Carpets and Rugs of Afghanistan
Carpet weaving hand tools
The increasing demand all over the world for Afghan carpets, rugs and other
piled goods, as well as killims has stimulated a lively interest in this
time-honored craft. The production of Afghan woven good is extremely
varied, and falls into two main classifications: namely the Turkoman and the
Beloutch and the Beloutch-type. Both are produced by pastoral people of
entirely different origin, yet who had the same needs and a constantly available
source of wool. Thus, many of their products were made to serve similar
purposes, though each is quite distinct in technique of weave, in color and
Not least of the charms of the Afghan carpet is that it is among the few
products left the world today that is still made entirely by hand. Carpet
production in Afghanistan is from beginning to end a cottage industry, and for
the buyer, represents good value in terms of wear, beauty and adaptability to
surroundings. Another characteristic of Afghan carpets is that they are
wholly of wool and all designs are rectilinear.
The Turkoman Carpet
All Turkoman carpets are woven in the north of the country between Maimanah
to the west and Kunduz to the east, apart from Sarouq carpets which are made in
Maruchak and Mauris which are made in and around Herat in the west of
Afghanistan. The word Mauri means "from Merv" the city in the Turkmenistan from
which the weavers of these goods originated and include members of the Tekke,
Yamoud and Sarouq tribes.
The wool used in Turkoman weaving is renowned in the trade for its lustrous
and hard-wearing properties. It comes from the famous indigenous breed of
Karakul sheep, which is equally renowned in the fur trade for its Karakul
lambskins. The Karakul sheep is a fat-tailed breed having a dual fleece, that
is, two types of wool growing simultaneously. The outer fleece has longer
staples than the soft crinkly wool of the inner fleece, which when carefully
sorted and blended produce ideal carpet wool.
Carding and spinning is carried out by hand, by both men and women. The
balls of wool are made into skeins which are then dyed, either by the weaver's
family in its own compound or by professional dyers in the bazaar.
Though aniline dyes have been used since their invention at the turn of the
century, there is now a growing tendency among the Turkomans to revert to the
use of natural dyestuffs. Those most commonly used are madder, the root of
a spindly bush which grows abundantly in many of the carpet-producing areas, for
red; walnut peel for dark brown; pomegranate peel for light brown, and sparak, a
wild flower from the steppes, for yellow. The blues in Turkoman carpets
are generally indigo.
Weaving- traditionally on a horizontal loom - is usually done by women.
All sizes of carpets and rugs, ranging from mats to runners to the "over-sizes",
are made throughout the year. Larger carpets, however, because they are
usually woven in the open are mainly produced during the summer months.
The majority of Mauri carpets and rugs are of single weft, whereas in the
main other Turkoman goods are double wefted. The Persian or Sennah knot is
When weaving a carpet, no set plan is followed: the design is entirely
executed from memory - a testimony to the fact that Turkoman designs and symbols
are of unknown age and representative of their own particular culture.
Most Turkomans in Afghanistan belong to the Ersari tribe, a large ethnic
group sub-divided into clans, many of which have their own individual carpet
motifs and designs whose origins and symbolic meanings are far from clear.
Perhaps the two best-known designs are the "fil-poi" or elephant's foot, a large
octagonal gul and the smaller Tekke gul, or "Bukhara pattern" as it is now
called in the trade, and within these motifs there is a wide variety. In
addition, there is a large range of different Ersari designs. Other
Turkomans who weave carpets in Afghanistan are the Tekkes, Yamouds and Sarouqs,
who all have their distinctive weaves and designs.
Besides carpets and rugs, the Turkomans produce countless items made with
wool for their daily domestic needs - wood and metal being unobtainable or
difficult to come by. For example, the doorway of the yurt, the circular
wood-framed tents in which Turkomans live, is closed by a type of carpet called
a "purdah" (curtain), also called a hatchlou or Ensi, fringed at the bottom and
having at the top a cord with which to tie it to the framework.
Other items still woven by the Turkomans for their daily use include:
- the juwal, often made in pairs is a large bag used for storing
clothes or larger household goods, and was kept hung on the inside of the
yurt. When migrating these bags were tied one on either side of the
camel, whence the western name of "camel bag". Though these are still
made, only on very rare occasions, such as the escorting of the bride to her
new home, will one see juwal on a camel;
- the khourgine or donkey bag, is still very much in use. This bag is
in a joined pair and used as a saddle bag for horse or donkey, as well as over
a man's shoulder. These are also made in a flat weave.
- the torbah, a single bag, either knotted and piled or flat-woven,
in different shapes and sizes according to is purpose, includes the much
sought-after namak donne used for storing the rock-salt.
- Another decorative furnishing is the jallar, a woven bag hung over
the inside entrance of the yurt, distinguished by its fringes and sometimes
having long side-pieces, when it is called jallar poidar or jallar with
The horse, especially prized and the camel have always been very much part of
the traditional Turkoman way of life, consequently saddle cloths and various
decorative trappings for these are still being made for everyday use.
Although this list is not conclusive, it is hoped that it will give some
indication of the variety and richness of the woven items produced by the Afghan
The Beloutch and Beloutch-Type Carpet
Herat, in the west of Afghanistan, is the major marketing centre for a wide
region where a large and varied production of carpets, rugs and flat-woven
pieces, including killims, is woven; goods from this area are traditionally
known as Beloutches. Some of the these goods are made by nomads and
semi-nomads, many by people now sedentary who, though not strictly of the
Beloutch tribe, have acquired some their techniques while imparting to their
work their own tribal charm and rustic character which is so much sough-after
In such a large region, inevitable there is a broad variety of weaves and
designs as well as types of wool used. Generally speaking, the majority of
wool comes from the local strains of the Ghiljai and Gaadi breeds of sheep,
whose soft wool readily develops a natural sheen though use. The Beloutch
production, like that of the Turkoman, is entirely hand made, from shearing and
spinning into dyeing and knotting. The Herat Beloutches are all wool as
opposed to the Meshed Beloutches from Iran which have cotton warps. A wide
variety of both chemical and natural dyestuffs are used.
Weaving, always on a horizontal loom, frequently takes place in the open
under a shelter just outside the weaver's tent, and is always done by women and
girls who learn this craft when very young.
Besides carpets and rugs, the Beloutches, like the Turkomans, make knotted
and piled bags of different shapes and sizes used for storage purposes. In
addition they make baby cradles, saddle bags, harness for camel and donkey and
sometimes horse, and all the numerous things required in daily life, as well as
the decorative and functional pieces which play such an important role in
betrothals, marriages, and dowries.
For the nomad of this area, the prayer rug or jai namaz is above all a
vital need and is perhaps his most significant personal property. On this prayer
rug, he, whose unsettled life, is a constant struggle with nature and the
elements, makes his devotions to his Creator five times a day.
Killims are a flat-woven fabric made of wool. The variety of weaving
techniques, of designs and colors is considerable, ranging from the simple yet
charming striped killims of the Pasthun-speaking kouchis to the elaborate
Beloutch killims of subtle design, often with decorative embroidery of great
richness. The different types of killims made in this region are becoming
very popular in Western markets, as are those of woven by Uzbeks, Turkomans and
Hazaras in other areas of Afghanistan.
Flat-woven domestic pieces such as grain and flour sacks are also made in the
Beloutch area, often with either woven or embroidered patterns, and bags of all
shapes and sizes, sometimes highly decorated with cowrie shells, small mirrors,
buttons and tassels.
All the items mentioned above are sought in the Western markets because they
are both decorative and useful. For instance, killims can be used either
as floor coverings (the purpose for which they were woven), wall hangings,
bedspreads, etc. Donkey bags make excellent newspaper or knitting holders when
draped over the arm of a chair. Juwals and the large torbahs
when stuffed become striking floor or chair cushions. Tent bands enhance
pelmets or curtains; camel halters and neckbands, the gaily decorated cradles
and small bags make handsome wall ornaments, while a camel bell can be hung in
many places, including outside the door.
A classical Mauri rug, locally called "rangi
tchoub" because the yarn has been dyed with
vegetable dyestuffs. These very fine pieces,
often single-wefted are woven in Herat City.
Sarouq rug. One of Afghanistan's finer quality
rugs and which comes from Maruchak.
This fine quality rug bearing the "Kepsi Gul" of
the Yamouds comes from Andkhoy. Like all the
quality Afghan pieces, the yarn is hand-spun
Karakul wool, and this piece contains some natural
The Ghaba Saqal, from the Ersari sub-clan, whose
design adds to the wide variety of production from
the Andkhoy area.
The above is from an illustrated catalog published by
The Export Promotion Department, Ministry of Commerce, Democratic Republic of
Afghanistan (Post reign of Mohammad Zahir
Shah) There was no exact publication date on the catalog.