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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

Mini-Salon 27: Fascinating Flatweaves

by Patrick Weiler

Ubiquitous yet perplexing, flatweaves play a prominent role in the pantheon of Oriental weavings.  Most flatweaves are of the readily recognized slit-weave tapestry construction. Variations of this technique include dovetailed and interlocked tapestry.  Most rug enthusiasts can also somewhat readily identify the frequently encountered soumak technique.   Flatweaves are commonly used by nomadic weavers for their light weight and durable construction. Flat-woven construction has been posited to predate pile weaving. Felt may predate the earliest flatweaves, but there is no weaving in construction of felt.

Beyond recognizing these relatively common weaving structures, though, many collectors are confused, baffled and bewildered.  Some detractors are convinced that this state is characteristic of rug collectors in general.

Many flatweaves incorporate multiple techniques, complicating their identification and attribution. More complex than mere single versus double wefts, symmetric versus asymmetric knots and the open-left versus open-right knot differences of knotted pile weavings, flatweave variations confound, complicate and confuse both the novice and dedicated collector. This Mini-Salon is intended to enlighten, educate and embarrass those interested in identifying and attributing the different types of flatweaves and related textiles. Here are some examples.

 Slit-weave construction:

First image
Slit-weave tapestry is probably the most common type of flatweave.  This is a Shahsavan mafrash end panel or khorjin face of slit-weave tapestry with some two color twining and soumak triangles.  It has belonged to at least two Turkotek regulars.

Second image

Taken with sunlight in the background, this closeup shows light coming through the slits.  These are areas where the wefts reverse directions at the edge of each pattern area, leaving the slits.

Dovetailed tapestry weave construction:

Third Image

This is a dovetailed or shared-warp tapestry weave from a large Luri kilim. Wefts of different colors encircle the same warp thread from opposite directions, giving the fabric a saw-tooth look instead of the slits. This makes a reversible and stronger fabric than the slit-weave type.

Single-interlocked tapestry weave construction:

This is one face of a salt bag. It is made of single-interlocked tapestry bands alternating with bands of weft-faced plain weave.

This is the other face of the same bag and it is constructed of weft-faced plain weave. At the bottom there are two pile “stars” and in several of the bands there are individual tufts of pile, all asymmetric, open left.

From this closeup, you can see that rows of wefts interlock with those of a different color coming from the opposite direction. Note that this junction is between warps. This indicates a single-interlock tapestry weave. The weft threads wrap around each other and circle back. They are like links in a chain. If this were dovetailed tapestry, the junction would be on a warp and the weft threads would not interlock with each other, but instead both circle around the warp thread and return from the direction they came.

Double-interlocked tapestry weave construction:

Image 4

This is a large Bakhtiari bag with the characteristic fuzzy-edges around the motifs. Interlocked tapestry describes the technique where an individual weft thread interlocks, or wraps around and through, the warp thread coming from the opposite side of the weaving. This is similar to two links of a chain interlocking together.

Image 5

In double-interlock, each weft interlocks with two of the opposite wefts.  This makes a non-reversible fabric, perfect for a bag face, but not as suitable for a floor rug due to the bumpy ridges on the back. There are no slits for the contents to snag on or slip through.

Soumak Construction:

Image 6

This is a Quchan Kurd saltbag from NE Iran.

Image 7

It is constructed mostly of a type of sumac known as diagonal wrapping. There are many types of soumak, including plain, reverse, weftless and more.

Countered Soumak Construction:

Image 8

This is a Shahsavan scissor bag with countered soumak, one of the simplest soumak weaves. The white is cotton.

Image 9

Here is the full frontal view.

This is a mostly countered-soumak bagface. The soumak is woven angled in one direction and when the thread returns in the other direction, the angle is opposite. This creates a "herringbone" looking pattern.

Here is the whole bagface with a single, square iron ring at the top in the middle. It may have been used as a closure or hanging device.

Brocade Construction:

Image 10

Brocade can be easily confused with soumak.

Image 11

There are also many types of brocade, with the most common being overlay-underlay, where the weft thread goes over three warps, then under three warps, then back over the top again.

Image 12

From the back (the side from which the weaver works) you can see where the wefts "float", making a "negative" of the design on the front. 

Inlaid Brocade Construction:

This is the front of a Khamseh "cradle" with the field designs made by inlaid brocading. It also has borders of countered soumak and end finishes of complementary weft weave. Inlaid brocading is a technique where the top set of warp threads are raised up, forming a "shed" into which the pattern wefts are inserted. They are brought up and over the raised warp threads when needed to form the pattern. When not forming the pattern, these weft threads do not float on the back of the piece, but in between the upper and lower warp threads and then plain ground wefts are inserted between rows of pattern wefts.

This is a closeup showing the inlaid brocade forming boteh designs. If you look closely, you can see where the dark blue weft threads are barely visible where they are "floating" under the upper warp threads in the area between the tip of the boteh and the body.

On the finished fabric, the design is not visible from the back because the pattern wefts are in between these lower warps seen from the rear and the upper warps on the front. This is similar to the technique used in many Turkmen tentbands and Qashqa'i horse covers, in which the designs are in knotted pile on the upper warps and not visible from the back.

Weft Substitution Construction:

Image 13

This is the front of a Baluch weft-substitution storage bag.

Image 14

Here is the full bag, unfolded to make a long, narrow fabric.

Image 15

From the back you can see the weft yarns (which form the pattern on the front) floating loosely. This technique is often used as a narrow band of pattern on the flatweave ends of pile weavings and also as one of several techniques used in a single flatweave.

Warp-twined Band Construction:

Image 16

Bands can be constructed in a variety of techniques.  This typical SW Persian Qashqa'i band is a double weave.

The back is a negative of the front.  This band is 29 feet long.

There have been a few discussions and Salons devoted to bands, including “Reproductive and Sexual Themes on Warp-Faced Iranian Bands” by Fred Mushkat. I have heard of warp and weft tension in weavings, but not sexual tension.

There are other flatweave techniques, not described here. Many of the pieces in the Salon also incorporate some of those other techniques.

Marla Mallett's book, Woven Structures, shows these and other weaving devices in tantalizing (perhaps even excruciating) detail. I have utilized this book extensively in identifying the structures used here. I probably have gotten some of them wrong, due to the similarity of many of these techniques and their staggering variety. The book is subtitled A Guide to Oriental Rug and Textile Analysis. At least two-thirds of the book discusses flatweave techniques.

Structure often confirms the tribal or regional origin of weavings. The discussion following can certainly explore these Salon weavings in more detail. It would also be enlightening for you to post your flatweaves and we can dissect them together, too.

There was a weftless soumak piece shown in Show and Tell recently which would be helpful to inspect more closely.

Marla Mallett assisted me with some of the details in the salon and her help is very much appreciated. Any errors you may find in the text are mine and Marla is not responsible for them. As some Turkotek folks believe, if you chew on a piece of wool, it can tell you a lot. I think there is a lot to chew on here.



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