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Embroidered Blankets from

My first blog post on the beautifully unique Marsh Arab weavings (wordpress)was back in 2013 when Iraqi Kurdish friends were bringing bundles of these vibrant textured weavings into my rug store and although no-one really knew where they came from,my clients were snapping them up for the flamboyant,wild and unique weavings that they were.Sadly as I only have one left in stock (and one in my personal collection) and haven't seen any good examples for wholesale in a couple of years,we may well be headed towards the 'end of an era' so I thought it was worthwhile revisiting my original blog.

I hope you enjoy it for the second time.

I have always been fascinated by these magnificent primitive embroideries that first appeared on the oriental rug market 9 yrs or so ago.They have a modernistic feeling that is as inspired as it is unique..As far as I know many dealers sell these as ‘Arab cicims’ or ‘Turkoman embroideries’ but after weeks of rather relentless research I did in fact find their true origins !

The wetland marshes in the middle and lower basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Iraq comprise a complex of shallow freshwater lakes, marshes and seasonally inundated floodplains.This area of Lower Mesopotamia is the legendary site of the Garden of Eden., and the famous ruined cities of Ur and Babylon.These marshes have provided a home for the Ma’dan or Marsh Arabs for at least 5000 years.There was a considerable historic prejudice against the Madān as they were considered to have Persian or other mixed (possibly Indian) origin.The majority are Shiite Muslims and in addition to their Islamic faith,the Ma’dan still held a number of pre-Islamic or extra-Islamic beliefs from the existence of strange monsters in the marshes to that of bewitched isles.They live in semi permanent reed or mudbrick houses that were built on artificial islands made from layers of mats,reeds and mud.

All of the carpet weaving,embroidery and related crafts are practiced solely by Ma’dan women except for the hand spinning of wool,which is done by both sexes.Although many of the carpets resemble Tribal weavings from other areas the embroidered blankets are unique to this specific region.Initially hand woven blankets are purchased from the Kurds or Bedouin in the nearby market towns. They use locally spun and dyed wools and traditionally weave the blankets on ground looms in two separate panels.

They are then purchased and elaborately embroidered by young Ma’dan girls for their marriage beds and sometimes by mothers for their sons.The most common examples are comparatively lightly embroidered but those most prized are heavily embroidered over their entire surface with a multitude of colorful patterns.According to research in 1970, the sale of these blankets is a relatively recent phenomenon although the best embroiderers have always occupied a position of respect within the community.

Designs:Right angles dominate in the repertoire of stylized geometric designs although the lines are often slightly curved and the angles slightly skewered.All weavers agree that the major part of these designs are abstract adaptations of those found in the local environment such as the frog, scorpion, date palm, dome or minaret. Each small group or village use different designs that indicate the origins of the weaver,but a single design is often assigned an entirely different significance by different weavers.In the last decades there is an increasing use of small, more or less realistic representations of men, women, animals, birds, flowers and mosques.

The embroidered blankets are often especially inventive in combining the geometric and small figurative and all are made without drawn patterns of any kind. Each weaver keeps in her head the position and size of the patterns she wishes to appear on the finished work and weaves or embroiders accordingly.

Enormous changes have taken place in weaving crafts in the villages in the last 30 years. A primary factor is the total absence of the Bedouin,who used to camp in the area during the early winter.In the past a major part of the carpet weaver’s output was traded to the Bedouin weavers for cloth suitable for making clothes,blankets,and bags woven on horizontal treadle looms.Although there is still a market for carpets in the villages themselves, the village craftswomen,where they still exist, no longer have a near monopoly on this trade in their own villages.

Draining of the marshes and the building of a network of dirt roads has made the trip to the nearby market towns a matter of minutes rather than hours. As a result of this change a prospective carpet buyer can more easily shop for traditional carpets in the local souq at very competitive prices.

Only two elderly woman carpet weavers exist in the area today although the dynamic embroidered blankets are still made.The designs,while pleasing and decorative, are seldom as densely applied as in the past and as with many decorative arts, the older embroidered blankets are rarer to find and more expensive in todays market place.

The finest collection of Iraqi embroidered blankets was assembled by Agatha Christie.

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