blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Afghan carpet making

(Wikipedia image)
I'm at the end of another busy week: busy but interesting! Thursday afternoon I was listening to a talk given by Hanneke, an enthusiastic member of CFUW-Ottawa's UWHAW group, who in the 1970s had made multiple trips to Afghanistan to buy carpets and other woven goods (she ran a wholesale warehouse in the Netherlands). She told us about the importance of the wool and weaving traditions in central Asia, in particular in the area around Herat, the place she most frequently visited in those days. As part of the talk she brought several items from her collection to show to us.

Some of the weavings displayed by Hanneke
Hanneke spoke about the different sheep rearing tribes of Afghanistan, of their originally nomadic culture and the importance of woollen artifacts in their yurts and tents. She showed us one weaving that wasn't a carpet but a door to a yurt––you'd just push it aside to go in. Apparently there are five types of sheep bred for their wool, in Afghanistan, and the best wool comes from the karakul sheep of Turkestan who have a long, lustrous outer coat and a fine, soft inner coat. They are sheared twice a year, and from their easily spun wool, low in lanolin content, the art of felting evolved.

Natural dyes are used for the carpet fibres, some made from remarkable ingredients, walnut shells, camel hair, crushed insects. Two women work at the construction of a carpet; they start at the ends, making the flat woven border (kilim), then begin the knotting work, folding the carpet as they go. It can take a year to make a large rug by hand, and any young girl involved in its making might not have time to go to school. Afghan Turkmen weavers use the "Persian knot"––up to 400 knots per square metre. This is a very old skill and the carpet weaving patterns are passed on from one generation to the next, so that the secrets of their art are kept within the family. When the carpet is complete a tiny piece is burned, for luck, and then it's either carried by donkey or bike to the local market for selling or kept aside for the family's own use, or for a dowry––the most carefully worked carpets are the ones used for dowries.
Afghan shepherd's coat

After she had shown us rugs, saddle cloths, woven salt bags and donkeys' neck ornaments, Hanneke also modelled a coat that would be worn "by the most important person in central Asia, the shepherd!" The coat had extremely long sleeves, the purpose of these being to conceal the hand movements of the merchant as he haggles over a price for his merchandise, while holding the hand of the buyer.

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