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.
by Michael Bischof and Memduh Kürtül
The most suitable method for repairing damaged textiles depends very much on the reason for repairing it. Is the textile a work of art, or of a relatively high level of home decoration? We believe that these are opposed to each other. The second includes much more than 90% of the trade, including the market for so called collectors pieces.
A piece of art has its own weight and dignity; both should be respected. What is necessary to include a weaving
in the "textile art" category? Obviously, we cannot present more than some stimulus type of arguments
Often we hear the assertion that a certain piece should be regarded as "important". What makes it important ? Then, more often than not, all one can get is elegant art dealers argot. Things cannot be expressed in clear language with arguments that can be cross-checked are things that one does not know. It is that simple - in science. For example: "If we look at the subtle rendering of this [you name it] motif we feel tempted to suggest that it was part of a language. The fact I could not find anything else in a book that claimed to include the 10 most important existing flatweaves, prevented me (Michael Bischof) from doing a serious critical review of that publication or acknowledging any importance to these kilims. They most likely have some but this still has to be shown - but by another author. Arguments and evidence cannot be replaced by insistence on imparting an "aura" to the object.
The key questions seem to be to determine the intention of the artist within her (usually, in the case of oriental textiles) socio-cultural context. One must keep in mind that these intentions almost never communicated in spoken language, not even by contemporary weavers, and that this art is not anonymous. Anyone who has visited weavers in their context knows that. Without such knowledge it is impossible to find firm ground for building up measures for this art .
Safeguarding Interpretations - Knowing the Origin
To start with: one must define the subject. The beginning of western interest in oriental weaves was a general
interest in using them, not viewing them as textile art. The descriptions were technical. When all kilims, including
Iranian, were called "Karamanie" by our grandmothers, it was because it made sense for them and was not
incorrect labeling. Prices were very high until World War I; these weavings were too expensive for the lower middle
class. Even the upper middle class could buy only one or two of them in a generation. The amount of labor incorporated
in them was high and oriental labor was not cheap (1).
The majority of pieces came to the west after shocking turbulences in the oriental countries and Russia early in the 20th century when people sold off what they had, very cheaply. Lately a similar situation arose when western dealers stormed to Peshawar to pick up what the Afghan refugees had taken out.
As a matter of perspective, imagine it from the standpoint of an Afghani. The first wave, the hippies, came for cheap hashish, the second wave for cheap weavings. In both cases it was cheap when at the source. The real origin of such pieces is lost, in most cases forever. Keep in mind that the Near East is a multi-ethnic region. Unlike Denmark (for example) where every village is populated by Danish people. In the Near East the villages look more or less the same. They change with geographical conditions (steppe, desert, mountain, wet-humid climates) but unlike Europe, not with the ethnicity of the inhabitants. The textiles that we deal with are part of a tradition that is bound to groups. In order to discuss them within the context of arts we must first identify them properly. Otherwise, any "analysis" will drown in empty speculation. Keep in mind how little serious field work is done in this area. What can occasional short trips of experts to these areas do beyond a bit of photographing and sampling? Where are the Turkmen specialists that speak the language and lived there for some time? If they exist, why don't they appear in our circles or publish in our forums? The pieces that came into the west after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and all the Iranian and Turkish material that was collected after ca. 1970 is not "anonymous" - it is "artifically anonymized". That we do not know their real origin is a man-made artefact - but it would not be impossible to correct this situation by suitable methods. We have proven this recently several times.
So when even the primary step in treating the textile as a piece of art is such a headache, anything that will unavoidably further change the object from its original status must be properly documented. Washing is unavoidable, repairing might be.
When a weaving is first used, there is a period of improvement. The fine surplus hairs that make the drawing less clear are rubbed off. With use, it slowly acquires its final shape. Nobody would run on it with shoes, which cause mechanical damage. Instead, bare feet or socks were used. This greatly improved the lustre of the yarn and dyes. The process cannot be replaced by chemical or mechanical treatments - these are all detractive.
The biggest factor is light. Photons oxidize (damage) the wool proteins and, of course, the dyes. The oxidation products of wool are yellowish-grey, and loss of color depth for the dyes. These oxidation products are water-soluble and invisible. This results in extra headaches for washing. In addition, textiles take up dirt. The mineral composition of soils in the Near East include a large amount of a kind of dust rich in iron-III compounds. Therefore, oriental textiles generate an orange-brown washing fluid.
Whatever happens - all usage except smoothing by feet or socks is damage and moves the piece away from the original artistic intention of the weavers. A patinated 60 year old piece is not what she had in mind when sitting at the loom. So, thinking in the frame of textile art (as opposite to collector habits) this is, artistically, a deviation. The are object gets damaged. Perfectly kept dowry pieces without any sign of light oxidation are the most difficult textile objects to sell. Simply stated, the number of customers who are qualified to recognize the age in spite of the perfect condition is too small to create a division in the market between textile art and home decoration textiles. Therefore, the bulk of wonderful dowry pieces that flooded into Turkey from the Caucasus and Central Asia after 1989 was a big economic flop. The market preferred the second class item, for example late, pale bags and carpets to which it was accustomed.
Restoration of an Important Kilim
The most impressive kilim exhibition I have seen in more than 20 years took place last year in the art center, Zeche Zollverein, in Essen. It was distinguished by the unusually high number of A-pieces (2) and the presence of a clear concept enabling the pieces to perform a kind of dialogue with three dimensional steel sculptures that switched into a two-dimensional appearance at a certain angle of viewing, opposite to certain kilims that arose into three dimensions by a proper arrangement of designs and colours. It was not the normal ego-blasting type of exhibitions, like "The latest purchases of Mr. Miller", and Dietmar Pelz, who appeared as spiritus rector of the event, did not refrain from inviting top pieces of other collectors to enlighten this event. A handy catalogue, which also shows the enormous space in this Bauhaus architecture, is still available at a reasonable cost (3).
In this catalogue one kilim of extreme importance is published (p. 86, 87, 88). It appeared in 1993 as a ghostly fragment. The picker is known, so its real origin in the eastern part of Central Anatolia can be traced (4). A number of pieces (all fragments) that resemble this one in certain details are known, but no piece or picture of such a piece came up that would enable us to call it a group.
The thick "outlining" of motifs with white and brown is a common feature in kilims (compare the kilims 10 and 12 in the same book: different colors were used) of this area. If this can be confirmed by proper field research it might be a characteristic of the group. But in this particular kilim the weaver has chosen to use a black (5) ground color, a creative decision that brings this piece to a new high aesthetic level. It is obvious when compared to kilim 12 in the same book. A minor secondary decoration element evolved into the main picture, demonstrating the underlying design scheme with a clarity unknown from early kilims of the same period (we guess this to be around 1800). To find traces of individual creative decisions that weavers took is not difficult. But we do not know of any parallel event where such a challenge was met with a comparably tantalizing effect. For this reason, this particular kilim is one of the most important flatweaves that I (Michael Bishof) know. All that we just mentioned was not visible in the fragment at all. The black yarn was corroded to such an extent that the white warps visible that the picture of this kilim were nearly invisible. Perhaps there are a few connoissers worldwide who can visualize the original picture by educated selective perception, ignoring the disturbing white warps.
Washing the fragment (6) was no problem. The biggest trouble comes when the piece is immersed into pure water for the first time. All the univisible oxidation damages made the dye lakes partially water-so-luble. This part would be lost forever unless the oxidation is repaired first, the dye lakes are fixed again - and then any kind of detergent might be applied, just opposite to what is commonly done. To secure it by mounting on linen fabric (the second best solution: suitable woollen handwoven fabric would be better) would have been no problem. Keep in mind that interpretation of the piece begins with the the details of how it is mounted (7).
But would it have helped? The picture, the message of the kilim, would not come back by doing it. After lengthy
discussions with the present owner it was decided that after a careful wash (and documenting its details) it would
be better to replace the corroded black yarns with specially prepared hand-spun yarn dyed expertedly in the same
nuance applying all what we had learned on how this particular shade has been made in ancient times. To dismiss
any possible later smell of "cheating" both sides agreed on first documenting the original condition
of the piece and before starting the repair. Newly dyed new yarns were applied. This nuance is not available from
kilim debris of similar age - the yarns are as corroded, unelastic, broken as they were in this piece. The aim
of the repair was just to recover the picture, not to close each tiny hole and generate an artificial "German
condition". The material essence of the piece is changed by this repair: the new yarns are much finer than
the original ones. Keep in mind that a kilim of that age and use has no more than about 50% of its orignal fiber
(and weight). Yarns that are worn look much finer. But, hopefully, the visual essence of the piece is been recovered.
It can be discussed later because all details about the extent to which the original was changed are known. Nobody
is left in the fog!
Those readers who have not acquired the catalogue will see the result here in about a week (8).
Different Goals with Home Textiles
For home textile decorative pieces things are different. If it cost $5,000 and it looks like $5,000, and the owner likes the way it looks, nothing remains unsolved. The look is important, the rest secondary. The owner, who will be surrounded with such textiles, has the right to adjust the look to his preferences.
In such cases nobody should pretend, now or later, to achieve textile art levels. Virginity is a status that ends without a return ticket. There is nothing wrong with fine-tuning weaves so that their appearance is according to the owners taste. Most oriental weavings were, when woven, commercial products of an existing authentic textile culture, using this culture as design inspiration and technical safeguard for producing bread-and-butter items. Nearly all Caucasian rugs of the second half of the 19th century are like this, most Turkmen on today's markets, a substantial portion of Turkish and Iranian rugs as well. The "old technology" in the sense of Neugebauer and Orende, was simply resulting in rugs that were technically superior to their later followers, when technology improved on the expense of quality. Even today any trained eye can confirm this simple fact. But there is no integrity that must be respected with such weaves, they have no cultural value at all, so they can be used (and fine tuned) according to the wishes of their owners.
Technically it is not easy to have a proper repair of "old technology" pieces. Today it is difficult to obtain suitable yarns that match the quality of old ones. The main problems are the dyes: in any oriental weaving cultures, backed by 2000 years (at least) of tradition and accumulated knowledge, natural dyes were as saturated as possible. Only then was there a chance that they might be sufficiently fast against light. On the surface of antique weaves even these are damaged, paler than they were originally.
If one would replace a new natural dye that has the same intensity as the original the surface of the piece
would look different (but the same tone one might see inside the pile where the original dye is not been damaged!).
Pastel natural dyes of new make are not light fast and will go down more rapidly than the 100 years old original
dye! If one uses metal-complex (that incorpoates heavy metals, like chromium) there will be no problem with light
fading. But the dye proces damages the wool a lot and one gets a kind of hybrid (the German word for hybrid, bastard,
seems more expressive).
If one wants to achieve a result more like the worn out and heavily patinated pieces that are so common for us and exploit the extremely cheap workmanship available in the Near East (9) it is possible to obtain useless tiny fragments of early kilims, take out the yarns and re-spin them. Then one has the same tone but this wool is technically less safe (dry and less resistive, of lower performance in the long run). But the look is, for most customers, better.
Now let us think one step further. We got a yastik, 80 years old, some natural dyes, 2-3 ugly early acid dyes. What would a perfect repair be like? You have an idea? Yes, indeed, you are right.
One should not forget that the simple fact that Western people pay large amounts of money for anything that
looks old, creates romantic fantasies in oriental brains as well when local people realize it. How it would work
to go one step further should not be difficult for you to find out. Just one tip: to work with old wool on new
warps and wefts would be technically better but impose other limitations, if you know what I mean. That some people,
far away in the Near East, had the courage to think this problem to its logical end, you will see at least one
example at ACOR. According to what we have heard it is the first time that such a modern creation will be exhibited
without a fairy tale but with a frank description. But this must not mean that the piece in question is a lonesome
avant garde document without any brothers or sisters in the USA.
We do not have any objections to people who repair in that style. It is more or less like the second hand car business. If a car had an accident and gets repaired - is this repair a damage to the car? It might be a legal issue when the seller claims that the car never had an accident in order to realize a higher price. But this is a legal issue, not a technical one. For these issues we need experts, but we have a lot, don't we ?
Parallels in Other Arts
In the sixties there was a scandal in Austria. Two "gothic" wooden statuettes were offered at the
famous Dorotheum auction house for quite some money. Then a well known artist, Peppi Rifesser from St. Ulrich in
the Grödner Valley in Northern Italy, a famous village renown for the art of wood scarving, appeared and claimed
that these two were of his make. But he said he never offered or sold them as antiquities. All he did was to apply
certain strange methods of artificial "aging" (like putting them under water for a certain time, etc.)
to obtain a desired "early" look. But he did not pretend that they are old to his professional dealer
customers. He gave them all the details and got a high but somehow "normal" price, the usual money. The
change to a fake event was done then by some dealers who channeled it into the auction house as old (10).
What can we learn from this happening for carpets and kilims? We live in a historical low of the quality of oriental weaves. The bulk of the customers want them cheap and get them cheap - but expensive (several hundred percent above the expense to make them (11). If somebody would dare to create a rug that is technically and aesthetically better, all customers (12) would try to get it for its assumed "normal" price or drop it. What happened to Mr. Rifesser - that the customer pays an appropriate price for the work that he can do using his own materials and decisions - would not happen. The weavers of fakes have no access to new-yarns-made-from-debris, no contact with their customers that would allow them to learn their preferences. The whole process is in the hands of enterprising dealers - and they could not sell if they would openly state what has been done. It is a kind of collaborative comedy where everybody puts in his share and plays his own role: the end consumers, the dealers in between, the producer-dealers in the Near East, the weavers, yarn spinners, debris hunters. Shall we call it Völkerverständigung that we exploit each others prejudices and fantasies that we cultivate and gain a far reaching network beginning at the dust heaps in Anatolia and ending at the exhibition rooms at ACOR?
1: Carpet books from this period show their prices in outdated currencies. As we have shown elsewhere, it is possible to recalculate it by comparing present wages of qualified industrial workers to those of 1909. The result is that a certain type of Central Anatolian village rug, low knot count, silky long wool and strong dyes, of small size cost about $3,500 retail.
Neugebauer, Rudolf & Orendi, Julius (1909): Handbuch der orientalischen Teppichkunde. Leipzig. Hiersemanns
Handbücher, Bd. IV.
2: We distinguish 3 classes of pieces:
A-pieces: the real origin of the piece is known and can (theoretically ) be communicated to a client or to an honorable middle-man. The "fate" of the piece is known (who took it to whom, whether anybody tried to wash it), too.
B-pieces: a first-hand source intelligence about the origin is not available. More or less accurate "guesses" from experienced people. The "fate" of the piece is known.
C-pieces: obtained from the trade. We propose the German expression Strandgut, debris that is left on the beach after a storm. Or we propose to compare it with a second hand car of unknown provenance, without papers. Nothing is certain, the piece is "as is". Nobody can take further responsibility except for what he personally did with the particular piece.
In Essen, many pieces were of known origin, in some cases even the house where they came from. And, of course, the details of the treatment are known and documented.
3 : The catalogue is in German, with beautiful pictures of the exhibition, not only of the pieces. The color quality of the prints must be considered along with the price of the catalogue. It is difficult to get so many top pieces, some published for the first time, together in one booklet. Katalog Essen
4: At that time our message that to know the real origin is like obtaining the papers within a second hand car deal was not very successful. The lessons of the fiascos with the innovative techniques on how to treat antiquities in the nineties were not yet learned at that time and we often felt like amateurish idiots. Anyway, the picker is known so it may be called an A-piece.
5: It was done by applying a special dyeing method based on the use of madder only. Instead of a deep purple it resulted in a very deep black-like nuance, by enhancing minor components of madder.
6: Washing Antique Textiles: Please keep in mind that any wet process is harsh and potentially damaging for
each fiber. They are made to stay dry. The most sensitive part of a weave are the dye lakes (A) (as opposite
from vat dyes et.al.).
In order to understand the basic problem of antique washing please imagine the following situation: in a wild, big garden, long forgotten, there is a wall made of bricks. The bricks are spotty. Lichens grow on them, even mosses. Residues of evaporated salt are visible on the surface of the bricks. The mortar that once kept the bricks together is corroded. A certain part of the mortar has fallen down. In some spots where the mortar seems to be intact, it is easily removed by scratching.
If one tries to clean this wall with a high pressure hot water cleaning apparatus, some parts of this wall would be clean. But some parts would be destroyed by the high pressure. In the areas where the mortar seems to be intact, but is in fact partly corroded, it would be rinsed out. As a consequence, many bricks would drop out of their context immediately or later. Therefore, some parts of the wall most likely would collapse.
It would have been better first to remove the corroded mortar and replace it. Some days later this fresh mortar would be hard and resistant. Then it would be possible to clean the whole wall thoroughly. It would be kept intact and would look more or less clean. It would still be obvious that it is an old wall.
Antique textiles should be cleaned according to this principle. They have been made using mortar. Substances that can be compared with the mortar of this above given example are:
- the keratin molecules of wool fibers, the fibroin of silk and the cellulose molecules (B) of cotton or linen are oxidized by light
- the chemically heterogeneous set of substances that we call "wool fat" is changed by light oxidation, dust, washing and by chemical attacks. Its amount is decreased, the wool gets dry, nonelastic and brittle.
- substances, which are part of the dye lakes, are attacked by oxidation and are constantly removed. The dye appears to be less vivid, sometimes even spotty.
The first step of treatment should be to repair the damage caused by oxidation, but it cannot be completely reversed. This is confirmed by new research reports on how to treat microbials stains on antique papers (D). Then the dye lakes must be repaired.
After this is done the textile can be washed. Preferably "soft" type of tensides (detergents) should be applied. Alkyl sulphates or even alkyl ether sulfates must be avoided because of their strong defattening properties. Certain tensides tend to form chelates with polyvalent metals (all ethylene oxide adducts). Since they attack the fastness of dye lakes, they should not be used. Soap is not an adequate tenside for washing antique woolen textiles. In order to achieve a proper cleaning action with soap the fluid must be quite alkaline. Wool absorbs acidic and alkaline substances strongly. They cannot be removed with cold water, but remain in the wool and cause long term damage. The optimal pH for wool and for human skin is 5,5.
Finally the textile should get a refattening treatment using exclusively natural substances. This claim excludes lanolin which is manufactured using waxes based on mineral oil. Under no circumstances should synthetic substances be used to improve the luster. Many of them adhere irreversibly; this is the case with the new synthetic silicone substances.
If one is limited to exclusively natural substances for refattening the consequence is an antique textile with a good lustre of excellent dyes and wool but with a lackluster sheen where the quality would be mediocre. If silicone is applied a stark glare dominates all areas of this textile. Silicone adds this glare even to grey concrete.
It is said that an archaeological excavation is the only scientific experiment that cannot be repeated. The same is true for washing antique textiles, especially if they have been stapled somehow somewhere in the orient. Even if the first step is that they are submerged in soft water and washed using a special soft tenside, all dyes that are not fixed well enough by means of the above mentioned processes, are irreversibly removed. Perhaps the textile would be clean then. Regarded as a piece of art it is heavily damaged, perhaps destroyed.
On request, we will identify textiles, whose condition before and after such treatments we saw with our own
eyes, have been "improved" by this way in recent years.
The antique washing system of KÖK:
1. Treatment against oxidation damage (cold, pH 5,5)
2. First bath for dye lake repair
3. Complete drying (in the cold at low air humidity)
4. Second bath for dye lake repair
5. Complete drying in the cold
6. Cold wash with a soft tenside (alkyl polyglucoside: coconut fat alcoholes and natural sugars are condensed in a chemical laboratory) at pH 8 - 8,5 (about the degree of sea water).
7. Refattening using natural wool fatty alcohols (ca. 30°C, pH 5,5)
8. Ironing with steam
For a critical evaluation it must be noted that one has to achieve a balance between factors that may oppose each other when an antique wash is done (C):
- to remove dirt
- to restore the vividness and fastness of the dyes
- to improve the long term durability of the textile by regaining its elasticity
The system used here puts the priority on the last two aims, in case of conflict on the expense of the first one.
A A state of the art treatment of an 18th century "Konya" carpet with an open, bright, lucent yellow would be like this: first a HPLC with Diode-Array-Detection analysis of the dye, whether it is made up from (a) flavones or (b) flavanol-glucosides. In case (b) under no circumstances even 1 drop of water should be applied: the bright yellow would change irreversibly to a dark, matte ochre-brown-yellow. This has happened often in the last 15 years.
B In fact, there are more different molecules in cotton and linen than just cellulose.
C Attention: if a C14-radiocarbon dating is planned the natural auxilliaries used here may interfere with it. The result would be underestimate the age.
D Koch, Beate, Trick, Iris & Vohrer, Uwe (2000): Stopp dem Buchzerfall. Spektrum der Wissenschaft, 4, 2000, 85 - 87. This is the latest high technology approach for paper conservation. Realized with different tools, this is exactly the same kind of treatment that KÖK has used for about 15 years with antique textiles.
7: To the best of our knowledge, Sigrid Schmid from Kuchl near Salzburg in Austria, formerly with Galerie Sailer in Salzburg, is the leading interpreter and prepared many of the kilims in this exhibition.
8: Technical problems with scanning a big sized colour transpareny are responsbile for that. Turkotek does not command a set of machines comparable to a professional magazine. That is, on the other hand, one reason for a comparatively high level of independance from the trade.
9: These "new-from-old-wool"-pieces match the expectations of semi-educated collectors much better than the chemically washed and sun-bleached (artifically damaged) pieces of the "natural-dye" fashion production. Technically they are better by far, although they cannot compete with expertedly done modern textile art or even careful production of high standards. In any case, their technical value is much higher and they warrant a higher price than the normal merchandice.
10: Courtesy of Dr. Eberhard Ammermann, Heppenheim/Germany.
11. In 1970 the ratio in income between a German and a Turkish laborer was about 5:1. In 1994 this ratio
was 1:12 or even 1:80 if the Turk lived in the battled southeast. Last year the Turkish Lira dropped to 40% of
its former value against western currencies. Iran is even poorer, but cannot compete with Pakistan. If the monthly
income falls below $100, new dimensions for the application of labor-intensive technologies are opened. Westerners
are proud of being innovative.
12: The special decorated places that the tourist industry has established in Turkey (at the coast, in Istanbul, in Cappadocia) has to work with a ratio of 1:10 between buying and selling price. The expenses for catching the customers in the right mood are enormous. So more than 90% of the buying price at the end are invested in factors that do not enhance the quality of the goods but in the luxury of the buying situation. The customers are adult and responsible for what they do. By the way: if you buy luxury cosmetics or buy designer jeans in New York or Vienna you swallow the same ratio.