Marla Mallett's Comments
Dear folks -
I asked Marla Mallett to comment on this salon. She was traveling but is home now and sent the following response today. I'll simply quote her below.
"...Congratulations on putting together a very interesting Salon presentation. I haven't yet had a chance to read all of the threads, but it seems to me that most of the comments have been right on target--all pretty valid.
It should be clear that Western weavers and Asian rug weavers use "samplers" for quite different purposes. American and European weavers tend to do sampling to try out a weave balance or new materials, figure out a new structure or technique, etc. You asked how I might have used samplers in my own work. Well, in my early years as a studio artist I did so much experimenting with weird structures and "sampling" that friends taunted me, asking when I was ever going to do a real piece! In later years, when I was doing a lot of commissioned work, I made sizeable "samples" to present to the architects, bank presidents, CEOs and hotel managers who were hiring me to produce large weavings for their lobby spaces. These, along with drawings, helped them to better envision the pieces that they were commissioning.
With West and Central Asian weavers, samplers have served a quite different purpose. Most of those have to do with patterning, not structural matters. Most Asian weavers have been born into families or communities of weavers with quite set ways of approaching their craft. Established techniques were passed on effortlessly, as a young weaver sat at a loom she didn't have to set up, using materials properly prepared for use on the warp in front of her. And she often sat alongside someone who was experienced and who could direct her work. As I've emphasized in my book, a satisfactory "weave balance" is not easily achieved. A perfect harmony must exist between the yarn sizes of warp, weft and knot, as well as several construction features. The kind of material, its preparation by carding or combing, the amount of spin, and the kind of ply all affect the loft, density and elasticity of each structural component. Coordinating these, with proper warp spacing, knot configuration,! the amount of weft ease and the amount of beating, is critical to a proper construction balance. This balance is so easily thrown out of wack, that village weavers tend to carefully replicate the weave balance that has been worked out in their community. Thus samplers are not needed for that.
Asian samplers or wagireh can have been produced for all of the purposes Salon participants have suggested. But, I'd think most often they've been made so that weavers could try out motifs and also have them handy for future reference. People frequently dislike hearing that weavers "count" warps when producing patterns, but a certain amount of counting is essential. How else can a weaver decide how to space her motifs? It certainly helps to have either a woven sample, another rug with the motif, or a cartoon for that purpose. Once the design is laid out, and underway, "counting" is less a factor and one simply produces diagonal pattern parts by adding knots a predictable distance to the right or left of the knots in the previous row. The Lao/Tai brocade sampler that you posted from my website is a good example of an aid to this kind of calculating in an even more exacting structure. It is extremely helpful for a brocade weaver to have on hand a sampler to use in figuring ! out how her motifs will fit together and fit into the available space in her piece. Her "sampler" may be a crude thing that nobody else ever sees, or she may keep finished weavings close at hand to use for reference.
A few years ago I did a lecture/workshop thing for ICOC and a few rug societies in which I had the audiences do a series of pencil and paper experiments to demonstrate the differences between on-the-loom designing and cartoon-based workshop designing. It's not the intricacy of the design, but the orientation of pattern parts that is the essential difference. The kinds of designing that are natural are radically different. It's no surprise, then, that most of the existing knotted pile "wagerih" show Persian "floral" sorts of motifs.
You asked if I have seen weavers in the rug-producing countries using samplers. I can't recall ever having seen a Turkish village weaver using such a thing that she has made. Plenty of villagers have been provided with cartoons by merchants commissioning their production, however, and even the weavers in projects as DOBAG have been provided with cartoons. I have occasionally seen little rugs that mothers have made for their children, in which they've tried out a new idea. (Some of these may be mistaken for yastiks!) In many past Turkotek discussions folks have commented on in-progress "corrections" or "false starts" in village rugs...a quite certain sign that cartoons were not in use by those weavers.
Do I think that samplers have always been used by weavers throughout history? I would assume so. The practical problems and the help they provide have surely always been the same. Weavers eager to not waste materials, however, may have made samplers that served double duty as small practical objects.
I'm not sure if this answers the questions you've raised...
All best wishes,
John again: My thanks to Marla for this nicely full reply.
R. John Howe
It's interesting to read Marla's comments about the care taken by traditional weavers in selecting and processing materials, implementing weaving techniques, etc., in order to achieve a fabric that meets their particular expectations. I have always considered the texture or feel of a rug (handling characteristics) to be an important consideration in judging it, right up there with color, design, wool quality, detail. Many very good rugs have ordinary handling qualities, and one doesn't make much of that aspect of it. But with some, one takes the impression that the weavers made very knowledgeable choices to achieve the result they did. Very good old Salor Turkoman pieces I have had the privilege of handling come to mind. Certain (what I would call) Yuruks, some Kazaks, etc. Then, of course, those ever lovin' Baluch. Others.
I've long had a sort of half-baked theory that collectors fall into two overlapping categories: the tactile collector and the visual collector. I think Jean and I are tactile collectors. Our home has almost no "do-not-touch" kind of art, but lots of sculpture that has especially nice tactile qualities. Like you, I have been attracted to rugs before I even saw them, on the basis of how they felt.
Dear folks -
My own eye goes to a different aspect of Marla's comments.
"...As I've emphasized in my book, a satisfactory "weave balance" is not easily achieved. A perfect harmony must exist between the yarn sizes of warp, weft and knot, as well as several construction features. The kind of material, its preparation by carding or combing, the amount of spin, and the kind of ply all affect the loft, density and elasticity of each structural component. Coordinating these, with proper warp spacing, knot configuration,! the amount of weft ease and the amount of beating, is critical to a proper construction balance. This balance is so easily thrown out of wack, that village weavers tend to carefully replicate the weave balance that has been worked out in their community. Thus samplers are not needed for that..."
Steve and I sometimes debate about the relative importance of design versus structural indicators in attribution estimates, although our real positions are likely not as opposed as the words sometimes might suggest.
But this passage of Marla's suggests to me both that and why structural factors don't change much (within a given weaving group) in many of the weavings we collect. It is that "weave balance" is easily disturbed and the local weaving community will not usually permit that (it has invested a lot in the one it has arrived at). So weavers weaving within a particular weaving tradition are more likely to experiment with design variations precisely because these are not so costly or well policed.
R. John Howe
John and Steve,
That's an interesting observation, in light of Marla's comments, about the loyalty of weavers to certain practices as a species of self interest. It is persuasive in those terms. At the same time, I imagine the persistence of particular weaving practices can also be attributed in some measure merely to habit, comfort level (of the weaver), and following the line of least resistance (as contrasted with a thought-through, dedicated approach). It all adds up to the conclusion that the dynamic factors operative within the context out of which the weavings come are probably much more complex than the simplistic attitudes we are prone to impute to the weavers.
My own attitudes about rug weavers were altered considerably when I watched a woman who had been brought from Turkey to demonstrate weaving at the international conference in London in the 1980's. I believe she was affiliated with the DOBAG project. I remember Walter Denny saying that she was from a rural area and had had no experience traveling outside Turkey, or even within urban areas there. She was frankly awkward looking in her dress and physical appearance, and seemed quite out of place in that venue, until she began to work at the loom. At that point, however, there was an immediate and truly magical transformation of the person into someone of unusual grace. She maintained a spot on a mezzanine level of the Barbican center swinging numerous skeins of yarn back and forth across the loom and otherwise manipulating the whole business with extraordinary skill and dexterity, smiling gently all the while at the many persons who chose to sit by and soothe themselves by watching her work.
I could go on about this weaving lady, as she impressed me a great deal. Ironically, there were other westerners at the conference who were demonstrating weaving as well, but I didn't find it pleasant to watch them. My point about the Turkish lady is that her complete mastery of her task and craft was so obvious, I realized then that she must have had a far more sophisticated understanding of the weaving process than anything I would ever muster, notwithstanding that I had probably been overheard at the conference murmuring in grave tones about the subject. I often think that we give the weavers insufficient credit for their "professional" expertise.
You wrote in part:
"That's an interesting observation, in light of Marla's comments, about the loyalty of weavers to certain practices as a species of self interest. It is persuasive in those terms..."
Although I agree with the general thrust of your observation, I think I'd tussle with your term "self-interest." That seems like a translation of what we are describing into U.S. individualist terms.
I think these rug weaving societies were/are likely far more organic than the one we live in and that such practices are socially, not individually developed, and layed down in social accretions over the years and protected by the local weaving community in general.
In this sense, these practices are more like what we'd call the outgrowth of a "public interest" (as difficult as it is for us to imagine nowadays what that might be) rather than instances of "self interest."
Just a quibble.
R. John Howe
My understanding of "self interest" in this context is just that it's lots easier to continue doing things the way you learned to do them years ago than it is to learn new ways. I think this is pretty basic human nature, and is one of the reasons revolutionary thoughts meet resistance when first proposed.
John and Steve:
I agree with both of you, and I think I was being a little too cryptic (that's euphemese for "opaque.") By self interest, I meant in the collective sense, in that by following known and tried methods, techniques and practices, the weavers as a group (who know what theywant) could know what to expect.
On the one hand, as Steve points out, there must be a measure of following the familiar and the line of least resistance. At the same time, as Marla makes clear to an extent I hadn't considered, every detail in the weaving and consequent choice of technique, material, etc., affects the resulting product. The weavers must realize this and make knowing choices in that regard.
My panegyric about the Turkish woman at the London ICOR was to the point that after having watched her, I realized that she was not just a motherly woman who did a litle weaving. She was clearly a highly skilled person who was master of a sort of trade, and I left having no doubt she understood what she was doing at a deep level. I am sure there are very many like her.
"My understanding of "self interest" in this context is just that it's lots easier to continue doing things the way you learned to do them years ago than it is to learn new ways. I think this is pretty basic human nature, and is one of the reasons revolutionary thoughts meet resistance when first proposed."
I think the suggestion that what is going on is simple "inertia" without constant examination of what is going on likely leaves a great deal out. Weavers talk to one another, and in weaving communities, are often weaving together, and examining one another's work. I have read repeatedly that the weavers of any rug community know very well who the best weavers in it are. This suggests something far more active on a continuing basis that simply doing what's always been done in an unthinking way. The feed back loop on weaving must be fierce. The weaver can often tell very quickly if things are going wrong. So I still think there are some more pro-active characteristics in play here that your treatment tends to obscure.
R. John Howe
I didn't really mean that it is simple inertia, but was thinking more in terms of conservativism in the "if it isn't broke, don't spend a lot of time and energy trying to fix it" way. Using revolutions in thinking as an example was poorly chosen; the resistance they meet is usually mostly inertia.
Unless a change in technique is seen as a significant advance, the experienced weaver is (I suspect, don't actually know) unlikely to spend time learning it. These aren't hobbyists, they're craftspeople making part of a living with what they do, and they're paid by the piece, not by the hour. Mastering new method = more time per piece = less money per hour, so unless they see that equation as a temporary state that will be be replaced in a reasonable amount of time by new method = more money per hour, their self-interest makes them not fool with the new method.
Maybe I just misunderstand the forces that drive them.
I have NO direct experience with the sort of weavers we're talking about, excepting one eight-day period I spent working with a Turkmen weaver and several Tibetan ones, near two DOBAG weavers from Turkey, at a Smithsonian folk festival a few years ago.
But I want to quote Marla's words here again about "weave balance."
"...As I've emphasized in my book, a satisfactory "weave balance" is not easily achieved. A perfect harmony must exist between the yarn sizes of warp, weft and knot, as well as several construction features. The kind of material, its preparation by carding or combing, the amount of spin, and the kind of ply all affect the loft, density and elasticity of each structural component. Coordinating these, with proper warp spacing, knot configuration,! the amount of weft ease and the amount of beating, is critical to a proper construction balance. This balance is so easily thrown out of wack, that village weavers tend to carefully replicate the weave balance that has been worked out in their community."
This suggests to me that the particular weave balance worked out in a given weaving community is considered a very real achievement that must be maintained. Weave balances that have been worked out in given communities vary, but there seems not much tolerance in a given community for experiementing with the one the community has worked out there.
And there may be economic reasons for not experiementing with a given weave balance, but they may be no more controlling than the standards of craft the exist in the local weaving community. Such standards would seem to apply to items not made for sale, maybe more so. Jim Burns advised collecting saddle blankets and covers (if one can find and afford them) because they are almost always pieces of the finest materials and on which the weavers' skills have been lavished. I suspect the local "weave balance" is not tampered with even when such non-economic pieces are made.
R. John Howe
"I suspect the local "weave balance" is not tampered with even when such non-economic pieces are made."
I have a few examples of bags in which the weaver utilized many changes in materials and techniques. It is possible also that some weavers use these smaller pieces as experimental and learning work, using pieces that they would have made for household use anyway. It would be less "expensive" to try a new technique on a small piece than a larger piece they were planning to sell. They could also be used as teaching devices to show younger weavers various techniques.
You mention that in weaving communities, the weavers know very well who the best weavers are. I'm sure that's true, and that there is a great deal of pride wrapped up in this kind of work that the culture has esteemed for generations. At the same time, one has to note the fact that a great deal of contemporary weaving represents a decided fall off in standard. Surely the weavers themselves understand this better than anyone. In real terms, they must be making some deliberate pragmatic, not to say cynical choices.
Everything we say about rugs and textile is a tendency statement.
I would not be surprised at finding different materials and techniques in a given piece, but would be more so if we found different versions of a given one there.
For example, if we found a rug that had no warp depression in some areas and sharp depression in others. Or if we found areas where there were two picks of weft being used with noticable weft ease between each row of knots and then others where a Bijar-type wefting (one largish taut weft and two smaller one put in with more weft ease).
I have seen pieces where it looked like the weaver was using up whatever was around for wefts (perhaps the size doesn't vary much) but I would be surprized if the warp size varied from one part of a rug to another.
I'm not sure that what your seeing intrudes on what Marla has called "weave balace" and which she indicates is something not usually tampered with because of the large investment in achieving it and the likely costs of moving away from it.
R. John Howe
Weave balance is the relationship between the warp and the weft. It is a simple relationship that decides the appearance and success of a piece. If you have an appropriate sett for your warp so that your picks of weft settle in properly you have good balance. Weavers call it the hand of the cloth. You spend time determining the appropriate sett for a rug or cloth if you are working with a new material in order to get a successful balance. It depends on your culture as to what material you are working with. Silk...cotton....wool. How is that fiber prepared? Is it always available? Commercially or hand done? Was the wool machine spun or hand spun. Was the silk reeled by hand or by machine. There are so many variables to a successful balance for a good "hand" in your textile. Weavers always stay aware of sources for their materials so that if an item is successful they can reproduce it again for the market. If it is for "domestic" consumption the ability to reproduce an item is not as important.
What means, what ends
I wonder, John, whether in your survey wagirehs have come up that sample designs executed in alternative knotting techniques.
So far the common concept seems to be, the core technique learned by a weaver in her community determines the design outcome. This may be alright in a nomadic or village community, but I imagine this would not satisfy a creative workshop designer, who might want to employ the technique most suitable to realize his design idea. As we know, different knots offer different possibilities here. A "two-technique-wagireh" or a "multi-technique-wagireh" would be called for, for training, for loom-side reference etc.
There also are communities of which we know that they do symmetric knots as well as asymmetric ones. The question is whether those are techniques of different fractions, or whether individual members can do either or.
Thanks for your comments.
We did not in our (actually pretty superficial) survey see any descriptions of wagirehs done to show how a give piece might be woven in two different structures.
Filiberto has the Taher Sabahi book and would be able to scan it for that but I doubt that he deals with it either.
I think the responses of the contemporary weavers are more nearly of the sort of thing you seek. Read Deb McClintock's indications again. She's mostly trying to gauge how much of a given color she needs to dye with natural methods, but she's also learning how a particular structure she has adopted for a given piece works in practice.
Now about knot variations, we do know some things.
For example, Tekke pieces invariably have asymmetric knots open right but the Tekkes do know how to tie symmetric knots. They put them on the right sides (sometimes both sides) of their rows, seemingly as reinforcement. And they use symmetric knots on their mixed technique tentbands (although Marla and Richard Isaacson suspect that Turkmen mixed technique tent bands were woven by specialists.)
And we know that both Yomut weavers and Saryk weavers seem to have moved from symmetric knotting to asymmetric knotting. Similarly some suspect that Salor weaving did not stop as some think in 1850, but that they adopted an asymmetric open right knot in their later pieces.
R. John Howe
Sorry, no details about structures in Sabahi's book