More History

Expert weavers were so adept at their craft that they also had an impressive understanding of which colors was more apt to fade over time. For instance, through clever planning, certain shades of light brown (non-animal), which were known fade, were used as outline motifs rather dominant colors and thus kept the flow of the beauty of the carpet over the years.

In the late 19th century the dyeing methods for wool used on rugs and carpets was forever changed when a German company invented petroleum-based pigments (Aniline) which quickly replaced the centuries-old methods of obtaining dyes from insects and plants. Other than efficiency (the old method was very time consuming), the new pigments do not have any advantage over the older dyeing techniques. The conversion was made purely for economic reasons. So, carpets made prior to about 1880 have high valuations and are highly prized.

As mentioned previously, unlike the technique of rug weaving, which has changed little over time, the designs used on rugs and carpets have changed considerably and continue to change as an ever-changing art form. As rug weaving spread and became more commonplace throughout the Middle East, various influences affected the designs of rugs. These included (but were not limited to) religion, folk beliefs and traditions, cultural interaction and recent politics. “War protest” political rugs are a recent occurrence where they were first seen in Afghanistan with the1979-89 Russian invasion. These war protest rugs depicted fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, guns, etc.

Rug designs can be classified as (1) Religious, (2) Symbolic, (3) Ritualistic, (4) Ceremonial and (5) Pictorial. With the conversion of the Armenians to Christianity in the fourth century, religious themes were quite common well into the middle ages and beyond on most Armenian rugs and carpets. The designs evolved from meaningful religious and folk symbols to abstract and highly stylized forms.

As far as the production types of rugs and carpets, they are mostly “nomadic” or “workshop.”  Nomadic rugs are smaller and out of standard proportions so they are easy to roll and carry, while workshop rugs are larger and proportioned to accommodate market demand. Another type, a cross between the two, made possible the transition from the nomadic to the workshop type of carpet, is the ‘cottage industry’ production where family members handle the process of carpet weaving rather than factory workers. In earlier periods, rugs were mainly woven by nomads. This was on a light, but steady production basis.

As demand increased both for quantity and for size of rugs, it was inevitable that production be increased and more sophisticated. So with the further expansion of the industry, the workshop came about. The nomadic types are, for the most part, limited to rugs, kilims, sumacs, and other flat woven textiles. Large-scale carpets would be too time consuming and non-economical for nomads to make. As a result, workshops produce the larger textiles, carpets and rugs. Recently workshops have also begun to produce kilims and sumacs. All the rugs and carpets produced by workshops and nomads are also either floral or geometric in their pattern.

Rugs and carpets can be very time consuming to make. A true masterpiece carpet may take several years to finish with several weavers! No doubt this may be a major factor in its price. If properly cared for, a well made carpet can be a life-long investment and can be passed down from generation to generation.

A major area in the study of rugs and carpets is the attribution of the true origin of the textiles and their symbolic interpretations, which unfortunately has been abused and neglected by countless experts who guise themselves under claims of being “scholarly.” Many older rugs and carpets are misattributed and most often misinterpreted, sometimes deliberately to support a motive and sometimes out of negligence or ignorance.

As an example, consider the various cultures that have historically, and presently live in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Historically the Greeks inhabited the western region, and the Armenians the eastern as well as various Kurdish tribes. All of these peoples have had a long tradition of rug weaving yet they are seldom credited for the rugs and carpets they were responsible for producing. Instead, some authors have chosen to classify all the textiles from this region as “Turkish” or “Anatolian.” It’s not reasonable to assume that the Turkish, who migrated into Asia Minor relatively recently, would, within a couple centuries, develop and master difficult techniques of rug weaving surpassing many centuries of rug weaving traditions developed by the area natives. This kind of unprofessional approach has darkened the study of rugs and carpets and is not in the best interest of a true scholarly approach to the art and craft of rug weaving.

So, based on findings thus far, it would be reasonable to conclude that  rug weaving originated in Asia Minor and spread from there to various parts of Europe and Asia. And if rug weaving had evolved someplace other than Asia Minor, why don’t comparably dated examples of rugs exist?

Scholarly study and further investigation to such questions may shed more light on the art and craft of rug weaving and its origins, especially if more examples like the Pazyryk rug are discovered. But one thing is for certain: Beautiful rugs are sought after and prized as much today as they ever were throughout their colorful history, and will continue to provide artistic and personal satisfaction to their owners for as long as the art and craft of rug weaving exists.

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