Qashqai Rugs (Part 2)

By Jan David Winitz, President & founder 
Claremont Rug Company 

Part 2 of 2 Parts  |  Read Part 1 Here

Left: Qashqai woman deftly spinning lanolin-oily wool in preparation for her next carpet.  Right: Qashqai carpet, 5’ 6” x 10’, 3rd quarter, 19th century. 
Spring in the Fars province where the Qashqai migrate to for the winter ablaze with wild Oriental poppies.

In Part 1, I told of National Geographic photographers, Jean and Franc Shor, who visited with the Qashqai in the early 1950s, writing of a situation they witnessed that captured these tribal people’s strong sense of community. An unfortunate young shepherd lost his entire flock of over 100 sheep in a freak snowstorm. The 100-family tribal unit to which he belonged held a meeting to which each family brought a ram or ewe to help. The Qashqais told the Shors, “This is our way of life. We all share good and bad fortune. No Qashqai household is ever left destitute.”

This supportive interrelatedness extended into the Qashqai rug-weaving process. Sitting on their long horizontal looms set up in close proximity, a half dozen women often worked at the same time. As their fingers tied an endless array of tiny knots, they talked, laughed and sang together. A woman would work on her own rug for a period of time, move over to the loom of her neighbor, and then to that of yet another friend, before returning to her own weaving.

One of the most powerful rugs of the Qashqai tradition is the central medallion rug from the Kashkuli subtribe, vividly portrayed in this client’s late 19th century example.

At the same time, another group of women scoured the nearby countryside, gathering mountain herbs, barks, and berries for their collective dyebath to create a wide range of exquisite jewel tones and perky accent colors. This continual interchange of creative energy, along with the deep spirit of harmony shared by a people engaging together in repetitive physical activities, undoubtedly was a key element in Qashqai rug weaving prowess.

The largest migrating group in Iran, the Qashqai Confederacy covers 300 miles in one direction between the sarhad or winter pastures and the garsmir summer grazing lands.

This milieu resulted in many of the finest rugs of the lowlands and mountains of Southern Persia, an area also populated by Afshar, Khamseh, Luri tribespeople, all of whom were prolific weavers during the 1800s and well into the 1900s. Qashqai wool is often the most lanolin-rich, in great part due to the Qashqai tribe’s dominance of the migration route. This resulted in their possessing the richest grassy pastures, while other tribal groups were left to drier areas on which to graze their flocks. Their knotting is quite tight, which brings emphasis to their rugs’ larger motifs and defines every unique, tiny element in the packed fields. In their overall look and ambiance, their rugs exuded their weavers’ energetic, even indomitable, approach to life, with one or more large elements often commanding a field densely populated with small figurative designs of flora and fauna. James Opie, a leading scholar on these rugs wrote that there was an ongoing friendly rivalry between the weavers as to who could fill their fields most densely.

This inventive, loquacious 150-year-old, very finely woven rug presents an extraordinary number of different symbols precious to the Qashqai and numerous phantasmagorical creatures.

Antique Qashqai rugs differ in a few ways from the other bastion of the tribal carpet-making—the Caucasian tradition. Whereas the weavers of the towering Caucasus Range were generally limited to the high-altitude meadows and lower pastures in the same fold of one mountain, tens of thousands of Qashqai nomads travelled over 300 miles twice yearly and interacted with villages and towns along the way. The contemplative, symbolic designs of the 85 subgroups of the Caucasian pantheon fits the isolation of their surroundings. The constantly moving, interacting, obstacle-overcoming nature of the Qashqai lifestyle inspired rugs reflecting an observant, celebrative posture toward the physical world.

Left: At almost two centuries this Khan’s carpet with its commanding design and time-softened colors offers a rare window into the earlier aesthetic sensibility of this tribe. Right: Tea in ceramic pots and fragile cups is a particular pleasure that the Qashqai afford themselves on migration, who constructed special velvet-lined compartment boxes so that each piece can travel safely. 
Each a collectible example from the Qashqai tradition, a multi-medallion and an overall patterned carpet grace the sunroom of a contemporary home.

The approach to design of the two weaving groups is also dissimilar. Over hundreds of years, weavers in each fold in the Caucasian mountain range worked with the designs of their regional tradition. The village of Chelaberd created the Eagle Kazak pattern while the weavers of Seichur contributed the St. Johns Cross design, giving each weaver the freedom and the challenge to reinvent the major pattern for which their area was known. In the case of the Qashqai tribes whose exposure to other cultural influences was infinitely greater, they produced many more field patterns, most of which adhered to the aesthetic of using two scales of designs together, one of which is overarching, the other teeming with diminutive human and naturalistic figures.

These larger Qashqai designs are diamond-based, which are either long or wide in shape, outlined with latch hooks or niched in a slightly more decorative manner. The fields prodigously contain geometrically drawn trees, flowerheads, and shrubs, chickens, peacocks, gazelles, deer, dogs, lions and birds. (The Qashqai love of their animals is well-chronicled, and they often depict them comically, revealing their sense of comraderie.) Employing these two scales of patterning captures the Qashqai innate sense of the natural order, giving every smallest form a place in the cosmos of their rugs, while the medallions, like the sun or suns, emanate protection and nurturance.

Left: This very small girl in full Qashqai headdress will grow up to weave centuries-old designs from her proud and invincible ancestors. Right: A Triple Medallion Qashqai sits next to  a rare, red ground Qashqai using an unusual field design.
Making bread on migration in the late afternoon is a relaxing time after the day’s progress, this woman preparing her family’s dinner.

A secondary category of Qashqai carpets contains overall field patterns, some with striped “canes” either in vertical columns or in zigzags, other with repeating botehs (a paisley-like motif), the Herati pattern of repeating small diamonds surrounded by curling leaves, and the directional, city-influenced millefleur design. In these rugs, that almost defy comprehension of the artistic commitment needed to create them, the Qashqai’s extraordinary weaving skill and pinpoint knotting are on display.

As woven diaries of both the artist’s personal and cultural experience, Qashqai weavings vividly formulate an ability to enthusiastically say “yes” to the most demanding of circumstances. The Qashqai carpet continues to hold a special place in the world of oriental rugs, as it expresses a superlative level of craftsmanship, creative inspiration and cultural significance. And it is no wonder, when two elements remain central in Qashqai culture – “il rah,” the tribal road, and their joyous weaving. As the Qashqai say – “Where I am is my carpet. Where my carpet and I am is my home.”

View Antique Qashqai Rugs Now Available Here.

A striking example of a boteh rug from the Kashkuli subtribe, wonderfully enlivened by the elaborate peacock-like bird figures, many other exotic animals and tiny symbols.