Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 07-30-2002 12:10 PM:

Jaf Kurd bags

Hi Michael,

Let me tell you this first: I share your view that Kurdish weaving tradition is very old and probably of fundamental importance for the history of the weaving.
I like Kurdish textiles too: the boldness of designs and colors, the glossy wool…
Since we agree, no point in wasting time and let’s go to straight to the point:

Jaf Kurd Bags.

1) You wrote "Jaf Kurd bags probably are a relatively late innovation among Kurdish weavers".

I duly revisited Mark Hopkins’ excellent article on ORR 9/5 (June/July 1989) "Diamonds in the Pile"

He wrote:
"This isn't meant to imply that there are no older Jaf pieces to be found. The rush to export that Jacobsen documents surely swept up a lot of older pieces along with the newly woven ones. William Eagleton has published a Jaf bagface that was old when his grandfather purchased it in the 1920s."

So, you could be wrong on that…

Hopkins also hinted that:
"Clearly these connections are all speculative, wanting much further thought and research. But the Kurds are an ancient people; it is said they are descendants of the Medes who inhabited eastern Kurdistan some 3,000 years ago.22 The nomadic tribes among them most likely stayed relatively isolated from the changing styles of the dynasties that swirled around them over the centuries. It could well be that the familiar hooked diamond design we call Jaf may bridge a span of several millennia in the lexicon of Middle Eastern tribal weavings."

Which is not an exact corroboration of your theories, but it’s pretty close.
"Beyond that, there are other hooked-diamond Kurdish pile weavings that don't use the randomly juxtaposed diamond motif at all. Instead, some feature a single, multi-tiered diamond as a central medallion11 Others maintain the repetitive theme but organize the diamonds into completely symmetrical patterns.12 Are these Jaf or are other related Kurdish tribes responsible? There are many questions that remain."

That was 13 years ago. I’m wondering if there is any new information about Jaf Kurds.

2) The three pieces you present are interesting: two are variations of the common Jaf design:

# 29, the first bag face has the corners of three diamonds invading the left inner border while the right one is protected by a minor border. The main border design comes clearly from a kilim motif.

# 30,the second bagface has the inner border almost of the same "importance" of the main one. The latter has a typical design while the inner seems a reinterpretation of that design.

The third bagface, #32, is of the kind that that doesn't use the randomly juxtaposed diamond motif but concentric diamonds instead.

Well, has it happens, I have one similar: Offset knotting and so on.

With no particular idiosyncrasies except for the zigzag inner border (woven with normal knotting thecnique). The weaver drew it clumsily on the vertical sides while she did it OK on the horizontal ones.

A less experienced weaver? Hiccup? Or it was on purpose? Who knows??!!

Anyway: a thread of the precedent Salon was based on two Jaf bag faces (one yours, the other belonging to Mike Tschebull) with the concentric diamonds design. On June 27 I saved it on my HD before going on vacation. A few days later the hacker struck and the thread on our server was gone - so I don’t know how far went the discussion.
Those files are now restored and archived in Salon 87. They can be accessed directly from here:

About this kind: Obviously they are less common. How much? Mike asked how unusual are they and you answered "The use of concentric diamonds is not surprising, but within this type there are lots of variations. The same is true of Jaf weaving generally. The more you see, the more diversity you find within familiar themes."
Michael, could you estimate roughly the percentage of this type in rapport to the classical one?

I also would be glad to see more examples of this kind - any other pictures from you or from our readers?
Many thanks,


Posted by Steve Price on 07-30-2002 12:45 PM:

Hi Filiberto,

Your quoting Michael Wendorf on variability within the Jaf Kurd bagfaces, "... within this type there are lots of variations...The more you see, the more diversity you find..." is interesting. It suggests that collectors of Kurdish stuff may be on their way to developing the same obsession with details that characterize Turkmen collectors.

This bears watching.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 07-30-2002 03:19 PM:

Hi Steve,

There is a very appropriate Italian proverb: Chi va con lo zoppo impara a zoppicare: He who goes with the lame man learns how to limp.


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 07-31-2002 02:16 AM:

Dear all,

This bag face belongs to Sophia Gates. It represents the transition between the classical Jaf design and the one with (fewer) concentric diamonds. As Sophia put it, it has "diamonds floating like guls".

The colors of these bag faces, including those in the restored thread of Salon 87, seem to be very similar (considering the limitations of the medium).

Thinking about it, also #30 has a "transitional" design.

Thanks Sophia,


Posted by Sophia Gates on 07-31-2002 01:45 PM:

A Sense of Space

Hi everybody,

The thing that struck me about this bagface - apart from its color - is the sense of space, more like a Turkoman design than the typical Jaf interlock. In the usual diamond bag, the shapes abut one another with only a thin border of a neutral brown or olive in between. But in this one, there is a definite sense of backround which on this bag, also seems to recede visually - probably because it's a quieter, more neutral color than the diamonds themselves.

When Filiberto started comparing notes on our two bags it also became apparent that they share a color-theme, employing a rosy tan along with the brilliant blues and turquoises - another departure from the deep jewel tones of many Jaf bags. Mine also employs a great deal of offset knotting so in that sense iit is typical.

We are curious as to whether these possibly indicate a subset, perhaps geographical in origin? Maybe other collectors can offer some additional comment and hopefully, photos.

Best to all,

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 08-01-2002 10:12 AM:

Jaf Attack


You asked for it:

This, I believe, is the oldest bag of the bunch. The pile on the front is as thick as a Bijar, with the black outlines corroded into channels surrounding raised islands of colored latchooks.

This bag is the anomaly of the group, being part of a "standard" size khorjin. It also appears to be late 19th century, maybe not quite as old as the first bag.

This third bag has a bleeding red and is uniformly low in pile, leading me to postulate a 1st quarter 20th century date.

The final bag is more monochromatic, the wool is not as good, the pile is "tufted" and not uniform. This one seems like it was made by a poor weaver with no access to fine wool and dyes.

Each of these, even though superficially similar, is completely different in terms of the look and feel. They could well have been made over a 50 year period, from 1880 to 1930 or so, or they may have been made by tribal groups that constructed their weavings quite differently from each other.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Steve Price on 08-01-2002 10:45 AM:

Hi Patrick,

Thanks for posting these. The red in the one you attribute to the 20th century is as good a representation of the color that people refer to as "that hot red" as I've ever seen on a computer monitor.


Steve Price

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 08-01-2002 10:20 PM:

I like the way Danny Shaffer characterizes the age of most of these, "5th quarter, 19th c."

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 08-02-2002 01:11 AM:

Hot, Hot, Hot


Thank you for appreciating my Hot Red .
Having a selection of similar weavings with a span of manufacture ranging from earlier naturally dyed examples , through the Hot phase and into the bland phase is really quite instructional. Granted, purists would be disgusted and these later pieces would be discarded
Perhaps the upcoming ICOC would like to present a display of these later synthetically dyed, poorly made but quite interesting examples

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-02-2002 05:40 AM:

Dear All,

Two additional speculations/questions on the subject.

1) Let’s call Type A the classical Jaf bag design, as shown in Patrick's bag faces, and Type B the design in Sophia’s bag.

As I understand, Jaf pile rugs are quite rare. Two of them, almost identical, are illustrated in Housego’s "Tribal Rugs" plate 61 and Opie’s "Tribal rug" plate 9.9.
Sorry no scans - my (flat bed) scanner flatly refuses to work.

Than there are Jerry Silverman’s one:

and Michael’s:

shown on the precedent Salon.

I have a couple of other examples but these should suffice. All of them are related to Type B. Perhaps the transition of the design was from B to A?
Unless there are examples of Jaf pile rugs with the Type A design…

2) Michael considers the shikak motif to be traditionally Kurdish. Mark Hopkins vaguely suggested the possibility of "the familiar hooked diamond design we call Jaf" to be of Kurdish origin.

Let’s see the two side by side:

Yes, in the shikak the hooks are outward, but it’s such a big difference? What about the second motif coming from the first but rendered with a less restrictive technique?
Ruminatingly yours,


Posted by Bob Kent on 08-02-2002 10:07 AM:

jafs, age and dyes

Patrick, Marvin et al.: Following Patrick's posts, here are some Jafs with a few nice greens, bluegreens, oranges, purples. While they probably aren't very old, I wonder how late and where professional dyers worked? (Seems unlikely that weavers also did the dyeing?) thanks... Bob

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-02-2002 10:59 AM:

Patrick, Bob, thanks.

Aren’t they nice? Who cares about the age?

I think the common opinion is that the wool dyeing for these bags was made by professionals: that should explain the beauty and similarity of colors.
Michael should comment more on that.
(If you search Turkotek archives you will find that most of these subjects have been already discussed. Let’s see if something new emerges.)


Posted by Sophia Gates on 08-02-2002 12:18 PM:

Beyond Nice!

Thanks to all who've posted pictures - I love these bags! Frankly if the Great Collecting Spirit ordered me to acquire nothing other than Jaf bags I wouldn't mind at all.

And no, I don't think the date matters! Honestly. Let's get past that, OK?

I'm going to try & photograph another one later today, it's so dark - almost Baluch type colors - AND it has a back. Hopefully it will come out so we can share it.

Michael, I continue to be curious as to why you believe these are a "latter development" in the Kurdish lexicon. Much like the ak chuvals of the Turkmen, these strike me as being both a highly developed form, complete with a technique - not a simple one - that of offset knotting in this case, which enables the effect of the design to be maximized - therefore suggesting some age and tradition - and a very natural form, simple, yet infinitely variable by means of adjustment to color and details of shape.


Posted by Patrick Weiler on 08-02-2002 09:23 PM:



The side-by-side photos you show with the Jaf diamond and the Shikak motifs certainly appear similar. You could be correct that they are related. The Jaf diamond has been posited to be a pile version of a flatweave pattern, complete with offset knots to mimic the original flatweave construction. The Shikak version may then be a better-articulated version of the Jaf diamond that, because of being woven in pile rather than flatweave, could be elaborated upon and modified to a design not needing offset knotting to produce a more robust pattern. At the same time, Kurdish weavers continued the tradition of making the Jaf diamond in the old way, complete with offset knots.
Note that the design in the center of the Shikak motif is the same quartered rosette as is seen in the rosette-and-bar borders on many of the Jaf weavings.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-05-2002 08:43 PM:

jafs and tradition

Dear Friends:

I am sorry I have missed so much of your discussion, but I am back.

First to Filiberto: When I wrote that what we are calling Jaf diamond bags may be a relatively late innovation among Kurdish weavers I meant this within a historical tradition or context - whether that tradition is 8000 years or only a 3000. I do not meant to suggest that these knotted pile bags were all woven within a generation or two of 1920 when we know they were imported by the hundreds or thousands. I have seen and even collected a few Jaf bags that I thought were much older than 5th quarter 19th century.

Why do I think this? I think this because I see these knotted pile bags as coming out of a brocade tradition, most likely reciprocal brocading with offset floats. The reciprocal brocade tradition itself is probably an innovation not of the neolithic age as a technique since, among other reasons, there are no early fragments that I am aware of in this technique, but rather of a more recent era. Perhaps this came about as a way to re-enforce and adorn plain weaves and then was copied into knotted pile. In this way, offset knotting as seen in Jaf knotted pile is merely a convenience - a method to replicate the brocade pattern that is being duplicated.

I think Patrick's older piece is very nice and quite old. I do not know why Sophia's piece is a transition piece. It is just a different type I think, and quite a rarer one.

I will have to think more about the other specifics befoer commenting further, I have a bit of a limp!

Best, Michael

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-06-2002 03:55 AM:

Dear Michael,

When I wrote transition I meant more like a "link" between the typical Jaf Bag design and the one with concentric diamond like this one:

A transition from a graphic but not necessarily temporal point of view.


Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-06-2002 10:20 AM:


Dear Filiberto:

I am not certain I follow your thinking on this transition. Perhaps you can elaborate a little more?

Personally, I think any transition would follow from those Jaf diamond forms most like a brocade type. Some Jaf bags replicate a brocade down to the details with the lattice articulated in successive or alternating colors just like a brocade. But there are so many brocades, it is difficult to generalize or be sure. I think of Sophia's piece as being graphically less related to brocades. I see it as being related to a rug in Jerry's exhibition for example where the serrated medallions are on a corrosive ground and even the Sauj Bulaq rug Bob Kent posted in a separate thread.

The Shikak motif seems to me to me more likely to come from a slit tapestry tradition than a brocade, not diagonal enough.

Thanks, Michael

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-06-2002 11:47 AM:

Hi Michael,

As they say, a picture is worth more than a thousand words.

That’s what I mean for B being transitional between A and C (and the other way around).
I.e. DESIGN transition.

Any examples of Jaf main rugs with the A motif?


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-08-2002 04:42 AM:

Dear Michael,

A few thoughts:

There is quite a lot of Jaf bag(faces) around.
(Now, I’m aware of the fact that they are also called Sanjabi or Mosul. May be these are only different trade names, may be not. To be clear, my interest is on pile weavings presenting the designs as shown in the "ABC" picture above AND executed with offset knotting.)

It would be nice to know roughly - not a mere statistic, only an estimation - the percentage of these motifs on the total. Could you help please?

Anyway, there’s no doubt that the A pattern wins the big share, the other two are in clear minority.

There are NOT lots of Jaf (or Sanjabi, or Mosul) rugs around.
While we can only speculate on the reasons for this scarcity, I’d like to know how the ABC motifs are distributed on the few known specimen.

I don’t owe any specific book on Kurdish weaving and I don’t have much of material on the subject - I only found 6 photos of Jaf rugs.
Four of them show design B, one (Jerry’s) has pattern C and (just found it) this one is of the A type:

from Joyce Ware’s book "Official price guide to Oriental Rugs" (sorry, it’s in b&w).

It seems that, for the rugs, motif B is the winner.
I don’t know if this means anything but I find it odd.
I know, six pictures are a too small database, it could be simply a coincidence.
What do you think?


Posted by Sophia Gates on 08-08-2002 02:45 PM:

A Different Graphic Concept

Hi folks,

I tried to get a better photo of my bag but the batteries died in the camera, so hopefully later or tomorrow.

Anyhow - I think, regarding whether the "floating diamond" idea represents a transition - I don't think so. To me, this is a completely different graphic idea, expressed by actually creating the idea of background on which the diamond-shaped objects are floating. It is identical in concept to the gul idea, and in person gives a definite sense of 3-dimensional space.

I agree with Michael, this therefore possibly represents a step away from the original brocade or kilim idea - somebody had to actually decide they wanted to make a background - things like this represent, I think, some real creativity on the part of their designers.

As to why this would show up more in rugs than in bags - if that's really so - I have no idea. Unless it's got something to do with the idea of carpet as a meditation space?

There is so much we don't know about the Kurdish people and also about the mystical aspects of Islam and the older religions of the region. I think those need to be studied. I think both the bags and the rugs are more than mere decoration. They may be trying to express an abstract spiritual idea as well, ideas also expressed in music, dance and poetry.


PS - studying this might help link the Kurdish people with the really ancient traditions of the region.

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-09-2002 04:55 AM:


Speculations…mine are only speculations!
Here is anther one.

Let’s go back to the Shikak-Jaf diamond relationship.
There’s no doubt that both came from flat weave tradition and then were copied into knotted pile. But I don’t think this is the end of the story.
I saw the Shikak motif on Bakhtiari, Talish, Qashqai, Uzbek flat weaves organized in lattice patterns with symmetric coloration.
However, the one that come closer to the classical Jaf motif, coloring and layout is the Kurdish group of knotted rugs with the Shikak motif that Michael shows in this Salon.

Here is a detail of another example attributed to 1860, side by side with my Jaf bag (again, sorry about that).

This also has the leaf and calyx border. Look at the Jaf border. It could be an adaptation, right?

Again, we don’t know for sure WHO is at the origin of these two motifs, but it seems to me that the Kurds have their own peculiar way to use them.
Or may be not.
Hum, by the way, also the Baklava rugs… OK, OK, I stop here (for the moment)!


Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-09-2002 11:33 PM:

making sense of Jafs

Hi Filiberto:

Let's go back in the discussion a little and try to deconstruct Jaf bags.

But first a few thoughts about the Shikak motif. First, we do not know that whomever wove the Jaf diamond bags also wove any of the pieces we know with the Shikak motif. We call it Shikak, but I have seen it in a number of weavings that seem quite different from one another. Compare for example the rug you illustrated (I assume the one from Bamborough's book) and my and Roger Hilpp's rug - all of which seem to be related - with the two detached bag faces of the Salon. The bag faces seem to be a woven by a different group. Moreover, I think the Shikak motif is more likely to come out of a slit tapestry tradition and the Jaf diamond bags to have its origins in brocades. We can probably all visualize slit tapestry weavings with motifs like the Shikak motif, only the Kurdish version is distinctive. So to me, comparing the Shikak with Jaf diamond bags is a little like comparing apples and oranges. And I do not know what Bakhtiari, Talish, Qashqai and Uzbek flatweaves you have seen this Shikak motif on but I would like to see images of them because I have not seen this particular motif in non-Kurdish weavings.

As for the Jaf diamond weavings. I believe that by far the most common or typical drawing of the type is represented in the large face with number 29 in the salon. Let's call this Group I. Note here the diamond is a straight diagonal and set within or on this diamond is a latchhook device. This latchhook device can have 1, 2, 3 or more hooks coming out on each side, most commonly 1 or 2.

The piece labelled number 30 is a distinct type that is much less common than any of the variations of the Group I. Let's call this Group II. This group has the device of Group I but also has another diamond shape with latchhooks framing the device found in Group I, when allover patterned call it Group II, a. Face # 32 in the Salon is then a varient of Group II with a single medallion, call it Group II, b. Your piece with two medallions is another varient subgroup, call it Group II, c.

Sophia's piece seems different again to me. Here the device of Group I exists again, but the additional diamond element characteristic of Group II is omitted for a serrated medallion. Let's call this Group III. In turn, I think Group III is related to knotted pile rugs such as Rug 11 is Jerry's ACOR exhibition. Note the serrated medallions on a corroded field.

Not surprisingly, Group I is most common, Group II less common Group III rarer still. In terms of rugs, I think the same holds true. There are certainly a variety of rugs that fit into Group I as defined above. I also believe that Group I adheres closest to the brocade tradition from which it may come.

I hope this clarifies my own understanding of the issues you raise.

Thanks, Michael

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-10-2002 04:57 AM:

Hi Michael,

Thank you for your deconstruction/clarification of Jaf design.

About the Shikak, on Hull & Luczyc-Wyhowska’s "KILIM - the complete guide" there are plenty of examples of Shikak motifs. Here are a few ones.

Bakhtiari (pl. 417):

Quashqai (pl. 420):

Uzbek (pl. 480 and 513)

Notice the Quashqai and the first Uzbek with inward hooks.

This one comes from "KILIM RUGS" of Susan Gomersall.

To be honest the caption says "Talish Kurdish" and I don’t trust the author very much, so I take it with a pinch of salt.

Best regards,


Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-10-2002 09:21 AM:


Dear Filiberto:

Thanks for supplying all of these images. Two quick points.

First, the images all show a Shikak like device in slit tapestry weavings. This is consistent with my point that the shikak motif probably has its origins in slit tapestry. By contrast, the Jaf diamond motifs have their origins in brocades. Therefore, comparing them may not bear much fruit or lead us down paths that are red herrings. You know, the apples and oranges analogy.

Second, all of the weavings illustrated represent what I have been describing as slit tapestry weavings with motifs "like the Kurdish Shikak motif." Note however, that in all of these weavings the hooks face inward. What is distinctive about the Kurdish Shikak motif is that the hooks radiate outward. It is a small, but I think significant, distinction. We also see Kurdish weavers using parts of this motif, usually 1/2 cut horizontally to make a cloudband coller looking device in many rugs from the period 1870 - 1920.

I have come to believe that this Shikak motif drawn in this specific manner is a Kurdish version of the more common motif seen in countless slit tapestry weavings all over the world and as further support for my argument that the origins of a Kurdish weaving tradition lie in simple flatweaves.

Thanks, Michael

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-11-2002 03:00 AM:

Hi Michael,

You say "Note however, that in all of these weavings the hooks face inward."
Hmm! It depends from how you see the design. You are right for the two Uzbek (my mistake) but not for the others.
Also, what happens if I rotate of 90 degrees the Shikak of your rug and enlarge its width?
I made another collage - the original Shikak, the tricked one and the others - rotating the others on their wider side:

What does it show? Assuming that the first Shikak element on the left is an exact copy of a slit tapestry design, it shows how easy is for a weaver to pass from the first motif to the hooked diamond form with few simple modifications using the same slit tapestry technique.

When you say "I think the Shikak motif is more likely to come out of a slit tapestry tradition and the Jaf diamond bags to have its origins in brocades" I have to agree with you because, about the Jaf, the offset knotting appears to be an adaptation of brocading in knotted pile.

However, what is the Jaf diamond after all? It’s the universal hooked diamond design we can find almost everywhere in the oriental rug world. Its peculiar characteristic consists in being woven with offset knotting. But, is that design BORN in brocades? Nobody knows…

Nothing forbids to think that it could have a slit tapestry origin, PERHAPS coming from the Shikak motif.

Conclusion: you see, more than a matter of apples and oranges, it’s the old chicken-and-egg problem.



Posted by Michael Wendorf on 08-11-2002 09:01 AM:

eating eggs

Hi Filiberto:

I think your post and collage is a good explanation for why people like you, Steve and your colleagues have a website like Turkotek and why we have these discussions. Thank you.

It seems we have made a little progress in understanding Jaf diamond bags and their possible origins. You have also helped me see the Shikak motif a little differently, so I have to think about the implications some more.

For now, I will go eat some eggs for breakfast, apologies to the hen.

Thanks, Michael