Eastern Kurdistan Rugs

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Sehna or Sennah Kurdistan Proper Kermanshah Sarakhs or Bijar Koultuk Souj-Bulak

    In some respects the rugs made in Eastern — or what is popularly called Persian — Kurdistan, are the best that come to market. The Kurds in their fastnesses have kept more aloof from the demoralization of towns than any of the other races found in Persia, and have been slower to take up with the meretricious tricks which other weaving folk have learned with such lamentable thoroughness. Their rugs have always been accounted representative of what is good in texture and color, and since they are woven principally in the tents, away from town influences, the quality has been fairly well preserved. Another element, which goes far toward maintaining it is that Kurdistan has an unfailing supply of wool, which is, not surpassed anywhere, unless it be in Kirman and certain parts of Turkestan. The greater part of the yarn, moreover, is spun by hand and with infinite care, and the result is apparent in most of the rugs, which the Kurds bring to town for sale.

    The aniline invasion has made headway among them, and that is not surprising in view of the fact that throughout the wilds of Kurdistan the dye-shops are as rare as Eiffel towers. The Kurdish weavers are their own dyers, and the ease with which chemical dyes can be mixed is tempting. Nevertheless, after examining many hundreds of rugs, in the bazaars and on the looms, I am of opinion that the Kurds have clung to the old colors more tenaciously than any other of the weaving peoples. If the old processes are to be saved, they must, it would seem, be sought among the Kurds. In the dye-shops in the towns, certainly, they cannot be learned. Take, for example, the single matter of Persian blue, the essential color in all high-class Persian rugs. It is confessedly lost. I put to the most competent dyer I could find many questions concerning his variegated business. He expounded and explained and brought samples of his dye stuffs and his mordants, but at the close admitted that while he could make dozens of desirable blues the old color was beyond him, and he didn't know anybody who had any more idea of producing it than he had. The average Persian will lie, on principle, but the proof that this dyer was telling the truth was that the best blue that he had to show was a dead and uninspiring color when contrasted with a ragged scrap of an antique Herati rug, which I had found kicking about the bazaar in Tiflis.

    Two days later, looking over a mixed lot of runners collected during the preceding six months by a Persian merchant, I saw a Kurdish pair, comparatively new, but in one of the best old Persian designs, and grounded in that same indescribable dark, deep and yet almost translucent blue, which had forced such a frank confession from the dyer. Under a voluminous turban, somewhere in the mountains of Kurdistan, the ancient secret of color lurks. A decade hence, in all likelihood, it will have gone the way of all the good things which once made the Persians the most enviable people in the world.

    In the rugs of the Kurdistan region there is wide variety. Within its confines are made not only the finest, thinnest and most delicate fabrics in Persia, but also a profusion of the heavy, board-like and unfoldable rugs before spoken of as "Lule". There are all the intermediate grades and a diversity of designs. Most of the spontaneous product of the region is in the shapes used for component parts of the triclinium, and the long runners or kinari predominate. Sedjadeh are few.

    Sehna or Sennah Rugs. — In the single matter of fineness of texture these rugs, named for the city of Sehna, situated in the mountains near the Turkish border, have few equals. They are of a peculiar character and not apparently close kin to any other floor covering, even of Persia. They are fully equal to the Tabriz in quality, perhaps better, but in design, texture and color theory are of an altogether different order. Barring the deterioration which has come to all the Eastern weavings they have remained virtually unchanged, which is singular when the location of the city is borne in mind. On every hand Sehna is surrounded by rug-producing districts, each with its special type and all furnishing fabrics as different as possible from the Sehnas, but from none of these do the Sehna weavers seem inclined to borrow.

    In design these rugs run to small patterns and diaper arrangement, principally the pear or the fish pattern, woven with infinite fineness and with a skilful toning produced not by shading or grading, but by minute variations in color. The pear, and other small patterns, with the arrangement of stalks with which some of them are combined in the body of the rug, as well as the fine border devices, are all wrought by painstaking and artistic method into a harmony which makes the whole fabric at once rich and restful as it is fine of texture. In most of the Sehnas the diaper of small patterns covers the entire field, but in many a diamond-shaped center-piece appears. This is covered with a close array of the small figures, while the surrounding space, except the corners, is in solid colors or in some fine diaper pattern different from that of the center either in the character of the device, or the tint of the ground-color, or both, just sufficiently to make the demarcation distinguishable. In any case the evenness and harmony are preserved. For ground-color wool white prevails, although blue, red, or the ivory tint is sometimes used. The borders are divided into well-adjusted stripes, the middle one very wide in proportion to the others, and carrying a form of the Herati border design. They are all in fine consonance with the general character of the fabric, red and yellow predominating in the larger border devices. A few Sehna rugs have the pear pattern wrought upon a large scale, perhaps half a dozen pears covering the whole field, but even in these the device is treated with the characteristic minuteness and the soft effect is retained.

    The maximum size of the old Sehnas is about five feet wide by eight feet long, but owing to the constantly growing demands for larger rugs they are now made in other sizes. Except in rare instances the modern fabric is inferior to the antique. The material is coarser and the colors not so soft, so fast or so delicately blended.

    Sometimes the Sehnas are confused, through the general similarity of tone and pattern, with other varieties, notably the Feraghans, but they may be distinguished by the weave. The maximum in the Feraghans, even in the antiques, is about one hundred and sixty knots to the square inch. The true Sehna has far more than that. It has, in fact, no equal in this respect save the Kirman, Tabriz, Saruk and a few very old Turkestan rugs.

    The warp is of cotton, linen or silk. So tightly are the knots in some of the old Sehnas put in that a slight puckering is visible on the back — an appearance suggestive of crepe. The effort at compactness often results in a curling up of the fabric at the sides. This, and a growing decadence in the quality of the colors, are the chief faults in the modern Sehnas. The pile in the best pieces is more closely trimmed than any other rug, save the finest old Tekke or so-called Bokhara. Imitations of the Sehna are now included in the general manufacture of Tabriz.

    Kurdistan Proper. — The geographical position of Persian Kurdistan has had a remarkable influence in fixing the character of the rugs produced by its tribes. They are different in almost every respect from those made by the Kurdish tribes just over the border, in the hill ranges of Mosul and Van. In these provinces, as has been said in the note on the Mosul fabrics, the products are of the nomadic order, loose of texture and rough in appearance. The Persian Kurds, on the contrary, have learned and continue to practice a more finished form of craft. Propinquity to the cities of Azerbaijan, Ardelan and Luristan has made them familiar with the rugs produced by the skilled artisans of those districts, and the points of resemblance between the rugs are many.

    The influence of Kermanshah, where for a long time the finest of weaving was done, has had much to do with uplifting the character of the weaving throughout the entire district. The ideals thus established seem to have lingered among the Kurds. They have even outlived the glories of Kermanshah itself. In place of the long pile common among the Mosul Kurds, their relatives of Persian Kurdistan trim many of their fabrics almost to the closeness of a pure Persian rug. They show a great diversity in design, and a particular leaning to repetitive patterns, arranged usually in rows so as to form a diaper. In some parts of Kurdistan, to the north, the weavers have caught the Karabagh and Kabistan idea, and have taken up with large geometrical forms for the central fields, and compromised by filling in the remaining space with the small patterns peculiar to Persia. Another concession to the Caucasian idea is their choice of method. The fabrics are tied with the Ghiordes knot. That with this it is difficult to effect the minute alternations of color distinctive of the finer Persian rugs is, without doubt, the reason that these Kurds have fallen back, when weaving rugs for market, on Caucasian designs for filling in the central space.

    Where the Sehna or Saraband influence predominates, the entire field of the rug is well covered with small figures, closely crowded in regular rows, vertically and horizontally. Popular patterns for this purpose are flowering shrubs, probably a modification of the widely distributed tree pattern. To most of these the limitations of stitch have imparted erectness and symmetry which only frequent diversifications of color soften and save from being mechanical. A typical form of this device has an upright stalk, with a cluster at its roots. The first output of branches, ascending, is quite broad, heavily leaved, and flowered at the ends. Then come four other and longer branches, two on either side, bearing lumpy clusters at the ends.

    One similar but smaller cross branch is above these, with clustered ends, and a clump of foliage at the junction with the trunk; then the heavily leaved crest, and above that one flower as a top tuft, red bodied, perhaps, with a border of bright blue. All the branches stand out at right angles with the stem, and so far has the figure taken on geometrical character, that to any but an imaginative person, study is required to discover that the design in all of its varied forms is arboreal. In the Turkish rugs and some Caucasians this same device, in even more geometrical drawing, may be found playing the part of border. To produce a precise stripe effect in the rows of these patterns, diagonally, the colors in the different parts of the figure — pale blue, brown, old gold, black, olive, and several shades of red — are alternated in every second figure. On the ground of dark blue or perhaps red, this effect is striking, and the number of these figures, crowded into the field, makes it seem ornate and flowery. The main border often carries the same pattern.

    Frequently, however, there is in the body of the rug a central design of some established medallion shape, covered with small figures, while the space about it, if dark blue, is filled with repetition of the pear, in dark red. If the ground-color be red the pear figure is in blue. Occasionally the central design consists of several large, lozenge-shaped figures, minutely decorated with smaller patterns. In the border, which carries a rich array of red and blue, relieved with bright yellow in small dashes, are small, variegated block and key patterns carried through the length of the stripe. The wider stripes are varied with daisies, wrought with much accuracy. The borders show concessions to both the influences by which the makers are surrounded.

    The Kurdistans are finished on one end with a small fringe, and the sides are overcast with worsted yarn, usually some shade of brown. The general effect and finish must be relied upon to distinguish them, as their patterns are too widely used in other rugs, both Persian and Turkish, to be at all characteristic. One mark which is almost invariably found in Kurd rugs is a single line in colored wools, embroidered on the webbing across one or both ends. The warp should be wool. The "Irans" — as certain of the Persian nomad products are called — are often mistaken for Kurdistans, but in almost every case may be recognized by their cotton warp, and usually by a difference in the knot used.

    Kurdistan rugs are very often found in which a coarse, heavy, two-strand wool yarn is passed straight across, between front and back weft-threads, after every row of knots, as filling. In such, one of the regular weft-threads is omitted. The weft is the smallest of dyed single-strand yarns, just sufficient to hold the filling and knots in place. The result is amazing firmness and durability. The Bijars illustrate this method of filling.

    Kermanshah Rugs. — Amid the mountains, which stand, sentinel against the Turk, all along the western border, is the outpost town of Kermanshah. It has long been a foremost town of the province of Ardelan, and the chief fortress of the West. Any intelligent Persian will tell you that it got the name of Kermanshah from the fact that one of the governors who was sent to administer its affairs, so long ago that tradition fails to fix the time, came from the southern province of Kirman. However this may be, Kermanshah, with its famous bazaars, its extensive garrison and its busy population, was a place of moment, and, thanks to the rug-making carried on in the palace under the governor's patronage, its weavings became famous throughout all northern Persia. It has been customary, until very lately, among the rug dealers of the West and Constantinople as well, to attribute the Kirman rugs to Kermanshah. The fabrics here, however, while more pretentious in some ways than those of the surrounding Kurd country, are no longer to be classed with the weavings of Kirman.

    The days of the palace are ended. The population of the town has dwindled from forty or fifty thousand to one-fifth the number. There is still a garrison of some strength as Persian garrisons go, which is saying little. The fortress and the walls are in ruins, the once crowded caravanserais are empty. The rug industry, as a matter of fact, is no longer carried on to any extent in the town.

    The rugs which come to the Persian markets with the name of Kermanshah are chiefly made in the surrounding mountains, but the weavers hold in some measure to the traditions of the olden time. This is evident not only in the designs but the shape of the fabrics. The sedjadeh are still in vogue, which cannot be said of the other districts in that part of Persia, most of which produce only runners and the large, long center-pieces.

    In design, the best of the Kermanshahs affect the floral treatment. The texture is looser than in many of the rugs in Persian Kurdistan. The pear is used in design, but in the coarser rugs it is woven after the manner of the Mosuls. In many ways, indeed, the influence of the Turkish models is made manifest in the common grade, but in the better pieces much of Persian quality is displayed. The pear pattern in these, for example, has quite the Iranian character. Instead of being drawn as it is in the Saraband and Shiraz, it appears with a shape and degree of elaboration suggestive of the Khorassan and Kirman designs. A singular arrangement of the pattern, too, is frequently seen in the Kermanshahs. Instead of being placed in rows, unattended by any other element, the pears are trained on undulating vines, which run diagonally across the field, and each figure is surrounded by some floral conceit. This design is also found in Kirman rugs and lately has been adopted, as everything has, by the factory weavers of Tabriz. The colors in some of these floral designs are rich and unusually good, and considerable skill is shown in the shading, which in most districts has been abandoned.

    There are also found in abundance the standard Persian and Kurdish terehs. The knot of the Kermanshah is Turkish, the warp sometimes cotton, another survival of the palace teaching. The sides are overcast with dark brown wool like most of the Kurd rugs, and the finishing of the ends conforms to the custom of the group.

    Sarakhs Rugs or Bijar. — These are the true " Lules". They take their name from the old fortified city on the Tajend, in the angle where Persia and Afghanistan come to the borders of Turkestan, and where now the Russian bear rests preparatory to swallowing both. They are of what may be termed native production, to distinguish them from factory products of the cities. Their makers are Turkish tribesmen who came under Genghis and Tamur from the districts around old Sarakhs and settled in the neighborhood of Bijar, in the Gehrous district of Kurdistan. The name Sarakhs is not known in Persia in connection with these rugs. Some of the older pieces, which are preserved in collections, were apparently the work of skilled artisans, and the graceful Arabi-Persian curves were used in defining the great central medallions, which constitute the Sarakhs design. The ornamentation was limited, since in the old rugs even more than in the new, the characteristics were simplicity and power. The medallions found in the best Gorevans are imitations of the oldest and finest Sarakhs. The modern fabrics preserve the general design, the strong color-massing, and for the most part the colors also; but they have yielded to the seduction of the straight line.

    The hues are few and elementary. Blending seems to be an almost unknown art to these people, but the plain grounds are dexterously shaded. In the staple rugs recently turned out at some weaving centers, effort has been made to imitate this peculiarity, but the intent is so apparent and the deftness of the Sarakhs weavers so plainly lacking, that the charm of the thing is lost, and the variation set down as rayah, one of the cardinal sins in the eyes of the master weaver of today.

    Red predominates in the Sarakhs, but the primary blues, greens, yellows and even black and white are used in brave plenty. The common design is a central piece in a medallion frame, surrounded by a field of plain color. The corners are set off sometimes in curves, but oftener in rectangular triangles, a decadent substitute for the masterly scrolls, which beautified the old examples. The grounds of the border, field and center-piece, if not in any of the camel's-hair shades, are usually in the wonderful Sarakhs red or some bright blue, upon which are boldly displayed vari colored rectilinear flowers or unequal figures of some sort. The pear shape, crudely drawn, is often met with, and the daisy of our own fields is truthfully if rudely shown.

    Nothing could be more indescribably gay than the modern Sarakhs rug of purely nomad manufacture. The fear, which haunts the school-trained colorist, of clashing with accepted theory, does not hamper these hill folk. Contrast, not complement, is their creed. They have been accustomed to see the greenest of trees against the bluest of skies, the most flamboyant of reds and yellows side by side in the sunset. This model they know no valid reason for not following, with such fidelity as their scant skill in dyeing makes possible. The result is a marvel of consistency in high key. These rugs have a particular place in furnishing. Western industry and invention probably could not have designed them or an equivalent for them, and if it could, would not have dared. Every color is a climax, and their crudity gives a breadth and massing which are most available to complete and set off apartments where the wood, walls and furniture are dark, and the general effect is coarse and heavy. Their design has been followed, and elaborated, in many of the great Anatolian rugs.

    There is in some of them, too, a brightness other than that of tingent. The weavers have drawn, from some source, a reckless tendency to ornament their works by the inweaving of birds, animals and men. Their production does not seem to be along the Chinese or Persian lines, however. The figures are more European, but it is the pictorial art of the child rather than of the ancient. The men and cows, the hens, horses and sheep are of the selfsame order as those which the American school boy draws upon his slate, but there is abundant evidence of close observation, of a humor far keener and broader than the power of expression which bodies it forth. It is the humor of the unskilled caricaturist. The man with the three-cornered head who stalks in the field of the nomad Sarakhs, has a body shaped like a city block, viewed from the avenue side, but the rainbow of gaudy horizontal stripes which makes his whole torso gay, is doubtless a memorial to some tribal dandy, or a message of fellow feeling to the lurid youth of the Occident.

    In lieu of the medallion design there often appear scroll-like or shield devices, with some conventional floral bits interspersed. These are distributed sparsely upon a field of richest blue or red. The colors are dark and indescribably rich, the small scrolls, for example, being laid in deep leaf-green, true madder red, and a peculiar blue several shades lighter than the ground, and so lustrous that it seems to be woven in silk. In this same blue the main border ground is often laid. This border is broad, and usually carries a graceful design of the Herati order. Sometimes where the field is of dark blue, the border ground is a correspondingly deep red, and the figures in light shades, with pronounced effects in yellow and old ivory, which give brightness to the whole expanse. These also appear in the central field.

    Warp, weft and pile of the Sarakhs are of wool, and the material with which the best of them are piled is as fine as in many of the costly Persian rugs. As in the Kazaks, one end is often finished with a fringe, while at the other the warp is turned, twisted and woven back upon itself with the weft, to form a broad, heavy selvage. The sides are overcast. The knot is Ghiordes.

    Koultuk Rugs. — There are made in the many small villages of the district lying between Gehrous and Zenjan, partly in the province of Ardelan and partly in the northwest corner of Irak Ajemi, a multitude of small runners of various sorts, including even some of the Heriz type. They are worked on a cotton warp and with woollen weft and in other respects follow the Kurd models. They are heavy, but not of the " Lule " weight. The knot is Turkish. One end has a plain selvage; the other a selvage and loose ends. The new dyes are used in most of these and the coloring of course is not of the best. A dealer in Zenjan, on the road from Tabriz to Teheran, began collecting these pieces, adding to them such as came to hand of the Kara Dagh and other weavings, and marketing the whole as Koultuk or Zenjan. The extreme diversity noticeable in these shipments forbade their taking rank as a distinct class. Constantinople rug men, reassorting the bales, cast each piece into the lot which it resembled most closely, and abandoned, so far as American invoices were concerned, both Koultuk and Zenjan; so neither of the names has ever found a prominent place among the shop titles employed in this country. The " variety " is in reality merely a hodgepodge of the same sort as the so-called "Guendje", in which are comprised the odds and ends of all the Caucasian and Mosul weavings.

    Souj-Bulak Rugs. — Another variety of rugs offered in considerable numbers in Persian markets comes from the neighborhood of Souj Bulak, the old Kurdish capital on the border, some distance to the south of Tabriz and Lake Urumieh. The population of the district is overwhelmingly Kurd, and the rugs are in all the essentials Kurdish, with slight local variations. The yarns are doubled, which makes the fabrics very compact. The wool is of the best and the pile soft and pleasant to the touch, but by reason of the close texture it stands straight instead of flattening like that of the Kazaks. All the patterns are Kurdish and the colors are dark — chiefly red, blue and brown. While strong and serviceable, the Souj-Bulak rugs are far from maintaining the standard of the first-class Kurd products.

    Two rows at the back of the rug indicate the single Ghiordes knot and the number of these to the inch measuring vertically is greater than when measured on the weft. The average is 7-8 by 10-11. The finishings are of the Kurdish character.

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Sehna or Sennah Kurdistan Proper Kermanshah Sarakhs or Bijar Koultuk Souj-Bulak

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