A NEW LOOK AT SOME ANCIENT CARPET FRAGMENTS
Preface to the Exhibition
Notwithstanding more than 100 years of investigation and the collection of a
significant amount of data, little positive provenance information has yet emerged
to pinpoint the origins of most Oriental carpet designs. Progress has been made
on several fronts particularly the recognition these designs did not exist in
a vacuum and must be studied by taking other decorative arts into account. Clues
garnered from diverse objects such as pottery and other findings from pre-historic
archaeological excavations; metalwork from the bronze age and later periods;
calligraphy from 9th century; architecture beginning in the 12th century; miniature
painting from the 13th century and book-binding and wood-work from the 14th
century have encouraged a number of important insights. However, the origins
of the designs found on historic and later complex patterned weavings still
remain mysterious and undetermined.
Obviously the weavings themselves hold the greatest store of facts to assist
in unraveling these questions
and it is there more concentration must be applied.
This can be done in several ways. The first is by the employment of the various
analytic techniques developed by cutting-edge forensic sciences. Utilization
of these new tools will facilitate the identification of important key elements
that have hereto remained hidden. Once this is accomplished the sources of the
raw materials and their various production methods will become identified. Collating
these results will provide statistical profiles and examples, even those that
formerly appeared unrelated, could then be grouped together based on verifiable
criteria. These scientific findings, rather than the less positive comparisons
of technique and design used today, will definitely improve chances for solving
Similar intensive studies of the existent raw materials like wool, dyestuffs
and water supplies, which are still present in the eastern Mediterranean areas
where many of these historic weaving are believed to have produced, is a second
area of inquiry. Collecting and comparing these results to those gathered
from the weavings themselves will undoubtedly add other valuable criteria
for these profiles. In conjunction with scientific field investigation, a
far more intensive search, both above and below ground level for historic
weavings will also add new examples to the relatively small number now known
and likewise assist in answering these questions.
However the third and perhaps the easiest - a re-examination of the small
number of known historic weavings – can also yield new findings and
discoveries. Since the first two are beyond the possibilities of this writer
and The Weaving Art Museum at the present time, this third method has been
chosen to present our Sixth Exhibition “A New Look At Some Ancient Knotted-Pile
Carpet Fragments”. The examples selected for this inquiry come from
the largest and most comprehensive grouping of early historic cut-pile carpets
- The Lamm Collection. Both individually and as a group these wondrous little
fragments provide a valuable source of material to answer the intriguing question:
What were the origins of Oriental carpet designs?
The Lamm fragments are preserved in the collections of two Swedish museums
and one of them, the National Museum in Stockholm, published a selection of
them in a small catalog titled “Carpet Fragments”(1). While the
largest is not even a quarter of foot square, their importance to carpet studies
is nevertheless well known to motivated researchers and carpet cognoscenti
although they are virtually unknown elsewhere despite this publication almost
twenty years ago. It is also for this reason The Weaving Art Museum has decided
to make them available now and this presentation will allow viewers a unique
trip back in time to glimpse and wonder at their beauty and history.
In addition, their re-examination will provide some new ideas concerning both
their own inter-relationships and those they maintain with other historic archetypal
weavings. But most significantly it will shed some new light on the difficult
questions surrounding the origins of some later knotted-pile and flat-woven
Oriental carpet designs and types.
Before beginning a short commentary on the collection’s history and
a brief description of some technical terms necessary to understand them,
I would like to take this opportunity and express my thanks and gratitude
to Ms. Margareta Nockert of the National Museum in Stockholm and Ms. Marianne
Erikson of the Rohsska Museet in Gothenburg, who provided access to the respective
textile collections under their curatorial authorities. Without their help
I would not have been able to examine and photograph the examples published
in the “Carpet Fragments” catalog, as well other historic textiles
conserved in their museum’s collections.
An important part of this re-examination was making new structural analyses
and in doing so there were deviations from those previously published by Lamm.
I have noted where these occurred and will explain the relative importance
of making structural analysis later.
For this online exhibition a baker’s dozen of 13 examples from the
Lamm Collection have been chosen and each of these is presented as a separate
Plate in the exhibition. Along with them a number of additional ancient weavings
from other sources are also included and they appear as figures used in the
text. Most of these are knotted-pile but a few are slit-tapestry or soumak
and these different techniques, in addition to other relevant comments, will
be noted in the short descriptions accompanying each figure illustration.
Also, when appropriate, other weavings that demonstrate connections to the
Plates or figures will be referenced and illustrated.
A Brief Note on the Lamm Collection
All the fragments published in “Carpet Fragments”, which were
only a small portion of his collection, were collected by the Islamic art
scholar Carl Johan Lamm during his extended stays in Cairo, Egypt during the
1930’s.(2) Most of these were first published in the 1937 Yearbook of
the Swedish Orient Society where Lamm used them solely as secondary source
material to place the Marby Rug, which had been recently discovered in a Swedish
church, “…in the early evolution of Oriental carpet knotting.”(3).
This online exhibition will focus only on some of them leaving the rest and
the Marby rug aside for now.
Only black and white illustrations accompanied Lamm’s 1937 commentary
and it was not until the “Carpet Fragments” catalog was published
in 1985 that color pictures of these important fragments of carpet weaving
history became available. In preparing this exhibition for The Weaving Art
Museum, the photographs used to make the digital scans were the photographs
taken while this author was in Sweden. These, more than the ones in the printed
catalog, more faithfully reproduce the colors and details of the original
weavings and are reproduced here for the first time.
Thirty-five of the 40 examples from the Lamm Collection published in the
“Carpet Fragments” catalog are now in the National Museum and
the five others in the Rohsska Museet, in Gothenburg. Lamm’s original
commentary included drawings of reconstructions showing how he thought these
carpets might have originally looked along with his observations and structural
analyses. The inclusion of structural analysis and many of his ideas about
Islamic Art were far ahead of many of his contemporaries and prove Lamm’s
prescience in not only having collected these “scraps” but realizing
how important they were to the history of pile carpet weaving in the Near
East. It is unfortunate other carpet scholars, like von Bode, Sarre and Erdmann,
are much more well known and it is my personal hope this small presentation
will introduce Lamm and his work to a new generation of collectors and a wider
audience of the general public.
The Plates and the 27 other fragments not illustrated here were all purchased
in Cairo and, while Lamm provided no exact provenance for them, he did indicate
they were most probably found in al-Fostat.(4) This is the name given to the
oldest part of Cairo where both ancient rubbish heaps and tombs have been
located and it is interesting to note Lamm suggests his purchases more than
likely came from the former and not the latter type of location. But wherever
these rare pieces were found one important fact does remain - each one is
In the ensuing 70 plus years since their first publication only a few other
equally historic examples of cut-pile carpet have yet to surface. This has
guaranteed them and their first custodian, Carl Johan Lamm, a very special
place in the history of Near Eastern knotted-pile carpet weaving. The valuable
information they convey comes from a time-period that would be all but lost
without them and remains their own, as well as Carl Johan Lamm’s, greatest
contribution to the study of oriental carpet design.
A Brief Explanation of Structural Analysis
Structural analysis is a notation process used to delineate the exact textile
techniques used to produce a weaving and to describe the materials used in
the production process. Here is a list of the key terms used in this presentation
and an explanation.
- A carpet is technically not a weaving but rather a process of knot tying.
These knots are tied onto a structural foundation that has two main components,
warp and weft. The knots of various colored threads are tied onto pairs
of adjacent warp threads according to the dictates of the pattern. It is
the two ends of the knots that make the pattern. Each row of knots is held
in place by the weft thread, the second component. There are two main types
a. The Symmetric knot: this type of knot, also known as the
“Turkish” knot, is technically described as discontinuous knotted-pile
wrappings done on adjacent warp threads,(fig.1)
which provide the pattern element of the weaving. The structural
components, the warp and weft, are hidden from view but necessary, for without
both of them there could be no structural integrity to the weaving. Basically
the weaver wraps different colored threads around two adjacent warp threads
to form each knot in a horizontal grid that progresses as each succeeding
line of the pattern is completed one by one and knot by knot. These knots
are very similar to the individual pieces of tile in a mosaic and when viewed
in their entirety the overall pattern of the design is produced.
b. The Asymmetric knot: this type of knot, also known as the “Persian”
knot, is technically described as discontinuous knotted-pile wrappings done
on adjacent warp threads, which provide the pattern element of the weaving.
However unlike the symmetric knot, where the two ends of each knot completely
encircle each warp thread and therefore appear between them giving a symmetric
appearance, only one side of the asymmetric knot thread completely encircles
a warp thread and the other warp is only partially
encircled. This asymmetry gives this knot its name and if the left warp
is completely encircled (fig.2)
, the term open right is used. When the right warp is completely encircled
(fig.3) it is known as open left and in both instances a warp
thread always appears in-between the two halves of each knot. The
structural components, the warp and weft, in common with the symmetric knot
are also hidden from view. But they are just as necessary, for without both
of them there could be no structural integrity to the weaving. Basically
the weaver wraps different colored threads around only one of the adjacent
warp threads and under the next to form each knot in a horizontal grid that
progresses as each succeeding line of the pattern is completed one by one
and knot by knot. Again in common with the symmetric version, each of the
knots are similar to the individual pieces of tile in a mosaic and when
viewed in their entirety, the overall pattern of the design is produced
- There are two other types of weavings that need explanation here. These
are known as flat-weaves and they, unlike knotted-pile, are weavings in
the truer sense of the word. Both of them, soumak and kelim, have long histories
of use and it is believed they pre-date knotted-pile weaving. They are:
a. Soumak: Unlike knotted-pile soumak is a flat-weave, ie.
there is no knot or pile. Its proper terminology is discontinuous weft wrapping.
Here two wefts are used, one is structural and the other creates the pattern.
The structural weft passes over and under each successive warp thread, running
in one continuous line over the loom width from edge to edge of the
). The pattern weft is discontinuous, appearing on the face of the weaving
only where it is necessary to form the pattern. To do this it wrapped around
one warp then passes over several adjacent warp threads and is then wrapped
around another one, this process continuing as determined by the requirements
of the pattern. It is then cut and re-inserted when necessary to complete
the pattern or left uncut and ‘floated’ across the warp thread
until the pattern dictates its use again. The cutting or floating always
done on the back-side of the weaving. There are many forms of this technique
and they are described numerically, ie. fractionally for instance 4/1 or
3/2. The first number signifying how many warp threads are passed over and
the second number how many are then wrapped. So a 4/2 soumak weave would
imply the pattern weft would pass over 4 adjacent warps then be wrapped
around the fourth and third warps and then re-emerge to repeat this procedure.
A 3/2 soumak weave would mean 3 warps are passed over and the pattern weft
would be wrapped around third warp and back under two. Soumak is capable
of creating a fine yet quite strong weaving an account of the presence of
both pattern and structural wefting. Because of this it was often the technique
chosen to make covers and saddle-bags.
b. Kelim: Like soumak weaving, kelim or slit-tapestry, the technical
name for this technique, creates design by using pattern weft threads, again
there are no knots. However, there are only the discontinuous pattern wefts,
there are no structural ones. It is called slit-tapestry because at each
color join the adjacent warp threads are not attached or held together in
any way and this produces the characteristic slit(fig.5).
The pattern weft passes over and
under successive warp threads and is turned back and under a warp wherever
the design dictates a color change: The next color would then begin on the
first adjacent warp thread. These slits and the absence of structural weft
create a weaving that is not strong or suited to most utilitarian purposes.
It is believe slit-tapestry was the first loom weaving technique as it is
very well suited for use on the first type of upright loom, the warp weighted
one. These very simple structures were not framed on four sides allowing
the warps to be attached at both ends but rather were warp-weighted, ie.
clay weights were attached to the bottom of warps that had been grouped
together. This system, though primitive, provided the loom tension weaving
requires. Evidence of the warp-weighted loom has been archaeologically determined
back as far as the 7th millennium B.C. The kelims made on these looms could
never have been intended for anything other than decorative hangings or
covers as warp-weighting combined with the lack of structural integrity
inherent in slit-tapestry would not allow any others requiring more stress
resistance. It is therefore easy to surmise slit-tapestry was developed
solely for this purpose - creating complex patterned weavings. The earliest
kelims were the first weavings to have complex patterns as an integral part
of their structure rather than to have the patterns applied, ie painted
or drawn, onto them.
- There are two different ways of spinning the threads, both structural
and pattern, used in both knotted-pile and flat-weaving. When spun, each
threads direction of spin is technically described as ‘S’ spun
when it is twisted to the right and ‘Z’ if twisted to the left.
When a strand of thread (known as a
single ply) is combined with others, the process of twisting them together
or plying, was always done in the opposite direction to their spinning.
This was done to increase the structural integrity of the combined or plied
a. S ply: If the plying is done to the right (or clockwise)
it is called ‘S’ ply (fig.6)
b. Z ply: If the plying is done to the left (or clockwise) it is called
‘Z’ ply (fig.7)
1. Lamm, Carl Johan “Carpet Fragments – The Marby rug and some
fragments of carpets found in Egypt” Nationalmuseum, Uddevalla 1985.
2. ibid. pg. 6.
3. ibid. pg 9.
4. ibid. pg 9.
WRITTEN AND CURATED BY JACK CASSIN
Text ©2003 WAMRI - The Weaving Art Museum and Research Institute.
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