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KERMAN REVIVAL
Volume I Number 4
November 1983

There was in Kerman in the 1890ís a return to old standards. Here is Major Percy Sykes' portrayal:

"The Farman Farma [His Highness the Governor General] introduced some ugly European patterns, but these, at my instance, were given up, and by rigorously insisting on adhesion to the old patterns, as well as by opening out new markets, I have assisted in bringing the industry to a thoroughly healthy condition...

"In Kerman itself there are about one thousand looms, each carpet being superintended by a master-weaver and two or more little boys, who work entirely from a pattern which is recited, and contains many obsolete words; it is said that these patterns have been handed down orally from father to son for many centuries...and aniline dyes, which have almost ruined the trade in nomad carpets, are carefully eschewed. It is difficult to estimate the output, but approximately it is 200,000 tomans or 40,000 [pounds] per annum.Ē (1)

The rest of the Sykes description is quite thorough, and consists of these observations: (a) shawls had recently lost out to carpets as the premier product; (b) the standard rug size was "about 7 feet by 4 feet 6 inches"; (c) the knot count for ordinary quality weaving was 640 "stitches per 39 inches" for woolen carpets; (d) there were about 100 looms in the weaving town of Ravar with 30 more in Kerman district generally; (e) silk rug prices (at 10 to 15 pounds) were two or three times higher in the standard size.

The Major had a judgment about Ravar (50 miles south of Kerman) rugs:

"...and also a principal centre of the carpet industry, for which it is second only to Kerman, the coarser qualities being woven almost entirely in this district." (2)

During part of his lengthy involvement with Kerman, Sykes was accompanied by his sister Ella, who also added useful information:

"The Kerman carpets are of wonderfully fine texture, having the pattern clearly indicated on the reverse side, and are coloured with exquisite vegetable dyes....As a rule they are only made in small sizes, unless specially ordered, and are by no means cheap....Birds, beasts, and even human figures are introduced into these carpets.

"A quantity of carpets are made by the Ilyats, or nomad tribes in the province of Kerman. These are all of coarse texture, and usually the pattern is the favorite shawl one on a dark indigo ground.

"The carpets being woven [by nomads at 'Rahbur'] were, alas, of a hideous European pattern, the familiar one of scarlet roses on a black ground, which may be seen in any cottage parlour in England, and as they were of a very fine texture, their manufacture was exceedingly slow..." (3)

Now, Cecil Edwards knew, and cited (4) the Percy Sykes volume, but mentioned only some of its statistics, neglecting its judgments and failing to report that aniline dyes were being "eschewed" and that European designs were abolished in general.

The dates of the two Sykesí visits are unclear but it looks as though Percy was in Kerman (with absences) for the period 1893--99 and Ella during 1894--96. Percy Sykes closed his Kerman days by becoming an entrepreneur in two separate caravans of Kerman rugs (all selected by him) for Quetta and sale in India, convincing him that trade to India was established.

A somewhat later (1901) visitor, Henry Savage-Landor, reports on Kerman weaving in much the same vein as the Sykes, characterizing the rugs as Persiaís best in design, color, and softness and citing motifs of conventional plant, flower, and bird representations. The enterprise continued as that of an apparently new Governor-General and his nephew:

"The principal carpet factory is in the Governorís palace, where old designs are faithfully copied, and really excellent results obtained." (5)

The English reports are leavened with details, such as the "shawl pattern", the nomadic product (marketed now under the label, Afshar), and a datum on the gul-i-frank phenomenon. All in all these accounts add up to a good general survey of Kerman weaving in the late Ď90ís, even to the point of permitting rough output calculations. The upshot is that there was in fact a weaving revival in Kerman in the late 1890ís.

Notes

  1. Sykes, Percy, Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902, p. 199/200.
  2. ibid., p. 38/9.
  3. Sykes, Ella, Through Persia on a Side-Saddle, London, 1898, p. 114, 155.
  4. Edwards, A. Cecil, The Persian Carpet, London, 1953, p. 201.
  5. Savage-Landor, A. Henry Across Coveted Lands, New York, 1903, p. 316/17.
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