Posted by Jack_Williams on 05-17-2006 09:15 AM:


A few months ago I took a chance and bought this bag “thing” for about $10 on the internet. You may be asking yourself, why would someone waste $10 on something that looks as new, chemically garish, and “touristy” as this thing?” The answer lies in these two photos...

I kind of liked the look of the back...but the deciding factor that caused the whim-purchase was the photo allowing a glimpse inside the bag at the back of the face. That photo seemed to show a hint of precise drawing and weaving, and at least some promising colors. It seemed worth a chance.

When the bag arrived, the face was long, shaggy, and fully as garish and jarring as the original pictures showed. Not only that but the attachment of the flat weave back caused part of the pile face to be deliberately turned under forming about one inch of the back of the bag. It all was so weird I threw it in a corner and marked down a lesson learned.

Then a few weeks ago, on this site Steve Price noted that Kurd bags often have a piled section that formed the bottom of the bag and a small portion of the back before attaching to the flat weave. I then found his published article on the subject. From it I could not exactly determine if the Kurds always weaved a pile skirt extension and folded it under to form the bag bottom, or used a portion of the face weave, as in this bag. But it was some interesting food for thought.

Then, John Howe started a line on this site entitled “keeping your eyes open.” I thought of the garish bag and examined it again. Sure enough, the back was indeed interesting and neatly constructed, though many of the dyes were suspect. And sure enough, the back of the pile face showed a nice weave, a clean design, and the colors seemed a bit more promising than on the shaggy front of the bag.

As the bag had apparently never been shaved, except for the first, rough cut to about 1-inch or so, and it was of a sacrificial price and design, in the spirit of “keep your eyes open” I decided to shave the rug and see what happened. I attacked the bag, ultimately using all of these implements.

Here is what I learned. Electric hair clippers do a good job until the pile reaches about 3/8-1/4-inch. A safety razor then works slowly, but dulls rapidly and begins to pull just like on your face. With a straight better know what you are doing. The saws, hammer and chisel, rasp, box cutter, etc?...just kidding.

Each color of wool had a different feel, thickness or density, and “cut-ability.” When hair clippers hit a black line, it was like hitting wire. The blue-green had a very dense feel and cut slowly. The white wool had been obviously bleached and was soft and tended to lay down in front of the cutters making it somewhat of a chore to clip evenly, etc.

As the pile shortened some blue-gray-greenish bleeding began to be seen on the bleached white wool. To me, this was unusual as I understand that blue is the most stable color and the least likely to run when dyed. Oh well...actually it did not really detract from the design, unlike red-bleeding, but seemed to give the wool a quiet, more natural look (though I have never seen a sheep with a blue tinge to its wool) with less of a jarring brightness. To date, I have only gotten the pile to about 3/8 to ¼-inch. I would like to take it down to 1/8-inch but to do this I think one would have to be an expert in the use of a straight razor.

A number of hours have been spent on this project. I now have a great respect for those who professionally clip rugs. I now know that dyes change the feel of the wool and that has ramifications on another post I am preparing. By reading up on this aspect of carpet production, another interesting thing surfaced for me. Apparently, during the weaving process, the weavers are only able to judge the pattern of their rug from the back. I’ve read that a preliminary cut to about 1-inch or so is made periodically during the weaving, but the rug must be completed before being shaved to final pile height. Only then does the true intended design become obvious on the face. This fact led me to a thesis on an interesting weaving (?) flaw in another rug, which I will also offer for posting soon.

Posted by Steve Price on 05-17-2006 09:43 AM:

Hi Jack

Thanks for the interesting post. It's a nice demonstration of how much can be learned from a little hands-on experimenting, and how much fun it can be to do it.

For convenience, I am placing the "before" and "after" images of your bag together. The color reproduction appears to be different in the two, but the sharpening of the designs is obvious.


Steve Price

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 05-18-2006 01:30 AM:

Nice haircut


There are a couple of rugs and bags I have bought on the internet that would be better attacked with a blowtorch and a shredder.

Photos of rugs being professionally sheared show them using a pair of large scissors. I notice that you did not try scissors on your bag.
You also noted that the black wool was like cutting a wire. Some black dyes actually use iron in the preparation, which could make them more difficult to cut.
As for the pile being folded over at the bottom, this technique was certainly used by Kurds and also by Khamseh, Bakhtiari and Luri weavers.
It appears that there is no closure method on your bag. Storage bags usually have some type of closure system. No closures could indicate that this piece was made as a pillow, since I am not aware of any yastiks, which are Anatolian pillows, having any closure systems.
You could stuff your bag and sew it shut to be used as a pillow. Of course you have reduced the relaxing quality a bit by shaving the poor thing.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Steve Price on 05-18-2006 06:06 AM:

Hi Jack

Your experiment yielded interesting results - areas of your bag where the colors are different have different physical properties.

Your interpretation, and my initial reaction was the same, is that these differences are caused by the different dyes. That may be correct, but there are other possibilities as well.

One is that the different color wools may have come from different sources. In fact, some may not even be wool.

This is clearly a modern bag, and the weaver may have purchased some or all of the various color yarns at the local WoolMart (a Turkish chain founded by Sam Woolton, with a logo that looks like the stylized face of a smiling Turk). The sheep from which each color was derived can be from different parts of the world, with very different properties. It's possible, of course, that some of the differences are dye-caused, some aren't.

Just some thoughts.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-18-2006 06:51 AM:

WoolMart, uh?

Hi Steve,

Posted by Steve Price on 05-18-2006 08:55 AM:

Hi Filiberto

Must be a completely different WoolMart than the one that Sam Woolton founded during the late Ottoman period. His logo, in case you're interested (and I know you are) is


Steve Price

Posted by Jack Williams on 05-18-2006 01:44 PM:

kurdish sheep herc

A friend told me that this is a rare picture of a Kurdish sheep herd
kept secreted in the mountains. I think this may answer some questions about Kurdish wool and colors.

However, like you, I have pondered several possibilities about the different consistancy in wool that were apparent in the shaving experiment. Perhaps more importantly, differences I have since noticed in other rugs, such as the pictorial Baluch currently being discussed under "camel-wool..."

One possibility as you noted is just different wool...which is one reason for the questions about camel wool in the other post. Another is that part of the pile is composed of something that is not wool. After your post, I checked but am comvinced that the rug is piled in wool except possibly a small portion of white outlining and detailing that looks like mercerized cotten from the back.

Yet another possibility is different knots....for instance in the pictorial Baluch, if the field is jufti knotted (which it may well be) and the border, figures, outlining, etc., are not, the un-jufti knotted sections will have double-density. Fourth possibility is that dyes do change the feel somewhat.

In the case of this bag, I would think that going to the trouble of jufti knotting the small white center and regularly knotting the black outlining, blue-green in the corners, and doing something in-between with the red and orange is unlikely. Different wools, or the effect of bleach is a reasonable alternative...but...I suspect that in this case, the dyes have had an effect. Thanks and regards, Jack Williams

Posted by Gene Williams on 05-20-2006 12:10 AM:

shearing and clipping

Hi all,

Cecil Edward's book's lone illustration of the shearing process, plate 195 on p. 205 shows men using what appears to be a foot long straight razor with an arc in it, cutting a large carpet labororously knot by knot. The carpets look to be horizontal on a floor.

A more modern illustration on the net shows a man using giant shears/scissors to clip carpets which are run over pipes of various diameters. The finess of the shearing process depended on the diameter of the pipe. I assume the closer the cut, the smaller the diameter (i.e. you cut a smaller number of knots at one clip). See this site: - 33k -.

The site mentions it takes 3 yrs to become a good shearer.

There seem to be precious few pictures/info around on what surely is a very important process in rug making.


Posted by R. John Howe on 05-21-2006 06:56 AM:

Dear folks -

Here is the image from Edwards that Gene Williams references above.

And below is one from O'Bannon's "The Turkoman Carpet."

The caption on the O'Bannon image says this shearer is working with large "home-made scissors," but I'm not sure his tool is different from that being used in the first photo. He's holding the tool at both ends and I can't see it clearly. Notice also that he seems to be shearing as he goes along since the weaving on the carpet seems not yet finished.

When I watched Turkish ladies from the DOBAG project weave here at the Smithsonian folk life festival, I noticed that they cut the pile to a seemingly even length after each knot. I asked them, through a translastor, if there was any additional shearing after they finished a piece and they seemed to say not. That surprised me.


R. John Howe

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 05-21-2006 08:58 AM:

Surely Shearing


The O'Bannon picture shows the man hoding a large pair of shears at both ends. He needs to hold both ends in order to keep the scissors level with the pile and to facilitiate the shearing. It is not easy to do a good job at shearing. I have an '80's Bijar that does not have a good haircut. But Bijars are notorious for having a dense pile, making a smooth, uniform cut even more difficult.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 05-21-2006 05:24 PM:

Sehr Romantik

Hi all,

So, yes, a lot of rustic rugs are still trimmed by hand today. However, any place that has a working electric grid probably sees more scene like this...


...then those in the previous posts.

Even the folks who use electric clippers have a variety of techniques for doing their trimming. The most successful are those who use a wooden or plastic "jig" that is wide and flat. It serves the same purpose as using very long hand shears: The long flat edges of the hand shears cause the blades to conform to the average height of a large sample of the surface of the rug, leading to a smooth transition as the cutting progresses and minimizing the number of divits cut into the pile.

I've also been told that the finest city rugs are still clipped by hand, and I'm inclined to believe it; the sensitivity of the palm and fingertips are ideal for evaluating the quality of a pile surface.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by louis_dubreuil on 05-23-2006 11:42 AM:

cloth shearing

Bonjour à tous

The shearing was also done in Europe during the fabrication of woolen cloth. The clothes were wowen, then washed with water and soap (felting process), then fulled. After drying the pile of the cloth were pulled and combed (teaseled) using a spiny part of a special plant (Dipsacus sp.).

The pile was then cut by the mean of great metallic scissors.

The folowing pictures feature one Gallo-roman cloth shearer and one dutch shearer (1694) using quite same tools.

Amicales salutations


Posted by Jack Williams on 05-23-2006 04:40 PM:

more shears...

Thanks for the interesting contribution. So far, I think this is a rather unique conversation and I find I know darn little about this process. I am having trouble even finding much information on the timing, extent, steps, tools involved in triming a rug.

Here are a couple of more pictures of shears-sissors that I copied from this web site... But when, how, what they are used for is not clear at all.

I continue to make progress with the bag, learning every step of the way...though I now think it may have been intended to be long and shaggy... I'll post one more picture when finished and a brief provenance notation. Regards..

Posted by Jack Williams on 05-26-2006 07:19 AM:

partial report, and a discovery...

Good morning to all;

I am out of town but have finished my experiment...and an interesting and enjoyable task it was. The key was supplied here on this board by Patrick Weiler and Gene Williams... (1) use scissors, (2) lay the carpet over a pipe so that the wefts open allowing easier access to the tufts of pile for the initial cut, then cut diagonally to trim it roughly smooth.

I have some pictures to share and some insights about the design/construction, color changes as the pile gets shorter, and possibly provenance,but that will have to wait until next week.

But I wanted to share something else immediately. You recall I noted the difference in "cut-ability" of each color of the wool. I especially noted how difficult the black wool was to cut. Well the difference was still obvious even with very sharp scissors.

Whenever I clipped a few knots of black, I found the wool was not only quite hard, but it seemed to shatter when cut. This frequently resulted in small, to minute, grains of black wool, or a coating that was on it similar to black dust, being spread around.

I checked the wool, and as best I can determine, it is actually wool. However, it may have been dyed with the famous iron filings-lignite (?) additive that clings to the wool. Just about every rug book notes this dye additive causes corrosion of the wool after a few years, but only Wegner seems to note what I found.

Here is the thought...what if the dye truly does cause the wool to be brittle and this actually causes more damage than any corrosion? (note: Wegner says that the dye does embrittle the wool,…see “Pile Rugs of the Baluch and their Neighbors, Part II, But, then Wegner stops and begins to talk corrosion).

However, what brittleness would mean is that the black dyed wool becomes hard, stands up straight, but cannot take shear forces (in the engineering sense) thus it shatters and breaks off and wears down much more rapidly than the other colors. Suppose this shearing-brittleness continues right down to-and-through the knot? Over time, you would then have the black-dyed portion of carpets wear out rapidaly. This effect would have the appearance of a corrosion, when in fact it is caused by erosion, at least in part. The erosion in turn is caused by the brittleness of the wool, caused by the dye.

I have some close-up pictures of the black wool residue compared to other colors. I've also saved some and might see if I can get a chemical analysis. If this proves typical of black dyes, then we might possibly add a footnote to conventional wisdom.

After all...I wonder how many of the researchers who form the base sources of our rug information (which is amazingly few) ever clipped or shaved a rug, thus feeling for themselves the difference? Or am I just full of Bull-uch?


Jack Williams

Posted by Jack Williams on 05-29-2006 06:38 PM:

The end of the experiment, results!!

The following pictures detail the final product of this experiment by comparing some original pictures from the internet offer, with pictures taken after shaving was completed. Pictures 1, 2, and 3 are original condition pictures. Pictures 1a through 5a are of project completion.

Picture 1-before shaving (below)

Picture 1a-after (below)

Picture 2-before (below)

Picture 2a-after (below)

Picture 3-before (below)

Picture 3a-after (below)

Picture 4a – after (below)

Picture 5a – after (below)

I now have the shaving process figured out.

(1) Lay rug over pipes of progressively LARGER size. The smaller the pipe, the deeper the bite…and as you approach your targeted height, you want to progressively take smaller bites. Or if it is a small article, you can just fold it, as I did for the most part...though this inch by inch method will take a LOT of time and patience.

(2) Clip rug with scissors along the warp and weft lines, a little at a time. This is very time consuming and results in blistered fingers, so tape your fingers or wear gloves. Apparently, in actuality large shears are used…but I cannot see how they work as the tufts of pile are quite tough and difficult to cut cleanly even with an exceptionally sharp pair of scissors.

(3) After you work the pile down to approximately the height you want, lay the carpet flat and use a straight razor to “scrape” and shave it all evenly. Once the pile is down, using the straight razor is easy…indeed you could take it all the way to the knots, make it look worn in certain places, etc., if you wanted to. I am sure that this “scraping” is what we see being done in a lot of the previously posted pictures in this discussion line.

You learn a lot about your rug when you work on it for 10+ hours, in the direct sunlight at the beach (great way to meet girls..."oh, what are you doing?" says little red robinhood. "Hopefully, you. Sit down my dear and I'll show you" says the big bad wolf). For instance, what I thought was a lot of black-dyed wool is actually mostly indigo, with a black outlining. Also, I now actually like this bag. It may be not as recent as “yesterday” after all. Actually the selvedges show a fair amount of repair, and at least many of the dyes seem natural.

You may notice that the colors look different…deeper, more muted, less contrast, more harmonious (at least to my “baluch” eyes). This is no computer-color aberation, it is really the case. What was very brightly colored in the shaggy state (look at picture in original post of open bag...notice the pile and colors...that pictue gives a pretty accurate view of pile length and orignal color) is now a different composition. Only thing I can think of is that as you reduce the pile, the density of the colored wool increases. This allows less “open space” to introduce light between individual knot yarn threads … therefore the colors actually appear to darken because of the absence of empty space.

I saved a considerable amount of the cut black yarn, unfortunately mixed with the dark indigo. I have discovered that I can have the bristles of the black and ….say…red analyzed and determine shear strength. That might be of interest.

Also, the way this bag is constructed is pretty interesting, seemingly different from how the Baluch do it so far as I know. If anyone is interested, I will photo the key methods used to join the segments. That may actually be pretty authentic with what was done in the past.

The design and provenance is now of some interest, at least to me. The bag is woven with symmetric knotting. Its design and colors strongly indicates either a Kurdish or Kazak–Bordjalou provenance.

The general design is common to both. The moon-central emblems and the shaggy original condition favors Kazak-Bordjalou (Eiland says these people often leave their rugs in a very long, naturally shaggy state). But the twisted rope sides looks similar to some Kurd “gunny-sack” pictures I found in an old National Geographic magazine. I’ll address that in a different post.

One last different light what looks like a "raised" color often goes negative, and looks like a tunnel. And, on these posted pictures, you can get an amazing effect from pictures 3a, 4a, and 5a. Sit back and look at the picture on the screen at an angle, eyesight coming from the right of your screen, or tilt your head to the right so your eyes are not level. The picture of the rug suddenly jumps into 3D...I kid you knot (pun intended), picture 3a especially. The effect is so startling it may change the way I look at rugs completely.

Jack Williams