Posted by R. John Howe on 08-29-2006 12:49 PM:

Reasons for Making Samplers

Dear folks -

One of the things that interests me about our world of collecting oriental rugs and textiles is the distinction between what might be called "intellectual" learning, the sort one gets from rug books, lectures and conversations and "experiental" learning, the sort that one encounters when one enters the world of the weaver and begins actually to do things that weavers do.

There are several features of these two worlds that I have noticed.

First, it is often quite a bit easier to do some aspect of weaving than the verbal description of it suggests. Consider, for example, how easy it is to tie one's shoes and how many words, alternatively, are necessary to explain what one must do to achieve that. Often when I see pictures, say of a complex, selvege, that I have also read about, I find myself saying "Is that all it is?"

Second, every once in awhile when I talk to an actual weaver I have an experience that suggests just how distinctive our two worlds are and how difficult it is for me to apprehend the weaver's from my mostly intellectual perspective.

Something like that happened when I read the responses that a number of real weavers sent me indicating both that they did indeed sometimes weave samplers and the various reasons they had for doing so. Some of their responses contain expected things, but others were eye-opening.

Read again weaver Deb McClintock's summary of why she weaves samplers. She does so in order to:

"Calculate how much total wool needed for design
Calculate how much to dye
Understand weave structure and how it relates to my design process
Gives me standard measurement that I can use to design my cartoon
Documenting the process also gives me design ideas to use in future projects."

Now some of these are of the expected sort but I hadn't considered that it might be advantageous for a weaver to make a sampler before dyeing or before finalizing a design or cartoon.

Hand dyeing is an expensive process so it is important both to have enough wool of a given color but also not to have too much. Weaving a sampler lets her estimate how much dyeing of each color to be used she needs to do. I have to admit I had never thought of that as a reason for weaving a sampler.

Similarly, it is only after weaving a sampler with the materials to be used that she can determine both what the character of the final design should be and especially how it will graph on a cartoon. Again, obvious, once stated but I had thought most of the advantages of weaving samplers were further downstream in the process.

The intellectual world of weaving is certainly different from the experiential one and should make us both cautious and humble about what we say on the basis of the former. We're likely missing a lot. Perhaps we should weave more and talk less. :-)


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-29-2006 01:26 PM:

Hi John,

Point taken, but I’m not fully convinced that most of those reasons will apply in a weaving culture.
With all respect for them, your western weavers live in a vacuum.

Do you see a tribal weaver making a wagireh every time she starts a new rug? Because she needs to know … how much total wool needed for design
Calculate how much to dye
Understand weave structure and how it relates to my design process

In a weaving culture, a lesser-experienced weaver will have around somebody more experienced to direct her. And the experienced ones, after decades of work should know very well how much wool they need (and so on…) before starting a new job.
But it’s dinnertime here.
More reflections tomorrow.



Posted by R. John Howe on 08-29-2006 05:44 PM:

Hi Filberto -

I don't think any of the current weavers who responded claims to be weaving a sampler every time they weave a piece. Only that they often find it useful to do so.

And while they live in very different circumstances than did the weavers whose work we collect, today's weavers in fact have a far greater range of resources to draw on. Many of them seem to see one another frequently and to meet at fairs and shows and learning events (e.g., Collingwood's son, Jason holds workshops in the U.S.). And getting help is the primary occasion for posts on Rugtalk. There are lots folks to ask things of. And there was no internet for some traditional weaving-country weavers.

I think the thing that is likely most different is that these weavers are mostly weaving more recreationally and not working within a tight weaving tradition. A tribal weaver might not find it useful to weave a sampler, simply because the tradition dictates mostly what she should do both technically and design-wise. Although I think most weavers (maybe Chinese weavers are different in this respect) seem to be interested in "leaving some mark of individualism" in their work, often it is pretty subtle.

So I think I want to acknowledge your claim that there are a lot of differences between the circumstances of the weavers whose work we collect and contemporary weavers (especially like those in the U.S. whom I surveyed), I think the basic situation of weaving often still demands (or at least makes advantageous) particular moves and practices, like samplers.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-30-2006 02:23 AM:

Hi John,

As a matter of fact, Sabahi writes that nomads used to weave mostly by memory. Wagireh started being used in more settled, small-production oriented environments. In this context, the function of wagireh was to preserve certain motifs either for personal use or to transmit them to others.

Anyway this thread is an excellent opportunity for posting two more scans from “VAGHIREH” showing the actual weavers using the thing.
An Anatolian weaver with her wagireh:

Three more Anatolian weavers (from Taspinar) working side by side.

Here notice the fact that there are several wagirehs used for just one rug.



Posted by Lloyd Kannenberg on 08-30-2006 07:33 AM:

Hello Filiberto,

I think you make a good point.

In Robert Nooter's interesting book on Caucasian flatweaves, in his description of one of his field trips, he mentions "an elderly woman who gave us the only fragment that she had, which was woven by her great-grandmother and kept as a pattern for later works." He illustrates the piece in his Plate 185 (sorry, no scanner at the moment). It's the remains of a beautiful bagface or mafrash in the classic Ghyzy pattern. I have also heard that Anatolian village weavers have used old rugs as references for weaving patterns.

It would be very interesting to hear from Marla Mallett on this topic!

Lloyd Kannenberg

Posted by R._John_Howe on 08-30-2006 09:02 AM:

Hi Lloyd -

Good to see your friendly voice.

I have written to Marla on the side, attracting her attention to this salon and asking her to participate if only by indirection. If she's not traveling, we'll likely hear from her.

It is interesting that apparently a lot of things were/are used as samplers. Notice that Hildebrand, who argues that wagirehs have been used for a long time, and who describes some very close guidance that they can give, at another point suggests how approximate their function can sometimes be. He says:

"...Wagirehs, commonly used by women, give the weaver a chance to use their initiative. Patterns are often employed in which neither the measurements nor the colors agree with the carpet as ordered. It is left to the skill of the weavers to make the necessary adjustments."

This may be the way in which the ladies in the Anatolian image that Filiberto provides above (the one with several wagirehs hung at the top of the loom) are referencing them.

Jon Thompson has argued that one can often tell what form of guidance was used by examining a piece for irregularities in the execution of the design. He found a large number of them in parts of the designs in the Ardebils that should have been identical if a knot for knot cartoon was used. He thinks the weavers of the Aredil pieces were referencing some guiding cartoon more generally.

I'm at the end of my walk and cannot quote him but Cecil Edwards gives an impressive example of how little an inspiring sampler can be and how creative the translation of the weaver sometimes is.

Edwards says that if you ask a Heriz weaver for her "pattern" she will almost invariably pull out a small handkerchief-like piece (likely he thinks made in England) printed with a curvilinear design in only two colors. She proceeds, he says clearly astounded, to convert this design to the rectilinear and to weave it in 13 colors!

So this bears out Hildebrand's point that samplers can provide very detailed knot level guidance, but are also often followed only in a quite general way.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 08-30-2006 09:48 AM:

Hi Lloyd,

Yes, I remembered having read that on Nooter’s book. I didn’t look for it because it’s considered a fragment, not really a wagireh per se. Albeit it could be a wagireh, who knows…

As John explained above, we hope to have Marla’s comments.
In the meantime John’s mentions of cartoons reminds me of two scans I posted in the review of "Rugs of the Caucasus from Three Private Lebanese Collections (Tapis du Caucase à Travers Trois Collections Libanaises Privées)" by Ian Bennett and Aziz Bassoul.

Actually, this is a photo of the book’s plate 83, too large for my scanner…

And this is the cartoon from which the rug should have been copied, (the following is Bennett’s quote) “the first plate in an album published in St. Petersburg in 1913 called Kavkazskie Kovry: Al'bom ispolnitel'nykh risunkordlya kustarei. It reproduces one quarter of a prayer rug said to have been found in the mosque of Akhti, the capital of the Samur province of Daghestan and which, according to the anonymous author in 1913, was then 100 years old. The 1913-coloured drawing is reproduced in Richard Wright and John Wertime's Caucasian Carpets and Covers (page 60, plate 19). It would seem that either the weaver did not understand the fact that the drawing showed only one quarter of the design and that the mihrab itself should appear at only one end, or she purposely decided to misunderstand it. Either way, the result is a distinctly eccentric, and probably unique design with a known and well-documented history.”
This is the scan from Wright & Wertime:

Just to show what may happen even with cartoons.



Posted by Deb McClintock on 09-03-2006 05:52 PM:


It is true in our US culture we have many choices for rug weaving. We also do not have to support ourselves with our rug weaving like other cultures. When I have traveled in southeast Asia to learn from the Lao silk weavers many of them weave as a secondary source of income. Just as I do. In their culture they still have traces of the "silk grandmas" that help them continue the warping/design and color choices in tradition within their province. I suspect that learning support still exists in other cultures. That does not exist in the US culture. Those of us who choose to weave do so usually from learning from guilds, other area teachers at fiber conferences or via email groups. We do not have "silk grandmas" to help guide us in a tradition. We do not live in a village with limited resources or long tradition to provide boundaries for our weaving. Therefore we design our rugs within the constraints that we choose to apply to ourselves whether it is fiber, dye type, weave structure and loom. Samplers are very important to make sure you do not waste resources, dye or wool within that decision process. It is interesting to attend conferences of academics and conservators to see how they interpret the decisions or reasons of weavers.

Deb McClintock

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-03-2006 10:09 PM:

Hi Deb -

Glad you were willing to post here.

Since you have maybe you'd be willing to give a weaver's answer the the debate about whether something like the sort of sampler we're discussing here would likely have been useful to weavers for a long time.

The reasons that you cite for making them suggests to me that samplers would likely be useful wherever there is weaving.

The more usual response seems to be that weavers weaving within a close weaving tradition may not have much need for samplers since they have ready access to the "silk grandmas" of you southeast Asian example. (I have also heard that in some traditional weaving societies there is considerable division of labor. The older women, for example, may no longer weave but do both set up the loom and put on the warp both critical tasks.)


R. John Howe

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 09-04-2006 10:24 AM:

Hi all,

The use of cartoons is often cited as the primary reason for declaring that "city rugs" are not collectible, as any spontenaity is entirely removed from the weaving process.

The example that Filiberto showed us demonstrates that idea and product can actually vary, but in this specific case I think it is the structure of the rug that is causing the difference. The cartoon is rigorously orthogonol, and the knots appear to have a distinct horizontal bias, i.e. the knots are not fully depressed.

The following is an image from a 20th century Qum silk carpet; the knots are fully depressed and the design is sufficiently complex that one would expect that the design must have been presented to the weaver(s) in cartoon form.

Yet, certain realities work their way into the pocess, and in detail, there is a lot of character and variability within this piece.

First, this rug has an average density of 725 knots per square inch, and is is roughly 5 ft x 7 ft in size. A cartoon with individual elements only twice as big as the knots themselves must then be at least 10 ft x 14 ft, not unmanageable but cumbersome to say the least. Just imagine what it takes to keep from getting mixed up, or lost, in such a circumstance.

Second, there is a case for the presence or two weavers on this project, one of which was significantly more skilled than the other (the skilled one was working on the right).

Last, in following with John's comment above, it may well be that the cartoon was used for guidance (we cannot know the level of detail in the cartoon for this rug; it is not available), and that the skill and imagination of the individual weaver had a meaningful impact on the final result.

Here is the picture. Note that the flowers and leaves above the frame of the arch are not left/right mirror images of each other (this may have been part of the design). And, more interesting, note the character of the features within the frame of the arch, particularly the left side vs. right side difference in rendering skill and design development:

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by R. John Howe on 09-04-2006 11:06 AM:

Hi Chuck -

It may well vary, but my sense is that silk rugs are very often woven following a digitally-drawn cartoon knot for knot.

As you note, your example is not good for testing this since the design is not reflected either horizontally or vertically.

Colin England, who collects silk rugs here, says that one thing he likes about them is that they are often discernibly "perfect." I think he means by that that the design is reflected horizontally and vertically and that one can check and see that the reflected areas of the design are identical.

Here, for example, is a large Hereke that Colin owns.

You can see that this design is reflected vertically and so one can check whether the drawing on the right side is identical to the left (with the exception of the calligraphy in the borders which is likely different).

I think that is what made Jon Thompson think that the Ardebil carpets were woven following a cartoon more approximately. The design is a reflected one and checking areas that should be identical, if a digital cartoon was followed knot for knot, he found variation in many places.


R. John Howe

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 09-04-2006 02:33 PM:

Hi John,

Still slightly off topic, but in fact we tend to buy the silk Ghom pieces that are antithetic to the symmetry & perfection rationale.
(a small aside: that explanation crumbles in light of the inscriptions atop and on either side of Colin's piece...)

We have two pieces of the "perfect" ilk; still, one (a Qom) has an odd Dhagetsani pattern, which is why we bought it. The rest of ours are strongly asymmetrical. Here are two; the first is the complete piece from the detail shot above. Even in the border work, which is largely mirrored, in detail, there are quite a few "liberties" taken with the designs.


Chuck Wagner

Posted by Unregistered on 09-05-2006 09:50 PM:

Hello all,

Many years ago I acquired the Qashqai wagireh shown in the picture. I was able to find pictures of two good quality Qashqai carpets, auctioned at Sotheby's, that reproduced unusual elements of the sampler design, knot for knot as far as I could tell, but with different colors. (Unfortunately, I can't find the catalogs). The appearance of two similar carpets suggested to me that the Wagireh came from a workshop with a substantial output, but it doesn't indicate whether it was made as a help for weavers or as a sample for prospective buyers. My Wagireh and the one in the salon belonging to Alan Priest

share very similar versions of several design elements so I think they could have come from the same workshop.

Sabahi's book “Qashqai” includes a picture of a khorjin in which each of the two pile faces is a wagireh.

This seems more consistent with their use as samples for buyers than as aids to weavers, at least for this kind of Qashqai wagireh.

Leslie Orgel

Posted by Robert Alimi on 09-06-2006 12:40 AM:

Qashqai wagireh

Here are two more Qashqa'i examples.

The piece on the left is from Opie's "Tribal Rugs" (pg 96). The piece on the right is mine. There was a Qashqa'i wagireh at Grogan's April auction (lot 126), but unfortunately I didn't take a photo of the piece. If someone else DID happen to get a photo of the Grogan piece, please post it. Thanks.



Posted by James Blanchard on 09-06-2006 01:58 AM:

Hi Leslie,

Thanks for posting those Qashqai wagirehs. I suppose that the use of wagirehs and workshop production resulted in some conventionalization and "stiffening" of various design elements. In this regard, I was particularly interested to see a familiar floral medallion in the first wagireh you displayed (located on the right side, 1/3 from the bottom, with a white ground). That motif seems to go a ways back in Qashqai pile weavings and it has become more conventional and "stiff" in its drawing over time.

Here are three examples for comparison. The first is from a small Qashqai rug that I own. I found the third somewhere on the internet a few years ago. I think this is a good illustration of the "degeneration" and conventionalization of a design, which seems to have been common in Qashqai weaving traditions.


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-06-2006 02:13 AM:

Hi Leslie,

Thank you for the interesting scan of the khorjin in which each of the two pile faces is a wagireh.
But I don’t agree with your opinion This seems more consistent with their use as samples for buyers than as aids to weavers, at least for this kind of Qashqai wagireh.
On the contrary, I think that if the weaver of this two wagireh made them in a khorjin, it was for using them in both ways, as an aid and as a bag. This should point to a personal use.
Otherwise, why she should have bothered with the additional “khorjin” work?


Posted by Unregistered on 09-07-2006 11:05 AM:

Reasons for making samplers

Hello Filiberto,
You could be right, but I like to picture them as travelling advertisements, like the ads that appear on the sides of vans here in the USA.
Best wishes,
Leslie Orgel

Posted by Steve Price on 09-07-2006 11:08 AM:

Hi Leslie

If you would, please overwrite the word "unregistered" in the user name field with your full name when you post. This will make it appear in the message headers.

Thanks, and regards

Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 09-07-2006 11:14 AM:

Hi Leslie,
Steve was faster than me, about the “unregistered".

like the ads that appear on the sides of vans here in the USA
They should have used the sides of a donkey over there.