Oriental Carpets

Milton Cater Oriental Carpets

specialising in old and antique rugs     Since 1974
Oriental Carpets

"Desert Rose" the occasional newsletter


  4. COLOUR - Contemporary Carpets
  5. Timelessness - A Pictorial Journey
  6. Surreal - The Centuries Meet - also - How long to make a Carpet?
  7. ICOC Istanbul 2007 A Dyer's Tour - A Report
  8. The Oriental Rug - A Brief History
  9. Sofre - The Persian Ritual and a Personal Dinner Party
  10. Oriental Rugs Mathematics, Meaning and Mystique
  11. Some Weeks are Like That This is funny!
  12. The Attitude of Altitude Freedom and Fundamentalism
  13. Islamic Timeline Incredibly rich history
  14. Palestinian Costumes
  15. The Spirit of Truth - Belouch
  16. Designs and Motifs - Mir & Mushka
  17. Synasthesia-A Design Genesis?
  18. Waqf in Central Asia
  19. Abrash
  20. Carpet Dyes -the Tale(a sort of feminist view of imported dyes)
  21. Pure Cognition- seeing with the heart.


Have you ever been asked if you have a favourite period or epoch you’d like to return to by Time Machine? Well I like Timurid Herat, 15th century for its balanced intellect. Horticulture was just as important as astronomy and mathematics. 

Hollyhocks - Saffron - The Single-Petal Dog Rose - A Lilly

Try to imagine the English cottage garden without hollyhocks. Viewing the paintings of the Herat School one sees a profusion of these flowers. In fact, early European travellers remarked on the seemingly infinite profusion of wildflowers that had been domesticated.

Alexander the Great’s Macedonians introduced the lemon and the peach to Europe from Persia. The Mediterranean knew the seville and the citron but imagine Mediterranean food without the humble lemon. The saffron crocus also came west, and to this day the Iranians are proud it is their own, even suggesting like their carpets, that all others are fakes or imitations at best.

Other than her carpets nothing is more Persian than the rose. I have seen the original single petal Dog Rose Growing semi-wild around Shiraz in southern Iran. This area, the Persian heartland for 2500 years, is considered the home of the rose, with communities of rose oil distillers boasting a similar lineage.

The unusual Frittilaria Lily appeared in Vienna in 1576, causing a similar stir to the Tulip. Although the Tulip was first introduced into Europe from Istanbul by Dutch merchants it is considered to originate in the fertile high valleys of east Persia and came to Istanbul with the Turkic migrations of circa 1300.

Persia is gardens with flowers made perennial in rugs and carpets.

We humbly introduce you to this exquisite garden at The Bangalow Rug Shop.


On the roofs and in the yards of family homes all around the village area of Lahore, Pakistan, Kelims are being woven in various modern stripe patterns with the most vibrant vegetable colours. Looms are simply made from local wood or bamboo and secured to the ground with large tent pegs. A very basic setup, purely traditional, and with tarps shading from the sun, it is a cool, airy and comfortable place to weave.  

Kelim maker mod.1      Kelim maker mod     

Kelim makers sripe BW1      Kelim makers sripe BW2      Kelim makers sripe BW3      Kelim makers sripe BWarea

Kelim makers sripe colour      Kelim makers sripe colour missoni      Kelim makers sripe colour area      Kelim makers sripe colour cl

      Mod kelim office1      Mod kelim office

COLOUR - Contemporary Carpets


Sonia Delaunay, who has my vote for most influential artist of the 20th Century, wrote, "we are only at the beginning of the study of these new colour relationships, still full of mysteries to unravel, which are at the base of a modern vision.....there is no going back".

Her Zen-like "simultaneous contrast" is a good definition of the tribal rugs we all love and, coincidentally, a harmonic of Alois Tiegl's "Law of Infinite Relationships" referring to Islamic Art in general.


Pictures, in order, Sonia Delaunay, Mark Rothko, Michael Johnson.
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I have spent some years collecting and refining a range of modern carpets that reflect my earliest inspirations: Sonia Delaunay: Mark Rothko: Michael Johnson.
For me the wheel has come full circle, a dream come true. The weavers call this "colour pleasure" and it is second nature, as they have been immersed in weaving colour for generations. With a freedom to create as close or distant from the original images as they please wonderful things happen. Design was never an end in itself rather a way to divide and place the colours.
Relevant previous DESERT ROSE pieces: Pure Cognition and also Synasthesia












Henri Matisse said, at the end of his life, "Revelation thus came to me from the Orient". 

Commenting on their knowledge of the new colour theories, Matisse's friend Paul Signac wrote, "The worst oriental weaver knows as much about them".

These beautifully-coloured modern rugs await your delectation. We look forward to your visit.

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Surreal - The Making of a Contemporary Persian Carpet - How long does it take?


I watch a scene completely surreal in appearance, but firmly rooted in practical science. Bejewelled, unveiled and kohl-eyed tribeswomen chatter in surroundings as modern as tomorrow: Men with white coats and hairnets move about behind the glass, checking temperature gauges on metre-diameter stainless steel vats. The haughty women exude a brash confidence, mistresses of their universe, relaxed and cavalier in their approach: The men by comparison look like overworked tea ladies.These large rooms, each with a dozen or so vats deliver a quality of dyed wool for which the region has been famous since other locals dyed the colours in the famous Pazyryk Carpet 2400 years ago. The women deliver their undyed spun wools and collect their previous deliveries custom-coloured to their specifications. They will use this wool, in beautiful naturally dyed shades, in their homes, weaving, they believe, the lives of their families into existence. In modern economic parlance they are sheep graziers value-adding to their primary production. Their work is not travail, it is kismet, destiny, and is destined for far away Australia via my own established carpet business. I feel a deep sense of belonging as I continue to play my part in these age-old traditions. Certainly these people afford me that love and respect. I am the merchant and the Prophet was a merchant. The French colossus Henri Matisse came from a family of weavers and I feel deeply honoured to be in such company.


Southern Iran, the Province of Fars, has been a centre of Persian culture for millennia. From the splendours of Persepolis through the poetry of Hafez and Saadi, the Bahai faith and the common law of the Zand rulers, it is no surprise the provincial capital of Shiraz is at the very centre of the Modern Carpet Trade. My visits to Iran in recent years have allowed me to see another great flowering of traditional culture underway. Back in the 1970’s and 80’s I thought the traditions were ending and we were at a final crossroads. The forced settlement of the tribes, a deeply unpopular and ultimately unsuccessful policy of successive Shahs, coupled with the need to compete internationally with cheap copies made in India and China resulted in a loss of respect for the true carpet. I never bought them. There are still warehouse jobbers attempting to cut their losses and rid themselves of that tat. Just look at the “closing down” sales and “ liquidation auctions” in western countries and you will see them all!


These days we Australians and Europeans know enough about hand-knotted carpets that we are prepared to pay for recognisable quality. The general public is quite au fait, and no longer chauvinistic. The Mysterious East is no longer mysterious; real people live there and their lives are as fascinating as people anywhere. Young tribal women and men can now actively consider a future in their own traditions rather than joining the urban factory poor. Like our original Australians, whose aesthetic abilities and determination to tell their tales has resulted in artworks that command the highest international respect, the tribes of Persia are similarly telling their tales. The primary difference in this comparison is that the carpet is a family affair, no one signature can be put to a carpet. It cannot be signed by one person, only the family or clan name can be the signature. Why?


The sons who herd the sheep and help with selective breeding, and their fathers who know when to move to new pastures on the migration routes, when to shear, and how to separate the fleece into its different uses are the ancient fundamental beginning. Then there are the jobs of washing and carding the fleece, spinning the fibres and plying the yarn, done by all the family, and the girls who collect the dye plants, the grandmothers who teach the weaving traditions, the loom makers and their sons who warp the loom, all are a necessary and equal part of the final artwork: the carpet. The actual weavers, mostly sisters, who squat together, happily chatting and knotting the same carpet, are just one of many stages in the process. Finally there are the all-important finishing jobs, the carpet washers, stretchers, and repairers-of-mistakes. This is truly a family affair. The dyeing and sometimes the loom making are the only jobs done outside the family. No money changes hands, nobody is paid, and all have equal gain. Traditional leaders, akin to English Dukes and Earls, wear the same clothes and eat with their families and share the tasks.


Quite often I am asked how long it takes to make a carpet and the question is really unanswerable because this traditional weaving does not fit a western economic time and motion study, but belongs in a completely different paradigm. Certainly we can say that an accomplished weaver of this type of carpet may do up to three or four thousand knots a day with a facility equal to my own grandmother’s knitting. If there were say, 9 people available domestically, probably 3 weavers would work on the carpet at any one time. If ten thousand knots were tied in a day, at an average of 8 knots per square centimetre, an average room size carpet measuring 3x2m would be completed every 48 days during the season. This assumes of course that all the other tasks have been completed, and the next spare loom has been warped and is waiting in a different tent, a rare occurrence. Most often a party is required to start weaving a carpet. It could take up to a week to prepare for such an event. A carpet party may be held to celebrate or commemorate a birth or a marriage and is a great opportunity for married sisters to get back together.

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A Dyer’s Tour - The International Conference on Oriental Carpets - Istanbul 2007

Go to Photo Essay

A short flight out of Istanbul found us braving a series of bracing frosty mornings in the villages of mountainous western Anatolia. A picturesque setting worthy of a travel brochure with whitewashed buildings and sinuous cobblestone alleyways. Vegetable dye guru Harald Boehmer was taking a knot of keen international ruggies through his beloved traditional weaving area. We saw the plump and hard working village women in action lighting fires and boiling dyestuffs in great cauldrons while the men smoked and looked on: Madder for reds and purples, camomile for yellows and indigo for blues and so on.

A quiet revolution is succeeds as age-old traditions reassert themselves. Younger women can now choose to remain in their ancestral villages rather than joining the urban poor in the cities. The international oriental carpet buyer is becoming more discerning, demanding natural dyes and genuine traditional weaving. This means the traditions established thousands of years ago continue to develop.

After years of exhaustive research Bruggerman and Boehmer published their findings on the dyes in antique carpets in 1980 and went to work right away with Josephine Powell and others, reinforcing natural dyestuff methods in traditional villages. Most of these villages had slowly embraced a range of chrome and acid dyes peddled by European fertilizer firms, in the process losing their famous individually hued palette.  But now no longer uncomfortably straddling the first and third worlds, these villagers are now self sufficient and quite well off, with a pride and cultural self-confidence that sets them apart from the tourist meccas of the nearby Mediterranean coast.

Harald Boehmer recently published the indispensable “KOEKBOYA - Natural Dyes and Textiles. A colour journey from Turkey to India and beyond.”

Back in “The City” as Istanbul is often referred to we knew that Josephine Powell had died before the ICOC and so made a beeline for the exhibition of her exemplary collection of naturally dyed flat-woven rugs called Kelims. It was especially heartfelt and warmly welcomed by attendant ruggies. The most stunning exhibition in Istanbul, however, was one of the most important collections of the carpets in the world, the Seljuk and early Ottoman Carpets in the state museums. Also very popular was the Yastiks - the jewel-like bolsters of traditional village households.

A visit to the Topkapi Palace of the Sultans left us wondering, “why?” “With so much wealth and this is all you could do?” Like the story of the Texan boasting to the Afghan, “we have the biggest, the best etc. etc.” The Afghani replied, “yes but what have you done with it?” Now the Afghans are making some of the best carpets of the last 100 years with the knowledge of natural dyestuffs first disseminated by Harald Boehmer. There are now sophisticated natural dye-works in Shiraz, southern Iran where the tribal women can take their hand spun lambs wool and for a small barter get their choice of colours, naturally dyed. It certainly beats going to the alchemist, a shark who could give you any mix of cancerous substances and wool destroying stearates, all ready to fade and run as soon as you breathe on them.

Back to the International Dealers Fair to dodge European Armani suited, black stockinged salespeople, over-aggrandising quite respectable carpets that for the most part are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. When the carpet is good the sales pitch is redundant. Both the “cold stare down the nose” and the “wall of words” were too noisy for us and belonged with the garish synthetic dyes endemic to the Grand Bazaar.

One thing everyone agreed upon was the Turks really know how to eat and the mantra “fresh is best” sees a wonderful regard for the natural flavours of foodstuffs. One wonders at the synchronicity, the simpatico with the desire for natural colours by these wonderful people.

Thanks Istanbul, thanks villagers, thanks Harald Boehmer, thanks Turkey!

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The Oriental Rug - A Brief History


mosque esfahandome



Circa 5000-BC First Wool Weaving

Off - loom textiles such as felt, knitting, and macramé preceded the loom. By the middle of the first millennium BC, Central Asian nomadic tribes had developed and refined the art of spinning, dyeing, and weaving to an extent unsurpassed to this day.

7th – 10th Century AD - Advent of Islam

The nomadic and peasant tribal cultures, which dominated life from the Mediterranean to China, had no written history and few permanent buildings. Islam facilitated urban expansion; women as the newly exclusive housekeepers and home-weavers became the de facto custodians of tribal lore expressed via the designs they wove.

16th – 17thCentury - Rise of Europe

The Renaissance was matched by a concomitant flowering in Central and Near Asia with a new emphasis on powerful and wealthy sedentary city-states and kingdoms: The Ottomans in Turkey and the Safavids in Iran, the Central Asian dynasties in Herat and Samarkand, and their cousins in India, the Moghuls. This is the period of the advent of the realistic floral rug. Cartoons, or graph paper blueprints, began to be dawn first, moving creative intent from the weaver to the designer. Whole teams of artisans became involved. As with European Renaissance painting, the first fashionable decorative carpets were made in ateliers under the name of a great designer. Traditional home-based weaving continued. The first large-scale rug exports to a broader Europe are reflected in paintings of the period.


Circa 1720’s – Destruction of  Urban Weaves

Persian royalty and their cities were destroyed by Afghan, Belouch, Afshar and Turkoman nomadic tribes. Tribes and villages continue their home-based weaving unabated. The Ottoman workshops produced great numbers of rugs. Kurdish khans keep the fine workshop tradition alive and the culture flowers sans Persian hegemony.


Late 19th Century Revival

    The rise of western economic power following the industrial revolution causes a massive upswing in demand for the oriental carpet. The first western run manufactories were set up to supply the increasing demand. This new demand primarily came from the nouveau rich and was exclusively for the floral, Imperial style of court weaving. The floral carpets of the Safavid workshops were copied ad infinitum. The modern floral style Persian rug was born and has since become known as ‘revival weaving’.


    Meanwhile the traditional feminine home-based weaving art with the meaningful apotropaic and shamanistic symbols begins to decline with the advent of the cash rug economy, synthetic dyes, and machine spun worsted yarns.


    20th Century - Decline in Quality - Increase in Quantity

    Oriental Carpets reflect the momentous changes of the last 100 years. The discovery of synthetic dyes was a by-product of the research into radium and they spread just as virulently through eastern carpets. Increasingly, the traditional symbiotic relationship of weaver to wool producer and dyer became undermined by a new commercial imperative.

    The importance of Mid-East oil brought western economic politics into the equation. By the end of the First World War the degeneration was in full swing. The weak Persian Government tried to halt the degeneration and took extreme counter-measures, such as,  proclaiming the death penalty for using inferior dyes.  Tribes living in or around sensitive oil producing areas were forcibly settled. The chivalrous age of cavalry became obsolescent as lines of oil-powered, lethal armoured tanks choked the migration routes. Motorised ground and air transport and international politics turned even the most far-flung reaches of desert and mountainside into the pawns of questionable international interests.

    Virtually the whole of Central and Western Asia was carved up to suit European equations. The demand for rugs increased steadily and the only consideration of worth also became a European equation: construction. The noble traditional aesthetics reduced to simple technique, with the number of knots-per-square-inch the new benchmark. The beauty of the antique rug, with its glorious, naturally harmonious colours and spontaneously poetic designs, became a thing of the past. This new world order of anonymous mass production and multinational finance saw looms set up in poor countries outside traditional rug making lands. The reasoning was if the construction was the prime benchmark, then anyone could do it.


    21st Century Revival

    By the last years of the 20th century, the end of 5000 years of great domestic weaving was being confidently predicted. The denouement to this sad tale, is however, surprisingly wonderful and hinges on a newfound self- discovery and pride in tradition among some tribal clans’. Changes have taken place in the last 20 years and especially the last 5 years, which show that  all is not lost.  The future looks brighter than ever, especially for the weavers, shepherds, and dyers returning to the traditional relationships. For instance, the weavers weave at home. They weave in their own time around the household tasks, having and feeding babies and being the glue that holds large families together. The weavers are related by extended family to the sheep growers, the spinners, the loom makers and the dyers. In this way carpet making takes on a soul and everyone has a meaningful part to play, in what is essentially a value added home industry. This is the traditional co-operative way those glowing antique carpets were made before the deleterious effects of 20th century modernisation.

    For instance Afghan Turkomans’ were still weaving traditional designs and still owned grazing land that produced some of the most lustrous wool in the world but their dyeing had degenerated. So they were ready for a change. The first group was called ‘Cultural Survival’ and antique carpet specialists who had sadly watched their stock of nice old Turkomans dwindle, supported it wholeheartedly. With the great Turkoman weaving tradition behind them, many others followed suit.

    This return to hand-spinning and hand-dyeing wool shorn from sheep belonging to weavers’ relatives, and dyed with plants growing locally; that had died out during the 20th.century; is now the accepted benchmark. Antique and art connoisseurs reject all other contemporary carpets, which supports further re-generation of tradition. A by-product of this demand ensures the future in the west of specialist antique rug dealers because the very nature of the trade, the personal scale, denies access to chain store “sales” operators. Of course, the very word Asia is synonymous with cheap copies.

    Carpet lovers everywhere rejoice in seeing more spontaneous, alive and vibrantly superior carpets made by clan and family groups. Or as some people say, “made under the original conditions”.

    For many years we antique carpet specialists pontificated that unlike other sections of the antiques trade, “never will we stock new carpets” as if a new carpet was a reproduction. But the stunning quality and adherence to tradition has made us more circumspect. These new oriental carpets are not reproductions or re-creations (there are those also, like the lovely, decorative new Zieglers) but complete originals.

    The future? Comparisons have been made with other tribal people like the Australian Central Desert painters: tribal people finding their voice after a century or more of colonisation and stunning the art world. As the Californian architect Chris Alexander said at an earlier stage of this revival, it is, “a foreshadowing of 21st century art”.

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    Soffre - A Persian Ritual – A Personal Dinner Party

    sofre soffreplat

    A record price, $14,000, recently paid for a small rug, just a metre square, highlights the discovery by a wider audience of a formerly arcane Oriental Rug called a Sofre. The Sofre is a special event rug with the same name as the dining ritual – SOFREH, pronounced soff-reh, with emphasis on the aspirated “h”. Persian cuisine is totally intertwined with Persian culture and is inseparable from Persian Carpets. Iranian families gather around the Sofreh for dinner, which is spread on the floor, usually over a larger Persian carpet or kilim. Although many modern city folk now use chairs and tables in the western manner, the Sofreh is still the cornerstone of Persian culture and a place of gathering, laughter, and relaxation.

    Importantly, the dishes remain constant, rich or poor, city or country, and reflect the naturally egalitarian nature at the heart of Persian society. The Sofre have distinguishing tribal and geographic characteristics, just like traditional rugs. They are mostly some type of flat-weave but with interesting variations not found in more prosaic rugs. A single Sofreh may contain wool, cotton and camel, goat and horsehair all worked in a variety of techniques; Knotted pile, Soumak, Kelim and brocade techniques all in the same Sofreh!

    Like the Sofreh, Persian cuisine is individual and very distinct. It is a cuisine filled with strong tastes and wonderful aromas and ranges in taste from sweet, to very sour, or spicy. It is not Middle Eastern. Many Persian recipes are unique in ingredients and ways of preparation. Many Iranian dishes consist of rice and stews with different sorts of meats and vegetables. Iranians spend a lot of time in the kitchen but the cuisine offers simple to very elaborate dishes.

    On a recent trip to Iran I was lucky enough to encounter my favourite dish cavorting naked on mine host’s table; a type of badamjan, whole aubergines (eggplants) baked very slowly with whole dried lemons and haricot beans in a simple reduced tomato/onion/garlic sauce. The chocolate-coloured lemons had paper-thin skin and were just starting to crack and release their delicious sour brown goo as the badamjan was dished onto the plate. The usually inedible hard and prickly stems were just under-firm and also delicious. This triumph of the slow Persian oven was served with a glass of dugh, salted, fermented whey, left-over from the making of the fresh white breakfast cheese we devoured earlier in the day. A good dugh is lumpy, slightly off, and even worse, bubbly. Definitely an acquired taste but once acquired always sought-after.

    Mine host was Ali, a scion of an old noble trading family, and whose father I first did business with in the 1970’s. Being a traditional “old-money” family his wife and his sister did not join us for dinner. Giggling, they laid the dishes on the table before we moved to be seated, disappearing into the kitchen to covertly listen to our conversation. Around the dinner table a slew of Danish, Italian, and Australian carpet dealers, men and women, avidly shared our great love of Tapetology. Ali was typically educated Persian; easy yet sophisticated, comfortable in a multi-lingual setting but kindly professing to prefer just English. The women listening in the kitchen were typically at home with the patois of foreign languages spoken colloquially, being all round better educated than the men; one of the unusual by-products of years of strict Ayatollah education. That is, more than half of Tertiary graduates are women but their job uptake is far less than their brothers leaving an over-supply of over-qualified women teachers in girls’ schools. Girls simply get a better education than boys in The Islamic Republic of Iran.

    The Iranian Sofreh offers some extra staple ingredients that stay on the table during the course of the meal. These small dishes refresh the palate between courses and include sliced cucumbers, peeled steamed sugar beets in winter, various dips, Persian pickles and relishes, and of course yoghurt, alone or with other ingredients such as spinach. The meal starts and ends with fresh fruit such as seedless grapes, small fragrant stone fruit and the ubiquitous sweet melon slices. I was actually told once, in all seriousness, that the reason why Iran was the best country in the world was because there is a year-round supply of melons due to the climatic variations.

    Most Sofrehs are usually a metre square or have the rectangular dimensions of a small rug. This is perfect for the nuclear family but one finds long narrow Sofre among various nomadic tribes to suit the enlarged families of the nomadic tribal culture. Brothers remain “at home” so when they marry (often more than once) and have children the family they require ever larger Sofre. Some Baluch Sofre are 3 by 1.5 metres. The Sofre of the great Khans of the Shahsevan and Bakhtiari were rightly sumptuous and glorious. These royal Sofre may have been brocaded in gold on silk but they were generic and not as distinctive as the woollen tribal types. There are Baluchi Sofrehs, Afghan, Shahsevan, Afshar, Lori, Qashgai and Kurdish Sofrehs, special wedding Sofre etc.

    Even the most modern Persian still finds comfort in the tradition of Sofre, as old as Persian history, bringing friends and rivals closer for millennia.

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    Oriental Rugs - Mathematics Meaning and Mystique


    Many of us have spent a lifetime trying to fathom and analyse the utterly beguiling business of simply looking at Oriental Carpets. So much of our emotional lives match the colour-fields that are rugs, fleeting, and ungraspable. Great artists like Cezanne, Mondrian, Klee and Matisse all accepted Islamic art as a teacher to help them translate the infinite variables of visual experience into a two dimensional structure without murdering the magical and we still have beautiful intriguing rugs teaching us. To many Western eyes much of Islamic Art seems obsessed by an almost scientific method of visual analysis. If those repeating-patterned rugs have such an apparent scientific formal rigour then why do they remain so wonderfully elusive and charged with mystery? Not all is left to the vaporous musings of obsessed tapetologists however as there are some technical, objective and logical pointers. Lets look at just the dimensions of rugs, the simple measurements of length and width and discover this simple dry subject is imbued with cosmic form!

    Firstly, you may have wandered into a rug shop and suggested a square or even a round rug only to be looked at askance. As if you were asking why is sugar sweet? The pleasing proportions of The Golden Rectangle have dictated rug dimensions for centuries. The Golden Rectangle, The Golden Mean, or as it is sometimes called The Golden Ratio, is not a new concept. It has an aesthetic force that has been recognized for thousands of years. The Golden Rectangle is one where the ratio of the length of the larger side to the smaller side is equal to that of the sum of the two sides to the larger side. If we assume that the smaller side has a length of one, then the formula for the length for the larger side is X = (X + 1) over X. The only positive solution for this equation is about 1.61, or as some quite nearly put it at “about one and two-thirds”, or even more loosely “two is to three”.goldenmean

    A rectangle of this proportion has generally been considered to be most pleasing to the eye, neither too thin nor too square. It has been used as the basic format for countless paintings and buildings in both Western and Islamic cultures, from the awe-inspiring classical carpets and buildings of antiquity to the works of Rembrandt and modern advertising. Why do most traditional rugs follow these proportions? For instance; 100x60cms or 200x125cms or 3x2m etc. The answer is The Golden Mean.

    Now secondly if we look at the mathematical series discovered in the 16th Century Universities of Herat and Samarkand and brought to the west by the Italian Fibonacci we see a relationship with rug sizes reflecting the Golden Mean.  The Fibonacci series is made by adding the two previous numbers to get the next; ie. 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 and so on. In fact any two adjacent numbers in this series will read like the inventory in The Rug Shop. 2x3, 3x5, 8x5, 13x8 and the near 6x4, 9x6, 12x9 and so on. Just choose your system of measurement, centimetres feet and so on, to fit.

    The Fibonacci Series is a formula used to create a spiral and that is what the mathematicians in Central Asia were indeed doing, attempting to define the nature of Allah by investigating the natural world. They came up with the Series by measuring the spirals in nature such as the arrangement of seeds on the face of the sunflower.

    daisy1 The design in a daisy.


    Now for the non-scientific. The majority of traditional weavers and designers of Oriental Carpets and Rugs will all have some idea of the possibility of an extra force exerted by the rug and will compose towards that end: The rug as a metaphysical tool. Whether she is an illiterate tribeswoman in a remote black tent or an educated master designer employed by the Sultan the metaphor remains. This is expressed in English by terms like power centre, whirlpool, vortex, etc, meaning a sort of axis between the netherworld and the enlightened sky around which all revolves and a certain “life-force” or “regenerative entropy” fluctuates. The dance of Shiva, the Shaman’s dance, the whirling of the Dervishes, these ideas are as old as The Golden Rectangle and should be seen to be inseparable with the movement of the seasons, human reproduction, and night and day in the mind of the rug weaver.

    ”There is increasing evidence from neuroscience,” Oliver Sachs wrote recently, “for the extraordinarily rich interconnectedness and interactions of the sensory areas of the brain, and the difficulty, therefore, of saying that anything is purely visual or purely auditory or purely anything.” Sachs describes “ the enormous act of analysis and synthesis, the dozens of subsystems involved in the subjectively simple act of seeing.” He writes “at the level of the imagination there is a continual struggle for concepts and form and meaning. At this level one can no longer say of one’s mental landscapes what is visual, what is auditory, what is image, what is language, what is intellectual, what is emotional, they are all fused together.”

    More on this is in an earlier article in these pages entitled Synasthesia archived on the web.

    In fact The Golden Mean, The Fibonacci Series, and the simple dimensions of an apparently coarse tribal rug are inseperable, and part of a long, arcane and magic continuum, about which we have a lot to learn and from which we have much to learn.

    Some Weeks Are Like That - A Provincial Tale

    The week did not start out well. A long drive to a so-called stately home in the country gave me plenty of time to ponder the possibilities. The Livingstone Family estate sale at Megaw & Hogg. The big house in Adelaide with a collection of William Morris designed carpets made at Killybegs in County Donegal a century ago. Was there also an Alexander Morton as well as some Voysey large drapes? Then just down the road an elderly lady had covered the guest beds in Central Asian Suzani (large scale embroideries). To obtain the former one should run the gauntlet of the English Trade and the latter requires drilling the Arasta Bazaar in the Sultanahmet quarter of Istanbul.

    The rain came down in buckets and reduced the safe speed to a crawl. The stately home had been refurbished in the 1970’s and it showed. The carpets showcased perfectly the profligacy of the period: Central Iranian Qum silks with garish turquoises and weird mushroom pinks. One has come to accept aberrations in small sizes but room sized examples are now worth an even smaller fraction of their original value. Down the hall and into another large cold room. A giant and at first sight handsome Esfahan carpet in typical central medallion and quarters style but with the vicious bleeding-dye maroons and chocolates of the period.

    Back down the hall: was that an early, Circa 1830 Cedar Clothes Press? And into the bedrooms each with what must be one of the worst types of rug ever made: a colourless dry wool Turkish Kazak clipped to ape the corroded blacks of true antiques. By this time I was beginning to question my own sanity and tiredness drove me out of the house and back into the storm.

    The tape loop of a bad experience playing in my head: The answer to the question “was the house furnished when you moved in?” was  “Those old carpets were so dusty and worn and we didn’t really like them and those heavy drapes and old fashioned furnishings - we threw the lot out. Some went to the local second hand dealer”.  Twenty-five years ago! Just another little Baghdad Museum moment, another little Buddhas of Bamiyan, lowering the aggregate stock of the planet.

    Back home the following day and a call from Charles in Caboulture. Some Persian, Turkish and Afghan rugs. Age? “Oh yes quite old I bought them from so-and-so.” Who wouldn’t know an antique rug if he fell over it. The clincher was the reason for the fire sale of these 12 rugs: he is going sailing. If ever there was a group of modern day Philistines. Poor quality generalisations and only two days into the week. Things weren’t getting any better.

    Next day a prospective customer asks for a plain green rug. And the size? Square. Of course. Negativity is becoming second nature. Oriental Carpets are rarely green, rarely square and never plain and certainly never all three unless they are especially made that way to the occidental taste. So I apologetically explain this and am told curtly “well they should be!”.

    Finally towards the end of the week a customer who is not at all knowledgeable wants to buy the two Ghoris that had been languishing at the back of the shop. Made by sub-groups of the Taimani in Central and West Afghanistan they are referred to by New Yorkers as The Kazaks of Today with their spontaneous friendly elementality and unusual use of undyed wool shades. Strangely, a prominent member of the UK trade recently saw them for the first time on a visit here and had never heard of the type. Frogs and ponds. The completely intuitive novice cuts to the heart by sheer talent, untainted and direct. Allahu Akbar - God is Great. I am beaming, overly glad for her with her two Ghoris and then her friend is attracted to the primitive Djulykhirs woven like, and called literally, “Bearskins”. The nearest thing to Mark Rothko outside The Chapel, powerful and metaphysically brooding, the technique pre-dates actual knotted pile in the history of weaving.

    So by the end of the week I had sold a few things, gained some new talented customers and rejoiced in restored faith for this wonderful aesthetic world. And the Cedar Clothes Press? Well that’s another story.


    The Attitude of Altitude

    Two things. First, traditional handmade wool carpets are a function of altitude. Second, the value of most carpets is related to the level of feminine involvement in the weaving process. The first statement may seem self evident as higher, colder altitudes demand the warmth and insulation of wool. A point is reached with rising latitudes where the summer thaw is too short for the warm-fingered time-intensive work required. There is more than meets the eye however with the second statement.

    Take a look at the "carpet belt" which stretches across the world from Morocco in the west to China in the east. For instance Morocco has a traditional carpet weaving culture synonymous with the Berber and Arab tribes grazing their flocks in the mountains and high plains. Boys tend the sheep, men prepare the looms, and the women weave. Coastal weaving is of the flat-woven cotton tapestry type carried out in ateliers with flying shuttle looms manned by skilled men. An exception is modern commercial weaving where rugs are hand knotted with an eye on western markets. These are made in similar ateliers regardless of country or tradition. This scenario holds true across the "carpet belt".

    The modern countries of Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, the core of the "carpet belt", are almost completely plateaux and mountains. The surrounding countries of Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, the Gulf states, India/Pakistan are mostly under 1000 metres and traditionally produce only flatweaves. The cold northern neighbours, Russia and the "Stans" are mostly at lower altitudes and preferred to make less labour intensive felt rugs. India/Pakistan has a royal carpet weaving culture as opposed to an indigenous grass roots one that stemmed from 700 years of ruling mountain Afghan dynasties.

    Distinctive also are materials. Cotton requires broad-acre farming which presupposes flat lowland conditions and is so intensive in it's land use it requires land ownership. Cotton fabric is less insulating and cotton weaving is logically a lowland occupation. By contrast sheep pastures are usually elevated and are mostly lands held in common. Wool production and wool weaving are elevated occupations. This appears to be the case generally but many types of traditional mountain village rugs are part cotton in that they have a cotton warp (the longitudinal base threads). The important connection here is commerce.

    Pure wool rug making is basically value-adding to a family's flock of sheep. All materials come from the family or are produced by someone in the wider clan. Cotton is a trade commodity that must be bought or traded by the mountain rug making people to use instead of their own wool. This implies a cash component in the making of a rug, adding a subsequent cash or trade value to the finished product. Cotton therefore is often found to equate with commercialisation of the rug making process.

    Look at loom technology and find the number of shafts or "sheds" inversely proportional to the geographic elevation of the loom. Traditionally, knotted pile rugs were made at altitude by family units using simple one shaft looms, while lowlanders produced flatweaves and mass produced rugs. The lowlands are the domain of the fine silk brocades, shawls and other fine clothing fabrics.

    It is interesting to note that religious fundamentalism seems to be a function of altitude, or lack of it, calling the lowlands and deserts home while the mountains and the high plains are home to a more conservative adherence to traditions with a more liberal outlook. Look at a map of say, the USA and find that topographically, the "Barble Belt" equates with the "green" areas. Do this with maps of relevant parts of Asia for a similar result.

    There are connections between the low country, mass production and religious fundamentalism, and the high country, family weaving and liberalism. Mass production involves working men with jobs outside the family whereas family weaving is done by the women of the house.

    Social mores also seem to follow this altitude-specific way of life. Travelling from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the Mountains of Kurdistan or Karabagh one sees more women and fewer veils. Similarly from the Persian Gulf to the mountains of Iran and Afghanistan one sees increasing liberalism, even Sufism, and personal eccentricity and creativeness coming to the fore.

    Traditional knotted pile weaving flourished in the freedom of liberal but conservative communities driven by family, community and a complex and nourishing mysticism. Family designs, clan motifs, and talismans are all part of a rich vocabulary that evolved over long periods. Like musical harmonies these designs form colourfields in an endless interplay where rug weaving becomes a form of prayer, of connection with the universal, a humble submission to the will of God, the definition of Islam. It is this that gives the Oriental Carpet true value.


    Islamic Timeline


    • 570 Birth of Prophet Muhammad, Makkah
    • 610 Muhammad's first revelation
    • 622 Muhammad & Muslims emigrate to Madinah; Year one of the Muslim Calender
    • 630 Muslims return to Makkah
    • 632 Death of Muhammad. Beginnings of Shia, the supporters of Ali bin Abi Taleb, Muhammad's son-in-law, and one of the first Muslims. The Sunni supported Abu Bakr, Muhammad's close associate.
    • 656 Ali becomes caliph
    • 661 Ali murdered by the Syrian Muawiyah. Shia sect developed. Umayyad caliphate established at Damascus by Sunnis with Muawiyah caliph.
    • 680 Ali's son Hossein killed at Battle of Karbala. Shia formation completed.
    • 691 Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
    • 711 Muslims enter Spain from Morocco
    • 750 Abbasid caliphate established, Iraq
    • 794 State- owned paper mills established in Baghdad
    • 800 Harun al-Rashid embassy to Charlemagne
    • 825 Kwarizmi writes concept of zero in maths
    • 850 Early treatises on the astrolabe
    • 900 Tales of 1001 Nights
    • 1010 Firdowsi presents The Shahnama at Afghan Ghaznavid court, Persia
    • 1258 Mongols sack Baghdad
    • 1325 Ibn Battuta leaves Tangier for China
    • 1370 Tamerlane rebuilds Samarkand
    • 1429 Ulugh Beg completes observatory at Samarkand
    • 1453 Ottomans take Constantinople, becomes Istanbul
    • 1498 Vasco da Gama and his Arab navigator set sail from Portugal
    • 1502 Persian Safavid dynasty established with Shia the state religion
    • 1526 Mughal dynasty established in India
    • 1722 Afghans defeat Persians.
    • 1732 End of Safavid dynasty.
    • 1747 Afghanistan founded by Ahmad Shah Durani
    • 1869 Suez Canal
    • 1922 Ottomans end. Modern Turkey begins.
    • 1932 Saudi Arabia founded by Abdal Aziz Al Saud
    • 1967 Aga Khan foundation established
    • 1970 Hasan Fathy's "Architecture for the Poor"
    • 1978 Islamic Revolution in Iran, world's first theocracy
    • 1979 Abdul Salam Nobel Prize for Physics
    • 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
    • 1983 Muhammad Yunus founds Grameen Bank, Bangaladesh
    • 1988 Naquid Mafouz Nobel Prize for Literature
    • 1998 Petronas Towers, world's tallest building, Kuala Lumpur
    • 1999 Ahmed H. Zewail Nobel Prize for Chemistry

    O mankind! We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other,

    not that ye may despise each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is here most righteous.

    The Quran, Chapter 49 Verse 13.


    India - The Textile Tourist

    The Calico Museum is famous for it's textile holdings but it's off the beaten track, slap in the middle of a modern bustling Indian city - although Ahmedabad is the starting point to tour India's prime textile state - Gujerat. At Patan to the north is one of only two places in India where the incredible warp and weft Ikat tradition continues. The other is Potchampali, east of Hyderabad in the Deccan.

    On the way up to Patan or coming down from Rajasthan is the centre of the juggernaut worship and home to the intricately sewn bead pictures. From Patan to the North West one can visit Barmeer, home of the finest and most restrained embroidery in distinctive red and green. Continue to the camel market at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. all within a few hours driving of each other - only don't drive yourself.

    The West of Gujerat is an intrepid textile hunters dream with bands of nomadic Bheel, and Bangara, moving freely. the maharani of Bhuj museum, at Bhuj in Kutchch has the most sublime embroidered saphs hung all the way round the rooms. from Bhuj it is a short drive to Khavda, home of awsome mixed technique household textiles. Of course Iran and Afghanistan and their varied cultural influences are not far away.

    Salar Jang was the Nizam of hydrabad's chief minister and travelled to Europe with a bottomless chequebook befitting the richest man in the world. Fashionable and expensive were his criteria and one can see the fruits his buying trips in the eponymous museum today. Apart from dusty roman marbles the Indian collection is a lot of fun because it was actually used by the court not collected as art. 18th centurty fully embroidered kashmir shawls, metal thread palanquins, rich punjabi jat phulkari ( the word means money), breathtaking kutchch floral embroidery, surat and benares brocades, the most sheer, amazing, really, company period dacca muslins, 200 years of royal chogas......etc, etc.

    The prince of Whales museum, Mumbhai, is right in Colaba the tourist hub and a short walk from the Arabian sea. it's textile holdings include patolu sarees, the warp and weft ikat textile that influenced the whole of se Asia, Uzbek Afghan and NW Indian suzanis (they didn't all come from Uzbekistan and the variations are discernable), early kashmir shawls, dacca muslins and some outstanding south indian block printing on cotton from the 14th century....etc.

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    abrashkelim abrashikashan

    Stripes of Abrash in an antique Anatolian Kelim and a fine old Kashan



    " I tend to reflect that handmade objects....give off a life force, an indefinable resonance, that mechanically produced objects cannot match" Giles Auty, in The Australian.

    And Jon Thomson ..." It was an education for me to witness the amazement and disbelief of an educated Persian carpet dealer, recently arrived from Iran, when he saw the price paid at auction for a kazak, a coarsely woven, crude looking village carpet with a bold pattern and strong colours. ‘They (tribal/village rugs) are so coarse and ugly, how can they pay so much money?’ he was genuinely distressed. For him the ideal of beauty and desirability was a rug with a perfectly ordered, detailed pattern, finely worked in evenly balanced colours without any mistakes."



    Abrash in a rare antique coarsely woven Kazak




    ABRASH - The Persian word has entered English because there was no existing term to explain the abrupt changes in the intensity of colour often seen in good rugs. It is from the Arabic root meaning silky and is most commonly caused by the weaver using wool from different dye batches or dyed at different times in the vat. Strands dyed towards the end of the process are normally lighter than those dyed at the beginning when the dye has been freshly prepared and is at full strength. This can be an indication of authenticity as it rarely occurs in mass produced rugs, for although they may still be made by hand the very nature of the cost savings of large production runs requires extensive and therefore uniform dyeing.



    Alchemy was the dyers’ magic prior to our complete knowledge of chemistry."Today a turquoise from your plain wool, tomorrow pure gold from your old coppers." Englishman Richard Hakluyt belonged to a "Middle Temple" and sent a dyer to Persia in 1579AD with the written instructions..."In Persia you will find carpets of coarse thrummed wool, the best in the world, and excellently coloured: those towns you must repair to, and you must use means to learn all the order of dyeing those thrums, which are so dyed as neither rain, wine nor vinegar can stain."

    The Mystery
    The vast and glorious kaleidoscope of colour found in oriental carpets came from dyeing traditions now mostly lost, like the nomadic horsemen themselves, cultural victims of the Industrial Revolution and 20th century imperatives. The trail of evidence has been picked up in various areas and disciplines.

    The Clues
    The published work of Bruggerman and Boehmer identifies dye flora growing today in Turkey and then matches constituents to the colouring compounds in old rugs. Exact recipes, however are more difficult. Scouring old Persian texts has been an interesting if sometimes puzzling source, coming up with descriptions like this:- "Rose Colour: Take ratanjot, a thought of cochineal, madder or Lac colour a very little, add cinnabar and water and soak for 12 hours. Add the wool and steep for 36 hours, boil for 3 hours, then bathe in alum and wash well. Afterwards dry in the shade."

    Extenuating Circumstances
    Like the colour of wine, regional variations occur even within the same recipes. But each village area and especially each tribe had their own palette. This greatly assists tapetologists detect the origins of particular carpets but does not help to find and reproduce particular dye recipes. Compounding this was the secrecy that protected the dyers guild. Weird and wonderful ingredients and transmutation processes were included to obscure the important steps and preserve the dyers’ standing as a magician in the community.


    The Dyes - Traditional Organic

    Reds were produced from the roots of the madder bush but a skilled dyer could conjure shades ranging from pale orange to deep purple with the same root. Blues are vat fermented and came mostly from indigo tinctoria although the Afshar and Belouch preferred the Anil and linifolia varieties. Yoghurt and pomegranate produces a bright orange regarded as the true Afghan colour by Afghans themselves but labelled synthetic by dilettantes. With every Mohan, Lal and Baksheesh entering the noble and historic carpet trade misinformation abounds! Both the leaves but especially the sour inedible pith and skin of the pomegranate could produce red through yellow hues by the judicious application of mordants and astringents such as alum, yoghurt, wild citrus, walnut galls, potash and rusted iron water. The mordant was used to fix the colour as well as to change the hue. For instance the West Iranian wild delphinium produces yellow with alum and green with copper sulphate. Most greens, however, were double dyed yellow with blue and most yellows show safflower predominant. The beautiful shades once produced by these dyers were always a complex mixture of plants and minerals.


    The Dyes - Imported - A Feminist View

    The dye, cochineal, a native of Guatemala, became popular in Europe during the English Georgian period and was imported in vast quantities into Turkey then Persia and later via Russia and India. This bullish trade died overnight, eclipsed by the discovery in Germany of aniline dyes - red, blue, brown and black at first and others later. By the 1870’s these inferior dyes were widespread, appearing in rugs from even the remotest communities like the nomadic Tibetans. Azo dyes were the second generation of imported synthetic dyes, and were, unfortunately, light fast. Bright apricot and orange colours were most popular with the weavers. The advent of synthetic dyes in the East was coupled with advances in weaving technology in Europe (invention of the jacquard loom etc.). Almost overnight tens of thousands of shawl and brocade cloth weavers and fabric printers, all traditional male occupations, became redundant. At the same time the carpet weavers, mostly women, at home, were released from the tyranny of the dyers, and, a more titanic change could not have been forecast - women could use the dyes themselves! Many took on the role of principle breadwinner in many households. This improvement in status continued throughout most of the 20th century. The emergent wealthy Trans-Atlantic middle classes had already deemed oriental carpets the height of fashion. There was public brawling at Liberties’ carpet openings and shady types profiteering among the Virginian plantations. Carpet making revenue in the east rose accordingly.






    We look at an old carpet made under the original conditions and we see a complexity of design. 


    Symbols of flora and fauna and spirits dense with subjectivity. The eye recognises the presence of colour. Perceptions change and the attentive consciousness shifts from the measurable world to the immeasurable as the design is seen to become less and less important, a simple construct, a value judgement, even meaningless xenophobic bigotry, and, finally a vehicle for colour alone.

    Only colour has a life of it’s own and only colour can speak directly - the designs are merely the script. The arrangement of colour then allows the carpet to release it’s inner self.

    This is the point at which we can feel what it is to actually be human, elevated to our essential humanity, in contact with the carpet’s makers and the archaic heart at the bottom of us all.


    This is pure cognition - seeing with the heart!




    Synasthesia – A Design Genesis?

    When the Sufi Master Abdul Qadir began teaching, the jealous scholars of the city sent him a full glass of water, implying that there was no room for yet another learned man. Abdul Qadir placed a rose petal on top of the water without spilling a drop and sent it back, saying "Whoever among you can hear these flowers, can hear his Lord Almighty.”

    "a vigorous experience produces a dilation of perception"


    Synasthesia is a condition in which a stimulus in one sensory modality automatically triggers a perceptual experience in another.

    Research suggests that tribal peoples such as the indigenous Australians and nomadic peoples of Iran have a much higher rate of synasthesia than found in modern western societies. Just as some important western artists had the condition it is postulated that at least some of the great artists who developed the original designs and wove the best carpets and kelims were synasthetes.

    Hearing colours and seeing sounds is apparently the result of the brain being active and creative and emotional rather than the static, passive reciever-and-filter of tradition. Some scientists hypothesise that synasthetes may be further along the evolutionary road and that periods of minor synasthesia may be common. For the illiterate, emotional nomadic weaver, the story of a carpet is a totality of experience as well as a narrative. It is a combination of the motifs and colours and intensity of passion that produces a connection with the carpet and implies a synasthetic response.

    Before this age of mass production and economic imperialism, where the market drives the production, an Oriental Carpet was a statement of the weaver’s personality and pedigree. It was also a vehicle for strong magical totemic tools. It follows that her emotional relationship with her weavings would have been highly charged. That a vigorous experience produces a dilation of perception and allows a development of unusually creative parts of the mind is the next stage of the riddle.

    Did these guls, these achiqs, these trees of life have multiple meanings beyond metaphor? Some people see water when they see a good old rug. Others simply see glossy wool. Some nomadic Belouch music relates both to life passages and two dimensional designs relevant to the seasons and weather. This cross disciplinary research shows that oriental carpet scholarship may be entering a new phase.

    Maybe the last word should go to the tribal Elder in Bruce Chatwin‘s “Songlines“. He impressed Chatwin for when given a brand new vehicle by the authorities, he drove it into the desert and upturned it for protection from the sun.

    Addenda: Extracted from The Sydney Morning Herald February 6-7, 2010 "Ventriloquist finds his voice PETER CAREY talks to JASON STEGER". Carey has lived in New York for 20 years. Given that he was 45 when he moved there, it's not surprising that he carries a lot of Australia around with him....."What amazes me is the degree to which I can have physical recall of place and smell which I fear might have become less intense. It's such a joy." He found this particularly in the writing of Theft, which is set initially around Bellingen, where he once lived.

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    Waqf in Central Asia

    Much is made in the West of the presence of Christians in Central Asia and their influence on the culture of carpet designs. The reality that seems to be emerging is that these groups were very small in comparison to the local population and were being either completely ignored or just tolerated and as such should be considered insignificant to the rug enthusiast. Generational changes in scholarship are humorous when one views collectors turgidly seeing Christian crosses in every gul. The clarity of hindsight and a greater wealth of information however has it’s own responsibility. Although there were Abbeys of Nestorian monks from early Christian times and whole villages following the teachings of Mani, called Manichaeists, current scholarship points away from the idea that they had any lasting influence on the pervading Muslim culture. In fact most weavers were only nominally Islamic with local sects of unorthodox Sufism being more important. Buddhism was a great early influence. Some experts point to pre-Buddhist Tibet as a crucible of the weaving culture with Buddhist Tibet having a great design input right through to the 19th century.

    It is now accepted that minority Islamic groups such as the Naqshabandi and Qaderi Sufis have had an influence far beyond their numbers. We do know that since Seljuk times Naqshabandi networks have been a barely underground political force of some importance and intriguers and political commentators ignore them at their peril but in terms of their affect on the weaving culture one turns to the recent research into the Muslim practice of Waqf. This deeply embedded custom is where a hereditary line would be responsible for the upkeep of local shrines, ruins or indeed any building or chaman of historical or cultural importance. In a highly convoluted form of modern branding the hereditary caretakers would accept sponsorship payments from tribal Khans, effectively selling the rights to be associated with the shrine. The profits may often support charities for the disadvantaged. Great honour and social acceptance went to the tribal group associated with the Waqf. The Waqf would also provide an essential diplomatic connection with the settled peoples and respect would be gained by dialogue. The great Khans developed their Waqf before any period of military expansion.

    The Fosters Melbourne Cup as a Central Asian idea! Only, to better match the Central Asian Waqf one would have The National Trust selling the rights to specific buildings as well as having powerful local families self-aggrandise by judicious maintenance. God knows how expensive the upkeep of an old building could be and the noise one could make about it! Occasionally other powerful families with nomadic connections could prove they were better caretakers and by doing it cheaper would have more largesse to spread around the settled community and thus wrest control of the shrine and it‘s profits. It all sounds very modern, does it not!

    Certainly recent knowledge of the Waqf shows it provided a deep connection between the nomadic pastoralists and the settled farming and small business populace. We can now forget the idea of never-ending antagonism depicting the nomads as noble and insular, pillaging at will with the decrepit farmers cowering behind their garden rakes. Was this Hollywood cowboy reality? “Oh the farmer and the cowman should be friends” goes the 1950’s musical Oklahoma!

    It is still too early to attribute actual specific abstract designs but the weight of knowledge is heading in that direction. The Turkoman practice of making outsize Wazirat carpets (with plain centres to the guls) for local government buildings is part of Waqf.

    Imagine appearing in court in a property dispute and having your own coat of arms on the floor of the court! There are depictions of the ruins of Persepolis in late South Persian weavings. Various shrines appear in Kurdish and Bakhtiari carpets. The Timurid minarets and the Jome Masjid of Herat are woven into Chahar Aimaq rugs. Even the conservative Turkomans wove realistic depictions. The Sulaymanli Mashad Shrine pardahs and the Jangal Arouq prayer rugs are examples. These designs are well known simply because they are realistic and obviously representational. But it is in the understanding of the carpet lands’ sense of metaphor that is important. Take the motifs ak su, running water, and gol-i-badam, the almond flower. It is generally posited when woven they were not disassociated single thoughts but would have been a metaphor for something like spring, sex and marriage. Indeed the very reason for going to the shrine would most probably be fertility, or health of a family member. The power of the Naqshabandi Sufis and the Waqf in the minds of the weavers would have these motifs refer to specific places and specific events. The blessing by the Sufi and the running water at the shrine and the almond flowers in the cloister would have a strong appeal to the nomadic weaver as a connection to the shrine experience. Later on weavers would just refer to these motifs without knowing their specific geographical Waqf reference. For instance the triangular motif called mushka is woven into a carpet to reflect a blessing from the Sufi. This blessing is traditionally written on paper and placed inside the talismanic amulet, which is either textile or metal . The carpet design then becomes a reflection of a real event and a specific motif that started from a fixed place subsequently becomes a design continuum, a motif used over and over. This is a new addition to the origins of design.

    DESERT ROSE will report more on the difficult Central Asian idea of Waqf and it’s relevance to the art of the Oriental Carpet as the research proceeds. Meanwhile browse the web to Look at a thoroughly modern Waqf at

    The Spirit of Truth - Belouch

    To be too sensitive about a statement being true or false in the traditional carpet making lands is to be uncomfortable, out of touch. The most important thing is the spirit behind the statement. Was it meant to be kind and helpful? Yes? Then the facts can be wrong. For instance never ask for directions as the answer is always "straight on". When queried it can change to be either left or right, but is never "I don't know, sorry, can't help".

    A Belouch rug can also be a Kurd, a Persian, or even a Mongol! Rugs and Carpets that come under the general banner of Belouch actually represent at least a dozen distinct tribes and numerous sub-groups. These groups have at times presided over their own dynasties but always returned to a life of shifting alliances in the frontier areas between the Persian and Moghul Empires, and the Tartar states to the north. This area roughly equates modern day west, central and south Afghanistan, eastern Iran, western Pakistan and southern Turkmenistan.

    A number of the tribes federated in the 19th century. The men of the previous couple of generations had sacked both the Persian and the Moghul Empires, and decided they were better united than fighting each other. They called themselves "Chahar Aimaq", meaning The Four Tribes even though they numbered about ten. This federation comprised groups with different ethnicity, language and religion and became politically redundant by the 20th century.

    When researching the Belouch I found an incomprehensible scale of anomalies that showcased my rigid western thinking, and uncovered a cavalier attitude to tribal attribution by the locals. For instance, when did a major part of the Yacoub Khani become the Salar Khani? Answer: When they changed their name. Why the change of name? Was it the murderous tribal politics, affiliations. No. Simply the women made the choice because the clan head was handsome and strong! Obviously these rug makers have little store in our finely wrought attributions.

    The Mushwani, desert1 selectively filleted into a separate tribe by western tapetologists were, as an ethnic Pashtun group, unheard of in their supposed homeland.

    The expression mushwani meant running mouse and was a slang term for the various groups living towards Chuckansur in the south as well as the name of these groups' preferred design.

    There does seem to be a need for some serious work on the 10 million farmers, pastoralists and nomads that lived in Central, West, and NW Afghanistan and Eastern Iran.

    What about the term Hazara, one of the largest weaving groups? Or Pashtun, or the local terms for the pure nomadic rugs, Kouchi and Moldau, or even Kowdani? These are never used in the west where selective tribal attributions follow fashion as much as truth. The word belouch in modern Persian can refer to any impoverished person living outside town, a gypsy, or even a beggar.

    Belouch, being incorrect in most cases, seems to be the only generally usable term as most people know it refers to attributes such as small size, soft, shiny, geometric, even dark toned and subtle, when it is used.

    It is the spirit of kindness that is more important than truth in Central Asia!



    Designs and Motifs - Mir & Mushka

    The designs such as Mir and Mushka transcend simple folk art. The tribal and village women who used to weave these motifs believed they had the power to protect and transform their world. They were the open sesame, the abracadabra talismans of the traditional world and probably represent 2000 plus year old Shamanic beliefs kept alive in the female realm. The voodoo of Central Asia was one of witches' spells where every rock could hold a malignancy, every change in the weather a meaning, every bird a spying sorceress. A malevolent and frightening world from which the weaver protected her family.

    The Mushka desert2is an amulet, a charm to protect against the evil Djinns, witchcraft spells, and the evil eye. It can be made from cloth and contain a prayer written on paper sewn inside.

    This is then worn attached to clothing and may even be put on a favourite horse or donkey. The triangular or V shape itself holds the protective powers and can be seen on many traditional old rugs, sometimes in the simplified form of three convergent lines.desert3

    The mir-i-boteh, desert4or simply boteh, is called the mango in Hindustani India because it's shape resembles the fruit. Made famous by the Paisley shawl in Europe, the boteh's Persian origins have been under review by rug scholars.

    In the country patois of old Persian, mir means everlasting, and boteh means a flower in the botanical sense. It is a metaphor for infinite time. The everlasting flower is not a flower but a seed pod and the shoot from the top is just that, a new shoot, representing life, and because of life, death.

    In new or city Persian mir is the respectful term for a royal personage and boteh means a type of firewood. The top of the cypress tree is the required shape and it also fulfills the sense of immortality. Cypress trees are planted to signify a cemetery from a distance.

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    Color I Color II Color III