Kirmanieh Rugs

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    All the rugs sent from the southern part of Persia between the Shat-el-Arab and the Persian Gulf on the west, and the plains of Seistan and Beluchistan on the east, may be classed as Kirmanieh fabrics. They are made chiefly by the nomadic Karmanian tribes, some of them descendants of the old Parsees, though the Turkoman elements contribute largely to the product of the district, and their fabrics are thorough counterparts of some of those still found in the Caucasus. The excellent rugs made by the people of the villages throughout Laristan are included under the head of Kirmanieh.

    The honesty of these weavings has hitherto brought them great popularity, and though signs of demoralization are visible, remoteness from the avenues of commerce and travel makes it seem likely that some time will elapse before they can come wholly under the influence, which has utterly changed so many classes of Eastern rugs. An English firm, however, has established an agency at Bushire on the Gulf coast and another at Bassorah, for the collection of rugs from this territory. Their collectors journey to up-country towns, hire a khan or building of some sort, and send out word into the surrounding hamlets and countryside that they are there to buy. The heads of weaving families bring in their whole year's product in response to this notice, and thus a thoroughgoing market system will ultimately be built up. The rugs can be got to Bender Abbas or Bushire, and thence shipped to England or Constantinople.

    The materials used in the best of the Kirmanieh fabrics — the Kirman proper and the high-class Shiraz — are taken from the flocks which herd on the shores of the salt lake Niris.

    Kirman. — American rug dealers have never had very intimate acquaintance with the rugs of Kirman, capital of the southernmost Persian province. In the early days of rug importation to this country Kirman, like other and even less remote parts of Persia, was little known. The European travelers who had visited it were few. Those entering Persia from the south disembark at Bender Abbas or Bushire, go to Shiraz and thence directly North, to Ispahan, leaving Yezd, Kirman and the desert far on their right. Kirman's communication is chiefly with the East. Even to-day it stands out of the beaten path of travel, and the cities of the North, which count Shiraz as neighbor, though not a very near one, still look upon Kirman as far away.

    This explains, in a measure, the confusion which has always existed in regard to the character of the Kirman rugs, which hitherto have come in limited numbers to this country, though in London they have enjoyed renown. In the section devoted to Kurd rugs reference has been made to the current belief that Kermanshah, in the mountains of Kurdistan, was the birthplace of these very interesting fabrics. This error, which only existed outside the confines of Persia, has been dispelled. Now that the Tabriz rugs, modeled after the later fabrics of Kirman, have fairly choked the markets, the Kirman exports have begun to appear in comparative plenty in Istanbul.

    The rug industry in Kirman is old, and has been, if Reclus is to be believed, more tenacious of life than some of the arts, which throve there in other times. He says; " Since the visit of Marco Polo Kirman has lost its manufacture of arms, but its embroideries and rugs are always high prized". The endurance of textile industry here, when other arts have failed, is due, no doubt, to the plentitude of unequalled wool. The descriptions given of the manner in which rug weaving is carried on in Kirman show that it was done studiously, and freedom from contact with the rest of the world served to perpetuate local-methods and characteristic designs.

    In the book of Sir F. J. Goldsmid, upon "Eastern Persia", published in 1876, is to be found the clearest utterance regarding the rugs of Kirman, an utterance formulated on the notes of eye witnesses of the manufacture. It says: " The curiosities of Kirman are the rug and shawl manufactures. The former, once the most celebrated in the East, have much diminished in number since" the siege, from which date all the calamities of Kirman. In the governor's factory alone are the finer qualities produced. The white wool of the Kirman sheep, added perhaps to some quality of the water, gives a brilliancy to the coloring, unattainable elsewhere. In patterns the rugs are distinguishable from those of the North and West by this purity of color, and a greater boldness and originality of design, due probably to a slighter infusion of Arab prejudice on the subject of the representation of living forms. Not only flowers and trees, but birds, beasts, landscapes and even human figures are found in Kirman rugs. The Wakil-ul-Mulk gave me two in return for a pair of breech-loading pistols of greater value that I presented him with, and I purchased a still finer one in the bazaar".

    This is supplemented by the report of Major Oliver B. St. John, embodied as part of the same volume. His description of the way in which the Kirman weaving is done would serve almost equally well as a picture of the work in the Tabriz factories.

    He says: " From the shawl manufactory we went some little distance to that of the no less celebrated rugs. These are manufactured in a way reminding one strongly of the Gobelin tapestry made at present, or rather, before the war, in Paris. The looms are arranged perpendicularly, and the workers sit behind the loom, but in this case, unlike the Gobelins, they have the right side of the rug towards them. The manufacture of rugs differs from that of shawls in this particular, that each rug has a painted pattern, designed and drawn out by the master of the manufactory, which is pinned to the center of the rug, and which the workers can consult if necessary, from time to time. Advantage, however, is rarely taken of this facility of reference, for the boy who sits nearest the pattern reads out in a monotonous voice any information required concerning it. The rugs are made entirely of cotton, woven by the fingers into the upright web. Their manufacture is tedious and costly in the extreme, but they are beautifully soft and durable. The work is constantly hammered close together by a wooden hammer every few stitches. The man whose manufactory we visited was said to be without a rival in Persia either in the designing of beautiful rugs, or in skill in making them. We saw a beautiful rug that he was making for a shrine at Meshhed, which was to cost five thousand tomans, or two hundred pounds, being eleven yards long by about two and a half broad; than which nothing could have been more beautiful. The boys and men do not look so unhealthy as those in the shawl shops".

    The designs of Kirman, to this day, are of the floral order, but in the recent rugs — those which have been taken as models for the Tabriz rugs — the medallion idea is paramount. The panels are not so hard or so heavy as those of Tabriz in appearance; the flowers are treated with a light and natural touch and with that appearance of relief found scarcely anywhere else, save in very old rugs of the neighboring province of Khorassan. But in the older Kirman pieces — the sort which one seldom sees nowadays, there is evidence of greater freedom, of individual conceit. An indisputable example of this was found in a loan exhibition in the Library of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Its origin was proven by an inscription woven in a cartouche in its border, "Amli Kirman, made at Kirman", and then, " Karim", doubtless the name of the weaver. It was an old rugs and the registration of its date, which was also included in the inscription, brought to light another interesting fact, that Karim, the weaver, was not of the ordinary type of Mohammedan Persians, but a descendant of the ancient Persis or Zoroastrian fire worshippers, who had refuge in the city of Kirman. That city and Yezd are known to be now the only places in Persia where any considerable colonies remain of the Zoroastrians, who in modern Persian are called Zerdusht.

    Record of date in Eastern rugs is usually made by the reckoning of the Hegira, now inching along into its fourteenth century. This rug of Kirman bore date of 2918. The solution was obvious, since this is the thirtieth century of the Zoroastrian era. Rough computation showed that the rug was in the neighborhood of a hundred years old. The pile had been so worn away that it was difficult to determine the knot used. So Karim, the weaver, had years ago been gathered to his fathers, but this old rug, perhaps the meanest of his handiworks, was one to do him credit. It amuses one to wonder what would have been the thoughts and impressions of Karim if he could have seen it hanging there with the trader's tag upon it, and the strange, "Ferenghi" — looking people staring at it and looking up its number in the catalogue. It was listed, by the way, as an India Kashmir. And there is yet another story, for much of the export of Kirman is across the desert to the East and out of India by way of Bombay. It is thus, without doubt, that so many of the Kirman rugs have found their way to England.

    At any rate, the rug of Karim was thus: About four feet by seven, with a ground of " soft buff-gray.'1 Upon this were woven in rows, transverse and diagonal in effect, instead of perpendicular, blue vases full of roses. They were like the flowers of Khorassan, drawn in perspective and with the petals shaded. They seemed to have body. There were long stems with buds, marvellously made buds, hanging over the sides of the vases, and, besides these, three full blown flowers, upright and magnificent, in each vase. So lavish was this rose show that comparatively little of the ground-color appeared. There were eighteen of the vases, all of exquisite pattern, all with variations of the blue in their coloring, and some small, scarcely discoverable difference in their ornamentation.

    The border stripes were five, the middle one broad, and grounded in a yellow so golden that one must wonder how it could be obtained in wool. The narrow stripes immediately adjoining this were black of ground, but so filled with little flowers of red and yellow, and leaves of pale green, that the contrast with the border stripes was all but done away with. The innermost and outermost stripes, again, were yellow as gold. All the stripes were floral and the flowers were chiefly red, with exquisite offsetting foliage in delicate green tints.

    And the weaver had wrought some magic into his rug. In the daytime the reds of the roses seemed to lie asleep, to be dulled almost to crushed colors by the years, which had gone over them; only the golden yellow of the borders shone in the brightness of day as if it were burnished. Under the glare of the lights, when night came, the fabric was transformed. The gold vanished. The yellow was almost of a part with the " soft buff-gray " of the field. But the roses of Karim, with their wonderful shading, burst into a mass of flame. It was as if he had laden them with all the fire his old Iranian ancestors worshipped. Such was the true rug of Kirman.

    For all that, it is only due to the spirit of technical accuracy to add that the old weaver had used a two-strand cotton warp and woollen weft of a single strand; that the sides of the fabric were overcast, and the ends finished with only a narrow web and the white tips of the warp, which, across half of one end, were plaited into little ropes. Karim put in about a hundred and twenty knots of Kirman wool to every square inch of his rug. May his soul dwell forever in the smile of Ormuzd.

    Shiraz. — Here in Farsistan is one of the most Persian towns in Persia, for here during a dozen centuries the ancient Parsa had its capital. Shiraz, home of wine, roses and nightingales, birth-place and tomb of Hafiz, smiles today in the very shadow of older Persepolis, "the courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep".

    While Shiraz remained the center of government, the palace manufacture of rugs to be given by the Persian lords to potentates of other countries was conducted upon a splendid scale, and the work produced was the finest of which the Persian genius was capable. The few specimens of the old handiwork, which remain, show traces of northern influence, but their workmanship and color handling do not suffer by comparison with the most artistic creations of old Kirman and the later capitals of Persia. The untutored elements have, however, so far prevailed in the rug-weaving of late years that the fabrics, while thoroughly good floor coverings and attractive to a degree, show none of the several phases of artistic advancement which have distinguished the weavings of places farther north, or, in days gone by, of Shiraz itself. The distribution over a wide expanse of country of the people who make the Shiraz rugs, and their exposure to different decorative influences on all sides have resulted in a wide variation of design; but in most of these the same clear, clean drawing is manifest, and the colors — blue tones seeming to predominate — are bright and strong, and have the merit, even now, of being largely vegetable.

    Numberless Shiraz rugs are found with the central field covered with pear patterns. They may be distinguished from the pure Sarabands without difficulty, since the Shiraz treatment is on a rather larger scale and more rectilinear than that found elsewhere, excepting in a few Kabestans and some of the rugs of Mosul. The whole field, again, may be filled with a succession of narrow perpendicular or diagonal stripes, in plain colors, or adorned with figures, animals, and trees. In yet other examples appear the rectilinear central figures of the Caucasians, with hard, clean-cut decoration like that of Daghestan and Shemakha. But in such case the ground surrounding the central figure invariably carries rich, bold flowers, or the pear or tree figures.

    The borders are almost always of generous width, and richly ornamented. Some of the flower patterns are quite large and gay, but still conventional. The waving vine is poorly, but almost invariably illustrated in the narrow stripes by a typical pattern, consisting of two full, oval-shaped flowers, in alternate red and blue. Another favorite small stripe is made of X-shaped figures, with diamonds in the spaces between them. The Shiraz displays unusual features of finish. At the ends of some rugs, for example, between the pile and the narrow cloth web, the weaver makes a heavy but very narrow selvage, by weaving together in a coarse check pattern, in the Sumak stitch, red, white and blue yarn, in thick strands of each color. Something resembling this is found in certain of the Turkoman rugs and in many Kurdistans, where it takes the form of stripes of colored yarn embroidered across the narrow web at the ends. The sides of the Shiraz are usually overcast, sometimes in one color, sometimes two or three. Additional lengths of all the yarns used in the piling are occasionally laid along the sides and bound in by the overcasting. This does the double service of strengthening the edges and making them as thick as the piled part. In some rugs an ornamental use is also made of this binding. At intervals of from twelve to fourteen inches, loops of these added strands are left outside the overcasting, and then cut so as to form a series of particolored tufts along both sides of the rug. The effect is very odd. The foundation threads are of wool, fine and white, or in coarse, colored grades, according to the rug's quality. Shiraz rugs are made as large as nine by twelve, but such sizes are rare. The small pieces include many saddle covers, in the making of which the nomads of Farsistan excel.

    Most singular, perhaps, among the Shiraz fabrics which reach America are certain rugs having a field of plain color, and for borders successive three- or four-inch stripes of several colors, all without vestige of a design. They are about four and one-half by seven feet, and have on an average eighteen or twenty knots to the square inch. The paucity of stitches does not indicate flimsiness of texture, as might be imagined, for after each row of knots there are six or eight threads of dyed weft, causing the pile, which is long, to lie flat. The wool is extremely fine and soft. These are nothing more than " comforters", made to be used as coverings, but the genius of trade has converted them into rugs. They have the Shiraz peculiarities of finish, the checked colored selvage at the ends, and tufts of yarn adorning the overcasting at the sides.

    It will be well to recall here the fact that Shirvans, of the Caucasian fabrics, are frequently offered as Shiraz. The true Shiraz rugs may be known almost invariably by the small checked selvage at the ends. They are worked in the Ghiordes knot, which makes the task of distinguishing them from some Caucasians a difficult one where the patterns are alike.

    Niris. — These rugs are made by the hillmen in the uplands around the salt lake Niris, in Laristan. A city of similar name is near by. The fabrics show many marks of relationship with the modern Shiraz, especially the checked selvage at the ends, and though usually rougher than the Shiraz, excel them in some respects as floor coverings. They are never as closely woven as the finest of Shiraz products, but on the whole are stronger and more durable. The wool of the sheep grown hereabouts is unsurpassed. The best of it is used by the Niris weavers for piling their rugs. Both warp and weft are of stout, well made woollen yarn.

    Madder red is the prevailing color. The designs vary, though not to so great an extent as in the Shiraz. In some Niris rugs there is a well wrought center-piece, surrounded by a wide space in plain color, and corners elaborately woven. In some an all-over design is employed for the field, showing a pronounced stripe effect, one perpendicular row of odd geometrical figures alternating with a row of stiff floral forms. The borders are quite elaborately woven. In these, as in the Shiraz, the barber-pole stripe of the Caucasians occurs, but in both cases shows several strong, contrasting colors instead of simple alternation of red and white, as found in the Caucasian forms. The Niris are also worked in the Ghiordes knot.

    These rugs are one of several varieties, which have long been grouped together by English rug men under the name of Laristan. The peculiar geometrical figures mentioned as occurring in the field are souvenirs of the Mongols, who overran these parts, and whose posterity still remain in force in some localities. Some of the designs are clearly Tartarian, and the fabrics seem more like some product of Turkestan than of southern Persia.

    Mecca. — One of the pet delusions of rug purchasers, which has for years been industriously fostered by the trade, is that there exists, for commerce, such a thing as a " Mecca " rug, and that it can be bought with all its sanctity upon it, in shops in this country.

    "Mecca", as a name for a rug, tells nothing positive concerning the locality of manufacture, and usually nothing but untruth in any regard. "But", a New York dealer said, "you must have something which you can tell them is a Mecca".

    There journey to the holy city of the Moslems, each year, more than half a million Mussulmans, bound upon pilgrimage. They come from all parts of the vast territories of which Abdul Hamid II. is spiritual, if not temporal, ruler; from Morocco and the Barbary coasts, from the South, from India, from Persia and Afghanistan, an endless procession moves to display its faith at the Kaaba. Through Constantinople, by boat from Batoum, one hundred thousand of these devotees pass from the Trans-Caucasus, Turkestan and the north of Persia alone. All of this multitude brings offerings proportionate to their store, to be laid upon the shrine. Jewels, shawls, scarfs, armour, furs, perfumes — everything of value is accepted, and the accumulation creates an admirable stock in trade for the mercenary mollahs, whose happy function it is to fix the rates of sacrifice. This consecrated gentry drives a thriving trade in textiles, jewelry, and bric-a-brac, and the rug export from Mecca is enormous, and heterogeneous in proportion.

    As a rule, the rugs purchased from the mollahs, who bring them down to Jiddah — since no infidel foot is permitted to enter the confines of the Holy City — are of good quality, for a faithful Moslem would scarcely offer an unworthy gift to his Deity; but they are of every sort that the Orient sun shines upon. The greater number are Shiraz. To such an extent have these been wont to predominate that a certain order of Shiraz sedjadeh of a blue cast, and about five feet wide by seven feet long, came to be known in the trade as " Mecca " rugs.

    This was the doing of the English dealers, who, having received shipments direct from Jiddah, had noticed the predominance of the Shiraz type, and so called that type Mecca. The maintenance among American rug sellers of the belief that these are really Mecca rugs is primarily due to the fact that until fifteen years ago only a very few buyers for American houses had ever gone to Constantinople to secure rugs. The rest, instead, had bought from the importing firms in London, and taken their terminology with the goods.

    Nearly all the rugs left by the pilgrims, and thousands with which no pilgrim has ever had aught to do, are sent from Jiddah up through the Suez Canal to Cairo, to be sold to tourists. Others are carried to England, and an infinitely small number to Constantinople. Of late years, so great has grown the business of the Mecca priests, thrifty captains of sailing vessels and tramp steamers plying in the Persian Gulf pick up at small prices what rugs they can in seaport towns, and as they come out through the Red Sea on the way westward, drop them at Jiddah, and sometimes turn a pretty penny thereby. This, doubtless, accounts for the prevalence of the Shiraz type.

    One thing is certain, that since the great majority of American merchants do not go to Cairo, but to Istanbul and Smyrna for their rugs, the actual number of Mecca relics of the textile sort which find their way to this country is almost wholly confined to the private purchases made by American idlers about the Delta of the Nile. So greedily are the rugs picked up there, that consignments are sent from Smyrna and Constantinople to be peddled in Cairo as sacred things from Mecca or furnishings from Egyptian palaces.

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Rug export from Mecca:
All the rugs and other commodities carried by these pilgrims upon their journey are not in the nature of religious sacrifices. The Prophet left them this thoughtful paragraph in his message: "It shall be no crime in you if ye shall seek an increase from your Lord by trading during the pilgrimage". The Prophet's understanding of his people, past, present, and to come, was intimate and acute. That it was based upon experience and practical test rather than pure inspiration, is strongly suggested by the first set of tenets, which he established, and which later were much modified to meet the requirements of the Mussulman case. Among them are these:
  1. Do unto another, as thou wouldst that he should do unto thee.
  2. Deal not unjustly with others, and thou shalt not be dealt with unjustly. If there be any difficulty of paying a debt, let the creditor wait until it be easier for him to do it; but if one remit in alms it will be better for him.
  3. All merchants, falsehood and deception are apt to prevail in traffic. He who sells a defective thing, concealing its defects, will provoke the anger of God and the curses of the angels.
  4. Take not advantage of the necessities of another to buy things at a sacrifice; rather relieve his indigence.
There are commandments here which, conscientiously kept, would alter the whole complexion of the Eastern rug trade, were that trade in the hands of Moslems, which it is not.
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