Friday, August 16, 2019

Historic Textiles Essay

Man does not live by bread alone is a very popular saying uttered by one of the greatest men who ever walk this planet. And there is much truth to that. Thus man, after working hard in the fields and whatever profession he is engage into, will feel not much satisfaction and there is that continued longing for something else missing in his life. It is at this point that man desire for other things besides the familiar refrain of food, shelter, and clothing. There are those who say that the pursuit for the finer things in life takes the edge off living and so from the time man learns to navigate his way across paths that connect one tribe to another, trade began. And one of those being traded in ancient times is something related to man’s basic need – clothing or textile. In the Middle Ages, Iran’s textile industry reached its golden age under the guidance of the Safavid dynasty. This paper will take a closer look at the textile industry in Persia between the early 16th century and after the demise of the Safavid Dyansty in the early part of the 18th century. In this important period of its history the proponent of this study will examine different aspects of trade, the techniques used in making textile, and the significant designs that made Persia as a very important trading hub during these years. This paper will also examine the role that the textile industry played in the economic wealth of Iran. Background There is that certain quality and charm to affluence. It is therefore easy to understand why everybody wanted to be rich and no one would like to trade places with a poor man. Human nature seeks for comfort as the body craves for water in the searing heat of the desert sun. This is human nature and it best explains why merchants from the East and West in the Middle Ages continue to brave foul weather condition and other hazards associated to trade so long as the exchange of goods and money take place. But when a person reaches a level of domestic comfort, there is that tendency to become more sophisticated. The desire for luxury items kicks in and the well-heeled patrons of fine luxury products will drive their adventurous merchants even to the ends of the earth to acquire what is needed or more appropriately, to get things that are not basic needs but will surely fill a craving for the exotic and for the expensive. In the Middle Ages the Westerners look to the East for items related to a basic need, the need for clothing and these came in the form expensive textiles and for those who can afford it silk will do just fine. There is also the desire for fine Persian rugs or what is also known as carpets. Culture In the Middle Ages, there are two major perspectives in the quest to understand historic textiles. The first one can be seen through the eyes of those who inhabit the Eastern half of the globe. The second can be seen through the eyes of those living in the Western half of the planet. The difference in climate and topography allows for the exchange of goods and precious items, each group needs the other to acquire what they all wanted. For the Easterners living between the periods of the 16th century up to the 18th century, historic textiles of great historic significance are those that are coming from the regions around Asia. The Chinese, Indians, Turks and Persian make this all happen. The historic textiles are used for everyday purpose in this part of the world as clothes, accessories for man and animals and of course as a major household item to take away the dullness of day to day living. These products are also seen as major exports for those who live on the other side. For the Westerners living in the Middle Ages, the said historic textiles that include silk brocades and fine Persian carpets are a source of pride and joy. For them these textile products are exquisite works of art. If people from Persia used the rougher textile from wool in order to produce carpets – for the purpose of using the same as rugs – the Westerners will never agree to allow such expensive items to be trampled by dirty shoes. And so for the Europeans, carpets and fine textile are hung on wall and some used to cover expensive furniture. Safavid Dynasty It is understood that things does not come out from nothing. There is an explanation for the Golden Age of the Persian textile industry and it can be explained in one idea – the Safavid dynasty. An overview of this Persian dynasty will not only explain the origin of the much sought after luxury items but it will also help frame the context as to how the industry was developed from its primitive form into something that impacted the world in the Middle Ages. But it is not also right to give all the credit to the Safavids in terms of the creation of fine Persian carpets and the fine silk fabrics. It must be mentioned that a few centuries earlier it was the Sassanians who laid the foundation for the textile industry. This led Roger Savory to remark that, â€Å"Although the making of carpets is of ancient provenance in Iran, it was the Safavids who elevated a cottage-industry to an activity on a national scale and one which formed an important part of the economy† (1980). But the Sassanians limited success strengthens the argument that it takes more than talent and skill to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of ancient trade, it requires a great leader to set-up a system that will empower the people and encouraged those who have the entrepreneurial spirit to venture into the unknown or simply improve on what they have and in this case it is the ability to make beautiful fabrics. The flowering of Iran’s Golden Age through the able leadership of Shah Abbas I was made possible by the exploits of Abbas ancestor Ismail Safavi in 1501 who made the strategically located Tabriz as the capital of his newly formed state. Ismail brought peace and order while Abbas provided the leadership savvy that would usher in a period of political and military reform as well as of cultural florescence (Yalman, 2002). In the latter part of the 16th century Shah Abbas transferred the capital to Isfahan. During this time carpets and textiles became important export items. These products were not only used by the aristocracy and ordinary people, the same were used to fuel the economy. According to savory the first carpet factory was established in Isfahan and Yalman concurs by saying that these were produced in workshops set up under state patronage in Isfahan and other cities (2002). Historic Textiles As mentioned earlier the origin of the magnificent Persian carpets can be traced to a cottage industry that started a few centuries before the Safavids. Roger Savory provided more details when he wrote: The origins of the Persian carpet industry as we know it today is the tribal rug, women by the women and children of the semi-nomadic tribes, using the wool from their own flocks and natural dyes. The tribal rugs were usually in bright, gay colors, with bold fairly simple designs. They were and are highly individualistic, frequently irregular in shape, and characterized by color changes in the wool caused by the use of different dye batches (1980). Aside from the exquisitely designed but tougher looking carpets the Persians are in possession of fine fabrics and are mostly made of silk. Rudolph Matthee even asserted that not only was Iran a center for manufacturing silk fabrics but the region is also a producer of raw silk (1999). The following lists the three kinds of silken Safavid pieces of cloth: 1. Simple fine silk; 2. Brocade or gold silk; and 3. Silken velvet. Technology According to Carol Bier it is almost impossible to get a detailed and technical description of the intricacies of the Persian textile industry. First of all this is due to the problem of the materials itself, the fabrics are understandably fragile and did not survive the ravages of time. The few that remains are even far removed from the Safavid Dynasty. Historians are even forced to use the surviving paintings made by artists of the Middle Ages to get an a more in-depth understanding of Iran’s Golden Age in textile manufacturing and export industry. But it does not require a rocket scientist to understand that these artists can make alterations and can insert their own interpretations making their artwork a less reliable source of historical facts. As a result of these difficulties, Bier concluded that: The process of drawloom weaving and its technology is not thoroughly understood or documented for these periods. Treatises have yet to be located for fuller documentation of the use of dyes and for the processes of commercial weaving, as well as for the manufacture or embellishment of textiles by other means (e. g. embroidery, applique, crocheting, knitting, felt-making, accessorization) †¦. of innovation, improvements, or other modifications in the technology or its application that may have had an effect upon textile design and patterning (2008). In the same vein Milton Sonday concurs by saying that, â€Å"All too often what survives of a historic fabric is a fragment that is too small to give an impression of what the original looked like. Fragments must, therefore, if possible, be placed within the context of either continuous pattern from one or more fragments, provided one understands the principle upon which such patterns were laid out. Weaving Patterns Even with the scarcity of resources from which historians can draw conclusions, the following addresses the few significant facts that can be gleaned from artifacts and other documents that shed light on the said subject matter. As far as patterns and designs go, it is Milton Sonday that provided the most help. In the words of Sonday, â€Å"The highest achievements of Safavid silk designers and weavers are preserved in a limited number of figured velvet and â€Å"lampas† weaves. Aside from their sumptuous surfaces and monumental patterns, they are ideal for the insights they provide for understanding technology and aesthetics† (2008). This conclusion is part of the a general idea that it is notoriously difficult to differentiate what is uniquely Safavid historic textile as opposed to those coming from other historic textile centers from the Middle East. In fact there is disagreement as to which brocaded plain weave, brocaded satin weaves, float-patterned satin weaves, double cloths and the various metal background truly belongs to the Safavid and not to the Mughals of India. And so it is best to focus on the figured velvet and the â€Å"lampas† weaves to know more about Safavid historic textiles. Sonday pointed out that for the Persian fabrics of this era there can be two traditional patterns. The first one is a continuous pattern with elements of their composition arranged to be repeated endlessly and in all directions. The second major pattern is called the pictorial pattern with elements of its composition is arranged in such a way that it is contained within and related to a top, bottom, and sides (Sonday, 2008). The repeating patterns is achieved using a squared unit in weaving, where its sides are parallel with warps and its top and bottom parallel with wefts. Finally, Sonday made another important discovery, â€Å"A significant feature of Safavid continuous patterns in â€Å"lampas† and velvet weaves is the use of the human figure and narrative subject matter. Motifs are distinguished by clarity of drawing and can be identified as Safavid by the style of motifs such as birds, leaves, trees, flowers. No single motif is overly highlighted in their continuous patterns and there are practically no open spaces† (2008). There in a nutshell one gets the idea of a classic Safavid design. Conclusion It is a wonder to learn of ancient trading systems. It is also an adventure reliving the past when merchants had to be more than businessmen but has to have that adventurous spirit as well to get the best for their demanding clientele. For the gold and silver enriched Europeans there is a desire, in fact a craving for the exotic Middle East products and foremost in their list are fine Persian carpets and exquisite silk fabrics. Iran, the present day name for ancient Persia succeeded in becoming a center for historic textile trade in the Middle Ages because of the work of the Safavid dynasty particularly their greatest leader Shah Abbas. But there is more to Persian carpet and Persial silk brocades aside from the wise management of Abbas. It can be understood by tracing the development of their techniques and design from ancient times and of course the skill and determination of their women and skilled workers who continued to find ways of improving their craft. References Bier, C. (2008). â€Å"Textiles and Society. † In TextileAsARt. com. Retrieved April 11, 2008 from http://www. textileasart. com/woven. htm Carpet. org. (2008). â€Å"Carpet. † Retrieved April 11, 2008 from http://www. carpet. org /glossary. htm#carpet. Matthee, R. (1999). The Politics of Trade in Safavid iran: Silk for Silver, 1600-1730. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pope, A. U. (2008). â€Å"Masterpieces of Persian Art. † In TextileAsArt. com. Retrieved April 12, 2008 from http://www. textileasart. com/index2. html. Savory, R. (1980). Iran Under the Safavids. New York: Cambridge University. Sonday, M. (2008). â€Å"Patterns and Weaves: Safavid Lampas and Velvet. In TextileAsArt. com. Retrieved April 11, 2008 from http://www. textileasart. com/index2. html. TextileAsArt. com. (2008). â€Å"Antique Textiles, Woven Treasures. Retrieved April 11, 2008 from http://www. textileasart. com/index2. html. Yalman, S. (October 2002). â€Å"The Art of the Safavids before 1600 â€Å". In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved April 11, 2008 from http://www. metmuseum. org/toah/hd/safa/hd_safa. htm.

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