The Carpet Bag

A carpet bag is a traveling bag made of carpet, commonly from an oriental rug. They were a popular form of luggage in the United States and Europe in the 19th century. The carpet bag was invented as a type of baggage light enough for a passenger to carry, like a duffel bag, as opposed to a wooden or metal trunk, which required the assistance of porters. Its use implied self-sufficiency:

Carpet bags used to be made of Oriental rugs. Carpet was the chosen material because it was a popular domestic accent piece and the "remainder" pieces were easily bought. In a sense, the carpet bag was a sustainable invention because it used remnants of materials which otherwise would have gone unused.

The carpetbaggers of the Reconstruction Era following the American Civil War—Northerners who moved to the South for economic or political opportunity—were given their name from this type of luggage which they carried

Carpet bags sometimes also served as a "railway rug", a common item in the 19th century for warmth in drafty, unheated rail-cars. The rug could either be opened as a blanket, or latched up on the sides as a traveling bag. From Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879): "... my railway-rug, which, being also in the form of a bag, made me a double castle for cold nights."

There are many companies still producing carpet bags today keeping this very quirky trend alive!

The magic of King Solomon

Solomon is represented as having authority over spirits, animals, wind, and water, all of which obeyed his orders by virtue of a magic ring set with the four jewels given him by the angels that had power over these four realms. A similar ring is mentioned in stories of the "Arabian Nights." The power inherent in the ring is shown by the following story:

It was Solomon's custom to take off the ring when he was about to wash, and to give it to one of his wives, Amina, to hold. On one occasion, when the ring was in Amina's keeping, the rebellious spirit Sakhr took on Solomon's form and obtained the ring. He then seated himself on the throne and ruled for forty days, during which time the real king wandered about the country, poor and forlorn. On the fortieth day Sakhr dropped the ring into the sea; there it was swallowed by a fish, which was caught by a poor fisherman and given to Solomon for his supper. Solomon cut open the fish, found the ring, and returned to power.
Solomon was also given a flying carpet when he was made king over every created thing, It is written that God gave him a large carpet sixty miles long and sixty miles wide, made of green silk interwoven with pure gold, and ornamented with figured decorations. Surrounded by his four princes, Asaph b. Berechiah, prince of men, Ramirat, prince of the spirits, a lion, prince of beasts, and an eagle, prince of birds, when Solomon sat upon the carpet he was caught up by the wind, and sailed through the air so quickly that he breakfasted at Damascus and supped in Media. One day Solomon was filled with pride at his own greatness and wisdom; and as a punishment therefor the wind shook the carpet, throwing down 40,000 men. Solomon chided the wind for the mischief it had done; but the latter rejoined that the king would do well to turn toward God and cease to be proud; whereupon Solomon felt greatly ashamed. - Source: Jewish Encyclopedia

For the love of purple

One day while, Heracles, the Phoenician guardian deity, was strolling along the beach with his dog and the beautiful nymph, Tyres, his dog bit into a mollusc that washed ashore. Immediately the dog’s mouth turned a brilliant purple. Tyres fell in love with this new colour and promised a “rendezvous” with Heracles if he would make her a garment dyed with the same colour. Heracles made sure Tyres got her purple garment and the purple dye was “born”

Ancient Phoenician weavers

Phoenicians and Tyrian purple are inseparable. It is after all the Phoenicians, at around 1,500BC, who became known world-wide for producing purple textiles. Royalty and the elite everywhere could not get enough of this fascinating vibrant colour and as always, demand pushed up the price of purple dye to equal that of its weight in silver. Unlike the other cultures at the time, it was the Phoenician men who were responsible for weaving the textiles and who dominated the trade. Producing this purple dye was no easy task, for at the time it could only be made from the humble sea mollusc who lives 150 meters below surface. More than this, you need 9,000 molluscs to make just 1 gram of purple dye. The dye was made from the colourless liquid in the hypo branchial gland of the mollusc that had to be removed, crushed, soaked with salt and exposed to sun and air for a few days, before being boiled and heated at specific temperatures for a specific time frame. Perhaps it was the near extinction of the molluscs in Tyre that forced the Phoenicians to leave in search of molluscs elsewhere.

Ancient Peruvian weavers

Finding fragments of rope and textiles dating back to between 12,100 and 11,080 years ago in the Guitarrero Cave in Peru, created great excitement in the world of archaeology and also weaving! It showed not only that the Peruvians were distinguished weavers a very long time ago, but also that weaving was very important to them. In Peruvian society males and females were weavers, but it was the females who drove development and change in their weaving industry. From the usual back-strap weaving method the females started weaving side by side, three at a time, that enabled them to weave wider pieces of textiles around 3,000 years ago. They also started using the wool of llamas and alpaca and introduced embroidered symbols and patterns on their garments. The jaguar-god, Chavin, was a favourite motif. The Peruvian weavers made their dyes from plants, minerals, insects and also molluscs, that as we now know, produce purple dye.

The ancient weavers of the Czech Republic

At the base of the Děvín Mountain in Czech Republic, close to the Dolní Věstonice village, an Upper Paleolithic site has been excavated since 1924 revealing not only burials of 27,000 to 20,000BC, but many artefacts that included many pieces of art. Amongst the artefacts were traces of textiles from imprints in clay and burned remnants of cloth. It appears, according to the find, that the weavers manufactured a variety of cordages, plaited basketry and sophisticated twined and plain woven cloth. An interesting find amongst all these items were empty mollusc shells that is thought to be from the Dyje river close to the site. Thus we can assume that these weavers discovered the secret of purple dye long before the Phoenicians.

Luckily towards the late 1800’s synthetic purple dyes were created and it was no longer necessary to use the molluscs and purple is still as mystical today as when Tyres fell in love with it.

Sources – Tyrian_purple, Weaving dolnivpottery.html, weaving-part-3-america, 791/, The Earth and Its People: A Gllobal History

Persian Carpets & Horses

In the Vienna Museum für angewandte Kunst is an exquisite hunting carpet dating from the 16th century. This fine silk carpet with golden background is a wonderful testament to the extraordinary craftsmanship during the Safavid Dynasty in Iran.

Another fine example from the same era is the hunting carpet in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan.  It is one of the rare carpets that is dated in an inscription that says: “It is by the efforts of Giyath-ud-Din ʿJami that this renowned carpet was brought to such perfection in the year (1542 AD)"; and is thus historically significant.

Archeaological finds date the domestication of horses to around 3,500BCE in the Eurasian Steppes and Kazakhstan, but a beautiful cave painting of horses found in Lascaux, France, dating to 17,000 BPE, might suggest a much earlier time that humans and horses lived closely together. Another great depiction of a horse dating from the late Bronze Age is the Uffington White Horse situated on the upper slopes of the White Horse Hill in the English civil parish of Uffington and is about 110 m long formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk.

Throughout our history horses have played a pivotal role in our societies from being the main form of transportation to being an animal that we can play with. It is no wonder that we immortalized them in our arts and crafts. The dressing of horses were as important as the dressing of their owners and great craftsmanship were employed to make/weave unbelievable horse blankets and saddlebags for the horses. No expense was spared to ensure that the horses were dressed up from head to tail in the most elaborate of ways.

Horses were often featured in the Persian carpets as is evident in the Pazyryk carpet (oldest remaining piled carpet), but during the Islamic invasion of Persia the portrayal of humans and animals in art was forbidden. It would only again be revived by the Safavid rulers who were keen patrons of the arts and requested the great master weavers to create carpets that depicted the royal horses, hunters and sportsmen on horseback. Polo was a game used to prepare soldiers for combat and was a great source of entertainment together with hunting. It is often depicted in carpets and miniature paintings of the time.

Today hunting carpets are still produced mainly in Isfahan, Iran, and because of the fine detail required they are mostly woven with silk. Horse blankets and saddlebags are also still produced albeit mostly for the owner’s own use. Pictured here is an antique Kurd Khorasan saddlebag in the Ghorbany Private Collection.

Written by Vanessa Ghorbany


Carpets & Wine

Persian carpets and Wine. Two cultures that have stimulated our senses through thousands of years. One stimulates our senses of sight and touch, the other our senses of taste and smell, but both also stimulate our sense of hearing because in both there is a symphony playing, audible to only those willing to hear.

We know that wine is very old. The first thing Noah did after he landed on Mount Ararat and the waters subsided was to plant a vine and make wine. Move on a few millennia and we have Joseph in jail with the baker and the wine pourer (sommelier) of the Pharaoh. There are many other Biblical accounts on the use and importance of wine and it is so suitable then that the earliest wine makers to meticulously document their art, were the monks toiling the lands of the monasteries and making really good wine that they eventually sold. We know the weaving industry is very old, from textiles to carpets. The nomads needed tents, bedding and clothing and weaving was developed to fulfil these needs.

What then make these two cultures survive through time?

Well, it is exactly TIME that gives it its longevity. Few items become better with time and these two cultures produce exactly such products that can only really be appreciated with the passing of time. There is some magical alchemy that happens when the grape leaves the vineyard and enters the barrel. The process of fermentation with the help of time transforms it into a liquid that captures the aromas and energies of the place in which it grows and ages. The same magical alchemy happens when the weaver takes each strain of meticulously dyed wool to create a whole masterpiece with each woven knot and it is only with the passing of time that the colours will settle into the intended colouring of the wool dyer.

If you could ever have a picture made of what a good old wine tastes like, there is no doubt that a Persian carpet would be it. The complexity of colour and design matches the complexity of flavours and aromas in a wine. Just as every bottle of wine holds its little secrets in the flavours, a Persian carpets holds its little secrets in the woven pattern that can be read like an old manuscript by those who know the language. The great difference between them is that when you open that bottle of wine and drank it, the taste and flavours can only live on in your memory; but a Persian carpet can be felt and touched and looked at for generations.

It seems as if an invisible power helps both these cultures survive and evolve through wars, invasions and changes of mankind, sometimes even pushed to the brink of extinction. That is possibly its’ greatest magic: that the people who make it come and go, but the art of transforming a grape into wine and wool into a Persian carpet survives from generation to generation, thanks to the farmers and weavers who pass on their skills. It links past with present, it transports us back to that exact moment when the wine maker dreamed of what this wine would become and the weaver envisioned cutting his completed carpet off the loom. Once the bug has bitten you, you will never get enough of either. The thirst for knowledge on it and the almost quasi-religious experience both gives you is what eventually turns a consumer into a collector, and a collector into a treasurer.