Afghanistan has developed a strong reputation as a source of high-quality handmade carpets in a diverse and varied range of styles. During my last trip to Afghanistan, I immersed myself in the weaving traditions. Nothing beats going there and sitting with the people to whom the traditions have been entrusted.
I did that during my June 2012 trip.
Today carpets are woven primarily in three regions of Afghanistan, the area around Herat in the west, in Kabul, the capital city, and in the Turkmen belt along the country’s border with its northern neighbors. There, centered in Mazar-e Sharif, is the most active rug weaving region in the country: the villages of Kunduz, Balkh, Jowzjan and Faryab.
When most people think about Afghan rugs, the so-called ‘red Afghan’ carpet comes to mind. It has adorned floors, East and West, for centuries and is know for rich and subtle hues of burnished reds and designs of repeating lozenges known as ‘guls’. Woven, each a little differently, by the four main Turkman tribes— these carpets have become known as elephant’s foot designs:
The Tekke Ahal design shown above is the most famous of them and is often misidentified as a Bokhara design. Since antiquity the town of Bokhara, in what is now Uzbekistan, was the major trading center where Turkmen weavers sold their rugs to western buyers. So, that name is actually a catch all for Turkmen rugs.
These traditional designs have evolved and a newer design called Khoja Roshnai is among the most highly prized of all Afghan rugs. Named for a village of that name near Mazar-e Sharif these rugs utilize a very small ‘gul’ and are often called the cat’s foot design. I spent hours among the rug merchants and followed the evolution of their designs in the rug record piled everywhere:
Tradition creates momentum:
While innovation, creativity and an understanding of market demands have been driving forces behind Afghanistan’s resurging reputation in the rug world, tradition was the inspiration that created the momentum. The rugs that have become most famous for updating the country’s deserved place in traditional rugs are the carpets known as Khal Mohammadi. Their palettes feature a rich brown-red to maroon and a deep, very dark blue with striking accents of bright gold or a vibrant blue. Their designs evolve and extend the traditions of Turkmen weaving:
The Khal Mohammadi rugs are woven in the northern crescent of provinces. While these fine rugs are woven with a machine spun yarn, which needs to be imported, this region is increasingly famous for its hand spun wool rugs such as the Kazak and Chob Rang. These two differ substantially from Khal Mohammadi rugs as they are more coarsely woven and feature a vintage look:
The rapidly shifting geopolitical sands of the late 20th century brought many challenges as well as new opportunities for Afghan weavers. These have been exploited with immense success by producers in the region and by importers around the world. Styles, tastes and home fashions changed dramatically in the early years of the 21st century and have created new traditions for Afghan carpets. Kazak and Chob Rang rugs are now world standards.
But, the modern world reaches back in time for inspiration and easily finds it among the textile crafts of the many and varied people of Afghanistan. The traditional ‘red Afghan’ rugs are at peace in modern day Western furniture settings and are becoming sought after once again after an extended period of demand for neutral colors:
The rugs selected for the new, ultramodern Rice Athletic Center at USC in Columbia, SC were made in Afghanistan for Fine Rugs of Charleston. Proof of how rich tradition can evolve and fit beautifully in a modern world.