Posted by R. John Howe on 07-24-2002 09:02 PM:

Other Indicators of a "Deep Tradition?"

Hi Michael -

Thanks for a carefully set forth and well-illustrated argument. Not everyone nowadays actually makes an argument.

In other versions of this presentation I've have heard, you referred to two other indicators that seem to be missing here.

I seem to remember that the "frequent presence of goat hair" in later Kurdish rugs was seen perhaps to be in part reflective of the fact that goats were domesticated before sheep. The logic here would be that, as with particular weaving techniques, the Kurds tended, perhaps more than others to continue to use the materials they used earlier.

Secondly, you have sometimes mentioned, with some emphasis, the fact that several shades of natural colored wools appear in later Kurdish rugs, long after dyes have been available and again a question of persistence of old practices was suggested.

Does the fact that neither of these indicators was treated here suggest that you have revised your view of them to some extent as potential indicators of a deep Kurdish weaving tradition or did I misunderstand your treatment of them originally?

Thanks again for a precisely constructed salon essay.


R. John Howe

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 07-24-2002 10:24 PM:

other reasons

Hi John:

Thanks for supplying photographs.

I am not certain what to do with the goat hair. I tend to look for it, especially in the wefts, as an indicator of a tribal piece (as opposed to a village or more commercial product).

I think the argument you articulate is one that is difficult to support since it just seems so clear that at some point, possibly quite an early point, wool became the fiber of choice. Ryder has written on the subject of goat hair versus wool, it is hard to draw conclusions applicable to the rugs we have had handed down to us. Simplifing greatly, early on goat hair was a better choice than wool because wool was virtually unweaveable. As wool became more like what we know it today, it replaced goat hair. That said, the Siirt rug stands out as a type worth thinking about. This is a type were a teasel is used to create a faux pile.

The second argument which involves the use of undyed wools, the range of colors available to Kurdish weavers naturally - from black to tawney to reddish brown to ivory - and the resulting abrash (which I think might have become ingrained as a result of traditional use of these undyed wools and the natural variations of these undyed wools) was omitted from the ACOR presentation because the rug used to illustrate this argument was in the concurrent exhibition and unavailable for use in my presentation. The rug I reference is the one with the two plus concentric diamonds with hooks.
Editor Note: The image was inserted here after the message was posted

In that rug all of the colors except the truest red, yellow, green and blue are natural undyed wools. To bring it all full circle, the red, yellow and blue dyed colors in that rug are all colors that would have been available locally as early as 6000 B.C. according to other research done in Anatolia. Of course, the green would likely have been an overdye.

Thanks again for your assistance.

Best, Michael

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-07-2002 10:53 PM:

What about abrash?

Dear Readers:

Among the issues raised by John is the use of undyed wools. In another context, John questioned me about my interpretation of abrash and its possible role as an indicator of a tradition. As John then pointed out, abrash is generally attributed to one of two circumstances. First, it is described as a kind of mottling due to the fact that natural dyes "take" differently to differentially to hand-spun wools which vary in thickness and possibly even the degree in which they are spun. The result is that there are subtle color variations within a single color in a single rug. Second, is the instance of small dye lots with which it is presumed that traditional dyers worked. This resulted in more marked color changes horizontally in rugs as weaver came to the end of one lot in a given color and moved to another.

I have another interpretation of abrash and it arises from my experience with the rug displayed above. From the first time I saw it, I questioned the source of the colors that turned out to be undyed wools in the rug including the pronounced abrash in the brownish/red border.

There is very pronounced abrash throughout this border that clearly has nothing to do with either (1) the way the non-existent dyes took to the wool or, (2) the size of the non-existent dye lot. As I was thinking about this I happened to have been reading about the domestication of sheep and early wool in Elizabeth Barber's books. I was struck by the descriptions of the color or pigmentation of this wool. Then I examined a number of photos taken by Ed Kashi in Kurdistan of Kurdish sheep, paricularly of flocks along the Iraqi border area. Again, I was struck with the range of colors and the near dominance of brown and tawny colors - the same colors in the border of this rug. As I thought about this more and sought out other rugs it occurred to me that these were colors that would have been available to Kurdish weavers even before dyes were widely available. With a limited color palette, how does one create color change? By creating what we call abrash. Similarly, if undyed wool is what is available and it naturally is abrashed does not this abrashed look become ingrained over time as a kind of aesthetic?

If abrash is the result of a deeply ingrained aesthetic resulting from the long use of undyed wools that have naturally occuring color variation, then its use in rugs with dyed wools is intentional and reflects the traditional use of undyed wools. In my opinion, this explains the use of abrash in certain Kurdish rugs (including village rugs with persianate designs) that otherwise have absolutely brilliant color and fabulous wool. My sense is that the use of abrash, sometimes even the exaggerated use, in such rugs seems less likely to result from a small dye lot or the way the dye took to the wool and more likely a conscious attempt to create abrash because the weaver liked the look of abrash - a look she came to like because this is a deeply ingrained aesthetic.

I would like to hear what others have to think about this theory of abrash.

Thanks, Michael

Posted by Bob Kent on 08-08-2002 02:12 PM:

out of the blue and into the black?

MW: This isn't abrash if abrash is a variation in one color, but some Kurdish rugs seem to have surprising changes from one background color to another. For example, the photos of my sauj bulaQ rug show that the field color changes from blue to black to brown. The background color of the outermost border abruptly changes from red to yellow, and the middle border's background changes from red to orange. I have another Kurdish rug where the field color goes from blue to black. Of course such background color changes may be as common in other rug types?

Posted by Sophia Gates on 08-08-2002 02:54 PM:

Color Variations and A State of the Heart

Bob et. al.,

First - whoa - Michael - what a rug! And same to you Bob - that rug of yours is beyond awesome. The color variations both in the background and within the "guls" are amazing and show a very imaginative mind at work.

I think this kind of freedom with color is one of the keys to understanding Kurdish weaving. There is a sense of play, real creativity, to their rugs, regardless of the seemingly simple and repetitive shapes they employ.

Indeed, I think of the "Kurdish heartland" as a state of mind more than anything else. After all, they share their territory with a multitude of other peoples. Yet their rugs, once one becomes attuned to them, are distinctive.

Michael, I think your argument of using variations in wool color deliberately makes absolute sense. Might I add: the variations in wool color would also affect the COLORED wool. Painters use techniques like this, creating visual effects by varying the color of the background, then glazing over it with transparent colors. The final coloration would then depend partially on the glaze color and partially on the color of the underlying ground.


Posted by R. John Howe on 08-09-2002 08:21 AM:

Dear folks -

The thing that caught my attention, when I first heard Michael make his argument that abrash is likely the result of weaver intentions to produce something similar to what they had seen when using undyed wools, was what might be called the "relative plausibility" of this thesis.

We don't usually have much information about what weavers "intended" and we already had two alternative explanations of abrash that seemed to explain both instances of it adequately and did not rely on weaver intent.

It seemed to me that the traditional explanation had more relative plausibility than did the thesis Michael was offering. I say despite hearing Sophia's indication that painters do similar things.

I do know of one instance of weavers intentionally inserting the more marked form of abrash (that is the species traditionally attributed to small dye lots). In his Turkmen Ersari project, Chris Walter told me that he had to school his Ersari weavers at first in the degree of this species of abrash to use. He could dye in large lots and so this sort of abrash had to be put in deliberately and he asked them to do so. But they initially overindulged and made their intentional abrashes too dramatic and extensive and actually made the rugs less attractive sometimes.

I think Michael's suggestion is imaginative and I admire his sharp eye in examining historical information that might suggest it, but for me, the traditional explanations are still relatively the more plausible ones.

R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-09-2002 10:56 AM:

Deliberate abrash?
Yes, absolutely.

The Caucasian rug I showed at the end of Salon 63 has a blue background, both for the field and the main border. The blue is the same but inside the field is abrashed while inside the border is not.

I apologize that this is not a Kurdish rug and the picture is a bad quality enlargement of an old one - the rug is in storage now and I don’t want take it out:

You see? The darker blue extends to the # shaped decorations of the two minor borders and arrives up to the selvedges but skips the main border and some motifs inside the main field.
The only explanation I can offer is that it was made on purpose.
I didn’t look around very much for other examples but Kaffel’s plate 51, a Chichi prayer rug, seems to have also an abrashed blue field and a non abrashed blue border.

Although I don’t think that all the abrash was intentional, I agree with Michael that some was probably "ingrained aesthetic".
And I DO like it.


Posted by Bob Kent on 08-09-2002 11:15 AM:

not abrash, but background color changes

I still wonder about background color changes, which might be similar to - and beyond - use and appreciation of abrash. the first photo in the 'sauj bulagh' thread shows the outer border jumping from orange to yellow, and the third photo shows the field jumping from blue to black. maybe the weaver was just running out of colors, but if I scan a lot of caucasian rugs in bennet's book, I don't see many sharp background-color changes in borders or fields. I don't see them in turkmen rugs either

Posted by Sophia Gates on 08-09-2002 11:35 AM:

Accident? Or design?

I'm a little surprised that some of you seem to feel that pure accident is easier to believe in than deliberate aesthetic choices by a weaver!

I am curious as to why this is. Do you not believe that these rugs were created by artists, i.e., people capable of creativity, of making independent aesthetic choices?

Or, do you think they maybe simply "happened"?

To me it's so obvious - people make conscious & deliberate choices when they work. For groups of people - women in certain areas where weaving is done - their art might be the ONLY place where they are PERMITTED to make conscious and deliberate choices.

I'd like to hear WHY those of you who find accident and the ravages of time "less plausible" than creative choice!


PS - Bob, does this answer your question about the backgrounds? They look like that, absent evidence of untoward chemical changes to the dyes, because the weavers WANTED THEM TO LOOK LIKE THAT.


Posted by R. John Howe on 08-09-2002 03:25 PM:

Hi Sophia -

I think you're speaking primarily to me since I made the counter argument.

The reason I think that the "abrash as intentional" thesis (I would not deny that a weaver might sometimes do it intentionally) is less plausible than the two others I have heard, is that it seems likely that neither of the latter could be avoided in traditional circumstances.

I have not seen any instances of natural dyes applied to hand-spun wool that does not result in a visible variation in color, a kind of "mottling" effect.

And, if, as we think, traditional dyers dyed pretty unavoidably in small lots, then the more dramatic species of abrash was also unavoidable to them.

It is this unavoidability that seems attached to these two theses that make them for me more plausible than the notion that most abrash is deliberate.

Note that I can hold this position, as I have suggested above, without denying that sometimes a weaver might insert abrash deliberately.

The difficulty is that we are born 150 years too late to know for sure.

I do not denigrate the weaver's skills or art but rather am impressed with two seeming "necessities" as the more likely source of this variation.


R. John Howe

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-09-2002 04:24 PM:


Dear Readers:

I do not think anyone is denigrating anyone's skills or creativity as a weaver to challenge or question a theory or conclusion. And none of us knows what a weaver intended, we can only reasonable infer from a body of rugs, the information at hand. I do, however, think we need to look at this body of rugs and related weavings when we discuss abrash and not just rely on what we think we know about traditional dying or the product/result of dying in the past. We know relatively little and what we do know does not present a very clear picture.

In this vein, the abrash in the rug with concentric diamonds is very pronounced in the areas with undyed wools, especially the brownish red main border. This abrash looks to me like what we call abrash in rugs with dyed knotted pile and I thought it was until I had it tested. In the areas with dyed pile, there is no comparable abrash. In fact, I would go so far as to say there is no discernable abrash except for some areas of green.

John states above that he has not seen any instances of natural dyes applied to hand-spun wools did not result in a visible variation of coloring, a kind of "mottling effect" which I assume is synonymous with "abrash" as used by John. If this is true, it is support for conventional explanation # 1 - the way dyes "take" to hand - spun wool.

While what John states may have some truth to it, I do not think it is accurate, at least as an explanation for abrash. If it were, every rug woven using hand -spun wool and natural dyes would contain abrash. And not just every rug, every color.

I also do not think explanation #2 - the small dye lots explanation covers what we can observe in rugs or even the more dramatic examples. There are too many rugs were it would appear the weaver had access to whatever wools she wanted and still included abrash for effect. And it would not explain how you can lay such rugs next to rugs with undyed wools and the effect seems the same as the pronounced abrash seen in the undyed wools.

Regarding Bob's observation of the change in ground colors. This seems separate from abrash. I have noticed this also, it appears in numerous Kurdish rugs that we attribute to the Sauj Bulaq area. I think it is not abrash because it is as if the weaver started with one ground color then switched to another color rather than a more shading like effect that i associate with abrash. I have no good explanation except I have observed it and wondered about it as well.

Thanks, michael

Posted by Steve Price on 08-09-2002 04:37 PM:

Abrash - micro and macro

Hi People,

It seems to me that part of the confusion in this discussion is that abrash has two meanings, and the two things it means are very different from each other. This fact was noted by someone earlier in the discussion, but continues to muddy the water.

Let me propose two different terms for the two kinds of abrash.
1. Macro-abrash: This is what happens when the weaver changes from one shade of a color to another, either intentionally or because she ran out of wool in the first shade.
2. Micro-abrash: Handspun wool is not of uniform diameter, nor is the dye in a vat uniformly distributed along the surface of wool that's in it. As a result, there is some variation in color intensity from place to place within the skein of yarn. This appears on a rug woven from it as non-uniformity of color within very small areas.

Perhaps this will help. Probably not.


Steve Price

Posted by Vincent Keers on 08-09-2002 08:23 PM:

Macro Abrash

Dera all,

The changing ground colour.
Mostly from indigo into black/dark brown.
For a light shade of indigo you dye one/two times.
For a darker shade of indigo you dye five six times.
Indigo makes the wool stronger.
So maybe they thaught: Lets dye it 8 times.
The result was black/brown.
I sometimes see very dark, allmost black colours but
when I look at them in bright sunlight, they have a toutch of blue.
If the black ground colour looks more worn then the indigo
it's a different dye.
If the indigo is worn and the black isn't,
well, maybe your mother in law likes it?

Does this help?


Posted by Patrick Weiler on 08-11-2002 01:32 PM:

Black and Blue

Kurdish rugs are not the only rugs with changing field colors.
Lur rugs seem to frequently use this technique also. Perhaps because they were both "poor, disadvantaged" tribes?

The Sauj Bulagh that Bob Kent showed has the variation in field color from blue to dark blue to brown.
I have a Lur rug that the field color changes so subtly from blue to brown that you almost have to look closely to realize that it changed! There is no difference in wear-depth, but I suspect the brown wool is an un-dyed wool so the wear characteristics would be little different than indigo-dyed blue.
The main border is the same blue as the field, but all the way around and does not change to brown. Either the weaver knew she wouldn't have enough to complete both the field and the border, or there was some other reason to change the field color to brown.

Another Lur rug of mine has "striations" of brown, along with some lines of lighter blue, intruding into the blue field, but only on one side, not all the way across the field. This brown has receded significantly, leaving an almost topographical effect on the surface of the rug in that area.

A Lur or Qashqa'i gabbeh I have with a natural grey wool field has overall changes in this ground color, making the design ornaments appear to float above this abrashed grey background.

This leads to two speculations.

1 The abrash effect may be purposely used with the intent of causing this three dimensional appearance.

2 The natural variation in the underlying wool colors takes up the dyes differently causing an inherent abrash even if the wool is dyed quite the same. Rural or tribal weavers may have not been as concerned as their urban counterparts about having uniformly consistent white wool to dye for their rugs. They also may have either dyed the wool themselves, or taken their own vari-colored wool to a professional dyer who wouldn't have taken the time or had the large quantities of wool needed to "grade" the wool into lighter and darker shades that would allow a more uniform field color.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Bob Kent on 08-11-2002 07:22 PM:

field color changes

hi: great discussion.... for what it's worth, these field color changes are from blue to corroded black:

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-12-2002 04:01 AM:

Yes, interesting discussion.
It’s the first time, if I well remember, that this topic reaches some depth on Turkotek.

Thanks, Bob, for your pictures. I believe change of color is intentional because that is the most logical explanation - but that’s different from abrash (better: MACRO abrash, as Steve points out).

About the intentionality of macro abrash, the picture I presented above should be a good proof that, at least in same instances, it is not a mere hypothesis.
What we need is more examples: please, folks, have a closer look at your abrashed rugs.

Patrick, could you please show us your Lur you refer with "The main border is the same blue as the field, but all the way around and does not change to brown"?


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-12-2002 06:10 AM:

Well, I found another one:

Boucher’s BALUCHI WOVEN TREASURES, Plate 55, Timuri Rug, scan of a detail.

Blue field again (a coincidence?), with micro and macro abrash.
Let’s focus on the macro one.
The common wisdom says the weaver had only one skein of blue wool (well, not literally one, but I’m trying to simplify).
The irregularity of the dyeing process produces a skein with different intensity of blue.
The weaver didn’t give a damn about it thus producing what we call macro abrash as we can see in, say, point 1 and 2.

However point 3 shows that she was perfectly aware of the change of tone and she had to use an other skein with a different blue.


Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-12-2002 08:09 AM:

changing ground color and abrash


I think the Timuri rug is an example of abrash that, in my opinion, is not explained by conventional explanation # 1 or # 2. Like some of the Kurdish rugs I was thinking of, the rug has super saturated dyes and is made of the finest materials throughout. The effect of abrash seems to me to be created by the weaver with the two shades of blue not out of carelessness or sloppiness but by choice and to be much like the abrash we see in rugs with undyed wools.

The rug Bob Kent illustrates with the 4 x 14 stars has the change in ground color that I have also observed. Usually, I see this near the top of the rug as it was hung on the loom. I have no explanation for this.

Patrick's observations are keen and the comparison of Lur rugs with Kurdish rugs is interesting given both the proximity and isolation of some groups. I think Jim Opie sees the Lurs much the way I see the Kurds. Regarding the observation of striations, I observe this too but usually in Kurd rugs the contrasting color - a line of blue in a ground that is otherwise brown - goes the entire width. I have also seen brown put into long rugs with a field that is otherwise blue.

And Patrick's speculations cause me to add that wool colors have been sorted/graded for a long time. The most valuable wools are the ivory wools and these can and are sold into the market by tribal/nomadic groups herding sheep even today. I have slides of this happening in 1990 in eastern Turkey. The darker wools may be sold or kept for home use. The use of these darker wools and problems of pigmentation and dye may also contribute to the ingrained aesthetic of abrash just as I believe the traditional use of undyed wools may have. Thanks to Patrick for this point and which also is a further extension of conventional explanation #1 posed by John about the way dyes "take" to wools. Worth exploring further, I think. But it does not explain abrash in rugs such as that illustrated by Filiberto where the weaver had available, it would seem, whatever dyes and wools she wanted.

Thanks for all the contributions, Michael

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-12-2002 08:19 AM:


I have to correct myself: the more I think about it, the more I’m arriving close to your affirmation that macro abrash is pretty similar to background color change.


Posted by Richard Tomlinson on 08-12-2002 08:37 AM:

Hi all

Great discussion.

If we are to assume that weavers deliberately created abrash, perhaps we might look for reasons why.

I have read about attempts at creating 3- dimensionality. We hear and read of 'floating' motifs. Are they deliberate?

As most weavers would have lived in a 'natural' environment, I was wondering what physical/natural features weavers might have tried to mimic / copy? I might be naive to assume that weavers would have to copy something they had seen, but it may be a starting point.

Interested to know what others think.

**Please dont ask me to explain what I mean here :-)


Richard Tomlinson

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-12-2002 09:50 AM:

more on abrash

Dear Richard:

How about the landscape on the Anatolian plateau or the Kurdistan plateau, or how about a night sky?

With regards to this general discussion of abrash, I went back to Brueggemann and Boehmer's Rugs of the Peasants and Nomads of Anatolia. Certainly Harald Boehmer has as deep a knowledge of dyes as most anyone - or where is Michael Bischof - so it seems worth considering some of his thoughts, at least so far as 1983 when the book was published. The authors note that abrash has its origins in the Persian word for cloud. see footnote 88 on page 117. Abrash is described as "the various color nuances in one color-plane, even in a single knot." (Macro and Micro?) they draw an analogy to blue jeans and the landscapes blue jeans contain and note, consistent with the conventional explanations stated above by John, that dye bath characteristics, the differing strengths of wool in hand spun threads, differences in quality, fiber structure and grease (natural oils such as lanolin?) content of the wool become evident in the dying : the long fibered wool from spring and the shorter fibered from fall also take dyes differently with different tones. Mordant dyes react more sensitively because variations in mordant density and adherence of mordant to the fiber show up as variations in intensity and shade of color. See page 117. He also notes water impurities as a factor. Page 118.

Interestingly, the authors conclude that color compensation, attenuation and abrash are principle components of the impression made by colors of old rugs. Page 118 And that strong abrash is a characteristic of nomad rugs. Page 122.

It seems that the micro/macro distinction may be helpful to understanding abrash. On a micro level, we understand the explanation for color changes. But what about macro, the use of abrash for impression or expression by a weaver? And what about weavers who had the ability to select whatever wools and dyes they wanted and who still inwove variation/abrash? And how do we explain the abrash in connection with undyed wools. I think the expanation of how abrash occurs - naturally in undyed wool and naturally through the dying process as Patrick above and the authors Brueggemann and Boehmer explain - still leads to the same conclusion, that abrash in many rugs is intentional and, I would argue, the result of a long ingrained tradition of using both undyed wools and/or darker wools that naturally contain abrash.

Thanks, michael

Posted by Steve Price on 08-12-2002 10:04 AM:

More on micro-abrash

Hi Michael,

I'll add one thing, specifically with regard to "micro-abrash" (the color variation that can occur in very small areas, even within a single knot).

Micro-abrash is nearly invisible except from very close up, but even from a distance it has an effect. That effect is what many collectors refer to as "life" in a color. One of the things that makes modern rugs less attractive to me (and to many like-minded snobs) than old ones is that the colors are usually "flat" or "lifeless" in newer rugs. This is because there is no variation at all in the areas that are the same color; there is no micro-abrash. I've never had any trouble getting anyone to understand it once they are shown two rugs side by side, one with and one without it.

Even very old Turkmen stuff, in which macro-abrash is quite rare, have lots of micro-abrash. This is part of what makes their colors so much more attractive than recent (Soviet era) Turkmen rugs.


Steve Price

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 08-13-2002 11:33 AM:

An CerebroFlatual Exposition

Greetings all,

Here's a couple thoughts to ponder:

Can, and should, the word “abrash” move beyond the notion of a catch-all term describing variations in color that could have been represented as a single solid shade ? Can abrashes be classified in an orderly way, or should other technical terms be used to describe the effect precisely, leaving abrash at the same level as car (as opposed to Chevy Lumina).

Whether we're talking about striping and/or banding of colors, or more subtle features with diffuse and/or irregular distribution of colors, it seems to me that it's the the SCALE of the color change: the contrast, that determines the degree to which an abrash pleases, interests, or irritates us. Certain processes and/or behaviors can be associated with certain scales, as Steve has suggested (macro vs. micro, skein vs. strands, large batch vs. small batch) and we start to categorize (and subdivide) "abrash" in our minds.

But getting from there to a commonly understood frame of reference, for the purposes of our discussions, is going to take some work. It could be a salon all by itself: Tradition, art, chemistry, commercialism,
laziness, error, random chance, time, and their impact on the development of an abrash..

Some semi-formal classification would be useful for us. Developing a list of the various factors in abrash development, their causal relationships, geographic constraints, etc. It might allow us to reduce the subjectivity to acceptable levels. But I digress (plus, I’m not sure it CAN be done practically, and, you could probably do a masters thesis on this topic)... I’m going to take a different approach in this post.

(Filiberto said he wanted more examples. OK, so, here's where he learns to be careful what he asks for, because he might get it...)

I have arranged these images in decreasing order of what I will call "likely abrash awareness" on the part of the weaver. I use that term because I'm not happy with trying to assign levels of intent to the weavers actions. But, I recognize the likelihood of an "a priori" understanding on the weavers part regarding the likelihood of an abrashed result.

I shy away from intent because I’m not convinced that the weavers always have a lot of control over the quantity of wool (in a specific shade of a certain color) that is available to them. Further, I believe that much color variation noted today is at least partially related to the aging process, and may have been imperceptible to the weaver at the time the work was done.

I also think the conditions under which the weaving is done may have a substantial impact on the development of abrash. Obviously, in dim lighting conditions one could easily confuse similar shades of the same color. But: lay out at the beach for a half hour with your eyes closed and pointed upward! When you get up and open your eyes, your ability to distinguish between shades of red will be greatly reduced. I suspect that outdoor weavers may frequently suffer from this effect, and create an abrash unwittingly.

Several of you have already discussed the impact of variations in dyes and mordants, drying time, etc. so I won't dwell on that area. Add to all of the above the notion of intent (with a variety of motivations) and things start getting complicated.

How one determines which abrash is intentional, to me, might be addressed by looking for APPARENT accident as opposed to REAL accident. We've seen one obvious case above where the abrash failed to extend cross a border. I'll describe an extreme case: I have seen Gabbeh-look-alikes on the market that are knotted in alternating shades of similar colors. The wool in each knot is consistently shaded, but the knotted shades alternate rapidly and ALMOST randomly. To an inexperienced eye, the effect is similar to that on a genuine vegetable dyed Zollanvari Gabbeh. To me that's not what we would call abrash, it's a gimmick. But it's definitely intentional.

A better, but still gimmicky, intentional approach is seen in modern Kawdani prayer rugs, where tan and light gray wools are mixed to present an appearance similar to that of camel hair. Pleasant, subtle, and highly variable but contrived nevertheless.

These are extremes brought on by commercial considerations. I'll start with obviously intentional abrash, but with appearance as the motivation (I think) rather than mimicry or commercialism.

This is an odd one from Afghanistan. On the creature's left, abrashed wool. On its right, abrashed raw silk. (Try to get over your jealousy. We can't ALL have a rug with barnyard animals in the main border.)

Next, an older Baluchi with a few scales of abrash. It looks like there were several batches of wool that went into this one; the most obvious change is to the right. It's even present in the kilim end.

Now a Qashqai, quirky but one of my favorites. Lots of variation in the field, but not so full of contrast as to be irritating. Probably due to small batch dyeing?

There is no way she didn't know about this. But I wouldn't categorize this as First Degree Abrash. I don't think it was planned, it just grew this way.

Here's a Yomut chuval with some abrash in the field color...

The abrash striping is almost imperceptible on the inside, a small shift to a pink shade instead of red. Is this dye batch, or lighting conditions at work ?

This pre-WWII Afghan Sulayman is dark red. It's easy for me to believe that this abrash is simply a result of materials and lighting with no intent on the part of the weaver.

The same is true for this Afghan Hazara kilim...

And the changes in shade on this Afshar are often so subtle that they're not visible from a short distance, the brown in particular.

Somewhere, from the top to the bottom of these images, we transitioned from intentional to unintentional color variations. The technical reasons for the variety are separate from the motives of the weaver in my mind. A structured approach to this issue MAY be useful for attribution studies, etc.

Let’s find a grad student to do the work….

Regards (and thanks for putting up with my rambling),

Chuck Wagner

Posted by Sophia Gates on 08-13-2002 03:51 PM:

Commercial Art?

Dear Chuck and all:

Chuck, thanks for your well-written & illustrated post. There's a lot to discuss there but I want to focus primarily on one statement/connection you've made - that between "commercialism" and "contrived effect".

Where to begin! Folks, "contrived effect" practically defines what the visual artist DOES. I'm extremely curious as to why that is supposedly a sign of commercialism as opposed to what: Soul Baring Deathless Masterpiece Making? Regardless of the end purpose of a piece - floor rug or Future Museum Piece - the process of creating it, getting the best use out of one's materials, is the same.

Effects are created in order to produce effects (duh), communicate ideas, make things look more interesting, add variety to limited materials, etc.

Chuck mentioned gabbehs. I'm curious, did any of you see the movie, "Gabbeh"? In that film, a beloved child dies while chasing her pet goat up a cliff. The weavers, her family, are grief stricken and weave their sorrow into a gabbeh in the form of a dark abrash against the dappled reddish background of their rug. Definitely, a "contrived effect"! Using a streaky black & brown color to make a statement - a deliberate use of color to reflect and create an emotion. What difference does it make if the gabbeh wound up being sold, was perhaps planned and made to be sold in the first place? The Old Masters didn't paint for laughs either. They accepted commissions and got paid for their work. Are they commercial artists? If so, who cares?

Secondly - Chuck is correct about the effects of sunlight on vision. However, almost all of the photos of weavers I've seen show them weaving under a sunshade of some type - inside a tent or pavilion - even a house - under a tree - practically a necessity I should think, considering the brilliant light of the deserts and mountains - I can't imagine an intelligent human being trying to weave in brilliant sun without some shelter! Surely they too would have been aware that sun is literally blinding. These weavers by definition were extremely aware of, and sensitive to, subtle nuances of color. It was a part of their world, a survival mechanism: this grass is bad for the animals, this is good, that color cloud means rain, these flowers are good for dyeing, this earth is fertile, this is salty - so forth. It is we who are losing our sensitivity!

We're influenced more by the colors on TV, the brilliant, Dayglo packages on the shelves of our stores, than by the dictates of survival in a natural setting. I recommended a particular opaque watercolor paint set to a student recently, a German brand I've used since childhood. I had to laugh when I compared her set to mine, which is about ten years old - in place of some subtle natural earth reds, a brilliant dayglo pink and magenta purple had been substituted. Time marches on!

Anyhow, some thoughts.


Posted by Richard Tomlinson on 08-13-2002 09:42 PM:


It's been argued that 'subtle' changes ( e.g. the abrash in the brown wool in Chuck's last image) is unintentional.

I am not arguing that all abrash is intentional BUT...

I believe the fact that weavers often include a SINGLE knot that is a different color (and I'd welcome any arguments for that being unintentional) might be proof enough that even the most subtle of changes MAY be deliberate.


Richard Tomlinson

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 08-13-2002 10:49 PM:

The Lur's

This first photograph shows a closeup of the Lur rug with the field that changes from blue to dark brown, even though the main border is the same blue as the field but all the way around. The bottom 2/3 of the field is blue, but the top 1/3 is very dark brown. It is a large rug and the change in field color is almost not noticeable and certainly is not disruptive to the overall impact of the rug.
I only took this one photograph of a chicken with what appears to be a rooster standing on its back. I am traveling and can not photograph the entire rug, but this photo shows the demarcation line just above the back of the chicken.

This next photo shows an entire Lur rug with the brown striated abrash that only occurs in one small quadrant of the rug. You may be able to discern a line of lighter blue just below mid-field. The left half of the rug below this line has brown, oxidixed rows of knotting entering the field, but only on the left side of the field.

The next photo shows the area containing the most brown knotting:

This final picture is a close-up that may allow you to appreciate the variation in depth of the surface caused by the oxidation of the brown wool:

This is a serious example of macro abrash, with sculptural effects thrown in for good measure.
Why was the brown only used on a small part of the rug? Why on only one half and not the other? How does this situation fit with the theories being postulated in this salon?

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Steve Price on 08-14-2002 09:27 AM:

Hi Folks,

I've been promised a Salon essay devoted to abrash, to open in December or January. That doesn't make it improper to discuss abrash here, of course; I just want to alert everyone to the fact that it's coming up. It does suggest that it might be best not to expand the range of the present discussion of abrash too much.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-14-2002 09:57 AM:

Hi Steve,

I already prepared this one - well, anyway it’s short:

Thanks, Chuck,
Are you volunteering to find that student? He (she) could help for the Salon on abrash.

Thanks for the pictures (to Patrick too).

My opinion: let’s forget the micro abrash. This is present also on old Persian workshop rugs.

On the other hand: macro abrash, color changes (it could be in a few knots only, or in a short row, or in a huge section), abrupt changes in borders size or in border decorations - in short all the irregularities we can see in rustic/tribal weaving have been discussed very often here… Still, we cannot find conclusive evidence of why the hell they made them.

I think, at least, that most of them are deliberate.
I find that Michael’s explanation for the macro abrash is a very good one.

Sophia, I didn’t know that "Gabbeh" movie - I had to search the web for it.
The idea of "The weavers… weave their sorrow into a gabbeh in the form of a dark abrash against the dappled reddish background of their rug" is interesting.
It has to be seen if it came from the Qashqais or from the movie director, though.


Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-14-2002 10:07 AM:

color attenuation and synthetic/natural dyes

Hello Readers:

Going back to Chuck's post, I think he raises some critical issues concerning the very notion of abrash and what it means/represents. It seems to me we often talk about abrash without knowing that we are all talking about or even observing the same thing. And whether we think about abrash as one of the reasons we like the color in certain rugs or as a marker for a type of rug or even as part of a long tradition, we need to be clear on what abrash is and is not. It may well be that abrash is several things with several explanations.

Chuck's post also raises another issue. To my eyes, most of the colors in the rugs Chuck illustrates appear to have synthetic dyes. Can abrash as we are discussing it be an effect when synthetic dyes are in use. The issue is not one of snobbery. Going back to Rugs of Anatolia again, Brueggemann and Boehmer make a critical comparison of natural and synthetic dyes beginning at page 117. They conducted experiments with both natural and synthetic dyes and note that synthetic dyes are available in all colors but that all these dyes are based on combinations of only the three primary colors - blue, red and yellow. Because use of only the primary colors is harsh or discordant, the only colors were developed and used, they call this "color compensation" - a way to make the primary colors less harsh or discordant. In other words, an attenuating or abrash like effect is used to try to harmonize the synthetic colors and make them less strident and, as they experimented, to try and match old natural colors. They then state that this is not an issue with natural dyes since each color is already inherently muted and color-compensated. They also point out that by mixing synthetic dyes nearly any natural dye color can be imitated but that some of these pieces suffer from "over-attenuation" because some of these dyes are light sensitive and others are not.

Finally, they state: "Within wool dyed with a synthetic dye there are hardly any varying color shifts towards neighboring colors; what is missing is called abrash."

Regarding Patrick's brown knotting and sculptural effect and the change in ground color Bob Kent has pointed out - do we really think of this as abrash? Perhaps we need to find another term to describe these observations. I go back to the roots of the term "abrash" and a sense of cloud - which I infer relates to subtle color change within the same color family. I think what you and Bob Kent have focused on is valid as more examples of what Sophia has described as "contrived effect." I just am not sure we want to call it abrash.

Thanks, Michael

Posted by Bob Kent on 08-14-2002 01:11 PM:

different thing, same weavers?

Michael: I don't really see field color change (here, blue to corroded-away black in Kurdish rug) as a form of abrash. But if Kurdish weavers seem to appreciate 'macro abrash,' they might also appreciate this stronger form of background-color change?? See ya, Bob :