A Workshop on “Handle”

Dear folks –

Rug and textile people, not unlike the general population, seem to have pictures of how learning occurs that center on “someone (preferably an authority of some sort) standing in the front of a group, talking.”

This tendency drives instructional designers like me wild,

because one of the few things generally agreed to about learning is that it is solely, exclusively, the result of activity by learners, and the “speaker” design requires the learners to sit, passively, in their seats (although listening is allowed), and the wrong person, the one who is ostensibly the most learned, is the most active, and likely learning most.

Not only is the default “speaker” design not optimum for learning, there are alternatives that seem not usually, to come on the screen of possibilities for most of us.

This is a post demonstrating that alternatives to the “speaker” design exist.

On August 26, 2012, Mark Keshishian,

of the rug-dealer family and firm, here in DC, and I gave a workshop on “handle ” for our local rug club. 

Mark is a certified appraiser, active in the family business, and has handled a lot of rugs in his life.

Our meeting was held in a large conference room in an area public library. 

We arranged seven conference tables with good space in between them.  On each table we placed a rug.

As they arrived, meeting participants were encouraged to scatter themselves among the tables, avoiding sitting with partners and close friends.

I made the following introductory remarks:

Mark and I had selected seven pile rugs reputed to have distinctive handles.

Rug 1 was a new, Persian Bijar.

Rug 2, was a Persian Senneh.

Rug 3, was a Caucasian rug, from Shirvan.

Rug 4 was a Yomut-group chuval face.

Rug 5 was a Chinese rug, estimated to have been woven about 1920.

Rug 6, was an Ladik Anatolian.

Rug 7 was a Persian Hamadan.

We passed out copies of a resource reading on handle, four pages of text, and two with illustrations and asked participants to read it.

Here it is:

Note: The next section of this short reading is composed of different pages of a Word table, so headings repeat.

We resisted the temptation some participants feel to begin an intellectual discussion of the resource reading.  Instead, we asked them to dive into some applications tasks.

We passed out a package of seven  worksheets each of which looked like this.



As its heading indicates, this is the worksheet for Rug 1, the Persian Bijar. 

There were six more worksheets in each participant package, each labeled with a rug number and attribution.

Now equipped with the resource reading and the package of worksheets, the participants were given the following task (pencils had been provided to avoid possible ink stains on the rugs from the use of pens).

Turn to the worksheet with the number on the table at which you are sitting.

Examine this rug, drawing on the guidance provided by both the worksheet itself and the resource reading, and record your findings on the worksheet.

Work individually at first, without conversation (there will be a strong temptation to begin to discuss right away but resist that).

When everyone at your table has filled out the worksheet individually, compare your worksheet descriptions and discuss differences, especially big ones.

You will have 10 minutes to complete both individual and group work on this first rug.

We will keep time and indicate when you have two minutes remaining.

The participants began their work.

When the 10 minute mark was reached we checked to make sure each group had finished their individual and group work (if they had not, we would have extended the time a little because this task usually goes a little slower for most people when they are doing it for the first time).

We stopped work on the rugs and asked each group to move “clockwise” to the next table and rug.

When they had moved, we reminded them to fill out the correct worksheet, and that the task was the same.  Again, ten minutes would be allowed.

The workshop progressed in this way rug by rug, in ten-minute intervals, until everyone had individually rated each rug and discussed it in their work group.

Now we passed out a new set of seven worksheets on which were recorded Mark Keshishian’s ratings and descriptions of these rugs.  Here is Mark’s “book” description of Rug 1, the new Persian Bijar.

We asked students to compare their responses for each rug with Mark’s and to identify any big differences.

When they had done so, I went through the seven rugs, one at a time, asking whether any big differences existed.  Participants were asked to ask Mark questions about these differences, and Mark responded.

When this review and focused discussion had been completed, I made the ending remark below.

There was a postscript.

Penny and Tim Hays, who collect Balkan rugs and textiles, had brought five pieces with different handles.

Here is what they said about them:

” In addition to Balkan kilims, rugs, and textiles, we have also assembled a small group of Syrian kilims and silk textiles. Most of the kilims are of a type well known from Orientalist paintings and from period photographs of the Middle East and North Africa–Aleppo kilims.
“We were introduced to these textiles by a friendly European dealer and through the paintings of the Italian Orientalist painter Guilio Rosati.  
“As we planned to travel to Syria on a classical archaeology and textile study trip, we were determined to track down some examples of these very attractive kilims from the mid- to late 19th and early 20th Century.
“After a week of travel and visits to several dozen rug workshops and dealers in Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama, we finally located our quarry in a small but attractive shop on Straight Street in Damascus.
“Aleppo kilims with blue, red, and white designs are woven of either cotton on cotton or wool on wool.
“As we have both types in our collection we decided to bring two examples one cotton and one wool to illustrate how different the handle of otherwise identical kilims can be.
Here is the cotton example:
The cotton Aleppo kilims are very finely woven, flexible, and feel like a men’s dress shirt.  
Here is the wool example:
“The wool example is slightly heavier and feels comparatively rough and scratchy.
“Both are quite flexible and easily rolled or folded.
“These kilims were used primarily as portieres on doorways or on windows, or less frequently as divan covers. When used in their traditional role as portieres, the kilims almost always are presented with at least one side severely sun-bleached. The cotton example we brought is no exception. The wool kilim is unfaded which leads us to believe it may have been used as a divan cover or wall hanging.
“Although attributed to Aleppo, our studies indicate this type of kilims was woven in many different cities by both Christians and Muslims. Production of such pieces largely ended in about 1910 when European printed textiles were introduced.
Here is the silk example:
“Our silk textile/kilim is a loom woven piece with a typical Syrian metallic thread design which is widely seen in both large pieces and in yastiks.
“The handle of this very finely woven piece is quite slick and light and is extremely flexible.
“Such pieces were produced in Hama , Aleppo and Damascus for use as wall hangings, decor, and clothing. Silk weaving was a particular specialty of the Muslim weavers of Hama.  In 2010, we saw one workshop with two handlooms was still in operation, but only weaving cotton household goods.
“Our examples of handle also include two pieces from our Balkan collection.
The first is a Manastir rug fragment from Macedonia and a Chiprovtsy kilim from Western Bulgaria.
“The Manastir rug is an older example, probably ca. 1850, from the Bitola area in today’s Macedonia. The handle of this rug is very heavy with coarse tightly spun wool and long pile knots. the warps are brown wool. The rug is quite floppy as the piece has four weft shoots between each row of knots.
“The color scheme is typically Balkan with pale brick red, yellow and a blue which may come from woad. The design pattern is a prayer rug format with hints of both Anatolian and Orthodox Christian art.
“However these pieces were certainly woven by Muslims in their Balkan homeland and in Anatolia after the people emigrated in the late-19th century.
“Our Chiprovtsy kilim, below, is a good example of the Western Bulgarian kilim weaving tradition.
“Handle is very light and flexible with fine weaving and makes use of eccentric wefts and tapestry weave. Again the weave is so fine it feels like a shirt.
“The pattern is called ‘bakamsky’ and the four color design of brown, ochre, indigo blue and green is diagnostic for this group of weavings. Somewhat later pieces have more red.
“This design is well known from both western Bulgaria and from Eastern Romania (Modavia) and is among the oldest types documented in the region. Some examples date to the late 18th century.
“We chose these pieces to exemplify the widely divergent weaving traditions of southeastern Europe.”

Our workshop adjourned and the after-session conversations began.

The only thing missing was a little of the nice 2004 Brunello.

Mark and I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of this handle workshop.

My thanks, to my wife, Jo Ann, (pictured below doing family research in southern Belgium in 2011),

and to Aija Blitte,

who took the photos of it.


R. John Howe

Note: An electronic, revisable copy of this workshop design and all of its materials is available on request.  Just write me a note at rjhowe@erols.com.  I encourage anyone, who wants to, to adopt and adapt them for further use.  Rug clubs are often looking for program ideas and you have just been given one.  This design is very flexible.  Workshops using it can have a narrower focus, say just Caucasian handle variations.  Or those that occur in Central Asian or South Persian rugs.  It can also be shifted to focus on attribution skills, and not just those rooted in handle.

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