The Incidence Of High Ply Counts In Early Cotton Warps

The incidence of Z6S and Z8S warps in the Widener Mughal Carpet raises some issues that need to be addressed. Dr. Murray Eiland Jr. speculated on the question of cotton warps with a ply count greater than 4 or 5 in his landmark book “Chinese and Exotic Rugs” pg. 177-178. Dr. Eiland was working under the assumption that machine plied warps would be indicative of an attribution of a date of 1850 or later. He basically left it in an unsettled state noting exceptions but also speculating on the possibilities of later copies and even outright wholesale fraud. Dr. Eiland put forth the idea that perhaps for some unknown reason they plied high ply count warps in such a way as to make one suspect that it was machine spun and plied .

A simpler explanation seems worthy of consideration. I would like to postulate that the incidence of machine plied warp type warps is in and of it’s self an indication of the occurrence of machine plying of cotton warps at an earlier point than heretofore popularly accepted. Obviously machine plied warps would indicate the existence of domestic Mughal warp plying machinery since we have not found commercial record to substantiate an import trade trade in machine spun cotton cord of the type suitable for use as warps. Turing to our PMA data pool a scan indicated one match for an apparent spinning device that we can date to the pre 1850 period. So forgive when I say the evidence is “marginal” at best.

Detail from the margin of a page in the Golshan Album.
Detail from the margin of a page in the Golshan Album.
Attributed to Nar Singh, Mughal India, circa 1605 1.

This image of a spinning machine is found in the margin decoration on a page of Nasta’liq calligraphy that can be attributed to the first few years of the Seventeenth century. Personally I have to suspect that this machine or one very much like it was the source of Z6S and Z8S warps in the Widner Mughal Animal carpet.

Buried in the notes of the Oriental Rug Review reprint of .”A History Of Oriental Carpets Before 1800″ by F. R. Martin. ORR Vol. VI, No. 3 June 1986 Page 17/65a 2. there is a wonderful exchange between Murray Eiland Jr. and the late Charles Grant Ellis. The two gentlemen came to a divergence of opinion as to how to attribute the carpets with high ply count warps. Eiland was taking a harder line in that instance than in his aforementioned book in that he was attributing the group to the late eighteenth century. Ellis disagreed and suggested that they are characteristic if not diagnostic of an early Lahore attribution. I have to admit that I was feeling rather clever to have made the link between Lahore and high ply count warps only to find that Ellis and Louisa Bellinger of the Textile Museum were discussing this when when I was going about in short pants. Ellis noted that Bellinger suggested the use of large wheels for preparing wefts. Perhaps this device is the type of large wheel of which she spoke.

In 1983 3. Eiland further explores the warp question and we can see where he develops the much harder line as to the attribution of high ply count warped Mughal Carpets. While I side with Ellis on this question it is fascinating to see the process by which Eiland seeks to establish the facts. Eiland’s process to both qualify and quantify his data prior to conclusion is an inspiration as is his willingness to re-evaluate when circumstances dictate.

While pondering the implications of high ply count warps I went through a number of sources looking for classical Persian carpets with these warps. In the literature I noted the Ballard Saph 4. which is listed as Multi-Niche Prayer rug or saph and is attributed to Persia or Mughal India. I feel it is Mughal and have attributed it as such to Lahore. In going through the literature I have come to the conclusion that high ply count warped rugs fall into one of three groups. There is the Lahore Mughal type, and there are those that have cabled warps which I will discuss in a moment, all the other rugs that do not fall into these groups appear to date to 1850 or later.

For example in Dr. May Beattie’s “Carpets of Central Persia” in the structural analysis insert 5. Dr. Beattie lists 45 rugs with cotton warps. 42 of those have Z4S warps and there is one each of Z5S, Z6S and Z9S. I can attach no significance to the 5 ply warp or the 9 ply warp. The 6 ply however is attributed to circa 1900.

Cabled Warps

There is however a group of carpets that that has high ply count cotton warps and yet are not structurally related to the rest of our group. These unrelated pieces have high ply count cotton warps that are cabled. Cabling is where plied thread is plied again giving a cord that typically has a S Z S spin pattern. Cabling is the way a hand spinner plier would normally make a larger heavier strand. Two rugs in my study The Berlin Spiral Tendril Carpet and An atypical Masnad stand out as cabled warped. The Berlin carpet is apparently a Mughal carpet and is related on stylistic grounds. The TM rug appears not to be a Mughal and I have chosen to call it Turanian. It is also interesting to note that the Bier Rug has S6 blue wefts. The use of 6 unplied strands in one single weft is rather unusual and not something I expect to see in Mughal rugs.