Perhaps the most well-known of all Afghan crafts, carpet weaving is an art practiced in every corner of Afghanistan. Each region, village, and even family has its own motifs, dye recipes, and variations of traditional techniques. It is an ancient craft, passed from generation to generation, and showcases the uniqueness of Afghan culture as well as individual artisans.
The porous borders and modern changes of Afghanistan are reflected in the hybridity of contemporary carpet designs. Some carpets, woven from wool herded from the family’s flocks (sheep or, rarely, goat, horse, or camel) and dyed with local plants, feature motifs unchanged for centuries, such as the octagonal “elephant foot” pattern. Other carpets shimmer with the bright colours most easily obtained from chemical dyes, or depict the weapons of war, such as machine guns or armoured tanks, that have been a sadly familiar part of modern Afghan life. Each region of Afghanistan has its own rich carpet traditions, from the Turkmen of the northwest to the Baluch of the southwest. They vary considerably in materials, motifs, and even techniques. The very finest rugs are crafted of fine silk, which take months of labour, but result in a carpet with a distinctive and luxurious sheen.
Raw materials used in carpet production include fibres (wool, cotton, or silk) and dyes (natural or chemical). Traditionally, materials would have been based on local availability or occasional trade, while modern carpet weavers have access to a wide range of imported materials. Afghan weavers are women and men, although the home-based, small-scale nature of most Afghan carpet production is particularly convenient for craftswomen. Cultural traditions make it difficult to be given access to observe the process of carpet weaving done by women and girls in private homes, and also cloaks the names of many individual artists. Yet female carpet weavers contribute significantly to the family finances by their carpet weaving, and can even demand higher dowries which recognise their skills.
Aga-Oglu, M. Safavid Rugs and Textiles: The Collection of the Shrine of Imam ‘Ali at al- Najaf. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941.
Michelsen L.K. et al, Ferozkoh: Tradition and Continuity in Afghan Art. Doha: Bloomsbury Press, 2013.
Tamim Sahebzada, Said Ahmad Rugs
Silk Carpet (detail)
Silk, natural dyes
H: 180 cm, W: 247 cm