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
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
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
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