Carpets of Afghanistan

Since my arrival, I have periodically visited the bazaar areas looking at carpets.  Our “boyz” Charlie and Sam while going through their puppy teething stages managed to remove the fringes or chewed holes in the carpets at our house.  But now they are out of this stage or at least I hope so.  While here on deployment, I have been conducting research on carpets and have perused through dozens of carpet shops looking for the perfect carpet.  Trying to find the right color, size, texture, and blend has been a yearlong challenge.  Similar to my experiences in Korea, the buyer has to beware.  To the untrained eye or those who lack knowledge about carpets, they might be sold a cheap

Rex's favorite for the dining area; Mrs "T" - not so much ...

Chinese machine-made imitation carpet or a low quality Iranian produced one instead of a high quality one from Afghanistan.  I guess if you never ask the question, then the seller isn’t obligated to divulge the originality of the carpet.  The majority of the carpets sold at the camp bazaars and large FOBs are Chinese made and very inexpensive.

Mrs. T likes this one!

But some of them display expensive carpets priced over $5,000.

I have also found that if I want something purchased locally, it’s so much better to let my interpreter negotiate the price than me.  When the merchants see us, the price almost doubles.  So when I see soldiers bragging about the deal they got on their carpet and how they talked the merchant down, I chuckle inside because my interpreter can beat that price by another third and get much better quality.  But not everyone is assigned an interpreter and they don’t have the advantage I do.

The popularity of Afghan carpets is starting to spread internationally.

Mrs. "T" likes this one too!

Historically prior to the Soviet invasion, carpets ranked fifth among the country’s exports.  Shortly after the Soviets invaded, there were a mass exodus (3 million) people who sought refuge in Pakistan, Iran, and other neighboring countries.  As a result, the carpet weaving industry faltered because inexperienced weavers looking for employment took over and the quality of the carpets diminished.  Since the removal of the Taliban, the carpet industry is trying to regain its reputation.  Over 3 percent of the country is employed in the carpet industry and carpet makers who fled during the war are returning to their home country.  Due to lack of established exporting markets, many of

This is Mrs. T's favorite!

the Afghan carpets are sent to Pakistan where they are cut, washed, finished, and then a “Made in Pakistan” label is attached to them for resale.

This would be perfect for someone who is Univ. of Florida Gators' fan with the orange and blue.

But in the past few years, Afghan carpet makers have introduced their carpets to the international community at carpet fairs and immediately sold out of their product.  So before demand becomes too great, thus increasing their price, Mrs. Temple and I plan to refurbish the house and replace the dog chewed ones.  Don’t worry Honey, I haven’t found any with big lions or tigers on them …. lol.

What makes Afghan carpets unique is the type of wool and dyes used in the process.  Of the eight breeds of sheep raised in Afghanistan, only the wool from five of them is used to make carpets.  The most common wool comes from the Karuqal sheep in the Northern provinces.  Two types of wool grow simultaneously on these sheep.  The outer wool has the longer fibers

This was a "no" also.

and the inner wool is the softer of the two.   These sheep are raised in the higher elevations and in a range of temperatures from -30 degrees to 48 degrees Celsius.  After the wool is hand sorted, it is spun and then pre-soaked.  The yarn is pre-soaked in a bathing solution of alum, copper sulfate, ferrous sulfate, tin or urine.  Yep, that is not a misprint.  Urine is used by some tribes in the pre-soaking stage.  Not sure how popular that method is, but apparently it works.  After the pre-soaking, the yarn is then dyed.  Due to modernization, many carpet makers employ synthetic dyes, but the expensive handmade carpets are still produced using dyes from plants, vegetables, roots, dried bodies of certain insects and tree bark.

This is ended up in the "no" pile, too.

Other natural dyes are extracted from walnut or pomegranate peel and wheat straw.  All this time I have been shucking my walnut shells and it could have been used for making carpet dye.

The root of the Madder plant is responsible for creating the bright red hues, orange and even purple colors.  The thickness of the root determines the shade of red.  Historically, this same root has been used in dye making since 1500 BC and in the 17th and 18th century it was used as a key component in creating artists’ paints.

Another point of interest is the looms used and the weaving process.  Afghan weavers traditionally use a horizontal loom to make their carpets.  This type

We both voted "no" on this one.

of loom is used by the traveling nomads because it is easily dismantled and transported.   The carpet width determines how many weavers are needed.  The infamous Turcoman carpet designs are woven from memory.  Their “Chobi” rugs have a range of 120 -250 knots per square inch.  These rugs are hand spun, hand knotted, and the dyes are 100% natural.  An authentic Chobi rug is very durable and should last for generations.  In case you are wondering, the less expensive carpets have less than 90 knots per square inch.

Well Honey, what do you think?  I have attached my favorites to this blog entry.  The rugs pictured are a wool and silk blend.  I didn’t want to sell my aluminum can collection to buy an expensive handmade Chogi, so we might have to settle for a synthetic dyed one.  Just don’t tell the neighbors, they won’t know the difference … lol.

For more Afghan rugs click on this link:


One Response

  1. Your comment about soaking wool was interesting. In fact soaking wool in “fermented” urine was common practice to help set natural dyes. In American and European fullering mills it would standard practice to see tubs of urine with wool soaking in them. Of course this practice is not used today except where you observed in small tribal dyeing.

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