Volume III Number 5
to the rug weaving East did not stint the mention of felt. A major
observer of Persia of the 1670's, Chardin, set forth the household
floors are covered, firstly with a heavy thick felt, and under
a handsome rug, one or two, depending on the size of the room.
There are those rugs which are sixty feet long, and which two
men aren't able to carry. On top of this rug, they place out against
the wall, all around the room, some little pads three feet in
size, which they cover with covers, which aren't as thick as Spanish
cloth, made of calico, stitched with gold which cover the pads
coming over the edge a foot or a little more...These are the chairs
of the Orient...squares of good velours or of heavy brocard..."
one short passage Chardin reveals the richness of decor and the
variety of fabric involved in outfitting a room. He commented elsewhere
that Persians also made very fine and very light felts which were
used above the rug, in order to make things softer and to control
humidity, (2) and noted, as well, the presence of felt prayer rugs.
This use of felt along with other textiles is remarked repeatedly
over the years:
in the 1740's, on the home of the principal merchant in Casvin:
"...the floors are covered with large worsted [fine spun] carpets;
and on the sides of the room are felts about a yard broad, and are
generally two or three yards long; these are called naemets...and
are made either with wool, or camels hair, and being very thick
and soft, are used for sitting upon."
M. Tancoigne, describing Persian houses in general, c. 1810: "The
interior of a Persian apartment contains no other furniture than
one of those beautiful carpets, so much esteemed in Europe, and
three felts of extremely fine texture, of which the two narrowest
run the length of the room; the widest is placed at the end near
the windows, and is called mesned, or the place of honor"(4)
d'Allemagne, c. 1910, in his general summary of furnishings, observed
that the standard Persian floor covering was thick local felt.
in Persia saw felts in many places. Fraser in the 1820's visited
the most powerful minister in Meshed, who sat "...upon a thick
numud, that stretched all along the top [upper end] of the room..."
(6) and similarly encountered felts ("beautiful numuds and
rich carpets") at Sari in Ghilian province (7); Keppel, around
1810, noted them at Hamadan ("fitted up with nummuds and carpets")
(8) and also met with them while at audience with the Kajar Shah
("seated on his heels on some doubled nummuds" ) (9);
Ousley at this time also saw and illustrated felt floor covering
in the Shah's audience chamber (10); Marsh, in 1850 near Urumiah,
commented on them ("around the carpet at the end and sides
of the room, some three feet wide") (11); Morier, c. 1810,
observed, "The Musnud in Persia is a thick felt carpet, placed
across the room, at the farthest extremity from the door..."
(12); and, a Persia veteran of the 1890's, Sykes, commented that
the typical floor covering of Kerman was a huge felt, covered with
a blue and white drugget (coarse material) in summer and a carpet
in winter. (13)
felt, usually referred to by Europeans as "numud", served
both as a basic floor covering and as a seating material, sometimes
for places of distinction. This use was widespread throughout the
geographic reaches and the socio-economic levels of Persia. And
felts were described:
Oliver St. John bought one outside of Kerman, with an "intricate"
pattern in blue, red, and green; (14)
described them as "sometimes highly ornamented with flowers,
and other devices, in various colours"; (15)
while on duty in Northwest Persia observed that they were "usually
of a drab ground, partially ornamented with a gay pattern";
placed manufacture of "delicate fawn-brown" small felts
in Kerman; (17)
d'Allemagne observed that felts were made out of all sorts of wool,
with brown as the dominant color, and frequently decorated in patterns
with colored wool, citing the best as thick, higher than 3 centimeters;
stated that Taft in Kerman province was renowned for felt manufacture
but was told that the products of Kerman city were best, and bought
one "of a beautiful green colour ". (19)
used objects naturally had a commercial dimension. Various locales
with significant felt manufacture mentioned by 19th century travellers
are: Hamadan; Kerman; Taft; Yezd; Cain, Nichapour, and Boudjnourd
(Khorassan); Ispahan; Casvin; and Azarbaijan. Placements of felt
in bazaars, i.e. actively in trade, are few, but do exist -- Teheran
bazaar in 1875 (20), Tabriz bazaar in 1875. (21) Felt's presence
in the Tiflis bazaar in 1824 involved manufacture as well as sale,
and felt also appeared on the city's export and import products
list. (22) It is not odd that the ballad of Kurroglou, the bandit-minstrel
of Northern Persia, would contain the line, "Let the felt-carpet
be of the manufacture of Jam..." (in Northeast Persia). (23)
Just as felts
were used and produced extensively in Persia and were articles of
commerce, it is also the case that felts were a key element in the
humbler circumstances of nomad encampment, both within and without
Persia. There were, for example, Turkmen felts, articles traded
by the Western Turkmen near the Caspian, in both Asterabad (24)
and in Teheran (25). Some Yomud products are described as "variegated
with red and green arabesques". (26) There were Kalmuk felts
near Astrachan, "two kinds...grey and white". (27)
In nomad tents not far from Casvin there were "rugs...in
thicker felt". (28) Early in the 19th century the Eastern Turkmen
furnished Bukhara "felts in goat hair, to serve as capes".
(29) Noteworthy is the respected product of the Kirghiz, as seen
in the Bukhara carpet bazaar in the late 19th century: "...and
splendid red, blue, black, or white felt carpets (kigis), sometimes
with patterns in geometrical designs, all the latter made by the
Kirghiz tribes." (30) A visitor with the paleocaucasian Ingoush
in the Daghestan Mountains at the turn of the century noted "twice
as many felt rugs of different colors, folded". (31) What these
latter looked like can readily be determined by a glance at Daghestan
Decorative Art. (32)
peoples felt had steady usage as a door curtain. One very early
notice is that of William of Ruberick in 1253, among the
Turkic tribes on the plains north of the Caucasus: "Before
the door they hang a felt curiously [finely] painted over, for they
spend all their coloured felt in painting vines, trees, birds, and
beasts thereupon." (33) Many period photographs and some travellers'
comments attest the wide presence of the door flap, as with Brocherel
on the Kazak yurt -- "The entrance is closed by a blind made
of felt, which is raised and lowered at will." (34) Or with
Morier near the Araxes river of the nomads there -- "A curtain,
curiously [finely] worked by the women with coarse needle-work of
various colours, was suspended over the door." (35) And with
Curtis on the Turkmen dwelling -- "A curtain of felt, made
in their own tents, serves for a door." (36)
So felt was
ubiquitous -- covering, cushion, door. Chardin gave the details
of their milieu, as did others, such as Keppel, moving through Naketchevan
early in the 19th century -- "...when we rode by their houses
about sunrise, and saw them reclining on curses or wooden
frames covered with carpets of felt nammeds, or lying under
lehafs or quilts on the flat roof..." (37), and Yeghiazarof
describing Russian Kurds at the end of the century -- "Along
one side of the room is built a platform of mud or stone, on which
are piled large saddlebags, carpets, felt rugs, and cushions, covered
with fine woolen rugs of elegant patterns...At night preparations
for sleeping are made by laying felt mats on the floor, on which
are placed cushions, stuffed with wool, and woolen rugs (palassy)
to serve as blankets. (38)
is also unavailable, why attempt to grasp its presence and use?
Broadly speaking, because rugs when in the West are out of their
true environment, and a part of that environment consisted of felts.
While in general it seems better to be informed, this matter of
context may hold some practical advantage as well. For example,
the speculation that heavy thick rugs were for warmth and hence
came from upland settings is not so plausible given an understanding
of the use of felt. Or, take the matter of the felt door curtains
used throughout Central Asia. The term, engsi, today means a door
rug not decorated with a gul design. But to know the traveller reports
on "musnuds", the place or seat of honor which was sometimes
of felt, is to wonder whether the same situation might not have
existed with respect to door flaps, that is, that construction and
materials varied. Indeed, the truth about dwelling curtains perhaps
is not a monism, but rather something more complex and more interesting.
may be some future understanding to be gained as well; since felts
and rugs were used together and were both decorated, there may possibly
have been some common design elements. The photographic record of
the past thus becomes additionally interesting. The main point,
however, is that an understanding of what interiors were like, including
the role of felt, makes it possible to move from an appreciation
of a rug as an isolated decorative art object to a satisfying appreciation
of that art object as cultural artifact as well.
And, a taste
for felt can lead to other things, such as knowing its symbolic use
-- high and low, sacred and secular. These insights are easily to
be gotten from a slim charmer, The Myth of Felt, by Leonard
Olschke. (39) Felt's role in Mongol funerals and coronations, its
function in the mourning of the death of Oljaitu in Tabriz in 1316
-- these things and more are to be found in a fine book making good
use of the humble cloth as a net thrown wide to capture the places
and people of a time past. Another keeper for the rug collector's
du Chevalier Chardin, en Perse, ed. L. Langles, Paris, 1811,
Vol. IV, p. 18/19. Research Report translation.
op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 155.
James, An Historical Account of the British Trade over the
Caspian Sea, London, 1753, Vol. I, p. 229.
J.M., Journey Into Persia, London, 1820, p. 98.
Henri-Rene, Du Khorassan au Pays des Backhtiaris, Paris,
1911, Vol. II, p. 47.
op. cit., Appendix B, p. 475.
op. cit., Part IV, p. 34.
George, Travels, London, Third Edition, 1827, p. 94.
William, Travels, London, 1823, p. 133.
Dwight, The Tennessean in Persia and Koordistan, Philadelphia,
1869, p. 57.
James, Second Journey Through Persia, London, 1818, p.
Percy, Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902, p. 200/1.
- St. John,
Oliver, Eastern Persia, London, 1876, Vol. 1, p. 101.
op. cit., Part IV, P. 34.
Lt. Co ., Journal of a Residence in Northern Persia, London,
1854, p. 160.
op. cit., p. 200/1.
op. cit., p. 47.
C.M., Narrative of a Journey Through the Province of Khorassan
in 1875, London, 1879, p. 65/6.
F., Le Caucase et la Perse, Paris, 1885, p. 233.
Max, Journey in Asia, Vol. 2, p. 60.
Julius, Tableau Historique...du Caucase, Paris, 1829, p.
Alexander, Specimens of the Popular Poetry of Persia, London,
1852, p. 99.
op. cit., Part IV, p. 15.
op. cit., p. 233.
p. 361. Research Report translation.
de Hell, Voyages..., Paris, 1843, p. 246. Research Report
op. cit., p. 202. Research Report translation.
- de Meyendorff,
Georges, Voyage d'Orenbourg a Boukhara, Paris, 1826, p.
217. Research Report's translation.
O. The Emir of Bokhara and his Country, London, 1911, p.
John, Rugged Flanks of Caucasus, London, 1940, Vol. 1,
0., Daghestan Decorative Art, Moscow, 1971, p. 226-228.
Remarkable Travels of William de Ruburquis", in John Pinkerton,
Voyages and Travels, London, 1811, Vol. 7, p. 28.
Jules, "The Kirghiz" (read Kazaks), The Scottish
Geographical Magazine, Vol. V, p. 399.
op. cit., p. 251.
William, Turkestan, The Heart of Asia, New York, 1911,
op. cit., p. 436.
"The Russian Kurds", trans. W. A. Taylor, The Scottish
Geographical Magazine, Vol. VIII, 1892, p. 313.
Leonard, The Myth of Felt, Univ. California Press, Berkeley
and Los Angeles, 1949.