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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.

Turkmen Pentagonal Weavings

by Steve Price

Western and central Asian weaving involves setting the warps in parallel array lengthwise on the loom, then interlacing the wefts horizontally. Pile, when it is used, is wrapped around pairs of warps. The structure of the textile, then, is rectangular by its nature.

There is a group of Turkmen textiles that are pentagonal, rather than rectangular. The pentagon is formed by trimming off or folding back two corners of a rectangle. Why was this shape adopted? Does it represent the silhouette of a yurt? Does it mirror the hump of a camel? The most common pentagonal Turkmen weaving, after all, is the asmalyk, a camel flank trapping in which the apex of the pentagon is topmost. In the past it was believed that these were juvals (cf. Thacher, Turkoman Rugs, plate 24), and logic dictated that the apex of the pentagon was the bag's bottom.

The oldest extant asmalyks appear to be Tekke pile weavings with a roadrunner-like bird as the most prominent motif. The first image is an example

Every Tekke pile asmalyk of which I am aware is attributed to the mid-19th century or earlier. If this is reliable, it would appear that the Tekke stopped making them by about 1850. Later Tekke pentagonal asmalyks are worked in embroidery rather than pile, and are predominantly floral rather than ornamented with bird motifs. This is an example.

The type of asmalyk seen most often in the marketplace is the Yomud ashik or erre gul variety, with the Yomud "pole tree" design seen less often but still far more commonly than Tekke bird asmalyks. Examples of each are shown here.

I would like to focus our attention on the ashik gul variety because they seem to have connections with a number of other things. First, the lattice with the compartments defined by serrated leaves seems to me to be related to the lattice seen on some Tekke bird asmalyks. This may be another example of a Tekke design adopted and modified by the Yomud.

The Yomud also wove some other pentagonal items, usually using the ashik gul as the main motif. The next figure, a trapping used to cover the camel's knees during a procession, is an example.

One interesting thing about these is that the scale of the design elements on the knee covers is about the same as that on the asmalyks. The much smaller size of the knee covers is accommodated by using only one lattice compartment and using as the border a design that is used as a minor border in many asmalyks. Asmalyks themselves can be found in various sizes, the smaller ones presumably having been used on young camels. On these, too, the lattice elements are about the same size as those on large asmalyks, but there are fewer of them.

Finally, here is a pentagonal bag about the size typical for knee covers, in which the apex is at the bottom, just as Thacher believed to be the case for asmalyks.

Items of this type are referred to by Azadi (Wie Blumen in der Wuste, Plate 18) as bags for weaver's combs; this one is done in pile on both sides. The two faces share a single length of wefts, and are sewn together at the bottom and on one edge to form a bag. I presume that knee covers were woven as pairs (or more) along the weft and then cut apart to form the single trappings. Indeed, it is impossible to know whether most of the camel knee decorations in the marketplace are actually comb bags that have been cut apart. Perhaps the progression of use from bag to knee cover was a normal course of events.

With this background, I invite you to consider the following questions:

1. What relationship, if any, is there between the lattice of Tekke bird and Yomud ashik asmalyks?

2. Is there any evidence for the existence of pentagonal bags larger than comb bags?

3. The asmalyks were clearly used in wedding processions. Were they used on other occasions as well? A discussion of this matter was begun in the previous Salon.

4. Is there any significance to the pentagonal form?

5. Why are there so few examples of pentagonal trappings made by groups other than the Tekke and Yomud?

6. Why did the Tekke stop making bird asmalyks by the mid-19th century? Or, did they?