Oriental Rugs Technical Analyses and Recordation
By James Mark Keshishian A.S.A.
Senior – Oriental Rugs
Technical analysis for the lay person (which is what we shall consider most of us) can be simple and it can be complicated. We shall take the easier route. The component parts of the knotted rug are the warp, the weft and the pile (or woof). There is also the selvedge at the edges or binding and sometimes the area at the fringes has significant treatment.
The origin of the woven rug is important, certainly, but the makeup of the rug is our concern. We shall record its component parts and how it was all put together. We shall list the clues for solving a mystery or we shall list the repetitive and obvious. Analysis has more than one purpose. It can describe the rug for recordation. It can be used to classify by type. It can be used to compare. It can be used to identify lost and stolen rugs.
The subject of dyes will be a future presentation. Recent methods of identifying dyes will cast new approaches in this more sophisticated area of analysis.
Cellulose Type: Cotton.
Cotton is a cellulose hair-like substance that covers the seeds of the cotton plant. It is machine or hand spun to create a continuous thread. It is usually white. Cotton is sometimes dyed, often in shades of blue, for use as the weft.
To test for cotton: If recognition is not easy, one can take a small amount in a pair of clean tweezers and set it afire with a butane lighter. The odor of burning wood, rags or paper indicates that the material is cotton.
John Mercer, 1791-1866, a calico printer, developed a process using caustic soda to render cotton in a very silky-like finish. This enhanced its appearance and its ability to absorb dye stuffs. Some Caeserea rugs are made using rayon or mercerized cotton as the “silk” fiber.
To test: Same as cotton.
Contemporary Cotton Rugs
Linen is thread made from the flax plant, an erect and sinuous plant. It is not generally as soft and absorbent as the cotton thread. It is thinner in diameter and sometimes used in fine rug manufacture. It is also not as often bleached and can have a green-gray coloration when used in rug construction.
To test: As in cotton, burning gives the odor of burning wood, rags or paper.
Contemporary Linen Rugs
Jute or Ramie is sometimes used alone or blended with wool or cotton. This has been used in lower grades of Indian and Chinese rugs.
To test: As in cotton it smells like wood, though a bit musty due to oils present.
Modern Jute Rugs
Rayon is sometimes used as “artificial silk” or “ART CYLK” in Turkish and Pakistani rugs. Some Baluchis have been made in rayon, stripped for aging color change and sold as silk.
To test: Same as cotton.
Wool and Hair Products
Wool is the soft covering or coat of domesticated sheep and other animals but especially sheep. It is used in the manufacture of rugs and carpets. Hair is the slender thread-like outgrowth of mammals that is sometimes used in the manufacture of fabric and furnishings. Goat, camel and yak hair are used in the manufacture of rugs and carpets. Wool and hair contain excess amounts of oil and coatings that are removed as a matter of practice in its preparation for use. Wool and hair are used in their natural color, washed, dyed, chemically washed, machine and hand spun.
To test: If not readily recognizable, burn test yields the odor of burning hair and lumps when multiple fibers are present.
Silk is the fine strong ,lustrous fiber produced by the larval state of certain insects; here the silk worm is considered. Used more often in presentation and high-priced rugs, silk is not as durable in ordinary use but it is in demand because of its strong eye appeal.
To test: Burn yields odor of burning chicken feathers or hair and balls into small ashes.
Metal and Other Products.
Metal, such as gold, silver and gold-washed copper, is sometimes used in presentation rugs and commissioned rugs or other than ordinary production. A rug, presented to the White House by a “Mr. H. H. Topakian,” Consul General of Persia (Honorary) at the turn of the century, was a silk “Geodes” prayer rug festooned with pearls and emeralds. Some kilims have accents of gold threads woven in them.
Single Ply Yarn
Double Ply Yarn
Four Ply Yarn
Spin and Ply of Yarn
Quite simply the fibers of the described materials having been gathered, cleaned and treated according to the local system are then spun in a single strand. They are spun either to the left or the right. If they are spun to the left, it is termed “Z” spun and if spun to the right, it is termed “S” spun.
The single strand of the “Z” strand is plied with another “Z” strand in the opposite “S” direction to give us a two-ply strand, (or three or four to give us the ply of yarn desired).
Quite often village rugs are embellished by using two colors of natural wool, dark and light, plied together for use as warp threads.
Knotting and Brocading in Persia
Flat Woven Types
Kilims, Palas, Sumac, Verneh, Sileh and Djidjim are all flat woven by passing weft threads of different colors over the unseen warp threads.
These threads can pass completely across and give a smooth appearance; this is called Palas. Or they can go a certain length and reverse on themselves according to a preconceived design; this is called Kilim. Various techniques involve returning and leaving a gap at that point. Successive returns to create the design leave a slit and therefore “slit weave tapestry weave.” Or it could share a warp thread with the adjacent color. This technique leaves a ridge at the joining. To avoid this and give clarity of design, the slit weave is used and the smallest possible slit is employed by staggering or indenting the design line.
The Sumac weave usually involves passing obliquely over four threads, back under two and returning obliquely to form a small herringbone pattern. (See diagram.) After this, a weft thread is passed and may be beaten level. Short lengths of wool hang loose in the back. This technique can produce the knotted carpet design.
According to Hubel, “Sumac technique occurs in Phrygian fragments of textile of the early Seventh ‘Century at Gordion in Central Anatolia.”I The Sileh, like the Sumac, is over four warps, back under two, obliquely down and then a return obliquely upward. The best known design is with the large “S” so-called vishap, or dragon design, with the white being in cotton.
Djidjim is like the Sumac in construction but more refined by using finer threads and passing over two warps and back around one. Usually each row is obliquely upward and a thin unplied yarn is run between each row. The appearance of the back is like a knotted rug save the occasional loose thread.
Verneh is from Karabagh and Kazak districts and like the Sumac does not reveal its warp or background weave. However, its background is usually brick red or shades of yellowish to dark brown. Embroidery is often applied.
The knots that we will most probably deal with and will identify will be the Gordian (or Turkish) and the Senna (or Persian). They are illustrated herewith. Variation of direction of the knots, application of the weft(s) and the closeness of the warp can produce a broad range of qualities.
They are tied on two vertical warp threads. When four warp threads are used (in two pairs of two threads) this is called a Jufti knot. Juft means double. Back-gammon players bless a “juft” or a double set of numbers of the dice.
It would serve the novice well to examine many examples of the types. We have knots that open to the left, or open to the right. We have wefts with one, two, three or more “shots” (a single pass of weft). We have a heavy weft thread with a thin weft as its pair. This is seen in the Bidjar weave. Single weft is called “Senna Baft” or Hamadan weave.Some rugs actually have a mixed technique of both Gordian and Senna knotting. No rhyme or reason. Maybe they’ve changed weavers. Aside from Caucasians, Chinese rugs are often found with asymmetrical knots in the body and symmetrical as the edges are approached.
Persian, Senna, or Asymmetrical Knots
Gordian Turkish or Symmetrical Knots
Left Bidjar Weave – Right Hamadan weave
A-140 Armenian Embroidery Circa 1910. Brought to U.S.A. by an American Missionary and sold to Harold Keshishian in 1975.
Warp: cotton, 1 Z yarn
Weft: cotton, 1 Z yarn
Design: cotton, 2 Z yarns, S plied
Colors: (3) eggplant purple, wine red, bright yellow
Condition: very good. No selvedge.
A-103 Karabagh S.S.R. “Avedis Hagopov”, ca. 1915-4′ 1″ X 7t
An interesting and striking rug. Crisp white natural main border with the wine cup and serrated leaf border in reds, blues and yellow gold. The two guard borders are reciprocating red and blue diamond “spear tips”. The inner borders are “waves”, contiguous “S”, and waves. The dark blue ground is painted over with spirit-soluble dyes. The four diamond-lozenge medallions are flanked by square-around-diamond small lozenges. Left and right of the second medallion are two valiant Armenian soldiers complete with rifles. Above the upper medallion is inscribed Avedis Hagopov. In poor but happy condition (see worn painted ground) excellent color and good quality. Bought in Chicago in 1978 for $450. Coincidence: Owner’s name is Hagop (Keshishian), brother’s name is Avedis (Keshishian).
Warp: wool, ivory, 2 Z yarns, S plied
Warp: wool, pink, 2 Z yarns, S plied, 2 shots
Pile: wool, 2 Z yarns, S plied Ghiordes (Symmetrical) knot, 8 Horizontal by 9 Vertical (72 knots per square inch)
Colors: (6) light and dark blue, black, red, ivory, tan
Condition: poor, painted,
Selvedge: 4 warps in 2 cords red, blue and yellow wool
A-102 Lenkoran, dated 1909 4’2f’ X 9f5″
Long rug, the Lenkoran design suggests a stretched animal skin. The tan wool ground of this long rug has four medallions in the typical design. The field is covered with a variety of stylized flora and fauna. The panel at the top of the rug had a date of ” 1803″ at purchase, an alteration soon corrected. The strong Christian flavor is shown in the crosses. In very good condition, good color and average to good quality. Bought in 1973 for $450.
Warp: wool, ivory, 3 Z yarns, S plied
Weft: wool, ivory and brown, 3 Z yarns, S plied, 2 shots
Pile: wool, 2 Z yarns, S plied, Ghiordes (Symmetrical) knot, I I Horizontal by 8 Vertical (88 knots per square inch)
Colors: (8) red, green, black, blue, orange, chartreuse, ivory, brown
Selvedge: not original, brown wool
A-139 Kazak-4’4″ X 9’5″
Karachopf dated 1838, a double prayer design of the most vibrant and equally softened colors as contrast. The five polygon medallions are set on a sea of blue-green variant dye lot bands. The two humans are found by crosses, birds and rosettes. Spears with the “back to back” C designs are in competition with still other devices. The latch-hooked bar on the ivory border appears as a capital “N”. A “happy rug.” See Schurmann, Caucasian Rugs, P. 99.
Warp: wool, ivory and brown, 3 Z yarns, S plied
Weft: wool, ivory and brown, 3 Z yarns, S plied, 2 shots
Pile: wool, 2 Z yarns, S plied, Ghiordes (Symmetrical) knot, 7 Horizontal by 9 Vertical (64 knots per square inch)
Colors: (6) yellow, red, blue, ivory, green, brown
Selvedge: red wool, 8 warps in 4 cords