The origin of Persian kilim rugs can be traced back to the greatest empires of Asia: Persia. Persia has been ruled by Achaemenidae, the Greeks, and the Sassanian kings, The Arabs, The Mongols and the Turkmen, finally returning to local control with the Safavid dynasties.
All have left their mark by way of their tribal enclaves scattered about modern-day Iran. The distribution, over the centuries, of these immigrants from areas such as Central Asia and the Caucasus was thrown into disarray by the Persian monarchs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Whole tribes were forcibly uprooted from one end of Persia and settled in some remote border district for political and military reasons.
The origin of Persian kilim rugs comes back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They’ve been woven by Kurdish and Turkish tribes, before the repressive regime of Reza Shah. Kilims were woven for traditional family and domestic purposes within the villages and encampments of the area’s many tribes.
Sanandaj (previously Senneh) is the capital of one of Iran’s districts: Kurdistan. It gives its name to a group of finely woven kilims of the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The fine floral patterns were inspired by the embroideries and brocades of the Safavid period and most were workshop produced for sophisticated urban demand.
Senneh kilims are small in size and finely woven in slit weave and eccentric weft technique, with cotton warps and woolen wefts. Their motifs are frequently enhanced with metal or silk threads. The designs often consist of small clusters of flowers, boteh, running vines, bees and a central diamond cluster of small flowers known as a Heram pattern.
Persia is not known for its prayer kilims, the sole exception being those made in Senneh, with their distinctive bulbous Mehrab. The central field of Senneh kilims is flanked by a series of major and minor borders of leaf, stem and other floral motifs. The colors are predominantly blue, red and white.
Kilims woven between the villages of Saveh, Zarand and Qazvin in central Persia are collectively known as the Zarand production. They are often the work of elements of the Turkish Shahsavan who have settled in the area in large numbers.
Zarand kilims are all long, narrow and durable, woven with cotton warps and a heavy woolen weft. Small slit weave and eccentric weft work are the techniques most commonly used. Patterns are stylized and floral, with running vine and trefoil on the inner and outer borders; colors are muted blues, creams and browns. More often than not the floral motifs group to form a diamond grid pattern, or two or three medallions.
These kilims are woven in the villages and nomadic camps of Kurdistan and are often naive copies of Senneh work. The weave is of coarse cotton and wool, the colors are bright, and small animal and human figures are often depicted in the field, with charming results.
Veramin And Garmsar Kilims
Kilims woven in this region, some 35 miles south-east of Tehran, have diverse tribal origins, for the towns of Varamin and Garmsar straddle the east-west trading and migration routes of Central Persia, Arabs, Kurds, Shahsavan, Lors, Qashqai and many other tribes have mingled here, and have settled and established an important kilim-weaving district.
Varamin and Garmsar kilims are heavy, tightly woven and large in size, with cotton warps or warps and wefts of the local dark and relatively coarse wool. Selvedges are distinctive, forming ridges of dark, cabled warps to the sides of the kilims; weaving techniques include delicate slit weave, lines of weft-faced patterning with “S” and rosette designs, and weft wrapping to highlight the designs.
Compositions include horizontal or diagonally offset bands of motifs or a field of interlocking designs that converge to dazzling effect. Garmsar and Varamin kilims have a color palette of brilliant reds and blues, and unusual greens and yellows on a dark ground.
The Shahsavan are a confederation of the most important of the Turkish tribes that are found on the north-west Persian border with the Caucasus. Some of the tribal groups are semi-nomadic, moving from the plains of Moghan to the summer pastures in the mountains west of Ardabil.
Shahsavan means “lovers of the King”, indicating mercenary attachment to the Safavid rulers. They are descended from the Seljuk Turks of Central Asia. Members of this confederation include those Caucasian Turks who fled south from the Russians in the late nineteenth century.
The Shahsavan are best known for their ceremonial horse blankets, woven in soumak technique and decorated with horses, deer and birds. Kilims from this area are similar in design and scale to the southern Caucasian production, differing only in the raw materials used, and in certain design details.
Shahsavan kilims are woven with dark, dry and coarse wool, in contrast to the fabled soft, fine and ivory-colored woolen yarn of the Caucasus. Persian influences are evident in the random scattering of stylized birds, flowers and human figures in the field of the kilim.
The nomadic Qashqai of the Fars district of south-west Persia are well known for their traditionally woven kilims. The tribe’s origins can be traced back to the sixteenth century, when its people formed part of the Turkish hordes who invaded from the north. As a result, some Qashqai kilim patterns can be directly related to those of the Caucasus.
Qashqai tribes are famous for their long annual migration from their winter quarters by the Persian Gulf to their summer pastures in the Zagros Mountains.
They have suffered heavily under the repressive policies of the Persian governments since 1925. Hence, most of the best rugs were woven before the Pahlavi regime, and these older Qashqai kilims are particularly exciting.
Woven during migrations, or at resting-places, Qashqai kilims often display striking variations and shifts in pattern and color. Only a small amount of dyed yarn can carried by the nomads at any one time. Hence, successive batches of wool for the same kilim have to be dyed on route. The ground looms upon which are woven are often packed up and moved while weaving is in progress, so that the patterns are interestingly varied.
The Bakhtiari tribes were, until recently, a nomadic group. They migrated from the plains of west-central Persia into and over the Zagros Mountains. Their language is Persian and only the inaccessibility of their homelands has ensured the survival of their cultural traditions. Bakhtiari kilims are therefore, original in design, retaining their tribal identity and purity.
Weaving techniques are unusual. Double interlock is used, with cotton warps are woolen wefts, resulting in one-sided, stiff and strong kilims. The rugs are long and narrow, with clear colors and bright contrasts of yellows, blues, reds and oranges. They consist of grid pattern of boxes in the field, or a pattern of boteh or lozenge shapes, surrounded by several concentric borders.
The ends of the kilims are finished in bands of weft-faced patterning. Horse covers are woven in soumak technique with striking compositions of animal motifs and bands of color.
This region is in the north-east of Persia, bordering Afghanistan and Soviet Central Asia. It is the home to the indigenous Baluch and Turcoman tribes as well as groups of Kurds. These were displaced from their homelands in the Caucasus and Kurdistan by the Ottoman Turks in the sixteenth century. And eventually forced to settle in Khorasan to defend Persia against the raiding Uzbeks from Central Asia.
The Kurds weave large brocade kilims with stripes and lattice patterns in dark and reds and heavily brocaded and robust bags. It is often difficult to distinguish these Kurdish weaves from the work of related tribes further west.
Many of the Turkmens of Khorasan are exiles from Soviet Central Asia, Such as the Tekke and Yamut tribes. They fled from Imperial Russia in the nineteenth century and from the Soviets in the twentieth. Their kilims are distinguished by their deep red ground onto which are brocaded the characteristic Turcoman guls.
Flat weaving is confined to large dowry brocades, jaloors and pairs of juvals. There are also groups of Baluch peoples living in Khorasan. The Baluch who inhabit this borderland between Iran and Afghanistan are known as the Rukhshanis, and they produce many kilims commonly identified as Baluch. By contrast, few kilims are made by the eastern Baluch tribes, the Brahuis of the deserts of Pakistan Baluchistan.
Reference: Persian Kilims, by Alistair Hull, Nicholas Bernard
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