Much More than Floor Coverings
By “Awake!” correspondent in Turkey
SOME view them as dusty necessities around the home. Keeping them clean is hard work. When they wear out, replacements can be costly.
Others consider them highly prized possessions. Many are on display in famous museums throughout the world. In the confined and shuttered houses of Persia and Anatolia, they may be the only furnishings.
What are we talking about? Handwoven Oriental rugs, or carpets. These works of art are more than just floor coverings. For centuries they have represented the art and wealth of Oriental peoples.
The origin of carpet weaving seems to be lost in the mists of antiquity. Assyrian stone carvings from the eighth century before the Common Era depict carpets with four-leafed motifs and other designs. Excavation in southern Siberia of royal graves from the fifth to the third century B.C.E. has turned up the oldest known example of a handwoven and knotted carpet.
The Weaving Process
How are Oriental rugs produced? Carpet weaving is done on a rectangular loom. Strands of yarn stretched from one end of the loom to the other are called “warp” threads. Drawn across these are “weft” threads, which go alternately over and under the warp threads.
But there is another important element in Oriental rugs, one that is responsible for their variety of colors and designs. To produce these the weaver takes short pieces of colored wool and fastens them with a special knot around pairs of warp threads. This process may be performed by one individual, or by two or more working side by side.
In the East two kinds of knot have come into use: the Gördes, or Ghiordes (geeORʹdes), and the Sine, or Sehna (SENʹna). When using the Gördes knot, the weaver takes a short length of colored wool, loops its left end around the left side of a pair of warp threads, and its right end around the right one. The two ends are then drawn up between the two warp threads. The Sine knot goes under one warp thread and has a single loop around the next one. This knot results in an end sticking up between each warp thread.
According to the book Oriental Rugs in Colour, an average female weaver can tie 800 to 1,000 knots an hour, a knot every three to four seconds. “A good craftswoman,” notes the same publication, “can tie 6,000 to 10,000 knots a day, according to the density of the knots and the nature of the material. A workshop hand [regularly employed in making Oriental rugs] commonly turns out rather more, up to 14,000 knots a day.”
When an entire row of these specially knotted threads is completed from side to side, two or three weft threads are drawn across and pressed down upon the knots with a kind of large comb. This tightens and compresses the knotted pieces, leaving their ends projecting upward. Later the projecting woolen tufts are clipped to the same length, giving an even surface.
Oriental rugs feature many intricate designs. In 1905 carpets from the period of Seljuk domination of Turkey (eleventh century of the Common Era) were found in the Alaedin mosque at Konya, Central Anatolia. They have background colors of dark blue or red. In lighter shades of the same colors are designs in the form of oft repeated geometric patterns. These include octagons with hooked corners, eight-pointed stars, and even more complicated designs.
Some carpets have the field, or main area, divided into small squares or hexagons, in which there are bird or animal figures. There are specimens of Oriental rugs containing action scenes of animals attacking one another. Some of the rugs are quite large. One measures 15 square meters (161 square feet), with each square meter having about 84,000 Gördes knots. Especially interesting are the borders of these carpets, often adorned with bold Kufic lettering, a simplified form of the Arabic alphabet.
Later came “Ottoman” carpets, coinciding with Ottoman rule throughout the Central Anatolian plains of Turkey. Some are called “Holbein” rugs because they appear in the paintings of the sixteenth-century German painter Hans Holbein. These rugs have a very high knot count, with as many as 100,000 to 150,000 knots per square meter (1.2 square yards).
Other examples of this Oriental art are the Uşak carpets. The Encyclopædia Britannica (1976 Macropædia) describes them as having central star medallions in gold, yellow and dark blue on a field of rich red. The main area of such rugs often has in its four corners quarter medallions of a design similar to the center one. Other carpet designs include veined leaves, tendrils and flowers like tulips and roses—all in an unbroken layout with perhaps a medallion design in the corners.
Of particular interest to many is the design appearing on a “prayer rug.” When praying, Moslems must face eastward—toward their holy city, Mecca. The design of prayer rugs, therefore, includes something like an arrowhead. When the rug is laid down, this arrow must point toward Mecca.
Caring for an Oriental Rug
How should a person care for one of these specially designed carpets? The best method is plain, old-fashioned beating. It should be done lightly from the back, knocking dust and grit away from the knots. To accomplish this, one should have a properly made rug beater. Gentle beating also tightens the knots and restores the surface. If a carpet is cumbersome and difficult to handle, second to beating comes a thorough vacuum cleaning.
Besides these methods, one may keep an Oriental rug clean by washing it with mild, pure soap. Drying should take place in a light, airy location, but not in direct, hot sunlight. And be sure to spread the carpet out flat when drying it. Otherwise it may dry in an odd shape and develop creases. Some recommend laying a carpet face down in snow and then gently beating it. Supposedly, this benefits the colors and fibers.
Oriental carpets represent a long tradition of fine craftsmanship. Those who know something about their history and makeup well realize that they are much more than floor coverings.
[Picture on page 25]
Gördes or Turkish knot
Sine or Persian knot
Handwoven Turkish carpet