NOW for the weaving, the patient, painstaking labor at which so many hundreds of thousands of swarthy fingers are flying, and have been flying since the days of the Pharaohs. Measured by results it is a wonder work; watched, in its tireless repetition of three simple processes that a child can master, it seems no more of an art than the constant turning of an hour glass-which, in fact, to myriads of these Eastern people, it is. The whole thing is simple, to look at, to read about; but there is, nevertheless, some peculiar spirit, some mental drift, some inherent and mysterious fitness pervading and governing their work, which makes these Orientals the best weavers in the world. Peoples of other races have reared looms, and dyed yarn, and, borrowing the tricks of color and of stitch from Turkey and Persia, have striven to work out upon the warp a harmony as rich and full as theirs. But they have failed. The English scholar has perhaps hit upon the truth when he says: "Antiquity, from its being nearer than we are to the divine origin of things, was ever mindful to symbolize in its sublime art the truth of the conviction that the green circle of the earth and the shining frame of the out-stretched heavens are but the marvelous intertexture of the veil dividing between the world we see, and the unseen, un seeable world beyond. This is the reason of the vitality, the dignity and power of giving contentment, possessed by the arts of the world of antiquity, with which the arts of the modern world of the West will never be indued until they also become animated by the spirit of the pristine faith of every historical race in the old world for all the technical instruction which may be given, and all the luxurious illustrations of typical Eastern examples that may be published, no truly great rug will ever be produced in Europe until the weaver's heart is attuned to sing to the accompaniment of his whirring loom, in grateful unison with every voice in Heaven and earth:
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;
"Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Glory in the highest." Unlettered as are the great majority of the Oriental weaving class of today, there is little doubt that the religious element here referred to makes up a recognizable part of their existence. At no moment, even of their working days, is the consciousness of their faith absent from them. A race, every being of which, whether learned or ignorant, has prayers five times a day, no matter where he be, must, in the very nature of things, have an abiding faith in the nearness of the Deity. While not daring to question the infinite value of such inspiration, it is difficult, for one who accepts the Mosaic doctrine of Divine retribution, to understand how any Oriental weaver, under these circumstances, has survived the substitution of the modern enormities for the conscientious work he was wont to do. However that may be, it is not to be disputed that there is some faculty which to this day enables the Orient to excel the West in hand-wrought fabrics, even with uncouth appliances such as that same West has long ago outgrown.
Any lad, with a knack for carpentry, can make such a loom as that upon which the Eastern does his weaving. Plain, absurdly primitive, it endures for a lifetime, or many lifetimes, and its timbers are often adorned with carvings done by hands long since still. It is in essential principles the same old-fashioned structure that is pictured on archaic tiles and vases; the same that we know to have been used for thousands of years in the weaving of coarse cloth and canvas. The method, too, is the same in its rudiments, with the addition that instead of throwing the weft across the warp compactly, to make a thin, firm web, the knot upon the warp is employed to form a surface, and the weft becomes merely a binder, holding each row of knots close-pressed to its neighbor. This addition of the pile to the primitive web is believed to have originated with some of the tribes of Central Asia, where severity of weather made warmth a desideratum.
Some looms are plain, stationary, oblong frames. The majority of those in use in Asia Minor consist of two upright beams of wood, heavy or light according to the weight of the fabric to be woven. They are fixed parallel to each other, and the distance between them limits the width of the rug. They support at the top a roller, the ends of which turn in holes bored in the beams of the frame, or in deep notches across their upper ends.
To this by a rod, which fits in a groove upon it, are fastened the warp-threads, forming the basis of the fabric. Ancient looms are represented as having a weight attached to the end of every warp-thread to hold it taut, in which case the weaving must have been begun at top. It is said to be so done in obscure hamlets of India and of far northern Europe today, but in Persia, Turkey, - in fact generally throughout the rug-weaving countries, - the primitive system is reversed and the rows of knots begin at the bottom, for which purpose, and to insure firmness, another roller or crossbar is placed there.
Several methods are in vogue for arranging the warp upon its frame. They are all upon one of two general principles: First that of having the weaver shift position, mounting higher abreast the loom as the fabric grows; second, having the work pass downward before the weaver, by aid of the rollers at the top and bottom. In the first method the crossbars are, of course, immovable, save that to the lower one a little play is given so that as occasion demands the warp may be tightened by the aid of wedges.
For the second system, again, two methods are employed. The first is to wind the warp-threads on the top roller, and unwind them as needed, rolling the finished rug up on the bottom roller as the work progresses. The second is to have the rug pass over the bottom roller and up again at the back, the warp being a continuous thing, like a belting.
These looms upon which the warp moves to meet the weaver are used in a horizontal position in many parts of the East, notably in Sehna and about Bijar, and the weaver sits at the end. In these the rug is regularly rolled along as it increases. The Bijar weavers actually sit on the finished part of the rug as they weave. The nomads in Luristan, Kurdistan, and other grazing districts, when they have turned out the sheep and goats upon the range and pitched camp for the grazing season, erect stationary upright frames to endure until winter drives them from the place. Rude things these nomad looms are - mere trunks of trees, roughly trimmed, with the shanks of the lopped-off branches left to support the rollers and the flimsy scaffolding upon which the tawny women of the tribe sit at their weaving. Sometimes a ladder is placed perpendicularly at each side of the loom, and the plank upon which the weavers perch is moved upward from rung to rung as the work goes on. The looms built indoors for use in winter reach from floor to roof-timbers.
The warp in real antique rugs is, or was, in most varieties, woolen. The exceptions to this rule were the fine fabrics, where silk or cotton was used for flexibility, and those made by the nomads in districts where goat's-hair was plentiful and was, therefore, taken for the groundwork, while the wool was saved for the piling, or for sale. In these latter days cotton has come to be used much in the webbing, mainly because it is cheaper. In the old-time rugs the material of warp and weft was one of the chief means of determining the locality of fabrication. This was most useful, since, as is elsewhere explained, many patterns were so widely adopted that only by the character of the ground - threads, oftentimes, could the fabric be identified as the product of any particular' town or district. Nowadays even the most thorough experts are deceived by the frequent substitution of cotton for warp or weft in localities where formerly only wool was used.
In India, owing to lack of wool, hemp is much employed; linen also plays a noticeable part. In America, where "Turkish" and "Persian" rugs alike are made, cotton, linen and hemp are put into the foundations for thrift's sake. The evil of a hempen ground-work is that under stress of wear and wetting it rots, and from a little break in the web the entire fabric is apt to go pieces speedily.
It is the custom among weavers of many localities to dye the ends of the warp-threads for some distance, so that the rug may have for finishing at the ends a web of red, or blue, or both. This dyeing is done after the warp is complete. When the colored ends of the threads are dry the whole warp is fastened upon the loom and drawn taut by the wedges supplied for the purpose, above the ends of the lower rollers. Where stationary and roller less looms are used, the jointure of the lower cross beam-known as the "piece-beam" - with the side-beams is made in an elongated slot, so that this tightening can be accomplished without difficulty.
It becomes needful, when the weaving is fairly under way, to separate the warp into two sets of threads, front and back. For this purpose two rods are used; one, about an inch and a half in diameter, to which every other thread of the warp is attached, but not so tightly as to prevent it's being moved upward along the warp-threads, as the rug goes on toward completion. The second, flat, and about three inches in width, rests between the front and back threads. The use of these rods will be explained further on.
Preliminary to the weaving, the weavers, or children who are learning the rudiments of the art, undo the big skeins in which the yarn comes from the dyers, and wind it into balls. These are hung in a multicolored row, upon a cross-rod fastened to the warp-beam overhead, and the ends hang down within the weaver's reach. In the factories in the weaving centers of Persia, spools are used. In remote districts, when yarn of a certain color is exhausted before the piece is done, the nearest shade that can be got is used to complete the figure. Sometimes, when no material at all like can be obtained, the pattern jumps abruptly into some other color. In large towns, where dyers are many, this never occurs, for the master weaver, foreseeing the lack, hastens to the dye-shop and has the supply replenished.
The patterns from which the fabrics are copied, among the country weavers, are usually old rugs, one or two of which each family, whether among the wandering shepherds or the home-staying folk of the town, keeps for that praiseworthy purpose. As much store is set by these as by the family plate in Western lands, and so familiar do these swift-fingered women become with the design by reproducing it year after year all through their humdrum lives, that a skilled weaver goes deftly along with it, supplying unerringly, as if by unconscious cerebration, the proper color in its proper place, even though it be only a single stitch in a tangled mass of utterly different hues. Her fingers seem to know the pattern, and half the time her eyes are not upon the work at all.
For beginners, the old rug is hung within arm's length, with the back of it exposed so that every knot and its color may be easily discerned. Thus a design, border and all, is gradually ingrained upon the young weaver's memory, never to be forgotten.
In towns where weaving is conducted on a large scale, when new patterns are to be used they are wrought out, sometimes upon great cardboards, on which the stitches are indicated by squares, each painted in its proper color; sometimes upon cheap cloth, the design of the whole rug being mapped there by sewing threads of the different colors upon the knot spaces. Then the whole is cut up, and distributed to the weavers. This is always done in making the silk rugs of Kirman and Tabriz. In most of the great rug-weaving centers, the European and American firms keep skilled hands, known as "scale-makers," whose business it is to weave small sections of any new design, and these are given to the workmen and women for patterns. In Ghiordes and Demirdji especially this custom is in vogue. The weavers there are unable to work from a painted pattern. They must have the actual fabric before them. Not so in Oushak. There they have pieces of the pattern framed. In many localities the number of knots of each color to be tied in by each weaver is called or read off by the loom-master. The patterns for borders and corners are made upon separate pieces, and as the work upon them is more difficult than that of the centre, the most accomplished weavers sit at the ends of the plank before the loom.
Armed with a little knife and a pair of curved scissors, the weaver sits down before the virgin warp and starts the fabric. There is some preliminary weaving of warp and weft threads together to form a web at the ends. Then the actual work of tying the pile yarn begins. Except for the Soumak fabrics and the kilims, which will be spoken of hereafter, oriental rugs are confined to two systems of knotting. The first is termed the Turkish or Ghiordes knot, and is in vogue throughout Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Kurdistan, and in some localities farther East.
The second is the Persian or Sehna knot, which, though better calculated to produce a close, fine, even, velvety surface, has in many parts of Persia been abandoned for the Ghiordes, which is a trifle more easily tied.
The difference may be understood by a glance at the illustrations. It is very simple. In the Turkish system the knot-yarn is twisted about the warp-thread in such fashion that the two upstanding ends of the pile alternate with every two threads of the warp. The Persian knot, on the contrary, is tied so that from every space between the warp threads one end of pile yarn protrudes.
In the number of knots which can be tied to the square inch the advantage lies with the Sehna method. The Ghiordes brings two ends of the knot yarn together, and leaves consequently a wider space between the knots than does the Sehna. But each tuft is larger by half, and if the pile is not very closely clipped - as it is not in most rugs where this knot is used - the spreading of these ends gives an equally compact surface. In the Kirman, Tabriz, Sehna, old Turkestan and Kabistan rugs, however, it is the custom to trim the pile exceedingly close, which brings out more clearly the minute color variations of the design. In Tabriz and parts of Kurdistan a special system is used. The rugs are woven in the Turkish knot, but the arrangement of the warp-threads is such as to secure extraordinary compactness in the pile.
The Ghiordes knot took its name from the old city of Ghiordes, where years ago the Turkish method had its greatest perfection, but nowadays, though the knot is the same and the weavers many, the fabrics have changed sadly. The art is not lost in Ghiordes, for at discouragingly long intervals there find way to market from that town dainty prayer rugs or some bits of sedjadeh, so fine of texture, so true in color, so traditionally perfect in design, that experts, knowing well how far the Ghiordese have fallen from workmanly grace, swear by the beard of the Prophet that they have been made in Sehna, after the Ghiordes patterns of long ago. Of all the fabrics of today the Kabistans of the Caucasus will be found, perhaps, most faithful in adherence to the old models, and in them are best shown the fine, velvety effects which may be come at with the Ghiordes knot, when tied by masters who have not proven recreant to the tradition of their craft. The Ghiordes knot is always one and the same thing. The Sehna, being more of a running knot, is sometimes reversed and worked from left to right. This is classed by some authorities as an entirely different system. In all these knottings two strands of yarn are frequently used, thus doubling the thickness of the pile.
The loosest knotting in distinctly modern Eastern rugs is found in Kulah, Oushak, Ghiordes, and the latter-day Feraghan. The most closely tied are those made in Saruk, Sehna and Kirman, and in some of the better Turkomans, and for the rest, Kabistans, Tabriz, and Serapis. The number of knots to the inch is determined, of course, by the closeness of the warp-threads and the number of weft-threads thrown across after each row of knots. In Sehnas and Kirmans, where the warp is of silk, the weft-threads sometimes lie so close together that the weaver is compelled to put the stitches in with the needle.
It is the custom of expert weavers not to work straight across from one end of the row to the other, changing the yarn as often as the pattern calls for a change of color, as tyros do, but to put in all the stitches of one color on the row, wherever they are required, before taking up another yarn. This saves, in the making of a rug, a total of time well worth consideration. Where the pattern is a familiar one the weaver can determine at a glance on what warp-threads the knots of each color belong, and even in strange patterns a clever hand does it almost without error.
When a knot is completed the weaver cuts the yarn with a knife, and it is one of the tests of skill to cut so nearly to the intended length of the pile that a minimum of material shall be lost in the trimming with scissors, which is performed as soon as the row is complete. An inventive agent of a Smyrna rug establishment once tried to compel the weavers engaged on the firm's work at Oushak, Kulah, and Ghiordes to use a small steel rod, which was fastened across the face of the warp, and around which the yarns must be carried continuously in making the knots. On the outer side of this rod was a groove running from end to end. When the row of knots was finished a knife was run along the groove, cutting the yarn as it went. So closely did half the circumference of the rod approximate the ultimate length of the pile that the loss of yarn by subsequent trimming was reduced to about two per cent. It is ordinarily twenty five per cent, when the cutting is done by guess, for by no amount of effort or experiment has a profitable means been devised for utilizing the refuse. The weavers rejected the rod angrily, for its use occupied time, and that was their loss, whereas the waste of wool from the old manner of cutting came out of the pockets of the firm.
Trimming the pile is one of the most important and difficult parts of the weaver's work; so difficult, in fact, that Americans, working upon imitation "Turkish" or "Persian" rugs in the factories of New York are unable to do it at all satisfactorily, and a machine has been constructed, on the lawn-mower or planing-mill principle, to take the place of the Oriental weaver's scissors. Uneven trimming of the pile is a fault found, strange to say, in some Eastern rugs which otherwise are of distinguished merit.
When a row of tufts has been trimmed to even lengths, the threads of weft are thrown across, from one side to the other of the warp and back again. It is in this process that the rods before mentioned, the flat one between front and back threads, and the round one to which the back threads of the warp are fastened, come into service. By drawing the round rod out a little, the warp-threads are separated, back from front, so that the weft may be passed across readily, over and under. Then, reversing the direction, and separating the threads by turning the flat rod down to the horizontal, the weft is carried back again, passing each warp-thread on the opposite side from that embraced by the preceding shute. Thus the row of knots is bound firmly, and the tufts kept upright, securing an even pile. In coarse fabrics of the barchanah order the Kazak custom of throwing four threads of weft across after each row of knots is much followed. Time and the effort of tying knots are saved. On the other hand, it is the habit among the Sehna and Tabriz weavers to carry the weft one way and then put in another row of knots before carrying it back. This makes the pile wonderfully compact.
The next step is to beat down both knots and weft with a comb or "batten." In the Turkish countries this implement is of wood, but the Persians prefer it to be of steel. Unskillful use of this comb, beating one part of the row harder than another, will often produce unevenness in the completed rug, for which, in extreme cases, there is no cure except to cut it and sew it together again. Clumsy weaving causes the same imperfection. Some of the Mosul Kurdish rugs illustrate this.
When all this knotting, clipping, and inweaving of the weft-threads has been repeated to the end of the design, there remains only the finishing of sides and ends to be accomplished. This varies widely in the different localities, but in any one district very seldom, though there are some sections where two or even more styles are in equal vogue. In nearly all rugs there is left at the end a thin, hard web, sometimes scarcely long enough to be visible, woven of warp and weft, usually dyed in some solid color or with a stripe. Sometimes there is a thick but narrow selvage outside the web, across one or both ends. The loose ends of the warp-threads are then made into a fringe, short in most rugs but in many of the nomad fabrics left long for the effect, which is most striking. The forms which this warp fringe takes are many - knots, twists, and even in some cases braids, such as form the lariat of the Mexican herdsman. The warp-threads, again, may simply be cut loose, and left to make a rough finish. In others only one end carries a fringe, the other being stoutly finished by a singular doubling back of the warp, and inweaving of it with the weft-threads. A few of the antique prayer rugs of Ghiordes have sewed on at the ends a silk fringe of the sort used in the finishing of so many European and American curtains.
The sides of the Eastern rugs are for the most part either selvaged or overcast, sometimes with wool, sometimes with cotton, and occasionally with camel's-hair or goat's-hair yarn, either dyed or in the natural color. The selvage is formed by simply working the weft, which is often dyed, around the last few threads of the warp, at both sides of the rug. Sometimes, as in the Daghestans and old Ghiordes, extra threads, colored, are used to form a fine selvage at the sides. In the Ghiordes these are of silk. The principal finishings are here enumerated in the briefest manner. An account of each, where it chances to have any striking characteristic, will be found in the chapters descriptive of the different fabrics, and the textile tables will show the typical finishings of all the standard rugs of commerce.
The most impressive touch a weaver ever gives a rug is to sew fast upon it, at some central point, when it is partly finished, a single blue bead, a clove of garlic or a tiny scrap of print-cloth. All these are held to be talismans, and to find any one of them on a rug you have purchased is to know that the weaver, in whatever place he wrought, gave personal and particular benediction to his fabric, and wished it good treatment during its little journey in the world. Oftentimes, when the bales of rugs are opened in Smyrna and Constantinople, pieces are found with scraps of paper fastened upon them, on which the weaver, or some one on his behalf, has written in the Eastern characters a petition "to all to whom these presents may come," that they use the rug kindly and pray now and then for the maker of it.
These eccentricities and superstitions which attend upon rug making are without number. If, while the rug is in process of construction, a neighbor coming in exclaims at its beauty or promise, he is implored, in the name of the Prophet, to spit upon the fabric for luck. No instance is known, in the lifetime of the oldest weaver, where this observance was withheld. Should the guest go away without paying any tribute of praise he is counted to have bewitched the rug, and incense is burned in the room forthwith to avert the blight of misfortune which needs must follow.
A marvel to Americans and Europeans at the great international exhibitions has always been the double-faced rug, woven with a pile on both sides and in altogether dissimilar designs. Many people have been at a loss to understand how this singular effect could be produced, and are loath to believe that the piece did not in reality consist of two rugs, fastened together back to back after their completion. The warp is tied on a frame, which works on pins at top and bottom, turning to the weaver first one side and then the other. Having finished a row of knots on one side in its design, he turns the frame over and works a row on the other, with different colors and different figures; then passes his thread of weft across to bind them both. It is a simple process, after all, but the effect is startling.
In all Oriental countries rugs were, until lately, made for specific personal purposes, and never put to any other use than that for which they were first destined. Although among dealers and purchasers alike in this country these classifications are little known, each class has its distinguishing name, and from passing through Constantinople and Smyrna as distributing points they have retained the Turkish use - titles, rather than those of the Persian, Tartar, or local dialect. These are:
Namazlik, or prayer rug. - This is the one piece of property, which every faithful Mohammedan must own, and he clings to it devotedly as long as he lives. Throughout all the Moslem countries the namazlik preserves its significant feature, the point or niche at one end, representing the niche of the mosque. The colors and decorative character of the prayer rug vary in different localities. In some districts it is severely rectilinear; in others, the lines verging to the point may be curved. But the one-end configuration can never be mistaken for anything else. The namazlik is the Oriental's constant companion. When the call to prayer comes, he spreads his rug upon the ground, with the apex of the niche toward Mecca, and prostrates himself in reverence, his head resting in the angle. Thus bowed, he prays.
Prayer rugs do not vary greatly in size. The width is from two and a half to four feet, and the length from four and a half to six. The prayer rug made for personal use has, as a rule, the name of its owner worked in the wool, and is of the very best weaving.
Hammamlik, or bath rug. - This is usually presented to the bride on her wedding day. Her parents are the donors, but there is a certain humor in the fact that the rug, in nine cases out of ten, is woven by the girl herself. It reveals accurately her skill as a weaver, and the limit of her artistic taste, for it represents the thought and labor of years. The hammamliks are used to spread upon the floor in the baths and their constant contact with soap and water gives them a peculiar lustre. Their shape is unique. As a rule they are almost square.
Sedjadeh, or floor covering. - This name is given to rugs of medium size, say more than seven and less than ten feet in length. The specific name for the larger floor fabrics is halt, in Persian, kali.
Yestiklik. - These are known in America as Anatolian mats, and may be found in profusion in any good stock of Oriental rugs. They serve a multitude of purposes in our furnishing, but in the East, the best ones are made to cover the divan pillows. They are ornate, and gay in hue, since the pillow, with the Oriental as with us, is ornamental as well as useful. The Anatolian mats are more fully described in the chapter on Turkish fabrics.
Makatlik, or "runners". - These are what we know as "hall" or "stair" rugs. In the East they do duty as covers for the low felt divans along the sides of the room. They range from two and a half to four feet in width and from ten to twenty feet in length.
Hehbehlik, saddle-bag or saddle-cover. - Wherever there is a rug-making district there are saddle-bags peculiar to it. All the East rides, and the hehbehlik lends all sorts of splendor to caparison. It reflects, as indeed all rugs do, the general character of the people. Among the nomads it is rough in texture and astounding in color. The more polished races observe better artistic tenets in design, but the hehbehlik is always made substantially and with more freedom in the matter of brilliancy than any of the floor coverings except the odjaklik. In America these saddle cloths are used for pillow covers.
Odjaklik, hearth or fire rug. - This is the most precious of all Eastern family treasures. It is always spread before the fireplace on the arrival of a guest. It is wonderful in color and most elaborate in workmanship, and may be recognized by the pointed formation of the central field at both ends.
Turbehlik, or grave rugs. - The custom of spreading rugs, as the Occidental strews flowers, on the graves of relatives or friends, seems to have prevailed more generally in Persia and regions immediately adjoining it than in other parts of the Orient, though it is practiced to some degree among almost every Eastern people. The turbehlik - from turbeh, a grave - is the combined handiwork of all the members of the household. Even the children tie knots in it, that it may be expressive of the sorrow of all. It was through the priests that the grave-rugs first came to be dispensed to the West. Now they are made for export, like other fabrics. The designs-cypress, willow, and myrtle - are eloquent of the turbehlik's character. The whole appearance of it is funereal, but there are flowers and other bright bits of color, which speak of a blissful hereafter for the dead whose bones it was meant to cover. This floral element, indicative of hope, is so essential that even the geometrical Daghestans relax their rule and use tree and flower forms. In Persia there is no limit to the decoration employed in these rugs. Trees themselves embody the idea of perpetual life.
Berdelik, or hangings. - These are the fabrics made, not for floor covering, but wholly for the adornment of wall space, or for portieres and curtains. The shape, and sometimes the finishing, will suggest a particular intent, but all rugs, which are of extreme fineness and lightness, especially those in delicate colors, may be counted as belonging to this class. The Oriental seems to have been endowed with an intuitive notion of the law of gravity in decoration. He never makes the error of placing on the floor a fabric intended for the walls. The top-heavy, upside-down effect, so apparent in many American rooms, is thus avoided.
In general, it may be said that the silk fabrics are to be classed as berdeliks. There are persons of lavish leanings, to be sure, who employ them on floors, but it is not a custom, least of all in the East, where there are only stocking ed feet to press them. They are, furthermore, only fine editions of the woolen fabrics of the same localities. The silk is capable of far more minute color effects, and more perfect shadings, and has a natural lustre which no known treatment can impart to wool.
But they are not essentially floor coverings. silk rugs, therefore, are not considered in this volume.