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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

Tulu: Modern as today, with a 3,500 year tradition

Steve Price

The two illustrated rugs are examples of a peculiar kind of Anatolian sleeping rug, called tulu. Most are made around Karapinar.


Here are some of their peculiarities:

1. Although the warp and weft are wool, the pile is unspun hair from Angora goats. It is naturally curly, and is used in lengths of around 12" in these pieces to result in pile about 6" long. The pile is woven into the foundation with symmetric knots. While some tulu have somewhat shorter pile, it is hardly ever less than 3" long.

2. The rows of pile, instead of being separated by a few shots of weft, are in rows about 1.5 inches apart in the vertical direction with only about 2.5 knots to the inch in the horizontal direction. Thus, the overall knot count is well under 2 per square inch. This is typical for tulu.

3. The dyes appear to be natural. The green was made by dying consecutively with indigo and a yellow, the blue-violet by dying indigo and a red dye. Most tulu use undyed Angora hair, generating relatively simple designs (sometimes none) from the few colors that occur naturally. These examples, with their highly saturated palettes, may have been for special occasions or when a guest was visiting.

4. The dimensions are 3'7" x 4'3" for the prayer design piece, 4'3" x 4'10" for the tricolor. These dimensions are typical, and raise the question of how tall the people who sleep upon them might be.

5. The tricolor rug is made in 3 pieces, sewn together. The foundations are the same color as the pile, and each of the three sections may have been dyed after being woven.

I offer them as discussion springboards for a number of reasons.

1. They are 20th century products. While they may have been made in the early part of the century, such rugs are still woven with unspun Angora goat hair pile and natural dyes. I hope this will help to dispel the widely held myth that "real" collectors will have nothing to do with a textile less than 100 years old. Alternatively, I suppose, they might dispel the myth that I am a real collector.

2. Their appearance is more reminiscent of contemporary art than of any of the traditional or other modern genres of oriental rug.

3. One has a directional design suggestive of a prayer rug, always fodder for discussion.

4. The simplicity of the designs, the intensity of the palettes and the lustrous surface gives them a bold, direct impact, and it is hard to imagine anyone reacting to them with indifference.

Other ethnic groups also produce long piled sleeping rugs, although the pile is neither as long nor as sparse as that of tulu. South Persian gabbeh and central Asian julkhyr (literally, "bearskin") have fairly long pile, and although coarsely woven still have about ten times the knot density of tulu. Like the tricolor tulu illustrated here, julkhyr are generally woven in fairly narrow strips that are then sewn together to give the product its final width.

Another interesting aspect of tulu is their link to the oldest known pile weavings. There are Mesopotamian images 5,000 years old that appear to show men wearing skirts surfaced with unspun Angora goat hair. It is impossible to tell whether these depict woven textiles; the skirts may simply have been made from Angora goat pelts. But there is no ambiguity about the use of the same technique as tulu - widely separated rows of long pile - in textiles found in an Egyptian tomb dated to 1,500 B.C. These are not done with wool and goat hair, but with linen foundations and symmetrically knotted linen pile. They predate the Pazyryk rug by more than 1,000 years. All of this should give pause to Turkmen collectors as we obsess over whether one of our treasures is 125, 150 or, in the most extreme estimates, 350 years old.

Suggestions for further reading:

1. Udo Hirsch, "The fabric of deities and kings". HALI, #58, pp. 104-111, 1991

2. Taher Sabahi, TULU. Cato Editore, Turin, 1997

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