A people's culture. Rugs of Armenia
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``Most significant are those carpets bearing inscriptions in the uniquely Armenian language,'' she continues. ``Some are simply signed with a weaver's name or origin of the carpet or date. As some rugs are totally Persian in design, the Armenian inscriptions clue us that these rugs are in fact Armenian.''Skip to next paragraph
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Other inscriptions are more telling and involved. Perhaps the most significant is found in the jewel of the exhibit, an 18th-century Gohar carpet named after the lone woman weaver who piously inscribed at the end of her 111/2-foot work:
``I Gohar, full of sin and weak of soul, with my newly learned hands wove [this rug]. Whosoever reads [this] say a word of mercy [to God] for me. In the year 1149 [AD 1700].''
Important as these carpets are as a cultural statement, their simple appeal can be appreciated by the youngest of schoolchildren. They are a treasure-hunt of folklore, fashion, and fantasy.
Charming stick-figured people appear among the fields of rich colors. Some are hunters and soldiers. Others dance, ride horseback, or stroll hand in hand across a backround of warm ``Armenian red,'' the color derived by crushing larvae of the indigenous cochineal insect.
Elk and deer gambol freely among stylized dragons, peacocks, goats, and camels. The tree-of-life motif and flowers and palm leaves appear over and over again, framed by borders of traditional Christian or Maltese crosses.
Colors fade or glow where new skeins of dyed wool were used. Designs and patterns stop and start abruptly where perhaps different members of a family sat at the loom, or when boredom or whimsy took over. Some bold sunburst designs end middesign for reasons known only to the weavers.
Two carpets reflect a sad note to the story of the proud and troubled Armenian nation. These are the ``orphan rugs'' woven in American-run orphanages during the late 1800s and early 1900s by homeless children to raise money for the ``starving Armenians,'' as they were generally known.
But on a happier note, an elderly woman who had worked on early rugs was discovered in a nursing home where she had little to do.
``She was taken out of retirement to help work on designs for some rugs woven today,'' says Dr. Der Manuelian. What's a warp? What's a weft?
Oriental rugs are hand-knotted, loomed, piled carpets. It is the pile, specifically, which distinguishes them from other handmade flat-weave rugs like kilims, dhurries, and those of the Navajo Indians.
Warp, weft, pile, and knot are general terms used in the weaving of rugs. As commonly used as these terms are, they can be confusing.
Warp. These threads run vertically, like strings on a harp, and determine the length of a woven carpet. These are most commonly cotton, sometimes wool, occasionally silk, and, rarely, plant fiber. When a carpet is cut from the loom, the warp strands at either end of the rug are referred to as the fringe.
Weft. These threads run horizontally -- ``from `weft' to right'' is an easy way to remember. They may or may not be made of the same material as the warp. Ordinarily visible only from the back of the carpet, they are the foundation threads between each row of knots.
Knots. These are the individually hand-tied strands that determine the thickness of a rug. They also make up the design or pattern. The two most common types of knots are Persian (asymmetrical) and Turkish (symmetrical). Knots start in the front of a carpet, twist around the warp and weft, and finish again in the front. The weaver then snips them off. The yarn length determines the carpet's thickness, or pile. The number of knots per square inch is one but not the only measure of a quality rug.