Posted by R. John Howe on 10-12-2006 06:02 PM:

Kashan Rugs

Dear folks -

I have a doctor friend who is mildly interested in decorating with oriental rugs. Once, awhile back, I showed him what I thought was a quite wonderful Tekke Turkmen main carpet, likely 19th century.

"Oh no," he said, "We're Kashan people."

Now, of course, it's clear that he doesn't claim that he and his family live or once lived in the city of Kashan. What he is indicating is that they do not decorate with any rugs that are not of the Kashan variety.

And, in truth, there are others like him. Edwards, himself, who openly prefers Kermans of the early 20th century, admits that on a given day some Kashans could reach their level. The only thing that stopped Kashan producers, Edwards says, is that they settled too often for a limited range of designs.

But like Edwards and my internist friend, lots of people are impressed with Kashan pile rugs. Let's look a little more closely to see why that might be.

In his rug morning Jerry Thompson alluded to what seems to be the obligatory story of how pile weaving got revived at a high level of quality in Kashan in the early 20th century.

To rehearse it in outline, Kashan, another city in NW Iran, has a deep weaving tradition. Edwards reports that travelers to Kashan in the 16th and 17th centuries describe sumptuous textiles being woven there. Kashan has seemed to some, a plausible location where what we call the "Ardebil" carpets, as well as some other great carpets, might have been woven. But, Edwards reports, perhaps because of the Afghan invasion, there was a seeming hiatus of rug weaving in Kashan in the 18th century and the 19th centuries.

Not of weaving, mind you, since it is known that shawls were produced in Kashan at least toward the end of the 19th century and when that trade collapsed, the story goes, a way was found to use the existing supplies of Merio wool, processed in Manchester, England mills, to begin to weave Kashan rugs.

Note: One thing that might suggest that this story is apocryphal is that Willem Floor in his "The Persian Textile Industry: 1500-1925," indicates that as far back as the 16th century Kashan was noted as a center for the manufacture of silk textiles. These included satins, damasks and velvets, the latter sometimes gold encrusted. Floor traces the Persian shawl industry closely and there is no mention of Kashan in his treatment of wool shawl making, but he does say that there was silk shawl manufacture there in the 19th century. This raises the question of "if Kashan shawls were made of silk not wool, why was all the fabled Manchester-processed, Merino wool laying about there?" There might be other reasons for its presence but the "wool shawl making" story seems a bit suspect on the apparent historical evidence.

In any event, beginning about 1900, Kashan rugs made with Merino wool processed in Manchester, began to appear and rug weaving in Kashan expanded quickly.

Edwards says that the "Manchester Kashan" production (nowadays a rug that makes collectors perk up) continued until about 1920 when the supplies of processed Merino wool were exhausted. At that point is was found that more local wools were in fact comparable and things went on.

Edwards is not one to claim uniformly that "older is likely better." He makes precisely the reverse argument with regard to 20th century Kashans, inviting comparison between earlier designs this one:

and demonstrably later ones like this:

What do you think? Is the second design noticeably better than the first?

In the early 20th century, Edwards says, Kashan rug designers had a lot to learn. And to be fair, did learn some things. He admits that, on a given day and on a given piece, they could do as well (in the 1920s) as his beloved Kermans. His criticism is that they didn't value their rug designers, like the producers in Kerman did, and stayed too narrowly with a restricted set of designs that had limitations.

Kashan production was organized, but, similar to that in the Sarouk area, was a "home" enterprise, not a factory one. You will recall that factory modes were used in Tabriz and Kerman. Edwards reports that Kashan weavers were often slower than those in other cities, but that maintained standards of quality were very high.

There was weaving in Kashan city proper, but nearly 80 villages joined to weave Kashan rugs. As Jerry Thompson suggested, Kashan pile rugs are woven with asymmetric knots open to the left on a cotton foundation (again there are silk Kashans, a different thing) the alternate warps of which are fully depressed. Wefts are often dyed light blue. Edwards reports that Kashan rugs were/are woven at an average density of about 200 kpsi and that some older ones are finer. He says that only some Kermans, Isfahans, Qums and Nains have this density.

Although quality Kashans continue to be made, both Edwards (1950) and Eiland (1980) report that some Kashan producers were tempted by both synthetic dyes and the jufti knot.

Jerry Thompson alluded to the fact that some elite workshops existed in Kashan and the names of some of the families who had them are known. More, some feel that they can recognize rugs produced in a particular workshop. The most famous of the Kashan workshops is called "Motasham." One rather frequently hears today¡¦s rug dealers say confidently that a fine Kashan that they have is a "Motasham." As we noted in our introductory essay, some say that this designation has some basis and that there are technical features that are indicators "pink or purple silk selveges," for example. The Eilands merely say that such usages are questionable and that such selveges seem merely to be found on "old" Kashans.

Here are the Eilands' Kashan examples.

The first piece below is described as an early 20th century Kashan with extremely fine knotting.

Their second Kashan is their example of the sort of rug often described as a "Motosham."

They say late 19th or early 20th century.

The Eilands do not include some of the Kashan types that are more typical. Again we go to Ford.

The piece below is one Ford describes as a "pre-war heyday Kashan¡" with a niche design with "pillars supporting the mirhab."

If you have a copy of Ford's "Oriental Carpet Design," look at the discussion on pp. 135-137 for some interesting historical stuff related to this rug too long to treat here.

The rug below is more like what we tend to think of when someone says "Kashan" nowadays.

Ford describes this rug as "in the classical style used in rug sizes in Kashan between 1930 and 1950." He says its dark blue ground was usual then, but that it has somewhat more light blue than one might expect.

The last rug from Ford's book is something of a departure.

Ford says that this "all-over" design in "very cool colors" has been produced in recent years for the home market and is not much seen overseas. My copy of Ford's book is the 1989 edition. There has been time since then for the Kashan producers to continue to work on their design repertoire, as Edwards advised 50 years ago.

Maybe someone out there will know how things stand now.

For sure, there are some lovely Kashan rugs from any age to share.


R. John Howe

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 10-15-2006 11:18 AM:

Hi John,

Northwest of Teheran is another weaving locale know as Ghazvin (Kazvin, Qazvin), which produced carpets very similar to Kashan work in the early 1900's. Structurally similar (cotton warps & wefts), the only distinguishing characteristic that I am aware of is that the designs tend to look more squared off, more angular, than most Kashans. The better pieces from each region are not easy to tell apart.

Here's a picture of a 1st Qtr 20th century Qazvin piece:

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by R. John Howe on 10-15-2006 06:20 PM:

Hi Chuck -

Thanks for this addition.

Yes, in some of these areas there are particular towns who have developed their own production that can be difficult to distinguish from efforts usually seen as within the "modal" location.

Eiland and Eiland seem particularly useful in identifying some of these, especially variations that have emerged more recently.

I will eventually draw on this sort of thing in part in asking that we examine the usage "Persian city rug" to see if it works in the way one might expect such an expression to work.

I'll start a new thread for that consideration.


R. John Howe