Marla Mallett December 13th, 2013 04:18 PM

Overlooked Structural Features
Benjamin Tholen asked a very good question in the thread on Sauj Balagh rugs: If structural features are useful in separating the products of various weaving groups, which ones are important and which are not? I have some definite ideas about this, but unfortunately, they are rarely reflected in published analyses. It is the features that stem from distinctive WEAVING PRACTICES that I see as most pertinent.

First, COLOR, as in weft color, can be so variable that it, in itself, should USUALLY not be of much concern in attributing peasant or tribal rugs. It is only a "structural" feature in one narrow sense that I can think of. Weavers who calculate how much pile yarn of each color to dye for their rugs, inevitably either run short, or have some left over. It's logical to question what better use for this material than for wefts, which are hidden within a rug's structure. Kurdish and South Persian weavers in particular, have often "used up" odds and ends of differently colored pile yarns as wefts. This is practical IF the weight, spin, elasticity and character of the pile yarns are appropriate for wefts. It is more likely, however, for a community's subtle weave balance to require a finer yarn for wefts, meaning that those left-over pile yarns may not work. For one obvious example: in structures where heavy taut wefts alternate with fine, supple, sinuous wefts, using up left-over pile yarns is not an option, and yarn must be spun specifically for these wefts. (Incidentally...a pet peeve of mine: "wefting." There is no such thing in textile terminology.)

In my book I've discussed the "weave balance" concept at length, so won't do so again here. Most published "structural analyses" don't consider these factors--the differing characteristics of warp, weft, and pile yarns, along with the warp sett, and several other features. But these relationships are the prime features that distinguish different groups of weavings. Since they are difficult to describe and quantify, we most often resort to speaking of a rug's "handle." Differences in the quality of materials used and whether they are combed or carded of course play a prominent role in this, but are only "structural" features in the broadest sense--if we consider the composition of each yarn on a microscopic level.

A thorough examination of our rugs can reveal evidence of different WEAVING PRACTICES. These definitely can separate groups, but are not useful for attributions unless noted by lots of people who have examined lots of rugs, thus establishing base lines for various groups. With the exception of noting depressed warp, knot type, and number of wefts, scholarship in our field has ignored structural evidence that should lead to more solid attributions and less guesswork. Here are a few of the most easily cited examples:

1. Crossed wefts. To cross wefts, two weavers working together each put in a weft from their respective sides, and then bring these wefts to the surface somewhere near the rug's center, change the shed and then re-insert those wefts so that they continue in their original directions. This is such a distinctive and idiosyncratic practice that the presence of crossed wefts should routinely be noted in technical analyses whenever they are found. But when have we seen such notations? Never. This is a practice used most frequently but not exclusively by Kurds, and should also distinguish some Kurdish groups from others if only analysts bothered to examine their pieces closely.

2. Devices used to straighten crooked weavings. Virtually every weaver faces this problem from time to time and a variety of methods have been devised to deal with it. Many of these methods are distinctive and typical of specific groups. But again, these are features never considered by most analysts. I've described these in my book, at some length, so it's impractical to do so here. One distinctive example: short rows of overlapped knots are sometimes used to build up bulk in areas. Another example: extra, discontinuous wefts and sometimes even discontinuous rows of knotting are used for the same purpose.

3. Devices used by weavers to better articulate certain kinds of designs. This includes numerous knotting irregularities used to create the impression of rounded forms--stacked, halved, offset, and overlapped knots. We think of this usually in connection with Chinese rugs, but the practices also appear in some groups of West and Central Asian rugs. Offset knotting is frequently used to create steeper diagonals in work from many areas. More and more people are now noting this particular irregularity in their pieces, but they rarely note the specific ways in which transitions between aligned and offset areas are accomplished. Folks have tended to notice the very obvious examples of offset knotting in West Persian pieces and others from West Asia, but have failed to do so when it is especially critical in Turkmen weavings.

4. Distinctive end finishes. Various kinds of oblique interlacing, two-pick oblique interlacing, half-hitch bands, oblique wrapping, and several different kinds of heading cords are among the many distinctive end finishes that are typically or uniquely used by specific groups. I have a lengthy description of some of these on my website: We frequently see these simply dismissed in analyses as a "braided end finish," a totally inadequate notation for an important diagnostic feature.

5. Distinctive selvages. Only the most rudimentary differences have been routinely noted by analysts. In addition to the basic differences between overcast and interlaced selvages, there are hidden features that disclose even more distinctive weaving processes. Different kinds of reinforcement are telling. Several kinds of attached interlaced or overcast selvages display distinct weaving practices that can only be discovered by probing the structures with a needle. The unique construction details are mastered early in each weaver's life, and they are unlikely to be altered by her, though she may try out dozens of new design motifs. The several kinds of specialized decorative selvages are easy to spot.

My book, WOVEN STRUCTURES, is devoted entirely to this kind of thing, along with discussions of basic weave structures--both pile and flatweaves--so there's not much point in elaborating here. If anyone has specific questions, however, I'll be glad to tackle them.


Marla Mallett December 14th, 2013 09:01 AM

Of the "standard" structural features usually cited in pile-rug analyses, which are the most important for making attributions? I'd say the following can be of nearly equal significance:

Knot type
Number of wefts between rows of knots and warp depression, if any
Structural density--either warp sett or number of knots per square inch
Selvage type--overcast, interlaced or other
Kind of end finish
Accompanying flat-weave details, if any

But once these are listed in the usual rudimentary fashion, what next? When minimal attention is given to specifics, lots of rugs end up sounding all about the same. That's when the more idiosyncratic details I've mentioned in the post above should be useful.


Benjamin Tholen December 15th, 2013 07:11 PM

Weaving process
Dear Marla,

I suppose that the best way to understand how to evaluate and interpret diffrent structural features would be to closely watch the weaving process through all stages. The information rug literature has one this seems limited besides romantic stories?
I tried to do some weaving myself to get a better understanding, but thats a diffrent thing.

Is your book still available? Cant find it on the big bad wink
Kind regards


Marla Mallett December 16th, 2013 03:28 PM


You are right that rug literature has focused most of its attention on popular mythology, on fantasies far removed from the realities of village or tribal weavers. Since field work has been avoided by most rug book authors, we can at least get closer to realistic groupings of our rugs by more careful examinations of the structural/technical details in our pieces--that is, if accurate provenance indeed matters.

I'll never forget receiving a call from a friend a few years ago who had just accompanied a very well-known author on one supposed "field trip" in Iran. I was asked to explain how one unusual structure was probably produced--a two-sided pile rug. I asked if they hadn't seen the pieces woven. The answer was No, they had not been able to go to any villages, they'd just encountered the pieces in the city bazaar. But later, in a published account, that particular "field trip" was cited as the source for knowledge of weaving practices and specific village textile usage they had witnessed in the area. Someone even cited that particular published account here on Turkotek.

Since book photos and analyses provide minimal structural information, individuals who seem deeply concerned about rug provenance issues miss a significant opportunity if they fail to present all the information possible about their pieces when posting photos for discussion. If several folks did this, we could gradually build up a body of knowledge about the pieces, instead of floundering aimlessly. Remember the recent Sistan rugs thread?! Kurdish rugs actually offer an excellent opportunity for more in-depth study since lots of folks have examples, since they typically include a wealth of diverse technical features, and since there's been little in the way of credible published documentation.

Yes, Benjamin, copies of my book (third printing) are available--either through Oriental rug book dealers, the Textile Museum, or my website. Sorry, Filiberto...This edition is still WOVEN STRUCTURES, rather than WOVEN STRICTURES. Good idea though! I apologize for getting so preachy.


Lloyd Kannenberg December 16th, 2013 04:12 PM

Hi Marla,

Thank you for pointing out the type of structural information we should be careful to document for the weavings we collect. May I add a comment or two?

First, it seems to me that detailed photos (such as you supply in your book) are extraordinarily valuable aids to such documentation, especially for weavings that exhibit unusual features or rare techniques for which amateurs like myself have inadequate vocabularies. These days digital cameras are ubiquitous, and sufficiently easy to operate that even I can take acceptable pictures.

Second, besides the structural information I think it is important to record the materials employed. Of course cotton and (sheep) wool are the most common materials, but silk is by no means rare (and usually noted), whereas linen, which is frequently found in Coptic pieces, is less so and in my experience not quite easy to distinguish from cotton. Similarly, the presence of horse or goat hair might be useful in making an attribution of the origin of a weaving. For instance, I have a yastik with what appears to be (some) horsehair in the warps. Is it possible to narrow down the origin of this yastik on the basis of the use of this material? Morehouse’s book has only two or three examples of yastiks with horsehair in the warps, not enough to make a definitive call.

Lloyd Kannenberg

Marla Mallett December 16th, 2013 05:23 PM

Hi Lloyd,

Thanks for your comments. A careful listing of the materials in each piece is absolutely important!

Do you think it is possible to tell goat hair and horsehair apart? I am not personally aware of any pieces that definitely have horsehair in the warps. Lots of weavings from the Tarus Mountain area of Anatolia have goathair in the warps, however. Some Kurdish pieces from farther east also. People are pretty good about reporting Baluch selvages interlaced with goathair. But other instances of the use of goathair are also very important notations.

When noting the presence of silk, I might add that in some Turkmen pieces there are instances of multi-plied yarns (I've forgotten exactly, but I think about 6-ply). These yarns, with their miniscule elements, were almost always a cherry red, dyed with lac, and almost surely imported from India. It's an important notation for those who delve deeply into Turkmen weaving history.

One material that we sometimes overlook, especially in Anatolian pieces is mohair. I admit to being neglectful in this case. But quite a few Anatolian pieces include knotted "good-luck" tags of this very lustrous material, often unspun.


Joel Greifinger December 16th, 2013 05:48 PM


One material that we sometimes overlook, especially in Anatolian pieces is mohair.
Hi Marla,

I have an eastern Anatolian Kurdish rug that, when I bought it, the seller described the pile as being mohair. I have no idea how I might check the accuracy of his statement. The pile yarn is extremely lustrous and the silkiest in texture of any rug that I have, but, despite the seller's statement, I have assumed it was just the best of Kurdish sheep's wool.

Is there a simple test that differentiates mohair from sheep's wool?


Marla Mallett December 16th, 2013 06:33 PM


Oh...if a piece is mohair, you would know it for sure! About the only Anatolian pieces in which the pile is mohair are very long-piled pieces, rather like Gabbeh, but with longer pile still--maybe even two or three inches long. I don't know what they should be called. The fibers are extremely glossy, nothing like even the best combed, most lustrous sheeps' wool. Usually when I've come across these pieces in the countryside, weavers have made them as novelties. Sometimes they are white, sometimes extremely gaudy-colored pieces. I have a detail of one such piece with an unusually restrained palette at the top of the page here:


Steve Price December 16th, 2013 08:20 PM

Hi Marla

Those are generally called filikli or tulu. Filikli is more commonly used in the marketplace, but when a Turkish speaking friend who speaks no English saw mine, he immediately exclaimed "Tulum!"

The pile is typically several inches long, and each row is an inch or two from its nearest neighbor. We ran a Salon on them more than 15 years ago. Here's a link.


Steve Price

Marla Mallett December 16th, 2013 11:00 PM

Hi Steve,

In my experience, in the Anatolian countryside, the terms tulu, filikli and yatak seem to be used indiscriminately and variably to label just about any shaggy, long-piled weaving--whatever the material used or the exact construction. (It's the same as with the terms zili, cicim, jajim, and cul--they are used and confused throughout Anatolia--used differently from one place to another, sometimes from one village to the next.) There is a vast difference in the many kinds of long-piled pieces given these labels, ranging from coarse, carded sheeps' wool, to glossy combed wool, to incredibly beautiful mohair, to run-of-the-mill everyday stiffer, unruly goathair. The vast majority of long piled "sleeping rugs" definitely do not use the most luxurious materials, and in fact, the mohair products are so soft they don't offer much in the way of padding; thus they are rather in a class of their own. The most recent examples of these seem to have the longest pile; they are made mostly for the tourist market, as hanging pieces, since on the ground the pile lies in flat, sparse and tangled disarray. I've never paid much attention to marketplace terminology usage, as we can count on that being still more variable and unreliable. I don't recall ever hearing a specific Turkish term for mohair or angora fibers. Nor, I must admit, have I ever asked.


Marla Mallett December 17th, 2013 01:21 PM

I've just checked my Redhouse--the largest and most complete Turkish language dictionary--to see if it offered any terminology help for long-piled weavings. And also a couple of others, like Sak's. There is no listing for "filikli" anywhere. The only definitions for "tulu" have to do with rising--as in the sun rising. "Tulum" is listed everywhere as an animal skin container (also tubes, overalls, etc.). "Yatak" is listed everywhere as a bed or mattress, and with modifiers as a bed cover or tick. "Keci kili" (with c cedilla and undotted i's in kili) means goat hair, and though there are long lists of slang usages for the word goat, there are no listings for either angora or mohair. Thus as with other specialized weaving/textile terms in common use throughout the countryside, these published sources are of little help.


Andrew Krawiec December 18th, 2013 12:16 PM

Hi Marla,

I think you won't find 'tulu'. tül with the fronted U means 'pile' in Turkish. Adding the adjectival suffix, 'lu/lü/li/lı', depending on vowel harmony, and, in this case, resulting in tüllü, gets themeaning 'with pile, piled'. 'Long piled', perhaps just differentiating from ordinary piled products.

I don't know how it is transliterated into other languages in the literature. Perhaps loss of the diacritical mark over the U is the culprit.


Andrew Krawiec December 20th, 2013 12:14 PM

Hi Marla,

As no one has called my bluff, I might as well do it myself. I have been looking around some more at these words.

I now think that tül is the French tulle, a light netted fabric produced in Tulle. Turkish has many loan words from French, so it's not too farfetched. Unlikely that Tulu would derive from that, as the character of the structure is not the same.

I have seen assertions that tüylü, meaning 'hairy', becomes tulu in English. Possible, I suppose.

Anyway, as recompense for leading us all astray, I present a piece from the Selcuk University site, in their Arts and Culture guide which I translate as well as I am able, being open to correction from native, or just better, Turkish speakers. It doesn't deal with the etymology of Tulu but is seems pretty clear on the kinds of materials in use. The author, melek hidayetoğlu, could presumably be contacted for sources etc.


In weaving rugs on looms, a large majority of mats using the natural colours of Angora goat’s wool and sheep’s wool, with warp and weft yarn of wool, pile(knot) wool generally called ‘filik’ from the Angora, with knot rows sparsely spaced, with a long pile height, soft, and with coarse weave, are called ‘tülü’.

In Konya, Karapınar, Obruk, Ankara, Yozgat, Kırşehir, Sivas, Malatya, Van, Mut and Adıyaman, as well as being popular in Central Anatolia, a good quantity of weavings are produced, of those we traditionally weave, and are popular. And, in Anatolia, names like geve, hopan, tülüce, filikli are given to ‘tülü’s.

In making ‘tülü’s, usually natural colours are used. Sometimes, they are dyed with a variety of colours; yarns hand made of wool, Angora and camel are used. The ‘tülü’s combed, spun and dyed weft threads, and the warp and pile yarn, are created. The wool yarn used in weaving the ‘tülü’ is produced from local people’s sheep, and is handmade with the shorn wool. The ‘tülü’ rug is woven by three different techniques; the knotted ‘tülü’, the ‘yamçı tülü’ and the ‘çekki’ tülü.

The ‘yamçı tülü’ is predominantly made preserving the original length of the hair of the Angora, without combing. And the ‘yamçı tülü’ knot yarn for use has the appearance of sheep’s fleece. Taking a handful of Angora, and wefting(?) in the Turkish knot style over two warps, the knot rows are created(?). Between each (knot row?)15 and 30 wefts are shot. Weft and warp yarns are wool. Also, for ‘yamçı tülü’ mostly white, red, green or blue dyes are used. Generally, a single colour, with no decoration, is woven, created with vertical lines placed haphazard and worked up with square designs. It is the young girls’ dowry rug and takes its place at their side as a protection against the cold, its purpose being as a hanging on the house walls. In other circumstances, in the past, it covered over the backs and tails of riding horses.

Knotted ‘tülü’s are woven working up the rug with combed and spun yarn, wool and Angora, using the Turkish knot technique. As the knife is not used too much on the rug, the knot yarn is left in place and the pile varies from 1 to 6 cm in length. After every knot row, 2 to 5 rows of weft yarn are passed over. In this way, ‘tülü’s are created which are called for in every part of the house; being used as beds, dowry, chair covers, couch covers.

The ‘çekki tülü’ differs most from other ‘tülü’s in being without knots. Its loops are left formed by the passing of the weft yarn, pulling it with the help of a crochet hook, between the warps. The pile is 2 to 4 cm long and after every 2 to 5 rows, the weft yarn row being bypassed, it is tightened(?). ‘Tülü’s woven using this technique differ in appearance from handmade knotted ones on account of the closed pile ends.

The ‘çekki tülü’ is woven for use as chair covers, bedspreads, dowry rugs primarily, in natural Angora colours and without decoration. As the weaving technique is more difficult, they are produced in smaller quantities.

Although the ‘tülü’ displays a similarity to other traditional weavings, at the same time it has its own special character of design. It is hard to find ones with the same design. People’s creativity perpetuates the talents and remnants of tradition. ‘Tülü’ are charged with quite a few functions abroad. They are used as spreads, bedcovers, chair covers, prayer rugs, hung on walls as heat insulation and covers to protect horses and camels from the cold.

melek hidayetoğlu

Marla Mallett December 21st, 2013 07:35 PM

Someone has asked me off-line if the "çekki tülü" mentioned above might be the fuzzy brown/white/gray blankets from the Siirt area in southeast Anatolia. The answer is No. The Siirt blankets are simply plain-weave pieces which have had their surfaces brushed vigorously to tease the long, hairy fibers to the surface.

The çekki tülü that Hidayetoğlu describes are inlaid looped pile. I have a drawing of this structure on page 31 of my book (Fig. 2.11), where I describe the earliest pile fabrics. Contrary to the comment in the post above, it is a very easy technique, though not one that is used much in Turkey, to my knowledge. This pile is very unstable, and the unknotted, uncut loops tend to snag and pull out from the surface. It's a structure that appears much more frequently in other parts of the world. I vaguely remember seeing a couple of fragmentary examples perhaps 25 to 28 years ago in Anatolia, but can't remember exactly where.


Patrick Weiler December 27th, 2013 02:56 PM

Intensively-looked at, not overlooked.
One thing that has puzzled me, when attempting to describe the technical features of some flatweaves, is when a line or horizontal row turns into a vertical column. The outward features of the column appear entirely different than the row. The question is whether the weaver has continued the technique of the row into a columnar rendition or has changed the technique to accommodate the orientation of the design.
Here are two Khamseh chanteh to illustrate the issue, with the white minor vertical borders coincidentally being the reverse of each other in the different pieces.

The bottom of the above piece has a couple rows of diagonal white-on-black supplemental weft designs above and below a row of supplemental weft white-on-red rosettes. The next rows up are the issue. It looks like a row of brick-red soumak, then a two-color black/white row of twining, topped with three more rows of red then blue then red soumak. Then the major S border begins, constructed of countered and diagonal soumak.

The next two pictures are rotated so the bottom of the weaving is at the right. The above picture shows both minor borders of soumak and twining turning the corner. The twining now has a cross-like appearance. And the soumak rows have turned up, into columns of wefts going over-two warps, then under-two warps, working their way up the face of the piece.

Here is a view from the back, showing that the twining looks like stair-stepped blocks of white and black, and the soumak has the identical appearance both front and back.

Now we come to piece number two, above. It has a similar field and border design as the first piece, but the black and white twining of the first piece is two rows of black and white overlay-underlay brocade - over three, under three warps. And instead of a cross-like appearance on the front and stair-steps on the back, the front has the stair-steps and the back has the crosses.

This piece is missing the rosettes at the bottom, and you can see where I had to take a bite out of it to confirm the identity of the materials.

This one has wool white threads but the first piece has cotton whites.

The reverse of this piece shows the more cross-like appearance of the vertical columns - the opposite of the first piece.
This feature, of the appearance change when a technique goes from horizontal to vertical, also probably exists in other techniques besides twining and soumak.
I am not certain that I have even got the basic technical terms correct. I wonder if too much textile inspection can cause OCD? Or a case of textile dysfunction lasting more than four hours... 

Patrick Weiler

Marla Mallett December 27th, 2013 07:04 PM

Hey Pat--Not good for your health--all that squinting at little yarns and chomping on edges of bag faces! No left-over Turkey around?

The details you're puzzling over--vertical borders and horizontal bands--are definitely two different structures. You're right about the twining. To continue the black and white "look" vertically, these weavers have used a technique that more normally is used for decorative selvages. I've called it a "wrapped and bound" selvage. Since it's obviously not selvages on your pieces--unless you take quite a few more bites out of the pieces--I guess we would just have to call these vertical details wrapped and bound columns. On my website UPDATES pages here:, I've illustrated this structure as it appears both as a decorative selvage on an Afshar kilim and also decoratively on a bag face, used in much the same way as on your piece, but in three columns side-by-side instead of just one. (I may have misidentified this bag in my illustration, as I called it Baluch.) I've also shown the detail used as reinforcement on the bridge of an Afshar saddlebag, where the back and front have been reversed.


Patrick Weiler January 7th, 2014 12:49 PM

Dicey Situation

Recently, when putting a presentation together on the basic flatweave structures, I showed a variety of weavings: soumak, brocade, tapestry etc.
Here are pictures of the front and back of a weftless soumak bag of Kurdish origin, probably eastern Anatolia/Malatya region, from that presentation. It has the common "Dice" or quincunx border up the sides. Do you think it is possible that this design, favored by many SW Persian tribal weavers, may have originated in this weftless soumak structure?

I have come to this conjecture due to the need to provide strength to the fabric, especially in long vertical areas. It appears as though the blue horizontal rows act as sutures to hold the fabric together. By alternately going over and under the other colors in a step-fashion, the quincunx is created. In any other structure, such as slit-weave or standard soumak with wefts, the sutures would not be required. The weaver would be able to make columns of different solid-color sections in a variety of techniques such as wrapped-and-bound or vertical wrapping. Other weavers using different techniques and pile weavers could readily have adopted this very decorative motif. A complementary-weft border of X and O motifs can also produce a similar design, but with less distinct square proportions.

Patrick Weiler

Marla Mallett January 8th, 2014 12:45 PM

Hi Pat,

It's a good question you've posed. Thanks! My opinion is: Possibly, but...

Let's consider the issue from a broader perspective. The weaving you've shown displays a very common slit-tapestry saddlebag design from Malatya/Sinan village. I've seen lots of these over the years, and have owned at least 6 or 7 myself. (A battered early example is posted now at I have, however, never seen this common design copied in weftless soumak before. Actually, in your example we can see some sections of the red background in which the weaver has reverted to slit tapestry. Aren't the two-warp-wide vertical units in your border also all interlaced, in tapestry fashion, with just the blue horizontal bars and the colored horizontal bars in the "dice" themselves done in soumak wrapping to provide your "sutures"? My posted saddlebag has the same common "dice" borders, but these borders have been executed completely in slit tapestry, consistent with the rest of the bag. The tiny horizontal lines joining the small checks should function equally well whether done with soumak wrapping or tapestry interlacing. On the bag I've posted, each of these tiny horizontals is composed of 6 to 8 pics, so they are very secure. This piece is an extremely fine-scale weave, with a warp-sett of 17 warps per inch--about the finest tapestry found anywhere in tribal weaving.

Kurdish weftless soumak weavers in eastern Anatolia have copied a variety of bag designs, from both storage sacks and saddlebags. They have copied designs that originated in several different structures. For example, among the earliest extant Anatolian Kurdish pieces in weftless soumak are large saddlebags with quite simple, repetitive horizontal band designs, with narrow pattern units and no vertical borders. That is what the technique and structure, with its unusual system of backward floats can handle most easily. The designs on these large saddlebags feature slit-tapestry designs, mainly small figures with the "latch hooks" native to slit tapestry. Although we encounter very attractive weftless soumak pieces, I have not found examples with motifs that necessarily originated in that structure itself.


Patrick Weiler January 8th, 2014 08:10 PM

Ah, I may have gotten it backwards!
It seems like a lot more work to weave this pattern in the weftless version. The bag is not mine, but was captured from the web to use as an example of weftless soumak.
It is commonly said that weavers use the structure they are taught, though they may change the designs to suit their fancy or for more sellable pieces.
In your experience, do weavers who make weftless pieces also make standard soumak items? It seems to be such a curious, atavistic technique.

Patrick Weiler

Marla Mallett January 9th, 2014 10:11 AM


You've asked "Do weavers who make weftless pieces also make standard soumak items?"

Not that I know of. Virtually all of the extant weftless soumak pieces have been produced by Kurds in eastern Anatolia. Ordinary, "standard" soumak rarely appears in Anatolian weavings, though lots of reciprocal brocading has been eroneously identified in the literature as soumak. The exceptions: soumak appears in some southeastern Turkic ala cuvals, used along with reciprocal brocading...also in a few Bergama area cuvals along with brocading--again, in each case, in Turkic pieces, not Kurdish weavings. Soumak outlining is used in many Anatolian slit-tapestry kilims.


Marla Mallett January 9th, 2014 01:25 PM


I've been thinking about another of your comments: "It seems like a lot more work to weave this pattern in the weftless version." Meaning in weftless soumak.

I don't really think so. More work than in slit tapestry, but less work, and certainly more pleasant work than in standard soumak. You know, the special aspect of slit-tapestry which makes that process so much fun is that one can weave individual design sections independently. There's no need to weave a single horizontal pattern row all across the loom before proceeding with the next. Thus slit-tapestry weavers typically find just about all other weaving techniques boring and confining. Weftless soumak actually presents a slight exception: a structure with severe design limitations, but a technique/process that at least offers a little freedom.

With the weftless soumak process you simply wrap one row in a narrow pattern unit, then float the yarn backward to wrap the next short pattern row above it, then repeat this again and again until one small pattern unit is completed...THEN you move on horizontally to tackle the next pattern part. In contrast, in regular soumak, you must do a single line of every pattern unit, all across the loom, then put in a ground weft, before proceeding to the next complex pattern row of a zillion small separate pattern parts.

Since we know that weftless soumak is an ancient structure--one actually related to basketry--it is surprising that it has been used so little in recent centuries, and by just a few Kurds. The severe design limitations can account for this. And when weavers have used it to copy patterns that originated in other structures, they have had to make significant design changes to accommodate either especially wide or especially narrow pattern units.


Joel Greifinger January 11th, 2014 10:13 AM

Hi Marla and Pat,

I only have one item that is woven in weftless soumak, a bag that's 35" x 26", excluding tassels. Of the few weftless soumak bags that I've seen, the field design on this one seems to be the most common:

Marla, you wrote that Kurdish weftless soumak weavers copied designs from other techniques such as slit-tapestry. In your view, what might have been the antecedents of this pattern?

This bag looks to have been made in the not-very-distant past. Do you know if some Anatolian Kurdish weavers have continued until recently to use this technique to make objects either commercially or for personal use?


Marla Mallett January 11th, 2014 11:26 AM

Hi Joel,

This is a slit-tapestry design from northeastern Anatolia. There's a detail of one of these bags on page 78 of my book, Figure 6.25. It's indeed a design that's been copied frequently in weftless soumak since the repeat motifs are small and composed of narrow units. These units have been narrowed even more in your example, and similarly altered in another example here: This heybe includes two additional standard slit-tapestry motifs in the wide lower border.

Sorry...I don't know how recently Anatolian Kurds have produced weftless soumak pieces--or indeed if anyone is still doing so today.