Kashan , Central Persia
A visit to Kashan is initially disappointing .The town is a mud brick jumble, unbearably hot and dusty in summer ,cold and dark in winter .Yet here some the most absorbing and attractive carpets in the last 500 years have been woven . Like so many rug cities in Persia , there are two distinct periods.
Under the Safavids , especially Shah Tahmas ( r. 1524 – 1576 ), Kashan wove , presumably for Court consumption only , impossibly fine , utterly elegant silk rugs and large carpets . These are now all in museums as paradigms of Classical Period carpet art .An enigmatic group of fine wool pile pieces , often with metal thread accents , seems also to have been created there in the late 16th century .During this period ,high quality silk velvet textiles were also produced there for export and domestic fashion . But under Shah Abbas ( r. 1587 – 1628 ) silk rugs changed in style and production moved to the royal capital of Isfahan . kashan went out of the rug business for nearly three centuries.
The revival of kashan weaving , beginning c. 1880, was initially the work of a single enterprising trader ; Hajji Mollah Hassan , a.k.a. Mohtasham , who dealt in English textiles and yarn . Being oversupplied with the latter , he decided to have his wife , a skilled weaver from the Sultanabad area ,created a rug . Fine Manchester – spun Australian merino wool was used , knotted tightly , clipped short and uniformly .The results were instantly acclaimed .More rugs followed, as others took up the trade .The rugs of the 1880 – 1914 period are generally termed “ Mohtasham “ regardless of actual maker .The earlies pieces are slightly angular in drawing as scale paper cartoons had not yet been mastered, but later pieces in this style are thoroughly curvilinear . The medallion and corner pattern is by far the most popular , but overall layouts and pictorial designs also appear . Sizes run from 1’x1’ pushtis to over 12’x 20’ , the latter probably custom orders. But the most prevelant size in this group is 7’x10’ to 8’x11’ .The pile of these carpets is incredibly lush and tactile , and it is rare to find one in perfect condition as the short pile and soft wool do not give the best wearability . Prices for good condition pieces , especially those bearing documentary inscriptions are high to astronomical , the highest of all 19th century carpets.
WWI ended the Mohtasham style , but the use of Manchester wool continued until c. 1930 .The rugs were almost all in deep reds with detached floral spray motives overall ,in the American Sarouk style , but more precise , finer and with superior wool .Occasionally you may find some in dark blue or ivory field.
The kashan carpet of the 1930’s and later is a more standardized affair : red field with arabesque and palmettes , ivory or blue medallion and corners, blue turtle border , in a variety of weave densities ,with Persian wool .There are some blue or ivory field Kashans available , almost all with red border ,in a more limited quantity.
Kashans always employ the Persian ( asymmetric ) knot on a cotton foundation , with fully depressed alternate warps .Densities vary from 120 to over 500 per square inch .Early pieces may have purple silk selvages and very rarely silk warps . There has always been a restricted production of all silk pile on silk warp Kashans , including Souf technique pieces in which pile designs stand in relief against a flat brocaded ground .All silk Kashans are really for display , and not for floor use as the silk lacks the elastic resilience of wool.
Dyes of the early pieces are generally vegetable , but synthetics , especially orange and red were used even before 1900 .More recent tricolour Kashans employ synthetics almost exclusively.
There are no factories in Kashan and weaving is done in houses , often in a purpose – constructed room harbouring one or two looms . Overall production when compared to Tabriz , Arak or Kerman is relatively small and there are fewer than 2000 looms in the area.
A group of Kashans is ascribed to Dabir , a master weaver of the 1st third of the 20th century .These jewel tone pieces are impeccably finished , and employ bouquets ,flower sprays , curling vines and landscape vignettes , all within elaborately detailed borders . The nearby town of Natanz has a small production of comparable pieces of equally high quality .Dabir and Natanz represent some of the best Persian work in traditional style in the 20th century .