For me, rugs are in the same category as literature and art. Rugs are the medium of expression of creative people with stories to tell. Stories of harsh mountainous existence and the ravages of war and the beauty, for example, of Afghanistan’s interior. On my many journeys to remote parts of the world I always look out for rugs because of what they say about the people who live in these locations, their history and their present day, all woven into the carpets. I love that rugs are unique, one off works, some of them created on the loom over a year or more. No single carpet is the same as another. Those who know me know how much I love the transient, fleeting aspects of life. Along with that comes passion for rarity, for things that will never be repeated. A rug is like this, a life woven, documented in moments and motifs. Our rugs are the history books of Central Asia. And all of them I have collected I have selected for both the stories they tell as much as their beauty.
Mick Prato of Afghan Interiors is a carpet expert par excellence with whom I am working and he has more than twenty years experience sourcing amazing rugs from Pakistan and Afghanistan and right up through Uzbekistan (where I also travelled two years ago). I have learned a great deal from Mick already. He will be joining us from January 2nd 2015 for the last month of our pop-up but I already have a fine collection of Afghan Interiors rugs on display in the rug bazaar of our shop.
For this post I will review some of my favourite rugs which we are selling, give you a rough price guide (although do come in a chat about this) and tell you why I love them so!
Senneh kelims are woven by Kurds settled in urban areas in Iran. They use a slit weave technique with cotton warps and the weft is pure wool. The senneh differ greatly from other Kurdish kelims produced in Iran, as they are influenced by Persian and Indian textiles with repeated floral patterns dominating the designs. Most tribal and nomadic Kurdish kelims contain large bold geometric patterns in crazy pastels and the detail give them a kind of washed out, impressionist look that I adore. Looking at these rugs is like looking through fog at a sunrise over a bustling harbour of boats. At least that’s what I see in some of them. In others it’s a forest of fantastical creatures dancing. In fact there are three main designs. First, a repeated floral pattern surrounded by a series of narrow borders; second, a field of small floral motifs contained in a central medallion; and third, a mihrab design mainly found in the prayer rugs which are rarely made by other weavers in Iran. The floral emblems include flowers, vines, stems and leaves. So, there is my fantasy forest!
Senneh price guide $175 – $2700
These a traditional pile rugs and take many months to make. Taimani are one tribe of four tribes known as Chor Aimaq. ‘Chor’ means is four in Persian and ‘Aimaq’ is actually the Mongolian word for nomad. The rest of the four tribes are the Firozkohi, the Jamshidi and the Qala-I-Nau Hazara. The Taimani and the rest are Persian-speaking semi-nomadic people. Some of them are sedentary farmers or traders who move between Herat and Kabul and the inaccessible mountain areas of the Hazarat in central Afghanistan. It’s a harsh life for the carpet maker! But this is their bread and butter. And the Taimani tribe that make these pile weave rugs are yurt dwellers. So long as it’s not too cold, I could quite fancy living in a yurt as we once did in Uzbekistan. The Taimani are distinguished weavers, often borrowing techniques and designs from neighbouring peoples, such as the Balouch. These pile rugs have rougher, longer pile than the neighbouring Balouch, but represent some of the last truly nomadic production in Afghanistan, so are becoming more rare. While the pile might be classified as rough, to me they are the softest rugs we have. Their rich colours are mesmerising and vary from deep purples, reds and oranges to natural creams and browns (see above).
Taimani price guide $400 – $7500
Uzbeks have settled densely in Northern Afghanistan, where they now comprise the majority population, although there are plenty left in Uzbekistan, let me tell you! Maimana, the capital and market town of Faryab province in Afghanistan is the centre of production for a distinctive slit-woven kilim, which uses coarse but durable Hazaragi or Ghilzai wool. Sometimes you can see that horse or goat hair is used in the fringing! Those are my favourite! The women weavers use a palette of earth colours, some of which are natural dyes, although aniline dyes are more common. A number of ancient designs are repeated across the rugs and some of these motifs we have recreated on the wall of our rug bazaar room in the shop. These patterns are often connected to the idea of family and security. Interestingly, the ‘S’ shape patterns are used to ward off the evil eye. While the common ram’s horn patterns are derived from ramparts indicating security of the home.
Maimana price guide $150 – $1400
One of my all-time favourite rugs, and a rug that has graced the living room floor of our place in Birchgrove for the past three years, is the brilliant wool Mushwani. Like many rugs, these are named after the tribe that make them. The mushwani are a displaced Pashtun clan from the eastern Afghanistan now living a semi-nomadic existence in Badghis and Herat provinces. The Mushwani are noted for the production of extremely elaborate and good quality kelims. They employ a variety of techniques such as knotted pile, weft-wrapping, weft-facing and over-embroidery, on the same kelim. And that is exactly what makes these rugs so special! It is hard to see from these photos, but the mushwani’s have a certain three-dimensional look about them due to the raised pile weave among kelim knots. Equally great is the tribe’s use of rich dark blues, purples and reds, sometimes with central designs in ivory. They can be really vibrant. Made from natural wool, these kelims have been made to withstand the rigours of a lifestyle in one of the harshest climates on earth. They are intended to last a lifetime. If our Mushwani still looks stunning after three years with two toddlers running over it, then I’m sure your mushwani will hold up just as well!
Mushwani price guide $750 – $2700
Jallah Khis, or ‘kiss me rugs’ as I like to call them, are flat weave kelims with long shaggy pile woven into them. Lush beyond belief! Afghans use them to sleep on, such is their lushness. Guess you could all it an Afghan mattress. This is not surprising, as the length of the pile can exceed six inches. Kiss me rugs are woven in narrow strips which are sewn together to make larger rugs. They are made by Turkic nomads, which, in the case of Afghanistan, means they are made by Uzbeks and Turkomen tribes, who are mostly based in the north of the country. These same Turkoman tribes make much of our amazing jewellery and really know how to keep these traditional techniques alive. We have several amazing Jallah Khis in our collection, many with really cool seventies browns and oranges as well as more luminous rose pinks. The ‘lozenge’ motif is one of the most ancient designs in existence and is featured on almost all of our kiss rigs. Kiss them!
Jallah khis price guide $350 – $1600
We have two amazing varieties of Moroccan rug in stock. Azilal rugs are from a region of the Atlas Mountains and are woven by Berber woman, mainly for domestic use. The deigns on these rugs are wild and brightly coloured, and I guess you could describe them as both ‘abstract’ and ‘minimalist’ and indeed they are a great example of an ancient technique that look really contemporary. The hanbale wool-on-wool rugs have a more ordered geometry, but with equally bright colours and tassles and sequins. Although they can be used on the floor, just come in and have a look at our one and only hanbale rug and gaze in wonder. You’ll want to hang it up and never take your eyes off it again. Let’s just say if no one buys this in a week, I’m keeping it forever!
Hanbale price guide $1800