Posted by Michael Bischof on 11-09-2002 04:39 AM:


Hallo everybody,

some years ago I came across a historical-geographical publication about medieval Mamluk egypt. Sorry, because of some software trouble that I had with Bill Gates' trusted products I do not have it at hand , but it is not out of this world and I would be able to find it again.
Notice the way we have described in the essay the function of certain kilims with empty middle in the wedding ceremony of Turcomans. In this above mentioned paper there was an account of a very special textile that was made for a politically important wedding. The textile was kind of an extreme finely woven fabric ( made, at that time, of course from exclusively hand-spunnen yarns)
on a hand-loom. It was embroidered with natural dyed silk yarns. To produce this textile 100 women worked about 1 year - and
the big success of this textile when it was shown during the procession on the streets was described.

100 women, 1 year

As a side effect of the North-South opposition today "slave" work in Pakistan or China costs about 15 $/month. This means 18 000 $ labour for the textile. But this is a nonsense figure.

In medieval times Mamluk Egypt was one of the leading powers, politically, econmically, for its military power. They were the only force to smash the Crusaders and stop the Mongols. It was a Turkic state outside the far removed Turkic areas. To assume that a textile worker that lived (and ate) in that society was available for 15 $ a month is stupid. A realistic comparison would be to pick the United States or Western Europe of today. Let us suppose a minimum wage for people who work and live here is about 1000 $ a month. Below this level most likely nobody could do and would do the job. Then the incorporated labour is 12 000 per year and capita x 100 = 1,2 Mill. $ . This particular textile was quite an etxravaganza at its time then.

Though my tastes and measures were called "imperial" and "draconian", I guess even "snobbish", I must confess that I do not know what a Rolls Royce costs. I suppose it costs less than this particular textile.

Connection to kilims ?

Have these kilims been a similar extravaganza ? We guess not. A fine kilim has, when taken from the loom, a weight of 1,7 kg per m².

The earliest known kilim with an empty middle has roughly the size of pl. 38 in the Krefeld catalogue ( the last picture in our essay), that means 5,2 m² x 1,7 kg = 8,84 kg ready yarn of high quality, for which one needs 30 kg of specially selected raw wool . In kilim weaving there is some loss but less than with pile weaves ( the knotted yarn is cut).
Only to comb the wool with a iy or, even better, with a jay, affords 7-10 days for 1 kg. To spin it takes 3-5 days when using a kirman or a [i ]tesi[/i] , with a spinning wheel it costs less than 10%.

That means 62 labour days for combing and 35 days for spinning. In other terms: the minimum wage to pay for a Turkish lady on the countryside for any regular job is about 100 $ a month today ( 2 years before it was quite more - in April 2001 the Turkish Lira lost 60% of its value against hard currencies overnight) so it amounts for 45 $ labour/kg undyed kilim yarn of first quality, made according traditional methods. Let us assume the warps are 20% of the final weight then we need dyes for 7 kg. Natural dyes sensu strictu equivalent to the quality ( saturation, pureness, lustre, amount of fiber damage during the dyeing process cost about 15 $/kg so 105 $ to be added. Two women would weave the piece without design besides her normal household work. This costs about 45 days of labour each ( the maximum) so we have 90 days of labour or 3,75 months amounting to 375 $.
Final washing and cleaning using only "fibre-friendly" soft methods costs about 5-7 $/m² that is 31 $.

So this kilim costs about 908 $ to make. Of course this work today needs some enterpriser: to pre-finance the raw wool, the combing ,spinning , dyeing and washing ( when the job is done the people insist on cash money ) . Let us assume, though it is kind of idiotic, that this enterpriser would only charge 100% profit on such a piece it would be at about 1800 - 1900 $. This is not an extravaganza - but even for this there is no market today !
And now keep in mind: the existence of 15 $/month slave work is a new artificially made situation. How much 80% of this worlds population hate us for having established it is clear by now anyway. 300 years before today, in the pre-industrial time, there was no reason to assume that a farmer or nomadic woman's labour should be cheaper than the labour of an American or European rural lady. Now calculate the above given figures with (a) Pakistani or Chinese wages (b) modern European or American wages.
With (b) you will come to the conclusion that 100 - 120 before today such things ( including carpets) were no extravaganza but why an average middle class family could afford to buy such things only 1-3 times per life cycle.

From (a) you learn why uprooted carpets are so popular today and from (b) you will understand that important early village rug (fragments) and kilims are extreme cheap today. A kilim ( a "real" kilim, not something from some palace) from the period of Lotto is (relatively) much more important than one oil-on-canvas picture more ... but would it rate at even 10% of the pictures value ?

Have a nice weekend digesting these figures. Of course these are not lunatic: quite some American collectors have been in Konya at our dye plant and in Taskale and have seen such yarns and dyes. I mention here Samy Rabinovic, Walter B. Denny, Brian Morehouse - and there are many more . And we had put together all these calculations in a paper that is too long to be offered and digested here ( but it is in the USA: at Steve Price, at Bethany Mendenhall and Charles Lave ) with the title "About the economy of carpet weaving in old times and today". One canot escape from anything after it had been published - so we are really serious on this matter.

But the clou of all this, and the bridge to early kilims, is not the painstakingly documentation of how much labour in involved in making them - it is whereelse ! And I am curious whether this salon discussion will focus on this aspect !


Michael Bischof

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