mid 20th century rugs. The revisions for the second edition consist of a report of a field trip in 1992, confirming, or not confirming some of the attributions. In German and English. Hard. 




Tanavoli, P.  AFSHAR. TRIBAL WEAVES FROM SOUTHEAST IRAN.  2010, 255 p.,133 color illus., 30 x 22.5 cm. 

This is a book reflecting first-hand knowledge by an Iranian.  The introductory sections include a history of Afshars, using Persian, Arab, and European sources; where Afshars are found in Iran; and problems of identifying Afshar rugs. 

Then 106 examples of rugs, bags, salt bags and saddle covers from Afshars and some of the other tribal groups south and east of Kerman.  Most of the textiles are from the 19th century, before there were changes in these tribal weavings coming from being influenced by changes in commercial production in Kerman in response to what Europeans and Americans wanted. 

Textiles are localized to specific Afshar areas: Sirjan, Baft & Aqta’, Shahr Baba, Jiroft, Kuhi, and Esfandajeh.  There are technical descriptions for about half of the textiles.  In English and Farsi. Hardcover. 

Kerman and Tribal Southern Persian Rugs



Sabahi, Taher.  FIVE CENTURIES OF CARPETS WEAVING IN KERMAN.  2012, labelled as a special edition for the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California and Rug Ideas,  168 p., 193 color illus., 30.5 x 24.5 cm. 

Brief sections on the history and geography of the Kerman area; then chapters on 16th & 17th century rugs; 18th and 19th century rugs and shawls, 20th century rugs, pictorial rugs, and saddle rugs. 

The colors look good; the rugs are from a variety of museum and private collections.  This is a translation of an Italian edition.  Hardcover. 



Opie, J. TRIBAL RUGS OF SOUTHERN PERSIA.  1981, 223 p., 100 color pl., 30.5 x 22.5 cm.

Most of the book is plates with facing text; the plates are divided into Qashqa’i, Khamseh, Lur, Bakhtiyari, Afshar, & uncertain rugs. The text describes the rugs, pointing out the details which define them as Qashqa’i, etc., & often locating the rug in a subtribe.

The explicitness of this makes the book unusual & valuable. Bibliography; technical analyses. Hard.




Eagleton, W.  AN INTRODUCTION TO KURDISH RUGS AND OTHER WEAVINGS.  1988, 144 P., 124 color illus., 30.5 x 22.5 cm.

The author’s first hand experience is mostly with Iraqi Kurds; sections on Kurdish history, tribal groups, and weavings from Iraq, Iran, & Turkey; an excellent, detailed book on this group. Hard.

Tribal textiles, not just Persian



Opie, J. TRIBAL RUGS. 1992, 328 p., 356 illus., 291 in color, 12 maps, 31 x 24 cm. 

A big section on tribal life, tribal art, and the history of motifs; then sections on tribes & their weavings: Lur, Bakhtiyari, Kurd, Qashqa’i, Khamseh, Afshar, Baluch, Shahsavan, Turkish, Caucasian, Turkmen. 

The text reflects personal experience in the Middle East and extensive reading.  Hard. 

Shahsavan, although mostly on flatweaves



Tanavoli, P. SHAHSAVAN.  1985, 435 p., 495 illus., 96 in color, 26.5 x 25.5 cm. 

The Shahsavan seem to have woven only flat-weaves until the Iranian carpet boom of the 20th century and this book is on flat-woven products, all collected in the Shahsavan area. 

The text emphasizes designs & details of construction, so there is diagram after diagram of twining & wrapping types; also sections on history of the Shahsavan & types of textiles. 

The textiles are mostly late 19th century/ early 20th century and have technical descriptions.  All types are described: gelim, soffreh, jajim, verneh and a variety of bags: storage bags (mafrash), saddle bags (khorjim and chanteh), salt bags, small bags for odds and ends, and also a few tent bags.  

A monumental book on this area, much beloved, we understand, by unscrupulous dealers faking older examples. Hard.

Floral design rugs



Sameyeh, Sh. ERLESENE ORIENTALISCHE TEPPICHE / EXCEPTIONAL ORIENTAL CARPETS.  1982, 408 p., 296 color pl., 31 x 22 cm.

This Hamburg dealer’s massive and glossy catalogue; rugs are from 1850 to 1950 with most of the being second quarter of the 20th century.  250 are Persian, many of them very ornate, floral-design rugs; the other 50 are Turkmen, Caucasian & Chinese.

Critical comments and descriptions of the rugs; plates are sometimes too small to do justice to the complexity of the designs. The rugs were picked from Sameyeh’s stock by Samuel Wennek of the London branch of Rippon Boswell, and the comments on the rugs were written by Iain Scott Stewart of Rippon Boswell and Siawosch Azadi, of Galerie Azadi in Hamburg. 

The most extensive comments, by Azadi, are on a 6 x 4 meter silk Kashan made in Taffazolli’s workshop with a poem in cartouches along the border; the poem is given in Farsi and translated in both English and German.

Sameyeh was one of the largest importers in Hamburg in the 1970’s and 1980’s; as the market declined, he moved to Singapore, where he published his second catalogue.  German/English. New.

Central Asia



Turkman Bogolyubov, A.A. CARPETS OF CENTRAL ASIA. 1973, Crosby Press, 124 p., 59 illus., 36 in color, 34 x 24 cm. 

One of the classics on Turkoman rugs, with examples collected before 1908, when the original edition was published. 

Additional comments by Thompson in this edition.  Hard.



Moshkova, V.G. CARPETS OF THE PEOPLE OF CENTRAL ASIA. 1996, translated & edited by G. O’Bannon & O. Amanova-Olsen, 400 p., 140 color illus., 23 x 30.5 cm.  A new English translation of the major book on Central Asian rugs, with updates & critical comments on the original text; the illustrations are new, and include rugs from Uzbek & Turkestan museums not previously published in color.  Hard.  One of 950 numbered copies.



Tsareva, E.  TURKMEN CARPETS. MASTERPIECES OF STEPPE ART, FROM THE 16TH TO 19TH CENTURIES. THE HOFFMEISTER COLLECTION.   2011, 192 p., 185 color illus., 31 x 24.5 cm.   168 main carpets, bag faces, ensi, tent bands and other trappings; the book is mostly photographs.  Two- thirds have not been illustrated elsewhere. 

One of the strengths of the book is numerous examples of the same tribe, showing the same general design but then showing some of the variations that are possible. 

There are technical analyses, and essays on the history of the Turkmen, and then specific rug types: Chodor, Salor, Saryk, Tekke, eagle group, Yomut, Arabachi, middle Amu Darya, and on tent bands and flatweaves and embroidery. Some, according to radiocarbon dates, are 16th century.  In English and German.  Hardcover.



Tsareva, E.  TURKMEN CARPETS.  THE NEVILLE KINGSTON COLLECTION.  2016, 240 p., 320 color illus., 32.5 x 24.5 cm.   The collection was assembled by frequently county auction in Britain as well as trips to Turkey and Central Asia. 

The 119 rugs are Salor, Saryk, Tekke, Yomud, Chodro, Isdyr, Shih, Arabachi, and Middle Amu Darya and include main carpets, prayer rugs, bag faces, tent bands, kapunuk, and asmalyk.  Nearly all are 19th century; some may be 18th. 

Technical descriptions.  The text is extensive.  Tsareva uses the rugs  to discuss the history of Turkmen tribal groups, with detailed comments on patterns and on details of weaving.  Hardcover.



O’Bannon, G. and  Omanova, A.., ed.  THE KYRGYZ CARPET.  2000, George O’Bannon.

Note: There are two volumes; volume I: 119 p., 97 illus., 89 in color.; vol. II: 83 p., 49 color illus., 30.5 x 23 cm.  

This is O’Bannon’ s last work. It consists of a translation of the three most important works on the Kirghiz: two by Antipina (Characteristics of the Material Culture and Applied Art of the Southern Kyrgyz; The Decorative Arts of the Kyrgyz) and one by Beresneva (The Kyrgyz Carpet Collection in the State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow), plus O’Bannon’s annotations and three short essays on Kyrgyz weavings. 

Antipina’s articles provide the basic information about Kyrgyz weaving, on which everyone else relies; Beresneva’s article describes one of the largest collections of Kyrgyz textiles in the former USSR.

Both were originally in Russian and hard to find, so this major work summarizes the most important information about Kyrgyz textiles.  The illustrations are new, in good color, of rugs from Russian and private collections. 

This is an essential book for collectors interested in Kyrgyz textiles.   Paper. 

The next book was also cited above with Howe’s comment.  Below is Kreiss’ description.



Mackie, L.M. & Thompson, J. TURKMEN TRIBAL CARPETS AND TRADITIONS. 1980, 239 p., 95 color pl., 31 x 23 cm.

A glossy exhibition catalogue with scholarly essays on history, ethnography, the Turkmen tent, classification of the Ersari, dyes. Technical analyses of the illustrated items.

Well up to the standard of other books from the Textile Museum.



Rageth, J., Sienknecht, H. C., Wouters, J. and Vanden Berghe, I.    TURKMEN CARPETS. A NEW PERSPECTIVE.  2 volumes, 888 pages, 128 color plates, 1500 black and white illustrations, 30 x 23 cm. . 

An interdisciplinary study of Turkmen carpets,  including radiocarbon dating, dye and mordant tests, and technical analyses as well as historical and art historical sources. 

Detailed discussions of the origins and development of Turkmen carpet designs from the 2nd millenium B.C. to the 17th Century A. D. 

There are 5 maps, 16 tables with the results of 130 radiocarbon datings, 230 dye tests, and 60 mordant tests.

English translation by DeWitt Mallary. There is a German edition also. Print run: 200 copies in German, 300 copies in English. 



Besim, Adil.   MYTHOS UND MYSTIK. USBEKISCHE UND KIRGISISCHE TEXTILKUNST.  DIE SAMMLUNG BREUSS.   2011,  143 p., 183 illus. 30.5 x 21. 5 cm. 

64 Uzbek, Kirghiz and a couple of Tadjik rugs, bag faces, bags, flatweaves, costumes and embroideries.  Colors are good.  In German.  Hardcover.

East Turkestan                   



Bidder, H. CARPETS FROM EASTERN TURKESTAN. 1979 reprint of 1964 ed., 73 p., 30 color illus., 25 x 19 cm. 

This is the standard source on this specialized area: Khotan, Kansu & Samarkand rugs. Hard.



Sabahi, T. SAMARKANDA.  1995, 136 p., 42 color illus., 72 illus., 64 in color., 30.5 x 24.5 cm. 

Exhibition catalogue of East Turkestan rugs, mostly early 20th century, drawn from a number of Italian dealers; essays on the geography & history of the area, and on Sinkiang textile production and history.  In English/ Italian.  Hard.




Boucher, J.W. BALUCHI WOVEN TREASURES. 1996, 2nd ed., 152 p., 63 color illus., 28.5 x 22.5 cm. 10 pages of text, including prefaces, with tantalizing information; most of the book, however, consists of plates, in good color, of good Baluch & related rugs & bags. Technical analyses; bibliography.

The difference between this and the first edition is that the introduction by Bennett in the first edition has been replaced by one by Opie. Hard.

Baluch for pictures 


Homer, J.P.J. EXCLUSIVELY BELOUCH. 1986, 46 p., 40 color pl., 21 x 15 cm.

Dealer’s catalogue of 19th century Belouch rugs, mostly collected from the British countryside; the rugs are an interesting selection of Belouch designs; colors are good; brief descriptions of each rug. Prices. Paper. 


(No photo)


Diehr, F.M. ed. TREASURED BALUCH PIECES. 1997, c. 120 p., 64 color pl., 32 x 23 cm.

75 or so Baluch rugs from private collections; this demonstrates the range of Baluch rugs which can be fairly easily be found; includes a reprint of Spooner: “Who are the Baluch?” and an interview with Dr. D.H.G. Wegner.  Hard.

China                                                                                                                                                                          *


Rostov, C.I., & Jia, G. CHINESE CARPETS.  1983, 224 p., 160 illus., 120 in color, 30 x 23 cm. 

A good book on Chinese rugs, with much information on current production; chapters on history, symbols, weaving methods, materials, identification & dating; the presence of both an American & a Chinese author helps give a broad perspective.  Hard.



Lorentz, H.A. A VIEW OF CHINESE RUGS FROM THE 17th TO THE 20th CENTURIES.  1972, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 194 p., 155 illus., 95 in color, 28.5 x 22 cm. 

The author lived in China between 1929 and 1949 and the book reflects first hand knowledge and is one of the best books on Chinese rugs. 

The text covers patterns and symbolism; history of rug production and its development in the 17th – 20th centuries; uses and sizes of rugs, including pillar rugs and saddle rugs; centers of production.  There are also sections on East Turkestan rugs and Tibetan rugs.


(no photo)


Hyman, V.D. & Hu, W.C.C. CARPETS OF CHINA AND ITS BORDER REGIONS. 1982, 290 p., 50 tipped-in color pl., 45 in color, 22.5 x 28.5 cm.

Sections on the history of China and evidence for early Chinese rugs, dyes, symbolism, rug shapes and use; little coverage of modern Chinese rugs.  This will supplement the book by Rostov & Jia. 


Larsson, L. RUGS FROM CHINA, XINJIANG AND TIBET. 1988, 141 p., 176 illus., most in color, 26.5 x 23.5 cm. A general guide to Chinese and related carpets, with examples of 19th & 20th century rugs from a variety of Scandinavian & other museum & private collections. Bibliography. The rugs look good. Hard  


Kuløy, H.K. TIBETAN RUGS. 1982, 236 p., 258 color illus., 21 x 19 cm.  The illustrations tend to be small, but they depict large numbers of old (that is, pre-l959) Tibetan rugs, and the text is informative.  Paperback.  Also 1988 hardcover edition.


Denwood, P. THE TIBETAN CARPET.  1974., 101 p., 108 illus., 25 in color, 30 x 21 cm.

This, with Myers and Kuloy, were the major early sources on Tibetan carpets; about half the book is on their construction and use; about half on carpet types & designs, both before and after 1959.  Hard.                                                                                                                           



Myers, D.K. TEMPLE, HOUSEHOLD, HORSEBACK: RUGS OF THE TIBETAN PLATEAU. 1984, 111 p., 70 illus., 6 in color, 28 x 21.5 cm.

A scholarly catalogue from the Textile Museum; chapters on archeologic & historic origins of Tibetan rugs, weaving techniques, symbols, designs & uses. Paper.



Cole, T. PATTERNS OF LIFE. THE ART OF TIBETAN CARPETS.  2010, 104 p., 6 0 color illus., 28.5 x 26 cm. 

The book focuses on Tibetan rugs belonging to Bob and Lois Baylis.  The rugs show the wide range of Tibetan designs: more or less realistic representations of real – tigers, etc. – and mythical – dragons – animals as well as abstract floral designs and strict geometric checkerboards.  Examples include sitting and sleeping carpets, mats used in monasteries, and horse trappings.  The rugs also illustrate the huge variety of border designs. 

Cole’s comments are knowledgeable and detailed.  Hardcover.



Darchen, Karma Trinley & The Greensmith Collection.  SECRETS OF TIBETAN WEAVING.  THE GREENSMITH COLLECTION.  2012, 3rd edition, 2013, 128 p., 164 illus., 159 in color, 29.5 x 21 cm.. 

Chapters on the origin of Tibetan rugs, looms and technique, the making of Tibetan rugs, chequer rugs, cushions, Gampa Dzong rugs, Gyantse carpets, horse trappings, Wangdon monastic carpets and a suggested reading list. 

The text reflects a fair amount of first hand observation and extensive reading.  Textiles are 19th and 20th century.  Paperback. 

This was the last book in Paul’s presentation.  He took questions and ended his session.


The migration to the front of the room to examine some of these books began.







I want to thank Paul for coming to share some rug and textile books and his considerable knowledge of them.

Thanks, too, to Paul’s wife for her Powerpoint contribution.

Last, my gratitude for Paul’s help in editing this virtual version.

I hope you have enjoyed this short walk through the world of rug and other textiles books and literature.


R. John Howe



Michael Heilman: American Rugs from American Tools

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2017 by rjohn

On February 4, 2017, Michael Heilman,




a long-time weaver, here in the Washington area, gave a program at The Textile Museum, entitled, “American Rugs from American Tools.

Michael said that his career, making rugs, began when he encountered an 1881 tool



that he still uses today.  He makes rugs using hooking, tufting and weaving approaches.  He has taught in these areas and has exhibited his work a several respected, juried, craft shows on the Eastern Coast. He does some of his own dyeing.  He added that he is self-taught.

In his work life he was an attorney for the State and Justice Departments.  An assignment to Morocco inspired his interest in rugs, when he commissioned one and saw it woven.  

Michael displayed a number of the tools he uses to create rugs.




He said that he had brought some hooked rugs, tufted rugs and woven ones, that he had designed and made, to display and describe.

Michael began with a flat-woven rug (about four feet by five).




He said that he built his own loom for this piece and took this design from 1920s Bauhaus rug by Gunta Stozl (below).



The structures of Michael’s rug include slit tapestry, dovetail tapestry and curved areas required extra, eccentric wefts.  Each section of this rug presented different challenges, like maintaining consistent tension in both warps and wefts.

Michael said that it took two years to weave and will one day go to a family member.  He considers it a marker of the current pitch of his weaving skills.

Here are some details of M1.










A colorful rug with strong graphics and designs inspired by a distinguished source.

The inspiration for Michael’s second rug is from Turkey.  It was also flat-woven.




As you can see the field has only three colors, black, red and turquoise, with a touch of white in the end elems. 

Michael did the dyeing for this rug. 

He said that the red is from cochineal.  He found that the reds obtained from cochineal varied depending on the mineral content of the water use (something that changes in different periods of the year). 

He said that the clearest reds are produced by using distilled water (ed. note that this red is clear but still on the orange side; we often say that we suspect a given red is from cochineal because it has a blue cast; clearly not always the case).

The turquoise is from indigo over onion skin.

Details of M2.





Two interesting features of Michael’s weaving of this rug.

First, although the vertical color changes (see below) might tempt one to resort to slit tapestry, the shallow angle of them is so gradual that that might not be necessary in this rug.



Second, notice in the image below that Michael has used black warps in some areas and red ones in others.



This is a weft-faced weave. The wefts have been pounded down so tightly that the warps, regardless of color, do not show (notice that this is true even for the white stripes).  But the use of different color warps in some areas ensures the saturation of the appearance of the red and the black in these areas.

A third weaving seems simple but had its difficulties.





Here is a comprehensive view of this rug, unencumbered.



The weaving here seems straight forward with horizontal dashes done in sumac weave on horizontal bands of lighter color (the sumac bands raise above the surrounding ground, giving this piece an attractive texture).  But Michael reports that working with these sumac dashes gave him an enormous appreciation of the challenges indigenous weavers faced working with sumac.

This piece has cotton warps, reputed to make such a rug lie flat.  Michael said that the dyes are acid dyes set with vinegar.

Detail images of M3.







The fourth rug was of the same type but with knotted horizontal dashes rather than sumac.  The knotted dashes have pile tufts that stick out from the background fabric, more insistently that did the sumac dashes.

Michael said that M4 is his take on a type he saw in Turkey.




Details of M4.






Here is a detail of the back of this piece.  You are looking at the back of the pile knotted dashes.



Michael said that the next piece was inspired by Persian Mezandaran kilims.




He did the dyeing on this rug.  The red is cochineal, done in small lots, using Fairfax water.  The small lots work to produce the variations in “red” called “abrash.”  Michael said the mordants he used for the reds are tin and alum.  With indigo he has used lye (says he used to use Liquid Plumber).  He says that using synthetic “acid” dyes is safer.

Details of M5.








The next rug was graphically dramatic.  The design was inspired by a Turkish niche pattern (it has the look of one section of a “saf,” a rug used in prayer with multiple niches like this one side by side, each for a single prayer, in a continuous textile).  A narrow palette is used with real visual “punch.”





Note that the white warps are perpendicular to the directional design (that is horizontal in the image above).  The decision to orient the warps in this way in relation to pattern made long vertical color changes easy to do.

The image below has been turned 90 degrees so that the warps are in a vertical position. 




This lets you see that the long “vertical” color changes are not that, but just changes in weft color.  It is the short yellow bar that has the “long” vertical color changes.  The slits, the use of slit tapestry would create, are closed by the use of dovetailed tapestry (see the telling jagged side edges on the yellow bar).  Slits in the diagonal lines require a similar tapestry variety.

Additional details of M6.











Michael’s next rug was the first hooked rug that he made that he liked. (The pattern was his own.) A cotton base,  monks  cloth, fabric was stretched on a frame, and a variety of tools used, including a “Rumpelstiltskin”  hand  needle.





Made with a newer version of the shuttle hook (the “Rumpelstiltskin Hand Needle).



This tool hooks the rug material onto the base fabric.  Can use either yarn or fabric.  Can make different heights of “pile” in designs. 

This tool can replace the basic rug hooking tool,



the even simpler “proddy.” 




(It simply pokes the hooking material through the holes in the backing, but has no hook.  More frequent in England.)

Or the a little more complex, “latch hook.”


latchhook2This tool can do what all these three other tools can do.



Here are some details of M7.







The next rug was entirely different.




Michael said that this rug is made from Pendleton coat fabric cut into strips 12 to 15 inches long.  The strips are wrapped around to cotton warps but not knotted.  Made on an upright floor loom.  Michael said that it looks like some rag rugs, but was inspired by a Swedish  bed rug he saw in a book. 

What it threw up for me was a type of Moroccan rug that has begun to appear in the last few years. 


These Moroccan rugs are called “boucherouite,” a reference to worn or torn clothes.  They have this same kind of long pile, are woven with symmetric knots, from a wider variety of materials.  Some have synthetic fabrics and even plastic.  They are drawing some collector attention.

Here are some detail images of Michael’s M8.







Here is a detail of M7, showing its front in the upper part and its back below.  Notice that although the pile is not knotted, the piece is woven with several rows of weft between rows in which the pile strips are wrapped around two warps.  And, of course, the dark blue area between the pile section is plain  weave.  The end finish is also woven, as you can see in the detail below.



Michael said that the next piece demonstrate how flexible hooking rugs can be. 

Unlike woven pieces that have to be built up from the bottom row by row (tapestry permits some sections to be built up further than others, but eventually the areas not built up need to be) hooked rugs can be made in any shape one wants. 

It is possible to weave knotted pile rugs that are round, but when one hooks a rug a great deal more flexibility is available.  Not only are the “hooked” stitches digital (this lets you fashion any design you like), there is no necessary sequence in which a given hooked stitch needs to be put into a given hole in the backing.

M8 is Michael’s demonstration of how easy it is to weave a round hooked rug.  He said that his inspiration was a Moroccan plate.  Although the shape of the backing with its hole is often rectangular, one can fill in only the holes needed to produce a round rug.

Michael said that  the gazelle in this rug was made with a tufting gun that cuts the yarns used as it does the “hooking.” The  remainder was made with  a Rumpelstiltskin hand needle.




Details of M9.






The next one is one that features texture to enhance pattern.  It is all beige but features different heights in different areas.  It is an answer to the frequent textile saw that the only thing that matters is color.




Detail images of M10.






The detail below shows both the front and the back of this rug.  Michael covers the back of the ground material (that has the holes) of many of his hooked pieces to give them a more finished look.



Michael said that the next two pieces with similar horse designs are whimsical pieces he hooked to show students that you can imitate anything in hooking.

The placing of human and animal forms inside animal patterns is a frequent usage in traditional tribal weaving in many parts of the world.




Details of M11.





Michael was asked, from the audience, what his practice is when hooking a rug onto a backing with holes in it?



(I have inserted a commercial hooked rug backing to let you see the holes)

The question from the audience was does Michael fill every hole as he works?  (The questioner noted that one of the quality indicators for the famous “Grenfell” hooked rugs was that every hole in the backing material had to be filled.)

Michael said that filling every hole makes a hooked rug last longer, but the drawback is that filling every hole can cause the piece to pucker, so he does not advise or do that.

Michael’s second horse rug features plaid.




Details of M12.





Michael said that the next rug is one that he has made and donated for on-line auction during the Smithsonian Craft Show in April. It will be on display at the Craft Show.

The design is inspired by Miro. 




Not the one below, but you get the idea.



Here are some detail images of Michael’s rug M13.





Michael had another round floral rug (this piece is actually round; the rectangular areas at what seem to be corners are not part of it).




He said think of this piece as one done with brushes or pencils.  Any part and any color could be could be done in any sequence.  The tool with which this rug was made permitted that kind of flexibility.

Detail images of M14.





The next piece was a demonstration and test of the things we sometimes impose on the designs in rugs as we look at them.




Michael said that there might be a temptation to see this as an abstracted double “tree of life” design.  In fact, it was inspired by computer circuit board.  🙂

Remember this example the next time you see a design element in a rug that looks like a “cross.”  It may be sourced in something entirely different.

The blue is from indigo.

Details of M15.






The next rug was the one below.




M16 is a flat-woven rug woven on a floor loom, with hand-dyed wool yarn.  It is an early example of Michael’s work, drawn from a tribal design from either Turkey or Iran.

Details of M16.



The next rug was the one below.




This rug was hooked with a Tru Gyde shuttle hook, which gives the same look as a traditional hooked rug.  The material is mostly dyed wool fabric, cut into 3/16″ strips and hooked onto a linen backing.

Details of M17.




Image below is of the front of M17 on the upper left and shows the cover on the reverse of the foundation material.




The next rug was the one below.




This rug was made from both fabric strips (deer, tree trunks and foreground) and wool yarn (the green background).  The former was done with a shuttle hook, the latter with the Rumpelstiltskin hand needle.  Different pile heights give contrast to the different design elements.

Details of M18.








Michael’s last rug of the day was the one below.  Again, note warps are horizontal.  Not sure what the preferred position is.





Here is this same piece turned 90 degrees to the right.



Michael: “This was an early attempt to create a geometric design, which might have succeeded if I had used a consistent size of yarn.

“The result, using different diameters of yarn was a degree of puckering that grew larger as the weaving progressed.”

The originally planned rug was not completed.  “M19 is the surviving portion cut from the loom.”

 Detail images of M19.





Michael took questions and brought his session to a close.



People began to move forward to talk to Michael and get their hands on this material.





Michael had brought several publications on contemporary weaving, such as Hali’s new magazine “Cover.”

We gave a catalog on an exhibition of Ronnie Newman’s hooked rugs as a door prize in this session.

Light From The Past: Early American Rugs From The Collection of Ronnie Newman









My thanks to Michael for another fine program and for his considerable help in fashioning this virtual version.  Thanks, too, to Sheridan Collins for an excellent set of notes.

If you want to see more of Michael’s work you can see a previous program he gave here at the Textile Museum a few years ago.

This previous program has drawn more viewers than any other other post on this site: now over 25,000

I hope you have enjoyed this program by a real practitioner, who is very knowledgeable about, and connected to, contemporary rug making.


R. John Howe 

Amy Gould and Matthew Polk on Radiocarbondating of Andean Textiles 2

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3, 2017 by rjohn

On July 9, 2016, Amy Gould and Matthew Polk gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program here at the Textiles Museum in Washington, DC on carbon-dating of Andean textiles.




Amy is a Graduate of Rhode Island School of Design with degrees in Fine Art and Architecture.

In 1983 Amy founded her own firm, Gould Architects, based in Baltimore and specializing in healthcare and institutional architectural services. Her client list includes many of the regions great institutions such as the National Aquarium, Johns Hopkins Medical System, the University of Maryland Medical System and the Baltimore Symphony.

In 1996 Amy was elected to the American Institute of Architects National Board of Directors and was elevated to the College of Fellows in 2000 for her leadership in the legislative arena.

She is a former Trustee of the Textile Museum and is currently serving as a Trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art in Baltimore where she has chaired the Accessions Committee for AAAPI- Arts of Asia, Ancient Americas, and Pacific Islands.

Matt is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Physics and is also a graduate of the Harvard Business School, OPM Executive program.

In 1972 Matt co-founded Polk Audio, one of the best known makers of high quality loudspeakers. He sold the company in 2006 and retired in 2008. From 2009 to 2011 he served as President of Gibson Island. In 2010 he co-founded MSI-DFAT Services which is the premier provider of acoustic testing services for spacecraft.

Matt is a former trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art and currently serves on the Johns Hopkins Department of Physics and Astronomy advisory board and its executive committee.

Over the last 35 years their common interest in textiles has led them to create an eclectic collection which includes one of the nation’s most important groups of Andean textiles and Central African textiles along with significant groups of ethnic Chinese, Japanese and other Asian textiles. And, yes, more than a few nomadic carpets.

In 2009, as an outgrowth of their interest in understanding more about historic textiles, they established the Historic Textile Research Foundation, a 501-C-3, dedicated to creating a database of textile radiocarbon dating information for use by museums, scholars, collectors, dealers and other interested parties.

They began with an illustrated lecture.  Mostly, we are going to let the slides in it tell the story, with occasional additional comments.

You can see larger versions of any slide by clicking on it up to three times and you are encouraged to do that.




Sometimes the age of an object is a subject of great importance.  For example carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin has been very controversial.  The results have questioned the authenticity of the relic causing some to question the validity of the Radiocarbon dating method itself.


Nevertheless, the science behind radiocarbon dating is well accepted and most things are not so controversial.  When something about a piece doesn’t seem right carbon dating may shed some light.  In this case carbon dating showed that a textile believed to be Nazca was actually early Inca period with a red square added in the center using  old wool, presumably, from another piece to improve it’s marketability.


Sometimes carbon dating can answer questions about how textiles were used.  Multiple samples from this central African Kuba Overskirt showed that it is composed of panels from 19th, 18th and possibly 17th centuries suggesting generations of owners modified and added to the piece.


The textile traditions of the Hainan Island ethnic groups were virtually unknown outside China until the 1990’s.  Little research has been done into the origins of these traditions.  Carbon dating of this “Ghost Cover” showed that it was at least early 20th c. and possibly much older.



When a piece is not like anything else carbon dating can sometimes help us figure out what it is.  Many who looked at this unusual piece thought I could be Sihuas, possibly as early as 200AD.  But the carbon date placed it in the early Inca period, 1420AD to 1449AD.  The two headed snakes suggest it was associated with shamanistic rituals observed by the Spanish conquistadors and still practiced today by Shamans such as the one pictured above.


Carbon dating of groups of pieces can sometimes reveal important patterns.  Carbon dates on several dozen Andean textiles from the 1st millennium BC showed a sudden shift between 500 BC and 400 BC from painted, plain woven cotton textiles to colorful, wool textiles with motifs executed in complex tapestry, embroidery and knitting techniques.  How and why this occurred is still an unanswered question.


And, of course, investigating these questions can be a great excuse for travel.  Our visit last year to the Temple of Chavin de Huantar (circa 1200 BC) on the Amazon side of the Andes in Northern Peru really helped us understand how the Chavin civilization exerted such a powerful influence over the entire region for more than 600 years.


The answers to many other important questions lie in museums who have virtually no research funding.   Through our foundation we have begun a project with the Museo Nacionale in Lima carbon dating layers of Paracas bundles to understand whether these bundles were maintained over time by their communities.  The answers to this question will provide important clues to  understanding ancient Andean burial rituals and their culture of ancestor worship.


Okay, just a joke.  But, the Radiocarbon dating technique is a quite modern development which has only recently evolved to become a really practical method for dating objects, such as textiles, where removal of only the tiniest amount of material for analysis can be tolerated. 


Reduction of sample size and improved accuracy over the past 30 years has made it possible to apply this technique to many more objects.  Analysis is now possible with less than 10 milligrams of material meaning that samples can be taken from pristine textiles with no visible impact.


The idea behind carbon dating is pretty straight forward.  Every living thing constantly absorbs radioactive carbon 14 (C14) in small quantities from the atmosphere.  As a result all living things have the same amount of C14 as their surroundings.  After death, however, the C14 is no longer replenished and starts to decay at a known rate.  If we measure how much C14 has disappeared from a sample we can calculate how long it has been since the sample was alive.


But, nothing is ever simple.  When we analyse a sample today we measure how much C14 is left but because the amount of C14 in the atmosphere has changed up and down over time, we don’t know how much it had to start with.  That makes the determination of actual age a more complicated process. 

We start with the Conventional Radiocarbon Age (CRA).  This is how old our sample would be if the amount of C14 in the atmosphere had never changed and was always the same as it was in 1950.  The CRA is not the actual age of the sample it is just an approximation and the starting point for the analysis.  

  The amount of C14 in the atmosphere over the past 10,000 or so years has been determined by making measurements on tree rings of known age.  This ‘calibration curve’ can be statistically compared to the amount of C14 we measure in a sample today to give us a number of possible age ranges for the sample.  The analysis also gives us the probability that the actual age falls within any particular range.

This is the most difficult thing to understand about Radiocarbon dating and has led to many false impressions about how accurate or useful it is.


For example, the CRA of this Hainan Island “Ghost Cover” is 82 years before present (BP)  +/- 20 years.  (We always use 1950 = the present.)  So, the CRA tells us this piece dates to  approximately 1868 +/- 20 years.

If we compare this result to the calibration curve we get the possible age ranges with probabilities:  1813 to 1919 at 69.7% probability and 1695 to 1727 at 25.4% probability.  The actual age could be anywhere in these two ranges.  We can say for sure that the piece is earlier than 1919 but could be as old as 1695.  Although this is not very precise it is still useful in telling us that this textile tradition dates to at least the beginning of the 20th century and probably 19th c.


Sometimes what we know about a piece can help us narrow the range of possible dates.  The calibrated results for this early colonial era Andean textile were 1454 to 1529 with 47.4% probability and 1552 to 1634 with 47.6% probability.  But, the European religious imagery of the piece tells us it must have been created after the conquest in 1532.  So, the earlier date range can be eliminated meaning the wool used in this piece was harvested some time between 1552 and 1634 and the piece itself most likely made within the same time period.



(click two or three times on the image above to get a larger version)

It’s always fun to test your textile instincts.  Without reading beyond the descriptions below take a look at the five textiles above and choose the one you think is oldest.  Write its number on paper.  Below is a more detailed description of each to help.

These five pieces have been carbon dated and span a range of nearly 2,000 years.  All are warp faced Andean tunics made of wool probably alpaca.

#1 is a beautiful, finely woven tunic with a light, very soft feel, made in two pieces joined in the center, with distinctive red wool stitching joining the sides.

#2 is a very heavy wool tunic made of thick, ropy natural color wool yarns with crude elemental brown stripes at the sides.

#3 is a classic Aymara marching stripe design.  It has discontinuous warps at the shoulder, often seen in pre-Columbian pieces, with a blue field on the other side.  The warp faced weave is very tight and slightly stiff.

#4 is a very soft, somewhat loosely woven tunic with an unusual trapezoidal form.  The edge bindings and neck treatment are beautiful multi-colored Inca style.

#5 has a nice floppy feel and makes extensive use of yarns spun in alternating directions creating subtle changes in surface texture to enhance the narrow pin stripe design.



Done that?  OK, now, scroll down.






















We were shocked to learn that this heavy wool tunic was nearly 2,000 years old!  Utilitarian garments like this rarely survive this long.

Now, removing the oldest piece which of the remaining four is oldest:


Again, write down the number of the one you think is oldest, the scroll down to see the carbon-dating-based answer.

















It was not surprising to learn that this adorable little tunic is nearly 1,000 years old.  The trapezoidal form is seen in a few pre-Columbian pieces but never, to our knowledge, in post conquest tunics.  Since making this presentation we have separately carbon dated some of the old repairs in this piece as having been made around 1750.  That suggests this piece was still in active use six to seven hundred years after it was made.

Now we are down to three.  Again, write the number of the one you think is oldest before scrolling down to the book answer.


















Again, not surprising to see that this piece is most likely to be Inca period and pre-conquest.  The two piece construction is often seen in pre-conquest pieces from the Arica area in Northern Chile.

The final two tunics are 250 years apart.  Write down your candidate for the oldest then scroll down to see the answer.
















Tunics and other forms of traditional dress were outlawed by the Spanish after the nearly successful rebellion of the 1770’s.  So, we can say with  that this  very sophisticated tunic is most likely mid-18th c. with some possibility it could be late 17th c..

Now, you may be wondering about the last tunic.



We’ve included this piece to make the point that looks can be deceiving and that even quite modern pieces can be accurately radiocarbon dated.  The discontinuous warp and marching stripe design is characteristic of some of the most beautiful and iconic Aymara tunics of the 16th century.  Our instincts told us something wasn’t quite right with this piece but we really hoped carbon dating would prove that it was a genuine 16th c. tunic.  Unfortunately carbon dating results show that the piece is modern, most likely made between March and December of 1996 (72% probability).  This coincides with a revival of interest in traditional Aymara weaving in the early and mid-1990’s.  Whether it was made as a tribute or meant to deceive we will never know.

However, it does show that it is possible to carbon date very recent items, sometimes with great accuracy.  The signature of Atomic bomb testing after 1950 is immediately recognizable when analyzing a sample and can lead to a very precise determination of age.

Finally, here’s a quick summary of things to remember about radiocarbon dating.



Also, Amy and I have established a foundation dedicated to building a database of radiocarbon dated textiles.  If you have any carbon dated textiles we’d love to include that information in our database.

Thank You!

Matthew and Amy then took questions on their lecture before moving on to discuss the pieces they had brought in.





The pieces they brought included some featured in their lecture.



They walked us through these in the wool allowing for treatment on different aspects.

I will treat them in the order in which they were arrayed in the room, not, necessarily in the order they were treated.

First were the five tunics from “Guess My Age”.  Here they are left to right, one at a time.  Matthew and Amy are speaking in the Comments.




Comment on AM1: #1 is a beautiful, finely woven tunic with a light, very soft feel, made in two pieces joined in the center, with distinctive red wool stitching joining the sides and “evil eye” style rabette along the bottom edge.  Z2S yarns, possibly Vicuna wool.  As mentioned previously the two piece construction style is typical of pre-conquest tunics from the Arica area.





Comment on AM2: #2 is a very heavy wool tunic made of thick, ropy natural color wool yarns with crude elemental brown stripes at the sides.  A very rare example of a utilitarian garment that has survived for nearly 2,000 years.  Very beautiful in my opinion.

Detail of AM2.






Comment on AM3: #3 is a classic Aymara marching stripe design.  It has discontinuous warps at the shoulder, often seen in pre-Columbian and conquest era pieces, with a blue field on the other side.  The warp faced weave is very tight and slightly stiff.  Although it looks just like a fabulous 16th c. tunic it is, in fact, modern and probably made in 1996.  The give away was the stiff feel and the Z3S yarns.  Genuine antique pieces are always Z2S or S2Z.  Nevertheless, it’s still a beautiful piece.

Detail of AM3.






Comment on AM4:  #4  is a very soft, somewhat loosely woven tunic with an unusual trapezoidal form.  The edge bindings and neck treatment are multi-colored Inca style.  As mentioned before the piece itself is nearly 1,000 years old but we’ve carbon dated repairs to as late as 1750.  It is a well loved piece which has clearly enjoyed many, many generations of affectionate ritual use.  A very ‘honest’ piece and one of our favorites.





Comment on AM5: #5 has a nice floppy feel and makes extensive use of yarns spun in alternating directions to enhance the narrow pin stripe design through changes in surface texture.  The combination of Z2S and S2Z yarns creates a herringbone effect in the surface of the textile that sets off the stripes.  Use of this technique along the edges is also said to allow the textile to drape without curling.  A great example of how the Aymara employ great sophistication in weaving to achieve subtle effects.


Amy spoke to a textile on the right.






Comment on AM6:  as mentioned earlier no one was really sure what this tunic was when it first came to us.  Carbon dating showed it was early Inca period.  But, it wasn’t until last year during a meeting with a Shaman in northern Peru that we began to really understand the piece.  His use of a snake motif staff demonstrated to us the ritual significance of the double headed snakes shown in this tunic.  Also of note is that the snakes are woven, not painted, employing an unusual displaced weft technique to produce the curving forms.

There was a textile on a tripod on the left.





Comment on AM7: This is a Kuba Overskirt from what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The very fine weave and deep red color suggests it was  part of the royal family’s collection.  It is made of rafia palm fibers with many separate panels in a combination of embroidery and cut pile techniques.  By separately carbon dating six of the panels we determined that some panels were 19th c. while some were 18th c. and possibly 17th c suggesting it was handed down and modified by many generations of owners.

Details of AM7.





There were two textiles on the front board.




Comment on AM8: This so called “Ghost Cover” from the Li ethnic group of Hainan Island (South coast of China) is an example of the textiles used in funerary rituals.   During open air cremation a Ghost Cover such as this is thrown gently back and forth over the smoldering pyre.  Such use, although infrequent, is hard on these textiles. Few have survived intact and fewer still with a white ground.  

Little is known about these Hainan island ethnic groups who were so isolated that they did not even have a written language until the mid 1950’s.  The late 19th c. to early 20th c. radio carbon date for this piece and several others we have dated sheds some light on the ritual textile traditions of this area.

Detail of AM8.







am16adifferent textile*

Comment on AM9:  This is the piece we talked about early in the presentation that when it came to us had a red square in the middle of the brown field.  

The dealer said it was Nazca which would have placed it in the range of 200AD to 600AD.  However, the  technique looked like classic Aymara warp faced weaving to us, suggesting that it was much later.  Also, the red square in the middle just seemed out of place and even without magnification one could see the cut ends of brown warps tucked back into the weave around the red square suggesting that the red yarns had been added later.  Carbon dating of the original brown warps placed the piece in the middle Inca period, 1450AD to 1500AD.  However, a sample of the red yarns from the center dated to 1220AD to 1280AD, 200 years earlier.  

It’s not uncommon to see old yarns from a very damaged piece used to repair or restore another piece. Here, it looks like someone used yarns from an old piece just to make the piece look more interesting.  This was probably done prior to 1980 after which the importance of early Aymara textiles was beginning to be appreciated.  After making this determination we had the red yarns removed and the area rewoven with matching yarns to restore the original appearance of the piece.  Ironically, today a genuine Inca period Aymara textile  is far more valuable than a relatively plain Nazca textile.

Detail of AM9.



Amy and Matthew answered questions, on the pieces brought in 






and brought their session to a close.

I want to thank them for yet another excellent session that was both interactive and authoritative.  Thanks to them also for making it possible to construct this virtual version of this program, and for their patient work in the editing of it.

I hope you have enjoyed and learned from it, too.

If radiocarbon dating and/or Andean textiles interest you, you can see another program of this sort that Amy and Matthew gave here at The Textile Museum a few years ago.


R. John Howe

Jaina Mishra on Kutch Embroideries

Posted in Uncategorized on September 11, 2016 by rjohn

On June 4, 2016, Jaina Mishra


gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program here at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, on “Wedding Embroideries of Kutch.”

In the 1990s Jaina began to collect the “souls” of vanishing cultures embedded in the traditional arts.  There are three streams of her work.  First she is a collector, a consultant, and curator.  She is also a skilled photographer, and she writes and lectures on these cultures.  Her web site: is an entry to her work.

She began her program on Kutch wedding embroderies.




Good morning,

I am going to talk about the textiles of the salt desert region of Kutch.  I will treat these textiles through the cultural paradigm from which they emerge.



In Kutch, the geography has played an important role in shaping the social structure.  The people are migrants and the history of their migrations has influenced their life-style.

Let’s look at this cultural background before proceeding to examine their textiles.



I am going to focus, particularly, on the Rabaris, who are nomadic herders who live scattered throughout the western Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat.



It is said that the Rabaris originate from the Kachhi region of Baluchistan.

One source of this alleged connection is that one of the goddesses they worship. “Hanglaj” has a major temple in East Baluchistan and before the partition of India, Rabari elders made pilgrimages to Hinglaj at least once in their lifetimes.



The brown area in the map above indicates the location of the state of Gujarat.



Some famous people hail from Gugarat.  Gandhi and the newly elected Prime Mininster of India, Modi, and even some not-so-famous people, like myself, are from Gujarat.  Gujarat is the home to several tribes, some of Gypsy origin, but, as I’ve indicated, I’ll treat only the Rabaris of the Kutch.

The upper jaw of Gujarat (red) is largely a salt desert and,



Let’s look at some Rabari people and their social context.



Below are pictures I took in 2007.



This is a Rabari woman carrying water to her home.



 Here are two other Rabari women.  They are going to their temporary home in a field where they are parked for a fortnight.


The economic model the Rabaris migrants follow is interesting. Because they are constantly moving, it is to their advantage to have only things they need.



Below is a bare Rabari home (a simple tent), with meagre belongings.

The perspective of these people is that the more things one owns, the less freedom one has.

It is as if our possessions become “Gulliver’s pegs” and tie us down.

There is truth to that.






The Rabaris are expert camel breeders, cattle herders and shepherds.  They are said to have introduced camels to the subcontinent.





Rabaris trace their ancestry to the Lord Shiva.

They are Hindu and devout worshipers of the Mother Goddesses.



 Rabaris also have connection to the Rajput warriors of Rajasthan through marriage.  This establishes their position in the caste hierarchy through their association with the second rung of the pecking order.



Periodically a given Rabari community grows too large for the environment in which it lives, even with migration, to sustain it.  The group divides and part of it migrates to a new region.  As a result of this periodic division there are many subgroups of Rabari.



While many of the lifestyle elements differ from one Rabari subgroup to another, they still all retain a common set of Rabari values and beliefs that over-ride all other  differences.



Rabaris have a strong sense of Rabari identity and belief that is the most important aspect of their lives.

When many non-Rabari strangers meet they introduce themselves as “I am from village X or city Y,” but Rabaris introduce themselves by saying “I am Rabari.” 

(ed. This strong sense of identity as a Rabari is a remarkable thing.  It contrasts with the sense of identity in some Central Asian tribes.  For example, one large Turkman tribe has, historically, been called the “Ersari,” but none of them would say “I am Ersari.”  Instead their identity is tied most strongly to a subgroup of the “Ersari” tribe.)



Within the Rabari group, identity is defined by genealogical origin and expressed as “Shahkh” (or branch) and “Atak” (or surname).

All Rabaris determine marriage rules and allowable marital alliances based on genealogy.



There is a strict code of social behavior among Rabari community members, bonded by the belief that they are descendants of Lord Shiva.



We are going to treat wedding textiles, but first let’s look at the Rabari concept of weddings and marriages, which is quite different from that in much of the modern world.

These concepts can seem strange to us, as outsiders.  But we must realize that our constructs seem equally strange to them.

* Slide23*

In a society of scarcity, as opposed to one of abundance, it is necessary to utilize scarce resources to full capacity.

So in poorer countries, such as the India of the past, resources that require heavy investments of time or money, such as living quarters, child rearing, etc. are shared within an “extended family.”

These extended or joint families include several generations: grandparents, parents and children, all living under one “roof.”

The functions that must be performed are divided among the generations of the extended family by tradition.

The grandparents mind the children.  The middle-aged women mind the processes of managing domestic finances and inventory.  The younger married women manage the “kitchen,” domestic finances and inventory.  The men of all ages go out and earn an income (primarily by working with the livestock).  So while all the women have had some tasks assigned to them in their traditional roles, this traditional division of labor provided enough free time for them to invest in the considerable work required for their embroidery.

Now this division of labor was most strongly observed in the past.  Nowadays, it is more loosely defined and does not apply to every household.  And it is changing rapidly as people move to larger cities for work in nuclear units.  The gradual breakdown of the traditional division of labor will impact the creation of Kutch embroidery such as that we are treating here.



For such an arrangement to work, the selection, training and assimilation of a new incumbent – the bride – was critical.  Her entry into the extended family was critical to the continued smooth functioning of such a collaborative organization within the home.

So marriages were arranged.

The families selected the bride/groom based on commonalities of lifestyle: religious beliefs, food habits, etc, so that the amalgamation results in the least possible friction for all concerned.

So when a young man or woman comes of age, proposals come to the parents from various relatives and clan members through common connections.

Once the parents are satisfied that the proposed new member is alright, an alliance is proposed.

Then, following negotiations of bride price an alliance is struck. (In some communities outside Kutch, this practice is reversed and is called the “groom price or dowry.”

When a new bride comes in, she absorbs the family’s ethos (and the previous arranged process has made this easier and more likely) and becomes an effective contributor to the “well-oiled machinery” of the extended family she has joined.

Now arranged marriages like this run counter to the modern notion of individual choice of marital partner, and of romance.  But there are many aspects of life over which (at least initially) individuals world-wide have no choice.  One’s parents are a given, as is the place where you will live in your early life.  Most are raised in the religion of their parents without the question of choice ever arising.  So the notion of not exercising one’s choice in important matters, is not necessarily as alien as some, nowadays, might think.  Nor is it limited to arranged marriages in India.

It is also important to note that romance and individual choice of marriage partner is, historically, a rather recent development world-wide.  In the traditional world love and romance (if it was to occur) happened after marriage.  So arranged marriages have for most of history, also “worked” for the purposes for which they were designed.



When a girl of less than 18 marries – it is deemed a child marriage.  Child marriage is a custom prevalent even today in several states of India.  Actual number of child marriages in India is not clear, but at least several million occur each year.

Child marriages are sometimes presented as horror stories by the media, but examination of the actual facts shows that this is not the case.

First, in societies in which child marriage is part of the traditional structure, the age difference between the girl and the boy is usually 2 – 5 years.

Second, child marriage has been practiced, and its functionality tested, in traditional societies for centuries.  It is not salacious.  It is focused on family stability.

We cannot always assume that modern marriage practices are superior to those of traditional societies.

It might well by that, sometimes, the reverse is the case.



So how does it work?

First the marriage is arranged, then some ceremonies are conducted to affirm the wedding.

And then the girl continues to live with her parents, to play and to go to school – just as she used to do before here wedding, until she attains child-bearing age.

Now preparations are made for her “gauna” or “aanu” or “farewell.”

This is the occasion when her husband’s family comes to the girl’s home to pick her up and take her to her new home.

This event is practiced in all communities that practice child marriage in its pure traditional form.

In the Rabaris, the bride wears a special Ludhi shawl – red with yellow dots for this occasion.



What is the logic behind the practice of child marriage?

The thought is that, if the biological clock has begun to tick, then, it is time for the married couple to embark on family life.

Just as other animals do, humans live life according to the rules of nature.  Even in modern societies, we know that teenagers are, often, active in the biological sense regardless of the social and moral prohibitions imposed.  Modern societies have the problem of unwanted teen pregnancies.

Arranged marriages, even child marriages, are a solution that takes nature into account. They have created a social structure – the arranged marriage and the joint family – for bringing up the babies, rather than having teen pregnancies with no social structure to support them.

* Slide27*

The dowry is the bride’s trousseau, and consists of clothing and jewelry and household items.

She also takes ,with her dowry, things that remind her of her old home: things filled with love and memories.



For some, the dowry might be comprised of things purchased in the market.  But those who are fortunate, the dowry contains pieces that were made by her mother, and grandmother, and her aunts before her own eyes during her childhood.

One stitch at a time, the textile is embroidered – together – by the women of the family.  They sing and embroider together in the afternoon.  They chat, passing stories of their ancestors and their wisdom.

So these home-made dowries contain, not just artistic wealth, but also memories of moments spent together.

Now let’s take a quick visit to a home on the morning of a wedding.

Note: Not all Rabaris are migrants and live in tents.






This the decorated door of the bride’s home.  A member of the bride’s family, likely her mother, is a greeter.



During our visit, we will treat textiles for women and men and, also, textiles for decorating walls and animals.



We start with textiles that women wear.



The next two images below are of Rabari women in traditional clothing.  As you can see, the first is on the occasion of a wedding.




Here are some individual items of traditional Rabari women’s dress.

The first, below, is a backless blouse, called a “kapdu.”  It has only narrow panels at the back, tied together with strings.  The black veil hangs over the bare back so it isn’t exactly bare. 



The kapdu is tight fitting, in front, and does not require a brassiere underneath.  The examples below are from a different Rabari subgroup than those above.



The next three images show examples of Rabaris skirts.






The examples of blouses and skirts above are those Rabari women wear everyday.  They are not reserved for ceremonial events.



One item of the clothing of Rabari women stands out: the black veil. 

Hindus form 80% of India’s population.  The color black is not preferred by Hindus.  Not for wedding; not for funerals.

Black is considered inauspicious and, in the past, it was not worn at all.

The Rabaris are Hindus, so why the color black was chosen needs explanation.



We will talk, in a moment, about how black came to be the color of the veil used, uniformly by the women of the entire Rabari tribe.

* Slide41*

But let’s first have a look at the art and the craft of this important black veil.

The veil is made of hand spun wool from goats.



The veil is hand-woven on a narrow loom.  The woven material is tied and dyed (the orange-yellow on the piece below).  Then two pieces of the material are placed side-by-side and attached together along the long side.



It is then embroidered together at the center.



Now let’s return to the question of why Rabari women’s veils are black.



Legend has it that “once upon a time,” a few centuries ago, the Rabari tribe with their herd roamed the lands ruled by a particular Muslim or Islamic king.

Nomadic tribes have symbiotic and cordial relationships with rulers, acting sometimes as escorts, sometimes as messengers, spies, or advisors in political matters of state.

In this case, the Rabari tribal lord and his family came to be on very good terms with this particular Islamic king and both families became close.

The wife of the Rabari chief declared the Islamic king her brother and the family ties strengthened.

From that point the families of the brother and sister participated in each others life celebrations and festivals.

Life went on and one day there was a battle between the Islamic king and some enemy of the state in which the king lost his life.

Since he was the Rabari “first lady’s” brother, mourning was declared among the Rabaris as well.

Black was worn because the king was a Muslim king.

All celebrations and joyous activities ceased for the mourning period.

Mourning usually lasts for up to 13 days, and ends with a ceremony, in which a feast is offered.

In this story, the Rabari’s tribal lord’s wife – the declared sister of the Islamic king – was so deeply devastated that that she declared more stringent terms for the end of the mourning.  She declared that mourning for the tribe would continue until an offering of a feast was held at which 2000 kg of salt would be used in the cooking.

Since such a feast was beyond the preparation capabilities and the eating capacities of the tribe, the end of the mourning period never came and the tribe continued to wear black.  This practice continues today.

Since all this happened centuries ago, most of normal life has resumed, but the dress tradition of the black veil continues.


“This legend was heard from a prominent Rabari tribal patriarch.  The discovery of the tale in this textile and its multiple layers of beauty that make is a remarkable palimpsest, has made it one of my favorite textiles to collect.” 


The image below is of a veil oriented horizontally, and not stretched out.



Below, again, is a row 3-D floret embroidery done to seal the two narrow panels of cloth along the spine.  The greater the number of florets, the greater the value of the veil (ludhi or ludgadi).



The bridal veils, below, are more decorated and ornate than some of the others we’ve seen.




Now let’s turn to Rabari men’s clothing.



The men in the photo above are wearing short tunics.  The sleeves of such tunics are fitted to allow the hands to be unobstructed for work.  But at the chest of these tunics, there are dozens of tiny gathers making it loose and airy.  These tunics are called “kediyus.”



The shirt, above, is a kediyu that would be worn at a male child’s marriage.



A similar one was exhibited at the “Fabric of India” exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The next textile is the men’s pants or dhoti.



The dhoti is a panel of cloth (usually about five yards long) that is taken around the waist and the brought between the legs to form flexible pants.  One size fits all.



Above is an open dhoti of the Debariya Rabari subgoup.

Below are closer images of the ends of this dhoti.



Now, while we are treating this sort of pant form as one worn by men in India, in truth, this basic format is widely used in south and southeast Asia by both men and women. 

I make that point because I want to show one way in which a dhoti-like garment is put on and tied. 

The example I want to use is one worn in southeast Asia and is there called a “hip wrapper.”  In this example, this pant form is being worn by a woman volunteer in another Textile Museum program.

It starts by putting the long strip of cloth around her, kind of like a horizontal sling. 



Next, she holds the two sides together around her waist (I think a clip of some sort is used; she’s holding it closed with her hand). 



The man helping her, holds the ends of the sling, and twists them together to form a sort of “rope.”  The “rope” then gets passed through her legs and the end is tucked into the waist at the back.




As we noted above, this is a unisex garment.  Yul Brynner wore one in his role as the King in “The King and I.”


Now, with that explanation, we move back to India and to Rabari men’s dress. 




The next item is the shawl.  The man in the image below is wearing one.



Here is a closer view of it.



The images above and below are of men and their camels at a religious fair where even the livestock are brought to worship.

The sense of style with which these shawls are worn is evident.  And the color is distinct.



Now we turn to the accessories worn at a wedding by the Rabari groom.



We are going to treat some of the groom accessories individually, but notice in the multicolor-banded, silk-cotton, Mashu shawl and pants (about which more later), worn by the groom over his clothes. 

Note also the sword sheath, held over the shoulder, and the panel worn above his turban.

Below are two, isolated examples of groom decor.  The first is a turban panel; the second a sheath.




Below are two examples of the shoulder cloth, worn by the groom and called “bokani” or “bukani.” 


The turban is the crown worn by every man.

It represents the dignity and honor of the man and his family in societies where material wealth is not the focal point of life.



A little background on the turban and its role in marital ceremony.


The identity of every community rests on a few anchors. 

For the Rabaris, the honor of the individual is among the most important anchors, and it is this anchor that drives all his behavior and makes him do things that will enhance his honor.

One of the factors that is critical to a man’s honor is the virtue of his daughter(s).

Daughters are raised with care and protected from the outside world and are expected to be virgins at the time of marriage.

A daughter is her father’s honor and pride.

At the time of the wedding, the father of the bride places this honor in the hands of his son-in-law.

The groom is responsible for treating his wife well, protecting and looking after her.

Divorce is permitted among the Rabaris, and if the groom sends his new wife back to her birth family, the honor of the bride’s father is at stake.

So the turban represents the honor of the bride’s father and the turban ceremony is one of the important rituals of a Rabari wedding.



The turban being made here (the red strip) is the one worn by the father of the bride.  Here is how the making proceeds.

A long strip of material is first twisted to make it roundish.



The twisting goes on…



and on. 


Then it begins to be coiled, a few beginning turns, around an arm, to begin to take on the shape it will have when placed on the bride’s father’s head.



Next, the beginning coils are placed on the head of the father, and further coiling turns are made, building it up.



Eventually, the winding of the turban on the head of the father of the bride is completed, the end is tucked in, and completed turban looks like this.



Now we are ready for the turban honor ceremony.



The groom, dressed in white, has arrived and is being received at the door.




There is a long, decorated strip of material, held on his head, as he goes through the door.



Once through the door, he removes the head cloth and here he is.



The father of the bride enters the chamber.


He takes off his turban,



and places it on the bridegroom’s head. 



This is a solemn moment; the bride’s father, is symbolically, conveying the family’s honor to the bridegroom.



The bridegroom makes a few adjustments.


Almost right…



Yes, this is as it should be.



He emerges from the chamber, proudly, with his new crown of responsibility.



This is the second example that shows us how important textiles are to the cultural traditions of the Rabari people.




In the pictures so far, you may have noticed textiles on the walls.  Wall hangings are another instance of Rabari textile practice.



Above are three types of panels used to decorate doors. The piece on the left is hung on either side of the entrance.  The upper right piece hangs above the door.  The lower right piece is arranged on the wall, either as a square or a diamond.

Below is another wall hanging.



The textile below is a cover, called a “dhaniyo” or a “dharaniyo.”  In nomadic households, it is not possible to have wooden cabinets for storage.  As a result, things are stacked one upon the other and, even if neatly stacked, the assortment of items makes it look untidy.  So covers have been created to make such a space look good.  Such covers are thrown over or hung in front of messy stacks to conceal the mess.

A dyaniyo usually conceals grain boxes, trunks full of clothing, bedding, and vessels meant for occasional use.



Despite their primary functional purpose, covers, such as the one above can be fabulous examples of folk art.

Animals are essential to migratory Rabari life and the Rabari want them to look good for special occasions.



Above are some animal decorations.  Bottom center is a camel hat with space for ears.  It could also be used as a horn cover.  The the upper right piece is a ceremonial bullock-forehead decoration.  The two pieces on the upper left are also said to be head decorations for bullocks.

Simple pieces of this sort, are, now, beginning to be made for the sole purpose of selling them.

Once commerce takes over, the taste of the buyer comes into play and the character of the art changes dramatically.



The contents of the “dowry” will have different meanings depending on the Rabari group, place, customs and economic level, but it is essentially the bride’s trousseau.

The bride’s trousseau consists of things she may wear over her lifetime and things that will offer her memories and comforts when she moves to her new home.

The dowry may also contain heirloom items that are passed from generation to generation.  It may also contain a textile that the bride’s mother began work on with her.

Rugs, bags or other textiles in a dowry may also be gifts from relatives, mostly likely from the mother, the mother’s brother, or an aunt.

The selection of items for the dowry may take place over a long time.

A bride and her family will put into her dowry items that are as good as circumstances permit.

 * Slide91*

The maternal uncle: the brides mother’s brother, is the person expected to give the most gifts in the dowry.

Performance of this function is the honor, responsibility and duty of this man and must be planned for by the uncle’s family as well.