Yurts have a long history of use in Central Asia and are comprised of a circular lattice wall, roof poles, and a roof ring. Straps are woven and wrapped around the lattice and the roof poles to help tighten and strengthen the structure. In keeping with the nomadic lifestyle the traditional loom used is a ground loom. The ground loom is traditionally staked out beside the yurt and can feature either a continuous warp or have the warp stretched the entire length of the piece. This loom can be used to weave the straps and bands used for yurts as well as pile, soumak, and kilim technique carpets. In creating a yurt band one source cites that it can take between 1 and 3 years to complete the band.
The band we bought at Pennsic this past summer measures 48 feet long and appears to be made of hand dyed and hand spun wool or wool/goat mix fiber. The fiber itself is coarse and strong. The wool yarn is formed of a tightly twisted 2 ply yarn. The band is 48 feet long, 16 inches wide, and has a weaving sett of 16 ends per inch. The weft is brown and in areas where a lot of picking up of the design has occurred the brown weft shows through in between alternating rows of dark and light warp. Verla Birrell lists a two pick up stick method to achieve this which appears very labor intensive. The main theme of the band remains fairly constant but has a few variations which may have been mistakes, learning opportunities, or simply stem from a desire to do something slightly different. These instances could also mark a place where a different weaver began working the design although there doesn’t appear to be any distinguishable difference in how tightly the weft has been beaten in those areas from the rest of the piece. The colors are lovely though a bit faded, attesting to the age of the piece and it’s use outdoors as a band. I believe the original colors may have been traditional pairings of red and blue, blue and white, and brown and white. Interestingly the band fits our 16 foot diameter, amateur built yurt perfectly and ties on at the doors exactly.
The design starts with a solid reddish row which is the background row. The next row is red with blue pebbles ie. two red picks, 2 blue picks, 2 red, 2 blue, etc. When the pattern is on the solid background row it has pebbles of background within the design every pair…RRRRbbRRbbRRRR…but when the pattern is picked in a speckled or pebbled row the pattern is solid with no pebbles/speckles. The piece is warped so that all the patterning on it is done in pairs causing two of each color to be picked up to achieve each part of the design if you were to graph it out on paper. Bands of plainweave stripes separate the central design on either side then a smaller framing design is used followed by a wide band of plainweave on both sides of the main design. There are no more than 3 row floats used in the design which is very important with this method for durability.
The method of weaving used to make the band is called the Warp Substitution Method. With this type of weaving a loom with 2 sheds using 2 pickup sticks or 4 to 6 heddles can be used. The simple 2 shed ground loom is used traditionally in Central Asia and fits the need for sparseness of equipment and ease of transport. Yurt bands are a traditional item to weave and are, according to traveler Karen Page who is a noted felter and teacher, easy to find right now in town markets in Kyrgyzstan although her pictures were of very brightly, probably analine or acid dyed pieces. One photo on the website Flickr actually showed a non-traditional hybrid style of rigid heddle loom at use in a business to produce yurt bands. Unfortunately the photo was oddly labeled and I have yet to be able to relocate it.
If you go to http://www.karakalpak.com/yurts.html about halfway down the page there is a picture of a young Karakalpak woman using a ground loom to create a yurt band. It appears to be a continuous warp. The person has a padded seat which rests with one layer on top of the warp just woven and the rest underneath it. From the tripod hangs only one heddle and behind it a shed stick is placed to create a second shed. Variations of this basic loom appear to be fairly universal in the Yurt dwelling nomad cultures who are still practicing traditional weaving and can also be found in the Middle East among nomadic, rug weaving groups. The simplicity of this loom seems to suggest that the method of warping it would be the pairings of light and dark warp threads which would initially create a solid light shed then a solid dark shed when the sheds are changed.
The use of Pickup weaving forms the basis of the warp substitution method or pebbleweave method. According to Birrell (p. 121) its been used since “remote” times in Africa, Syria, Norway, and Sweden. In North America, Mexico, Central America, and South America it is woven by indigenious populations. “Warpfaced belt weaves containing pickup patterns which resemble someof the workof the Peruvian Indians of today, hae een found in ancient Peruvian sites which may date back from 2500 to 1200 B. C.” (Birrell, p. 121). The conditions in these areas was favorable for the perservation of textiles in graves just as in the Tarim River Basin finds along the Silk Road sites in Central Asia. Unfortunately I have not been able to find records of extant pieces of this technique yet for Central Asia although there are other examples of advanced techniques such as tapestry, soumak, kilim, and brocade. There are two items to consider for this technique: first is that warp faced patterns are best created when the pattern yarns contrast starkly in color and value from the yarns used for the background hence traditional pairings such as black and white, red and blue, yellow and green, and so on. The second is that the yarns used to form the pattern can be heavier then those of the background to give more visual weight to the design thereby causing it to pop out at the eye of the viewer. This is not true, however, for the yurt band from Central Asia that we purchased on consignment from a merchant at Pennsic. In the actual weaving of this type of piece knitting needles or pickup sticks can be used for picking the pattern and speeding the design work although a skilled weaver could easily use their fingers on smaller width pieces. The “sheds found beneath the picked up yarns are held open with shed swords turned sideways in the warp”. (Birrell, p. 123)
Interestingly the Central Asia yurt bands which use the warp substitution method share many similiarities with pebbleweave bands from Central and South America in terms of both design and technique. These bands are also known as Peruvian Pebbleweave. Marla Mallett’s article http://www.marlamallett.com/archetyp.htm discusses technique generated designs and may be applicable to this situation.
…to be continued with instructions and photos forthcoming…
“The Textile Arts” by Virla Birrell
“The Art of Bolivian Highland Weaving: Traditional Techniques for the Modern Weaver” by Majorie Cason and Adele Cahlander
“The Book of Looms” by Eric Broudy
“Spinning and Weaving with Wool” by Paula Simons
“Folk Designs From the Caucasus for Weaveing and Needlework” by Lyatif Kerimov
“Inkle Weaving” by Helen Bress
“The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book” by Rachel Brown
http://members.shaw.ca/evethejust/pickuplearn.html Eve the Just’s Pickup weaving tutorial
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ox1cD_9MnIk Eve the Just’s video tutorial (use the blue and white method)
http://www.karakalpak.com/index.html An awesome site about the people, culture, and history of Karakalpakastan
http://saralamb.blogspot.com/2006/03/pick-up-tutorial.html Sara Lamb’s tutorial and exceptional site (hint, she has a Yurt)
http://www.beduinweaving.com/toc.htm Wonderful site on Beduin Ground looms which are very similar to Central Asian ground looms
Additional book for cardweavers wishing to create a similiar look using cardweaving…
“Two-Hole Andean Pebble Weave for ages 10 and up” by Linda Hendrickson