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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

The Wagireh

by R. John Howe and Filiberto Boncompagni

Page 3

Do weavers today still weave wagirehs?  I couldn’t conveniently ask those in the rug producing areas of Asia for their current practice in this respect but I am a lurker on a practicing weavers’ board called Rugtalk.  

I imposed on them by describing and providing images of the sort of samplers we are interested in here and asked whether any of them were weaving the “wagireh” types for any reason at all.  

I’ve had six weavers respond, so far, all indicating that they weave samplers of the “vagireh”sort at least sometimes.  Here are the responses of three of them:

 Weaver 1: 
“Yes I definitely weave samplers. I have an old Structo Art Craft 8 harness loom--really
small maybe a foot across if that but very capable of weaving up anything. Great
thing is I can just throw the warp on without a cross set it up and weave a few inches
to get an idea of the pattern. I also "weave" samples on the computer with the
Paint Program, which is more than adequate for the kind of block weaves I do.
With the computer I can change the color and pattern quickly but it's just a general
overview. Actually weaving the sample--and the whole process only takes a short
time--is extremely useful. I don't document the results much because I tend to
do one of kind stuff so it changes every time plus I usually more or less remember.

“Meredith Bennett in Virginia which is now as dry as the Sahara

Weaver 2: 
“When weaving rags, often color and stripe combinations occur by (lucky) chance. When I see something I particularly want to remember I'll weave a scrap at the end of the rug, before I start something new. Also, I'll weave a small piece of a particularly popular color or stripe pattern to show to new customers. With the knotted rag-rya pieces, I weave small scrap samples (8"-10") by the warp width to remember what density looks best. I also wash hand-dyed sample pieces to test the dyes.

Susan Johnson”

Weaver 3:
“John, I work with natural dyed yarns that are spun for me. My spin batches run from 20 -30 pounds and I use leceister longwool and mohair blends. (I handspin the sample and have a mill spin the yarn). In order to judge how much to dye of each spin batch I usually weave up 1 x 1 foot samples or perhaps a bit larger. This give me a square foot yield for my weave structure (not pile but split shed or block weave) and also helps me figure out the design proportions to layout my design carton. In other words the # of picks per inch that fit the weave structure. It isn't always perfect but as I work within each spin batch I am able to tweak my yield per square foot in order to maximize my yield and not prep too much natural dyed wools. Here's my web page to give you an idea:


”To recap why I do yield samples:

”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.

”As a side note I use stitchpainter, a design program, that enables me to use a grid based design sheet and turn the grid on and off for design decisions. I am able to save my designs electronically and cut and paste designs in future rugs. I am able to pick up a screenshot and import it into photoelements. I apply a sponge effect to get a pretty good idea of what the design will look like when woven. The only time a function like this is necessary if you need to show the final product idea to a client. I can visualize it but the printed copy really helps communicate. I understand that this is not the traditional way and that I could draw it by hand and watercolor it but I prefer to spend my time at the loom and dyepot.
”Good luck on your project
Deb McClintock”

Now I still don’t know for sure what Asian weavers do, but I think such needs and advantages are characteristic of weavers in general.  I’m betting that wagirehs have long been and are still being woven in lots of the areas from which we collect rugs and textiles. 

So much for the “historical,” more factual case.  What does logic suggest about when wagirehs were likely woven?
Well, first, you can see from the testimony of the active U.S. weavers above that there are lots of aspects of a weaving that are best exemplified “in the fabric” so to speak.  Not just designs and colors but the more technical aspects of a weaving are really best conveyed with an actual woven sample.  

Looking at it, the weaver can see what the warp set must be, whether alternative warps are to be level or depressed and if the latter to what extent.  The number and color of wefts between rows of knots can be seen and the amount of weft ease to be permitted can be gauged.  Even the number of plies and especially the twist of the warp, weft and pile can be examined directly.  

Last the overall look of the weave desired is there on the back of the wagireh for comparison.  The usefulness of such information has been there for weavers from the time the first shuttle was thrown.  

Wendel Swan attended Harold’s wagireh rug morning and recently rehearsed some aspects of the logical case he sees for the likelihood that wagirehs are a long-time phenomenon.  

 “As to the age of wagirehs, my argument would be that commercial production
has always existed and has always been the cornerstone for the economies of
the cultures that produced rugs.  Most collectors know of cartoons, but
there are and have been other methods for supervising weaving in a
workshop.  One is a means of using numbers, standing for the colors, that
is verbally directed.  Chanting is also used, perhaps in conjunction with
these numbers or perhaps independently.

”I know that the ancient zilu pieces were woven by having the entire design
prepared in advance and I can recall seeing a video of a blind man in a
dark weaving shed executing the design perfectly.

”I ask: Given the extensive history of rug production, why wouldn't wagirehs
have been used to instruct court, workshop or cottage industry weavers
about color, know density, pile height, end and side finishes as well as
pattern?  Are we to suppose that the people who had been weaving for
thousands of years didn't think of a practical way of instructing weavers
and that it took Europeans to show how rugs could be woven uniformly?

”Paper cartoons are more fragile than a wagireh and convey nothing of the
tactile sense.  In addition, the colors in a cartoon can never be accurate
and are apt to change with time.  I have a cartoon that Woven Legends used
for a Heriz-type rug and the colors don't match what one would expect to
actually see in the finished product.

”I tend to take a much broader view of rugs and their production that do
most collectors.  I seldom see in any rug or in any aspect of rug
production anything that isn't related to rugs or techniques that were in
use 1,000 - 3,000 years ago.

”I have Erdmann's book but I haven't read the wagireh section in some time.
…I see that Erdmann makes or cites several arguments for
various uses of a wagireh and some for substantial age of some of them.
I'm not quite certain about nomadic use, but I can't dispute it either.”

So there are two arguments concerning the wagireh, a “historical” on and a “logical” one.  Both we think suggest the wagirehs have been used by weavers for a long time and that their advantages continue to be experienced.  We do not think they are, defensibly, only an artifact of European operations in rug producing countries.

This is our introductory piece on the wagireh.  There are, undoubtedly, other interesting examples and additional features and questions that we have not addressed.  We invite your vigorous participation.


R. John Howe  and Filiberto Boncompagni

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