Posted by Steve Price on April 10, 1999 at 18:44:30:
Saul Barodofsky introduced the Salon with an essay on some elements of the cultural significance of woven bags. We tend to think of them as containers, places to keep things until we are ready to use them and in which to pack things during travel. His essay pointed out another very important, generally overlooked, role that these items play. That is to conceal things from the malevolent spirit of the evil eye and from neighbors whose envy might invoke misfortune. These are powerful cultural traditions in some parts of the world.
There was some discussion of the fact that although it has been customary to donate rugs to mosques, woven bags are seldom among the donated items. The speculations as to why this might be the case included (a) the fact that mosques can (indeed, must) use rugs over the floors, woven bags are of little use; (b) the nomadic people who used woven bags were unlikely to be members of the congregation of mosques in settled areas; (c) bags may have been considered to be of so little value as to be unworthy of use as gifts.
Perhaps the most important discussion centered around the matter of how pairs of bags were woven. It is nearly universally believed that Turkmen juvals and torbas were woven rather like enormous pairs of saddlebags - first one face, then its bak, then the bridge, then the nextback, finally the second face - and then cut apart aftr coming off the loom. Yon Bard noticed that Turkmen bags are woven from the bottom much more often than the 50% of the time that this predicts, and his observation was confirmed by several others. Several alternative schemes for how they were actually made were offered, and the one that seems most likely to be true is that once the warps were set, the sequence began with a back, then a face, then another back, and so forth until there was insufficient warp with which to do anything useful. There seems little reason to believe that a set of warps would be dedicated to one particular kind of bag, and economies of material and labor could be realized by fitting odd-sized items into leftover length and width on the loom.
Patrick Weiler noted that many Turkmen saddlebags have pile in the bridge as well as in both faces. Since the pile on the bridge is on the opposite side of the textile from that on the faces, weaving these would be possible only on a vertical loom, where the weaver would have access to both sides. Since vertical looms were not used by the Turkmen until fairly late, pile bridges would be an indicator of a late date. Brocaded bridges, on the other hand, are logical structures in a horizontal loom, as brocading is done from the back of a textile.
This was a most stimulating and informative two weeks of discussion, and I extend my thanks to Saul for introducing it, and to all the participants for so generously sharing their ideas.
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