Persian carpets go back nearly 3,000 years. In 1949, some researchers found in Siberia a 600BC carpet which was excavated from a grave and conserved in an ice-block. It was proven that its origin was from Persia and it is called Pazhyrik, the name of the grave where it was found. The design and the colours used show an extreme deep knowledge of carpet weaving and mastering harmony.
Carpets in the Middle East were actually considered as sole furniture, since people were eating, sitting and sleeping on the floors, like the Japanese using tatamis.
The carpet’s materials are essentially wool and sometimes silk. The form and appearance of the carpet is really subject to its place of origin, and allows people to recognise its origin relatively easily. The carpets can come from nomad tribes, with more simplified forms and shapes or from workshops belonging to kings and dignitaries.
It is said that the art of carpet is the only art in the world in front of which one kneels. To assess the quality of the carpet, one looks at the back of the carpet and measures the number of knots in a distance roughly the length of a cigarette (from 40 to over 100 knots).
Looking slightly closer to the fabrication of hand-woven carpets, three elements are essential: The material used (wool or silk), the way it is woven and the designs.
If we look at the wool, it comes from the sheep. But in Persia, the wool for carpets comes almost solely from the wool located on top, the other wools might have been damaged and do not provide the requested perfection. The wool is also taken in full moon period preferably during spring season, when it is still growing and it is said that the wool continues to live. Passing your hands on a quality rug leaves you with some sense of living material.
The wool is spun either manually or with spinning wheels, and then dyed naturally with vegetable dyes, not chemically which is unfortunately the case in too many countries nowadays. Colours derived from pomegranate, indigo etc and for example if you find yellow colours in the carpet, it is said that it was woven by Armenians, who use beer to colour the wool yellow. It is ready to be woven either on a horizontal or a vertical loom, using warps and wefts, which are strong cotton threads running through the entire length (warps) and similarly under and over the warps (called wefts). Then the entire process uses either vertical looms which can be simple or quite sophisticated, which help control the even tension in the carpet fabrication.
Then designs are chosen. Carpets have many origins for their design, depending on the location or the period. In majority of the cases, the designs reflect our vision of paradise, with water, trees and nice birds, presented very schematically or even with quite details. In some other designs it is the geometry which prevails, sometimes uniform, sometimes with a central medallion. In the geometrical designs, very often a mistake is purposely made to demonstrate that only God can make perfection, and humans are bound to make mistakes. The designs have been transmitted over the years from generation to generation.
But in very general terms, it is, like in so many other fields, the stories around the art which enhance these arts. For example, in the Kurdish regions, the traditions are that a young lady who will be married has to weave half of a kilim and her mother-in-law the other half. At the wedding the two pieces are sewn together and the gift given to the new couple.
Another type of kilim, called sumac or sileh, from Caucasian origin represents symbolic dragons, designed to scare the enemy. These were placed very near the entrance and even sometimes outside the dwelling.
Kilims were initially carpets woven to be used in public baths, and each family had its own design. The dimensions, usually longer correspond to the podium size on which the family would sit in the public bath, to enjoy food or tea after being washed.
The most renowned Persian carpets are those mainly dated to the Safavid era, meaning the 16th and 17th century, when Isfahan was the capital of Persia. Their quality and designs excel almost all others and they are displayed in many museums. This was a period when Persians wanted to show their supremacy.
Later, other cities developed their own styles and their own designs. Quality of carpets change with time. Cities like Kerman, known during the Safavid period for their excellence lost their quality over time and other cities, such as Tabriz became famous. The Qashqai nomad tribes have also heavily contributed to the development of the Persian carpets. Unfortunately, many nomad carpets were copied in other regions and the traditions and roots of the designs gradually disappear from the tribes.
The Tehran Carpet Museum, holds a variety of refined samples of these carpets, and was built in 1978, to preserve this art. Unfortunately, modern life and the loss of so many values has not allowed this art to progress and be recognised at its real value. Many unprofessional traders and middlemen appeared.
There was the story of some renowned carpet weaving family, who when it had received the order to weave a large carpet, realised that some part of the wool had not been dyed properly, threw it out and started again. But there are also many who despite all the changes try to revive this art. Many valuable traders continue to try to excel in their works, and for example an Iranian company has a room in the Victoria Albert Museum in London dedicated to their work and in Muscat, a very interesting undertaking has happened.
Amir Dehshid, Iranian carpet merchant and artist, established in Muscat, decided five years ago to create a unique object, combining three topics, the 'earth', one of the oldest known environments, 'understanding', the most essential communication tool, and 'peace', the most desired quality needed by humans, and to create an object which is unique. It is a globe of 2m diameter woven with the cooperation of 784 volunteers from 154 countries in the world, where the image of continents, oceans are woven without segregation and division of boundaries, races, and environmental issues, solely for the love of pursuing to keep this art alive. This piece of art has been labelled: “Why Knot”?