Posted on: October 17, 2016
Weaving Like the Bakhtiari
The motifs found in the carpets of the pastoral nomadic Bakhtiari tribe are inspired by the sights and sounds of those who wove them. Through this prized handicraft, the Bakhtiari have made their name synonymous with designs of plants and animals that are stylized in a totally unique and beautiful way.
The Bakhtiari tribe traces its roots back to the ancient Persian Empire, and it still holds a presence today in modern Iran. Each year this tribe traverses up to 300 kilometers of the Zagros mountains, moving between the summits in the summer and the western foothills in the winter. In order to successfully complete this journey, the Bakhtiari rely heavily on their livestock for sustenance. Their animals provide them with food, economy, clothing, shelter, and handicrafts.
Weaving is the principal handicraft of the Bakhtiari tribe. They breed their sheep so that they are born in February, just in time for the migration back up the mountains. Because of the harsh weather conditions and physical exertion, the sheep’s fur increases its lanolin content, making it the perfect supple fleece for carpets. The shiny, soft wool is sheered in the spring once the migration is over.
During their arduous journey throughout the mountains, the Bakhtiari women, who are solely responsible for weaving, gather wild plants and vegetables to use as dyes for their craft. Using small-batch dyeing techniques, they weave their carpet’s designs based on memory. This is unlike the city carpets whose motifs are intricate, and as such are laid out on special grid paper. One of the things that make these tribal carpets so special is that they were traditionally made for personal use. Whether it be for warmth in the tent, a decorative saddle, or a blanket for livestock, the Bakhtiari used their handicraft as functional tools in their day to day lives.
In terms of style, the Bakhtiari women are renowned for representing the nature that surrounds them in their carpets. With colorful motifs such as stylized flowers, butterflies, and animals, the Bakhtiari are able to bring the beauty of their spring and summer gardens into their tents during the bleak, snowy winter. For example, one can see many different styles of flowers and trees in the carpet shown below. What the untrained eye may not notice, however, are the geometrically stylized red and blue caterpillars moving around the inner border.
The Bakhtiari carpet below is another garden representation, but this one is centralized around a center medallion. The medallion represents the circle of life and the interdependencies of all aspects of the natural world. Again it becomes apparent that there are many different types of foliage in this woven garden, but what one might overlook are the butterflies flying around flowers. Although they look like just another floral motif, the large winged designs in the red boarder are actually representations of butterfly wings.
Despite their arduous lifestyle, the Bakhtiari have created some of the world’s most vibrant carpets. They use this art form not only for its functionality, but also as a reiteration of their own personal lives. As such, each true Bakhtiari carpet is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece with its own life and story.