Saturday, 10 November 2012

Turkey's Sarabi Rugs Fill In For Banned Persians From Iran

November 10, 2012 – Is it time to begin looking for alternatives to Persian rugs woven in Iran?

If you live in the United States, the answer is probably yes. The US ban on importing rugs from Iran has now been in place for two years.

And as long as political tension between Washington and Tehran stays high, the ban isn’t likely to end soon.

Meanwhile, the stockpiles of new Iranian rugs that dealers can sell – those rugs they had in inventory before the ban started in September 2010 – is running out.

So, finding any particular style you want can be difficult, if not impossible.

Fortunately, however, there are ways around the problem.

One is to look for substitutes among the many excellent Persian rugs that are woven outside of Iran itself. That is, rugs from countries with a long tradition of weaving Persian styles or incorporating Persian design elements into their own weaving heritage.

Among those countries is Turkey, which, along with Iran, is one of the world's two highest quality rug producers.

At the top of this page and on the right are two examples of Persian Heriz-style rugs woven in Turkey.

Both, known as Turkish Sarabi Rugs, are available from ecarpetgallery, a leading North American on-line store based in Montreal.

The classic Heriz style shown in these two rugs has always been one of most popular types of Persian carpets in North American homes.

For many rug lovers, the geometric, four-lobed medallion in their centers is an iconic symbol that instantly conjures up images of stately Victorian homes with luxurious carpets on the floor.

Historically, Heriz rugs are woven by the Azeri-speaking Turkic inhabitants of the northwestern Iranian city of Heriz and its surrounding towns.

A particularly famous subgroup of the rugs were those woven at the turn-of-the-last-century in the town of Serabi and known on the rug market as Serapi.

 Since then, Serapi – also spelled Sarabi – has become a term for describing the finest Heriz rugs in general. And it is that name that Turkish producers use for their Heriz carpets, too.

Turkish-produced Persian carpets can be very expensive, just as are their Iranian counterparts. Indeed, Turkish and Iranian-produced carpets command the highest prices in today's global rug trade, followed at some distance by those produced in India and China.

But some major distributors are able to sell the Turkish-produced Persians at highly affordable prices. They do so by dealing in enormous volumes, which allows them to cut out middlemen and, increasingly, by operating on-line to keep showroom costs to a minimum.

For those looking for still more affordable Persian style rugs, one can move from Turkey to India, which produces many hand-tufted versions of Persian designs.Here is an example, again from ecarpetgallery:

In hand tufting, the weaver pushes wool or a man-made yarn through a matrix material using a hand-held pneumatic gun.

The technique is faster than hand-knotting, so the rugs are less expensive. Yet the tufting method still creates a durable rug which, when produced by a skilled craftsmen, can accurately depict even intricate designs.

No-one today can predict how long the US ban on Persian carpets produced in Iran will stay in place. But it is useful to look back at a similar, earlier ban to get some perspective.

 In October 1987, at height of Iran-Iraq war, then president Ronald Reagan prohibited the importation and exportation of any goods or services to and from Iran, including carpets.

The embargo lasted a full 13 years, until 2000. That embargo did what the current ban is doing again now: causing both rug producers and buyers to think about alternatives.

The last ban stimulated producers in many countries to make Persian-design rugs for the US market. In the process, some beautiful pieces were produced.

And that helped convince many rug buyers that how a rug looks on the floor can be just as important as where it was woven.




Sunday, 14 October 2012

New Era Afghan Rugs: From Ikat To Suzani To Persian Tribal

SAN FRANCISCO, October 15, 2012 -- What's happening with Afghan rugs?

In recent years, the range of styles Afghan weavers are exploring has exploded.

And, with the quality of weaving high and the use of natural colors and hand-spun wool frequent, that means a whole new world of rugs to enjoy.

Just consider these examples:

- An Ikat rug (photo above) inspired by Central Asian ikat tie-dye designs.

- Or a Suzani rug inspired by Central Asian embroidery traditions (photo below).

These, plus spirited reproductions of Persian town and village rugs like Bijars and Herizes, are all part of the ongoing renaissance of Afghan rug weaving.

They are available from Nomad Rugs in San Francisco.

The return of Afghanistan as a notable rug producer is taking place as parts of the country are stable despite the violence elsewhere and weavers who were formerly refugees have returned home.

Now in both Kabul and in the North – the homeland of age-old weaving populations like the Turkmen – weavers are creating an astonishing variety of pieces despite what remain difficult production conditions.

We talked with Chris Wahlgren, who trades in the best of the new Afghan rugs, to learn more about what is behind them.

Wahlgren, the owner of Nomad Rugs in San-Francisco, sees the new rugs as the latest chapter in a long and fascinating story.

It's the story of how Afghan weavers have been able to repeatedly re-invent themselves over the past three decades as their own lives have been repeatedly turned upside down.

The three decades of turmoil began with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and continue today with the war on the Taliban.

Here is a photo of a new Afghan Bijar carpet. It is available from Nomad Rugs in San Francisco.

 Before 1979, Wahlgren notes, Afghan weavers were almost entirely focused upon the traditional Red Rugs of Central Asia, that is, the traditional designs of the Turkmen and neighboring weaving population's of the region.

"In those days, it was any size as long as it was red," he says.

But with the Soviet invasion, and the flight of millions of people to refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran, everything began to change.

Particularly in Pakistan, with its direct links to the Western market, huge numbers of refugees turned to weaving rugs as a way to stay afloat.

And to connect to the market, they began to innovate.

 Some of the refugees' first innovations were not very successful as they tried to directly compete with Pakistan's own domestic production of large and finely-woven Pak-Persian carpets.

Whereas the Pak-Persians were in bright colors, the Afghans wove theirs in the darker brown colors they themselves preferred.

The results were somewhat gloomy looking pieces the Pakistani traders dismissively called "Kargali," meaning camp, carpets and which are forgotten today.

But the Afghan weavers kept experimenting.

They produced Khal Mohammadi rugs with non-traditional Turkmen-inspired designs, Kazaks with Caucasian-inspired designs and, more recently, Ziegler-Chobis with Indo-Persian inspired designs.

All were successes on the international market.

Here is a a new Afghan with a Persian Luri tribal design and below is one with a Khotan design. Both are available from Nomad Rugs in San Francisco.

One reason for the success, particularly of the Chobi carpets, was the refugees' willingness to return to the labor-intensive traditional practices of using natural colors.

That put them at the forefront of what is still a relatively new trend in the rug business and something which many customers like but not all carpet makers are ready to try.

Wahlgren says that much of the credit for introducing Afghan weavers to the natural color revival goes to Western rug dealers who promoted it in the refugee camps in the early 80s.

Those dealers included Chris Walter and others who were personally familiar with the pioneering DOBAG natural-dye project in Turkey and believed it could give the refugee market weavers a market edge.

 Today, some Afghan weavers remain in the Pakistani camps while many others have returned to Afghanistan. And in both places, experimentation has become central to Afghan weaving culture.

The weavers' links to the international market are assured by hundreds of Afghan-American rugs dealers in the West who track and suggest styles for the weavers to try.

But one thing that has not changed for Afghan weavers is the difficulty of letting the rest of the world know who weaves the beautiful pieces they produce.

That is because almost all of their production continues to go to Western markets via the port of Karachi, where it is labeled for export as a product of Pakistan.

The "Made in Pakistan' label is put on the work of Afghan weavers still in Pakistani refugee camps because they are physically in Pakistan. And the work of weavers in Afghanistan gets the label because a lack of facilities there means their rugs usually are still washed and trimmed in Pakistan.

Here is a photo of a "rug truck" taking Afghan carpets to Pakistan.

The photo is provided by Wahlgren received it from a contact in Afghanistan.

So, how can customers know an Afghan rug from the many other competing rugs on the market from Pakistan, India, China and elsewhere?

 Wahlgren says that dealers today increasingly highlight the Afghan rugs' origin because it is a positive selling point.

The dealers point to the value-added that comes from the careful work Afghan weavers do based on their own centuries-long tradition of weaving and the esteem carpets hold in their culture.

But there is something more.

Unlike in many more stable rug-producing countries like India and China where large rug workshops are the rule, much Afghan weaving is still done at home.

"In Afghan rugs, you often can feel the weaver's personality," Wahlgren says. "Their rugs feel more handmade and not mass-produced."




Friday, 21 September 2012

Vintage Scandinavian Rugs And The Intimacy Of Modern Design

New York, September 22, 2012 – When one thinks of regions of the world with a long history of hand-woven rugs, Scandinavia may not be the first place that comes to mind.
But Scandinavian rugs not only have a centuries-old history, and some fascinating links to Oriental rugs, they also currently are much sought after by interior designers.
The renewed interest focuses particularly on vintage rugs woven in the 1920s through 1970s. That was a time when Scandinavian weavers attracted international recognition both for their pile rugs (called Rya) and flat-woven rugs (called Rollakan).
The Scandinavians did so by experimenting with abstract designs while continuing to weave with traditional methods – producing rugs that simultaneously offer the appeal of both the old and the new.
Above is a photo of a carpet designed by renowned Swedish weaver Marta Maas Fjatterstorm. Below is another by the same designer. Both are available from Nazmiyal Collection in New York.
We asked Jason Nazmiyal, whose New York-based Nazmiyal Collection specializes in antique rugs, why vintage Scandinavians are suddenly back in demand.
Interior decorators, he says, see the rugs as the perfect compliment to the wave of nostalgia that is now sweeping the design world for the styles of the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.
Those decades, whose style is increasingly referred to as "mid-century" modern, was characterized by maximum experimentation with Minimalism.
The result was bold and striking furnishings and decors, but not necessarily cozy and comfortable living environments.
The vintage Scandinavian rugs woven during those times offered a solution to the contradiction. They were modern in design but rich in texture and color.
"They draw a room together," Nazmiyal says. "They can transfer a sparse and minimal space to cozy and luxurious without changing the overall style."
He notes that one of the reasons the rugs have that power is that their creators were schooled in industrial design but, at the same time, were rebelling against too much industrialization. So, they created their own unique style that combined Modern and Art Deco with the warmer, more human influences of their own folk art and regional history. 
The results can range from whimsical to dramatic, with no two rugs the same. And because all the rugs were woven not so long ago, the names of the weavers who created the best pieces are all known. That gives the rugs a still greater sense of personality.
Here is a Swedish Rollakan, available from NazmiyalCollection in New York.
Nazmiyal, who has personally traveled to Sweden to learn more about the rugs and acquire top pieces, can reel off some of the key names behind them.
Among the most famous are Elsa Gullberg, born in 1886 and one of the earliest Swedish textile designers connected to the modern design movement; Ethal Halvar Andersson, now a nonagenarian; Marta Maas Fjatterstrom, who got her start at a regional Arts and Crafts Fair and later attracted the patronage of Ludvig Noble, the brother of the founder of the Noble Prize; and that is just to name a few.
Many of the women went on to train others as apprentices and to found workshops, some of which continue today.
Below is a Finnish Rya with abstract circles and lines. It is available from Nazmiyal Collection in New York.
But if the renewed interest of interior decorators in the rugs of the 1920s to 1970s suggests that this period is all there is to know about Scandinavian rugs, that would be a mistake.
Behind the vintage rugs is a whole history of rug-making that goes back hundreds of and contains plenty of surprises.
No-one knows exactly when pile weaving began in Scandinavia but the earliest known examples were not rugs but sleeping blankets. They were woven to take the place of sleeping furs, which had been used since time immemorial but have the disadvantage of being hard to wash.
Interestingly, the earliest regional pile weavings date to around the same time Scandinavians would have become acquainted with rugs in the Orient. That was in the Middle Ages, when Vikings were routinely sailing down the Volga to Byzantium on trading expeditions.
One of the earliest surviving oriental rugs in Europe, in fact, was found in Sweden in 1925. It is the Marby rug, named after the abandoned provincial church where it was found cut into two pieces and long forgotten.
The Marby rug, shown here, is one of the so-called animal carpets from Anatolia which are depicted in Italian paintings of the 14th century. The animal carpets reached their peak of production and export to Europe in the early 15th century and then disappeared toward the end of the 15th century.
Nazmiyal believes that Scandinavians may have taken their inspiration for pile sleeping blankets from Anatolian "Yataks," which share the same characteristics and function. If so, it would be another unexpected link between East and West that underlines again how much is shred within the world's textile culture.
What is certain is that over time Scandinavians' use of shaggy rugs went from sleeping on the pile and decorating the back of the textile to flipping them over and using them as bedspreads with a decorative pile. Eventually, the bedspreads moved to the floor and became rugs.
Tracing all the design changes in Scandinavian pile and flat weaves is impossible to do here. But, in broad terms, things moved from originally simply working the owner's initials into striped geometric designs, to patterns with crosses to, around 1690, Baroque floral patterns.
Over the centuries, the use of highly decorative pile bedding rose to the heights of becoming a status symbol for the nobility in Sweden before losing that esteem in the 17th century and becoming popular as folk bedding instead.
By the time the Scandinavian rugs reached our ea, they had absorbed so many design influences, including from formal Western art, folk art, and imported oriental rugs, that they developed – and continue to develop – a rich vocabulary of their own.
It is that rich design vocabulary, their use of a broad color palette, and their ability to compliment a wide range of styles that brings vintage Scandinavian rugs back into our homes today.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Bijar Rugs And The Art Of Persian Town And Village Weaving

BIJAR, Iran; July 15, 2012 -- When one thinks of Persian carpets, one usually thinks of two ends of a spectrum.

At one end: intricately crafted workshop carpets. At the other: spontaneous tribal carpets.

But most Persian carpets lie between these poles and are distinct from both.

They are the carpets produced not in city workshops or nomads' tents but in towns and villages. 

The weavers, often working at home, range from a single person to a small group and together they form a vast cottage industry.

Usually the weavers are women weaving part-time to supplement their family income. But there is nothing informal about their work. 

Their skill level is so high -- and so consistent over generations -- that their towns and villages are internationally famous for the rugs they weave.

One of the best-known examples of town and village weaving are Bijar (or Bidjar) carpets, produced in the Kurdish town of Bijar and neighboring villages in northwest Iran.

At the top of this article is a Bijar with a drop repeat pattern. It is available from the Nazmiyal Collection in New York.

Bijar carpets first appeared in Western markets during the 19th century and were particularly popular in America. They could be found both in homes and in public spaces, such as university common rooms.

One reason for their widespread popularity was their durability. The weavers made them so strong – so tightly packed and heavy -- that they were nicknamed the "Iron Rugs of Persia." That also made them especially appealing to men, who regarded them as a masculine choice for dens and studies.

How the weavers made the rugs so durable was no accident. They put three wefts between the rows of knots, and one of the wefts was not only thicker than the others but sometimes as thick as a pencil.
That makes the rugs so stiff and heavy they can barely be folded. They have to be rolled up for storage.

The success of Bijar rugs – which continues today -- tells much about what historically made Iran's town and village rugs so successful in general.

Each of Iran's famous weaving locales traditionally has something characteristic about the way its rugs are made. The difference is often in the technique of the rug's construction or the use of colors and it makes the rugs recognizably native to an area.

But what most town and village weavers don't do is limit their rugs to just a few patterns or designs.
They may have a traditional repertoire of patterns peculiar to the village or locality, but because they are weaving commercially they do not restrict themselves to only those.
As rug experts Murray Eiland and Murray Eiland III note in their book ‘Oriental Carpets – A Complete Guide’:
“Any of the popular Persian designs of the nineteenth century, except for types specifically associated with nomadic tribes, can be found on Bijars.” That includes Herati, Mina Khani, Floral Arabesque, Harshang, Weeping Willow, and simple Medallion forms, just to name a few.
Below is a medallion Bidjar carpet with a Herati pattern. The Herati pattern was the most popular pattern among weavers throughout Persia in the 19th century. The carpet is available from the Nazmiyal Collection in New York.
Often, the designs on town and village carpets seem traceable to the designs on city workshop carpets.
So much so, that many experts think that local weavers take their main inspiration from this source and that tribal designs have only a minor influence.
But where town and village rugs differ dramatically from city workshop rugs is in how they interpret patterns.
Whereas workshop rugs are filled with swirling lines and curves, town and village rugs simplify the curves by making them more angular and rectilinear. The result is a bolder look that make town and village rugs something all their own.
The angular stylization of town and village rugs is part inspiration, part necessity.
The weavers, who are not full-time professionals, have neither the expertise nor the time to do the high knot-count weaving that creates minutely graded swirls and curls. So they modify the designs accordingly.
There are other differences, too, in how town and village rugs are woven compared to workshop rugs. One of the most interesting is how the weaver learns the pattern she or he is using.
In professional workshops, patterns are usually drawn by artists and given to the weavers in the form of a ‘cartoon.’ The cartoon, drawn on grid paper, shows the pattern of the rug knot-by-knot, so the weaver has a guide to follow no matter how complicated the pattern gets.
But town and village weavers have traditionally worked by copying another rug, instead.  When there was a new pattern to learn, it would be transmitted to the weavers in the form of a sampler rug that contains examples of all the motifs in the design.
The sampler rug, called a wagireh (or vagireh), may show both the field and border patterns for the carpet, as in the photo above. This sampler from the 19th century is available from Nazmiyal Collection in New York.
Wagirehs can vary widely in size.
If the carpet to be woven frequently repeats its elements, a small wagireh is enough to show the weaver ‘one repeat’ of the pattern.
But if the pattern continues to change for a long time before it repeats, a much larger sampler rug is needed. Thus some wagirehs can be as large as 9 x 5 feet (2.7 x 1.5 meters).
Perhaps not surprisingly, wagirehs themselves have become collectors’ items in recent years. One reason is that they have become rare as rug companies today mostly commission rugs by giving local weavers paper cartoons instead.
Here is a picture of another wagireh, available from Nazmiyal Collection in New York.
Through the centuries, town and village weavers have proved to be more than just highly skilled weavers. 

They have also provided a depository for weaving skills that might otherwise have become lost in the ups and downs of the workshop carpet industry.
Just that happened when Persia’s court-sponsored workshop system collapsed during the tumultuous period that followed the end of the Safavid dynasty in 1722. The workshop virtually disappeared until the revival of the Persian carpet industry again in the 19th century.
Eiland and Eiland note that during that time – when export of Persian rugs to foreign markets stopped and most of the rugs sent to Europe were Anatolian – the weaving that continued in Persia was only “at a modest level to meet local needs.”
That modest level was the ongoing work of Persia’s cottage industry, whose rugs only became known to the West following the explosion of foreign demand for Persian carpets in the second half of the 1800s.
The explosion of foreign demand not only brought Persia’s dormant workshop industry back to life, it sparked an enormous export of town and village rugs to the West, too.
Ever since, town and village rugs have provided the bulk of Persian carpets in Western homes.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Silk Carpets And The Story Of The Silk Road

PRAGUE, May 15, 2012 -- There are few things in this world more mysterious than silk carpets.

More than any other kind of rug, they conjure up images of ancient luxury from distant lands, of camel caravans and the Silk Roads.

But in reality, very little is known about where silk carpets came from – or even whether they ever traveled the Silk Roads at all.

The reason: silk is not only the most luxurious of weaving materials, it is also the most perishable.

So, like the ephemeral nature of beauty itself, they exist for only a time before taking their secrets with them.

The oldest surviving silk carpets are from the 16th century, where they were woven in the Safavid court of Persia. That was a time when the Silk Roads were already giving way to increasing sea trade between Asia and Europe and the modern era was beginning.

Above is an antique silk carpet woven in Tabriz, Iran, in the last century. Below is an antique silk Khotan rug from East Turkestan. Both are available from the Nazmiyal Collection in New York.

Whether silk carpets were woven before these oldest surviving examples is a question that continues to fascinate experts.

Many think they must have been, because silk has bewitched mankind and been woven into fabrics since the very earliest times.

Yet it is equally possible that silk carpet weaving did not begin until carpet weaving itself reached its greatest heights under royal patronage in the 16th century.

That was when rulers across the Islamic world vied to outshine each other by creating the most splendid objects in court workshops without regard to difficulty or cost.

As one expert, Jon Thompson, notes, both the difficulty and cost of weaving silk carpets were far greater in earlier times than today.

And that could suggest that no weavers other than those in court workshops would have been able to undertake it. Thompson writes in his book Silk, Carpets and the Silk Roads (1988):

"The silk carpet is in a class of its own in terms of the specialization involved in its production. For a start an enormous amount of silk is required, it must be dyed by highly skilled professionals, the looms have to be built to a standard appropriate to the fineness of the carpet to be woven, and so on."

The reason silk carpets particularly appealed to royal courts despite the difficulty was that they combined a number of extraordinary qualities at once.

For one, the knot count that weavers could achieve with fine silk threads was far greater than could be achieved with wool.

That allowed the depiction of much greater detail in carpets than before, including in naturalistic scenes.

Here is a carpet woven in Turkey's famous silk-weaving town of Hereke depicting Istanbul in stunning detail. It is available from the Nazmiyal Collection in New York.

At the same time, silk could be used entirely to weave a carpet or to provide highlights to a wool carpet, in either case bringing a texture and sheen that could not be achieved with any other material.

But most of all, it was the "richness" of silk – its millennia-old association with wealth and luxury – that made silk carpets undisputed status symbols for any court which wove them.

Those courts included not just those of the Safavids but famously also the Mughals in India, the Ottomans in Turkey, and the Mamluks in Egypt.

To fully appreciate the richness associated with silk can be hard today, when we are used to seeing silk cloth mass produced for clothes, as well as many synthetic imitations.

But a quick review of just how strange a substance natural silk is, and how rare it once was, can bring back the feeling.

Silk appears to have first fascinated people for both its unusual source – insect cocoons – and its translucence when it is woven into a sheer fabric.

The classical Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote:

"The process of unravelling … and weaving a thread again was first invented in (the Greek island of) Cos by a woman named Pamphile, daughter of Plateus, who has the undoubted distinction of having devised a plan to reduce women's clothing to nakedness."

Cos (or Kos), in the Aegean Sea near the coast of Turkey, was a major early producer of silk, which was obtained by gathering cocoons abandoned by silk worms after they metamorphosed into moths.

The cocoons, broken open when the moths exited, provided broken strands of silk that could be spun into thread.

But demand for silk really took off after ancient China discovered the secret of cultivating silk worms so that the cocoons could be collected before they were broken open.

That allowed later unraveling the silk thread that forms the cocoon the same way the silk worm had originally woven the cocoon, with a single unbroken filament up to a kilometer long.

Here is a picture of the cocoons of the silk worm, or Bombyx mori.

The caterpillar weaves its bird-egg sized cocoon with a weblike filament excreted by a spinneret on its lower lip.

The construction begins with attaching the web to twigs and then moves inwards as the caterpillar twists its body round and round to fully enclose itself over the course of several days.

When producers in China spun thread from the unbroken silk filaments, the quality was vastly superior to anything before.

The thread, and fabrics from it, created enormous demand across Eurasia, including in ancient Rome.

Pliny writes that the Roman Empire spent vast amounts importing silk from the East via the trading routes that today we call the Silk Roads.

So much so, that the Roman Senate eventually forbade men from wearing silk in hopes of at least confining the demand to women, but to no effect.

Interestingly, as much as ancient Rome valued its silk imports, it had no idea precisely where they originated. The Romans simply described it as coming from a land they called Seres and which they imagined to be at the end of the world.

Thompson gives this explanation of where the word Seres might have come from:

"The term probably does not even refer to China itself but to a region of the Tarim Basin, in Chinese Turkestan or Sin-kiang (Xinjiang), through which silk passed on its overland route to the West. The last stop on this route before the mountains, Kashgar, formerly called Sarag, may be the origin of the word Serica. If this is so, it underlines how little the Mediterranean world knew of China."

Here is a picture of the kind of silk fabrics that traveled the Silk Roads.

The road also carried, in reverse, Roman glass to China, which would not discover the secret of clear, colored glass until 424 AD.

Eventually, China's secret of how to cultivate silkworms leaked out to Japan in the 4th century and Persia in the 5th and 6th century, creating major silk industries in both places.

As knowledge of the technique spread, the supply of silk goods became ever less of a problem yet the demand for silk, and inventive new forms of silk weaving, has remained high right up to our own times.

The question of when silk carpets first joined the list of silk luxury goods may never be resolved.

But today they continue to provide one of the most popular ways to include silk in home decors and enjoy the sense of luxury and mystery it imparts.




Wednesday, 11 April 2012

How A. Cecil Edwards Wrote The Book On Persian Carpets

LONDON, April 15, 20102 -- Books on oriental carpets are still a relatively new phenomenon, with the oldest dating back only to around 1900.

But if there is one book that is the most interesting of all, it may be "The Persian Carpet" by A. Cecil Edwards.

Part of the reason is that the book, published in 1953, is a comprehensive guide to the Persian carpet industry of the early 1900s, the period during which many of the Persian carpets in Western households today were made.

But the other reason the book is so interesting is the author himself.

Edwards was intimately familiar with his subject because, from the years 1900 to 1947, he was a leading figure in the rug business and spent much time in Iran.

Below is a picture of the book's cover.

And at the top of this page is a photo of the kind of Persian carpet Edwards particularly admired: a carpet from Kashan. It is available from the Nazmiyal Collection in New York.

Edwards belongs to that bygone generation of British professionals who sought their fortunes in the East at the turn-of-the-last century through a combination of luck and daring.

His story begins in Istanbul, where his great uncle, George Baker, was the official gardener for the Turkish sultan and his uncle, James Baker, was a co-founder of Oriental Carpet Manufacturers, or OCM.

At the time, OCM was already one of the world's most successful international carpet companies. When it was founded in Smyrna (now Izmir) in 1908 as a merger of six major carpet manufacturing firms, it had a start-up capitalization of £400,000 - a massive sum for that day.

Young Cecil Edwards joined OCM as it bought and manufactured carpets in Turkey and Persia and exported them to the British market. He soon found himself focusing on Persia, moving to Hamadan in northwest Persia in 1911 to take charge of the company's production there.

Northwest Persia at the time was the center of much of the country's weaving for export trade. But Persia did not just interest Edwards and his American wife Clara, for its carpets. They both became fascinated by the history and culture which surrounded them.

Here is a picture of Gang Nameh, one of the most impressive relics of the ancient Persian Empire, just 5 km southwest of Hamadan.

It is a pair of inscriptions on the side of Alvand Mountain.

The one on the left was ordered by Darius the Great (521-485 BC) and the one on the right by Xerxes the Great (485-65 BC).

Each section is carved in three languages -- Old Persian, Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Elamite – and describe the lineage and deeds of each king.

Both Cecil and Clara began to write about the world around them as they made Persia their home for the next 12 years. He tried fiction and she wrote detailed letters to relatives which are now collected in the archives of Bryn Mawr College, her alma mater.

Cecil's first published book, a collection of short stories, was "The Persian Caravan." It appeared in 1928 and was a collection of unrelated tales whose exotic characters ranged from aghas, to Russian officers, to British missionaries – all apparently inspired by the people he saw around him. The text is occasionally sprinkled with ghazels by the poet Hafez.

Despite Edward's profession, "The Persian Caravan" rarely mentions carpets -- except when describing a luxurious setting. As in this passage, when an unidentified narrator visits a friend, a former defense minister, who has been arrested by the leader of a palace coup:

"My host had ordered his servants to prepare lunch in the posthouse. He ushered me, in due course, into the principal chamber. I found the earth floor garnished with a noble carpet from Kashan, where the best carpets in the world are woven. On the carpet a printed cloth was spread. It was dotted with little bowls of stews and sweetmeats; and like a sun, in the centre of that fragrant system, lay a huge metal platter, heaped with steaming...‎"

It is interesting that Edwards mentions Kashan carpets as the best in the world because, much later, when he wrote his definitive book on Persian carpets he would repeatedly say the same.

So much so, in fact, that some modern critics fault him for devoting too much time to Kashan's production compared to his survey of the rest of the Persian carpets of his time.

Here is another Kashan carpet of the kind Edwards might have admired. It is available from the Nazmiyal Collection in New York.

Just when Edwards decided to write about the Persian carpet industry is unclear. But when the Edwards left Persia for London in 1923, his book was still a quarter of a century away from appearing.

In London, Edwards was managing director of OCM and is credited with making the decision to expand the company's market to America. In partnership with one of the biggest importers in the US market – Fritz and La Rue – OCM's rugs entered virtually every major department store chain in the United States in the years leading up to World War II.

Yet Edwards' interests remained both intellectual and commercial as he rose to the top of his profession. He was an early pioneer of globalization, increasingly moving production to India to make oriental carpets more affordable to average buyers. But he and Clara also developed firm friendships with historian Arnold Toynbee and the William Blake bibliographer Geoffrey Keynes.

Finally in 1948 the couple returned again to Persia (renamed in 1935 as Iran). The goal was for Cecil to complete research for his book which would be entitled, "The Persian Carpet: A Survey of the Carpet Weaving Industry of Persia."

The book was published five years later, in 1953. But by a sad twist of fate, both Cecil's and Clara's health were worsening by then. Clara's mind had begun to fail and in 1951 she entered a retreat near Brighton. Cecil died in 1953, followed closely by Clara in 1955.

The Edwards' story ends sadly but it is one of a fascinating life lived at a fascinating time.

"The Persian Carpet" won the highest accolades it could hope to win by being published to acclaim in English and also being translated into Farsi.

And the saga of the OCM has inspired another full book of its own.

It is "Three Camels To Smyrna: Times of War and Peace in Turkey, Persia, India, Afghanistan & Nepal 1907-1986 - The Story of the Oriental Carpet Manufacturers Company."

The book, by Antony Wynn, explores the dramatic history of the Near and Middle East in the twentieth century from the point of view of the men and women involved in the carpet trade.

Among them, to be sure, are A. Cecil and Clara Edwards.




Saturday, 17 March 2012

New York International Carpet Show Set For September

NEW YORK, March 15, 2012 --

There are a handful of must-go carpet shows for anyone who wants to see the incredible variety of top quality pieces being made in the carpet world today. One of these is the New York International Carpet Show, which takes place in New York in September. The organizers recently sent us this announcement about the upcoming show:

There's a continuing revolution in the handmade carpet industry for new, fashion-forward design that uses sustainable materials, innovative textures and a wide range of customer-friendly colors. In this economy, carpets have to be fresh and sell for good value. Exciting designs with showstopping colors and textures make heads turn.

To meet this growing demand, Dennis Dodds created the New York International Carpet Show that has been held each September during the peak buying season for the past eight years. Dates for the 2012 Fall Market trade event are Sunday through Tuesday, September 9th, 10th and 11th. Mark your calendars now.

Dodds, who is also an architect and a collector of rare antique tribal rugs, gives credit to his top exhibitors: “They are the main marketmakers -- the movers and shakers. They meet uncertainty with creative ideas and stunning carpets that resonate with consumers in the marketplace.”

Acclaimed as one of the industry’s “must-go” trade sources for high-end handmade carpets, NYICS is held at the prestigious 7 West New York Showrooms, directly across from the Empire State Building at 5th Avenue and 34th Street in midtown Manhattan. This convenient location is just steps away from New York’s carpet district and creates an unequalled anchor destination in the middle of New York City.

“NYICS elevates the brands of our artisan carpetmakers and extends our reach into a larger and more varied pool of buyers,” says Dodds. A national trade database and promotion to the influential design community pulls new faces to NYICS. The show will be cross-marketed with the huge New York Home Fashions Market that runs the same week.

Buyers attending NYICS have come to expect ravishing one-of-a-kind-carpets, deep programs, stunning new collections and custom capabilities from top importers. Dodds summarizes the show: “We’re a boutique event and a catalyst for business. This is a design driven, high-end carpet space where buyers will make bigger profits.”

To find out more, go to, or contact

(Photo is of the carpet "Reflection-Sky" designed and produced by Wool & Silk Rugs. The rug won the Best Modern Design Deluxe Award at Domotex 2012 as a premier example of imaginative new rugs being woven today.)




Monday, 13 February 2012

DOBAG Rugs And The Return To Natural Colors

ISTANBUL, February 15, 2012 -- One of the greatest changes in carpet making in modern times is the return to natural dyes.

It began in Turkey in the 1960s, and it is the story of largely one man: a German chemist. His work in recreating natural dyes helped launch a project to convince villager weavers to give up synthetic dyes and return to traditional plant-based dyes instead.

Many of those plant dyes had disappeared from rugs for more than a century.

The result was a revolution in color whose success has inspired thousands of other producers around the carpet world to now move partly or wholly back to using natural dyes, too.

The name of the chemist is Harald Boehmer and the project, carried out by a Turkish university, is the Natural Dye Research and Development Project, better known by its Turkish acronym DOBAG.

The rugs that the Turkish villages in the DOBAG project produced – and still produce – are simply called DOBAGs. Here, and at the top of the page are photos of two DOBAGs, both available from Peter Linden in Dublin.

Boehmer came to Istanbul in the 1960s to teach chemistry and other sciences at the German School and with his wife Renate soon became fascinated by Turkish carpets. It was at a time when Turkish carpets had been in decline for decades under the pressures of mass production and the urge to use ever cheaper synthetic dyes to lower costs.

Instead of being repelled by the poor quality rugs, the Boehmers were intrigued. Why, they wondered, were the centuries-old rugs they saw in Turkish museums so vastly superior to Turkey's modern production?

The answer, they decided, was not the quality of the weaving but the use of chemical dyes in place of the older rug's plant-based ones.

But if the Boehmers became interested in the old natural dyes, learning how to recreate them set the science-minded couple off on a lifetime journey.

The Boehmers began scouring the Turkish countryside to find weavers old enough to still remember what plants their grandparents used to extract colors. At the same time, they conducted their own analysis of old rugs using the laboratory technique of chromatography.

Putting the two sources of information together, they were eventually able to reconstruct all of the missing natural dyes.

With support from Istanbul's Marmara University, the next phase was to interest villagers in again producing the old dyes and weaving with them. The project began with villages in Canakkale province bordering the Dardanelle Straits, expanded to more villages in Turkey's southwest, and DOBAG rugs were born.

To appreciate just how revolutionary was the idea of returning to natural dyes, it is interesting to recall the history of the synthetic dye industry, which developed in Britain and Germany in the mid 1800s and whose products spread to weavers across the world.

In 1856, an English chemistry student, William Perkins, discovered synthetic dyes while attempting to synthesize quinine, used as a medicine against malaria. The purple dye he created inexpensively by accident was so obviously desirable to the textile industry that he immediately applied for a patent.

Perkin's professor, Wilhelm von Hoffmann, also recognized the significance of the accidental discovery. He later returned to his home country of Germany and set off a race between German universities and British ones to synthesize more, better, and cheaper colors.

The new dyes spread quickly to the carpet world because the second half of the 19th century was also a time when European demand for oriental carpets was exploding. A series of international expositions between 1851 and 1876 had fanned huge interest in eastern – and particularly Turkish carpets – and demand suddenly outstripped supply.

Jane Peterson describes neatly why the Turkish carpet industry embraced the new synthetic dyes in her 1991 article "A Passion for Color," published in Saudi Aramco Magazine:

"Rug prices increased. But higher prices could neither speed up the laborious hand-work needed to collect raw materials for natural dyes, nor increase the supply of those dye plants that were not cultivated crops."

Here is a picture of one plant traditionally used in Turkey to produce yellow: chamomile

The new synthetic dyes offered multiple advantages. They not only were available in quantity, they also were cheaper and less-time consuming to use than plant dyes. By the 1880s the majority of Turkey's big carpet manufactories were using them and by the eve of World War I even nomad and peasant weavers were, too.

The synthetic dyes colors reigned – and still reign – so supreme that rug dealers estimate 95 percent of the rugs available on the market today are made with chemical dyes.

Thus, for natural colors to challenge that supremacy today requires not only changing the weaving world's work habits and economic patterns, it also means changing what have become established tastes among carpet buyers.

Both synthetic and natural dyes have their admirers.

Synthetic dyes, being the result of a chemical process, produce monochrome colors. If the color is red, it is a single shade of red, with no variations of shades within it.

That means every piece of red-dyed yarn will be identical, producing a near-perfect evenness of color. When the carpet is woven, the red knots will stand out in full contrast to the knots woven in other pure colors around it, creating a powerful effect.

By contrast, natural dyes produce polychrome colors. If the color is red, there are multiple shades of red in it because that is how colors occur in nature. The same spontaneity of multiple shades carries over to the plant-dyed yarn.

When the carpet is woven, these subtle variations of hues will be apparent in each red knot. And because all the other plant-dyed colors in the carpet equally contain multiple shades, the colors overall will subtly harmonize. The contrasts between them will be softened, creating a mellow effect.

This photo shows DOBAG weavers preparing dyes by boiling plants they have collected.

As more rug producers across the carpet world now explore returning to natural dyes, the question will be how customers adapt to the suddenly expanded range of choices.

Will they strongly prefer either natural or synthetic colors over one another or – perhaps more likely -- will they find a place for both in their homes?

The pleasure for every carpet lover will be in exploring the possibilities and, in the process, the wonderful world of colors around us.