In my last few posts, I have told about some great textiles I came across at a local antique show. The nice lady in the booth with the quilt top told me she would hang on to my huge bag of purchases while I looked at the rest of the show.
I went over to the booth where I had purchased the coverlet the day before to pick that up. The dealer was not in the booth, and her husband jokingly pretended he didn’t know anything about it, and didn’t trust my receipt — I told him if he could tell me anything at all about how it was made, I would let him keep it! He had to admit he knew nothing about it, so I smugly accepted my treasure. (I did not subject him to an edifying discussion about the value of the textile arts, because I had more shopping to do.)
On my way back to the quilt booth, I saw two huge blanket-type objects laying across the foot of an old bed, down low so I hadn’t spotted them before. The lady in that booth was ready to deal too, and tried to get me interested in one that looked like thin pieces of unspun wool, loosely woven into some sort of wall hanging with animals on it — she said her father-in-law ran a trading post and it had been made by Indians, but it looked to me like something made in South America for unsuspecting tourists. I was more interested in a large warp-faced textile next to that one, and that is what I brought home! (You can click on any of the pictures to see them larger.)
I have woven a warp-faced rug only once in my life, and it actually even looks a little like the new one. Here is mine:
My own warp-faced experience is only important here because of how it formed my opinion on the new piece. For non-weavers, the more crowded your warp threads (the vertical ones) are, the harder they are to separate into the upper and lower layers necessary for weaving. The rug that I made was only about 28 inches (72 cm) wide, with probably 24 ends to the inch (10 per cm). That doesn’t sound like a dense sett, but they were big fuzzy wool warps, and I had a hard time separating them before I could throw the shuttle through to weave one row.
So when I saw this huge piece, I figured it was machine-made. I didn’t think a human could physically pull the warps up and down to make a shed for the weft shuttle.
But when I got it home and looked at it more closely, I saw that it is actually 8 narrow pieces, sewn together.
I also assumed it was made from wool, but a good look at those shiny, brittle-looking threads makes me think it is goat hair. Wool would be more springy and crimpy.
One corner shows what I think is the beginning —
— and the diagonal corner has beautiful braids that I would guess are made from the end. There is always loom waste, warps you just can’t get to to weave, because they are going through the heddles and over the back beam, and when you cut the piece off the loom, you might as well do something with them. But I am not sure — maybe this weaver did it the opposite way, and braided the beginning, and wove to the very last inch before cutting.
In the close-up, the threads look as shiny as raffia or polypropylene, but they are definitely a natural fiber. I believe the single plies are Z-twist and they are plied together S-twist.
There are approximately 50 warps to the inch (20 per cm). There are three bands where individual warps have been picked up in patterns and floated on the surface for three or more shots, rather than being caught with a weft on every alternating shot, as in the plain weave body of the piece.
And of course I had to hunt for the tell-tale variations in those patterns, that prove that a real person wove it instead of a machine. And I found plenty!
Sadly, one thing I do not have near enough of is books about weaving in other cultures, so I have no idea if this piece is from South America or the Middle East or North Africa, or someplace else entirely. It does not show any wear, and I would guess those are commercial dyes because they seem very even. I do not have any idea of its intended use, but it is beautifully woven and seems serviceable and enduring.
If you have any ideas about its origin, I would love to hear them!