Direct thy eyes on the felt on which thou sitteth. If thou wilt well govern thy
kingdom, thou wilt rule gloriously, and the whole world will submit to thy sway. An orator speaking in the name of the nation, at an assembly of the princes of Mongolia, addressing Temuchin when he assumed the title Chingiz Khan. 1206 A.D.
SIIRT ANGORA GOAT HAIR WOVEN FELT BLANKETS from eastern Turkey also known as
Siirt angora goat hair blankets produced in Siirt, known locally as siirt battaniye or siirt battaniyesi are famous for their high sheen and lustrous angora mohair called tiftik.1,2
Imitation animal hair blankets woven today by Kurdish men in the south eastern Turkish town of Siirt in Siirt province were probably produced in surrounding regions encompassing northern Iraq and western Iran as far south as Kuzestan for more than two thousand years. In the last few decades Turkish marketers sold these siirt battaniyesi into markets in Europe and the United States, indelibly linking the town of Siirt with the faux-fur blanket itself. Siirt has become the most recent place of production, by way of association these minimalist fur-like flat weaves with origins in antiquity have recently become known as siirt.
Nineteenth and early twentieth century examples including those from regions adjacent to Siirt, command relatively high prices, desirable for their rarity, ancient origins, unique sculpted faux-pile and austere primitive design. Despite demand for siirt’s with apparent primordial antecedents, knowledge of their early origins remains obscure. In 1977 Iten-Maritz mentioned Kurdish angora carpets, “The town’s specialty is angora carpets. The lustrous hair of the angora goat occurs in every natural shade ranging from black through browns to white, thus making possible a wide variety of colour-schemes. The carpets usually have a light ground and a dark mihrab onto which a diagonal chequred design is woven by means of a shuttle.” The chequred design being achieved today by the action of a steel comb on the surface of the weaving. Ziemba, Akatay, & Schwartz illustrated a Kurdish goat hair blanket in Turkish Flatweaves in 1979, followed by O’Bannon who noted their existence in Tulu, 1987. A more complete description was given by Wertime in Hali 100 1998, then Tanvoli in Persian Flatweaves 2002.3,4,5,6,7
Siirt’s could be considered as woven felts, see woven felt. Nineteenth century siirt’s are rare, some early examples were woven in narrow strips, between two and four strips stitched together to complete the blanket. The practice of weaving a number of thin strips then sewing them together is widespread amongst nomads from Turkey to Central Asia. Conversely late twentieth century siirt’s woven in one piece by sedentary Kurds conform to specific ‘single‘ or ‘double‘ sizes as described by Turkish marketers. Rare nineteenth and early twentieth century siirt blankets exhibit a restrained approach to design, adorned only with the simplest of motifs, rendered with a sparse arcane sensitivity, representative of a deeper understanding of the physical and spiritual world in which the weavers traveled.
Siirt Angora Goats
Domestic and angora goats originated in the same region of inception of these faux-pile angora goat hair blankets. Zeder and Hesse8 documented the initial domestication of goats (Capra hircus) at 10,000 years ago in the Zagros mountains of western Iran. Angora goats are named after the Turkish province of their origin, Ankara.9 Angora goats are believed to have originated around 2,400 BC. “However it is generally accepted that Angora goat [sic] has been developed and gained its known characteristics on the Anatolian Plain, and particularly in the region then known as Angora.“10 Spinning whorls and warp weights dating from 6,500 BC were found in the archaeological site of Ganj Dareh Tepe located in the east of Kermanshah, in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran, sheep wool and goat hair were being woven from that time.11 Modern examples of faux pile goat hair blankets have been identified from Kuzestan south of the Ganj Dareh Tepe site. The place of goat domestication in Western Iran, development of the Angora goat around Ankara, and early weaving of goat hair at Ganj Dareh Tepe places the weaving of 19th to 21st century versions of faux-pile goat hair blankets in the same geographic location as the birthplace of materials and techniques required for their creation.
The warps of earlier siirt’s were woven using animal fibre later substituted with cotton warps in the twentieth century. Tiftik is the local name given to mohair clipped from Siirt angora goats and today used exclusively for the wefts. “The coat is composed of two kinds of hair, the one short and coarse and of the character of hair, which lies close to the skin, the other long and curly and of the nature of wool, forming the outer covering. Both are used by the manufacturer, but the exterior portion, which makes up by far the greater bulk, is much the more valuable.”12 In Iran the word taftik refers to ordinary “outer goat” hair and is used there to create felts, as opposed to “kork” the fine down of Kerman goats.13 Angora goats kept in Siirt are a precious commodity. Weaving in factory style workshops and home industry places pressure on the goat population of Siirt for quality tiftik probably contributing to the more recent use of cotton warps in a bid to conserve scarce mohair. Siirt battaniyesi are woven only using natural colours of black, grey, pure white, brown, beige and camel.
Siirt battaniyesi remnant of an ancient woven felt history
1. The area was populated by the “mound builders” (see woven felts) who brought with them expertise in producing warm woollen felts.
2. Ancestors of modern domestic and angora goats originated in the region.
3. Archeological ﬁnds have shown that sheep wool and goat hair were already woven around 6500 BCE.
4. Domestication of goats has been documented in western Iran as early as 10,000 years ago.
5. Warp weights and spinning whorls were found at Ganj Dareh Tepe, Kermanshah province Iran dating from 5000BCE.
6. The region lies within the natural range of the fullers teasel a universally adapted plant used to raise the nap on fibres.
7. Current weavers of siirt’s, Kurds have long occupied the region comprising eastern turkey, northern Kurdistan and western Iran as far south as Kuzestan.
Late twentieth century commercial aspirations. Comb through the myriad of web sites providing advice on siirt blankets and a picture of industry, marketing and export opportunities emerges. Recent developments in the promotion of siirt battaniyesi to the world are comprehensive. The republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism is active in promoting Siirt mohair products to the world. The Siirt Development Association established a Women’s Development Project to involve women in siirt goat hair blanket production. A Siirt University Research centre for Crafts was established to help eliminate bad odors from siirt blankets. Scientists were enlisted to help save wild animals on the brink of extinction from being hunted down for their hides, Siirt mohair products touted as replacement faux fur fashion. According to one report scorpions can be kept at bay with these weavings of many uses. A vast array of angora goat hair products have been created and marketed including blankets, bags, jackets, vests, caps, sofa covers, cushions, car seat covers, waist coats, jackets, scarves, overcoats, saddle rugs and specifically for the European market, pet covers. Traditional designs can still be found, plain colours, stripes, and examples with the mihrab. Alongside these are motifs displaying any conceivable design from Casper the Ghost, to national flags and the welcome mat version in Turkish - hoş geldiniz. Apparently a large number of visitors to Siirt receive a siirt battaniye as a gift of local tradition. “Many visitors find themselves departing with one offered as a present. The traditional kilims produced by the Jirikan clan (aşiret) and revived since 1996 through joint efforts involving official instances and citizens are also much prized.“14
Weaving Siirt battaniyesi
The quality of mohair fibres and the mastery of the weaver determines the final outcome of the blanket, only the highest quality mohair tiftik is clipped from local angora goats. “Angora goats are usually shorn earlier (in April); shedding or partial peeling of fleece in the early spring is the main reason for this early shearing.“15 It takes an entire day to wash grade, card then spin the mohair in preparation for weaving, some women now do this work alongside men. One promotional video shows the weaver himself completing the spinning of the mohair.16 The blankets are then woven on an upright wooden loom, taking approximately another day to complete a “single” sized blanket. A steel comb is used to raise the nap of the blanket, combing it in different directions to achieve various diagonal patterns, or simply a faux fur look. The fullers teasel being endemic to the region probably performed the function of raising the nap in the past. Once the siirt is woven and teased it’s cut from the loom then washed and dried ready for sale. 17, 18, 19
Labour division in Siirt blanket weaving
Today in Siirt men weave Siirt battaniyesi. Mullins attests that “Feltmaking tends to be done either by men as a primary profession in towns …. In Anatolia and among tribes of the southern middle east, feltmaking is mostly a man’s job …. These male feltmakers tend to specialize in the larger, heavier felts, such as the mantles worn for shepherding from Hungary to Iran.”20 Given that Siirt blankets are a type of woven felt, Mullins observations may explain why Kurdish men are the principal weavers of siirt’s. Recently women were further involved in the production of Siirt battaniyesi, now they prepare the mohair. The Siirt Development Association has established a Women’s Development Project to involve women at various stages of production of Siirt blankets. The project aims are two fold, firstly to involve women bringing extra income to their families, secondly increasing the labour force in a push to access markets in Europe especially Germany via a new e-commerce site.
Women are now involved from the clipping of the wool from goats, colour grading of mohair, washing, carding, spinning, and cleaning the mohair. Siirt Development Association president Joseph Eldemir said that women are not involved in the actual weaving process as there is a long standing tradition of men being master Siirt battaniyesi blanket weavers.21
Siirt battaniyesi can serve as scorpion traps according to Turkish Biologoist Dr. Ali Demirsoy who conducted research into this phenomenon, outlined in his book titled “Invertebrate Animals”.22 Dr. Demirsoy observed villagers placing Siirt blankets and felts on the ground as a barrier to scorpions entering living areas. Illustrations show scorpions entangled in the teased mohair faux pile, any further struggle resulting in further entanglement.
Berthold Laufer quoted Franz Von Schwartz on the usefulness of felts in Central Asia, a very compelling argument for the success of felts.
“Franz von Schwarz, formerly astronomer of the Tashkent Observatory, in his book Turkestan (1900), makes the following interesting observation: Among the natives of Russian Turkestan the belief prevails that scorpions, phalanges, tarantulas, karakurts and snakes cannot move on felt mattresses and that consequently one is safe from their attacks by sleeping on felt covers. In how far this opinion is founded on fact I cannot say with certainty; but this much I know that I myself during my travels when as a rule I used felt covers as a padding for my camp-bed, was never attacked by scorpions, etc., even in places which teemed with this vermin.” 23
Saving animals on the brink of extinction using siirt goat hair products as replacements for animal skins. In Siirt a primitive faux pile blanket with early origins, now woven by Kurdish men, has been touted as a possible saviour of wild animals on the brink of extinction, animals which ancient faux-fur blanket creators sought to mimic. At a Siirt university symposium Dr. Çağındır and Dr. Şener proposed the use of Siirt blanket products as a substitute for animal hide products in a bid to save the skins of wild animals, leaving them free to roam their natural habitat rather than being worn as a fashion item. “Wild animals are being killed today for use in the clothing industry. Many animals are in danger of extinction. We instead recommend the use of Siirt blanket coats as a substitute. The hairy coats are much healthier and more economical too. This is important, if we do it, we will have saved nature and wild animals.” Dr. Çağındır and Dr. Şener said. Another area which was suggested as a potential market for Siirt faux fur products was pet clothing for the European market, for example dog jackets.24
Removing odor in siirt goat hair blankets
The revival of Siirt blankets as a commodity in the latter part of the 20th Century with a push into international markets, particularly to Europe and the United States, required a modern technological approach. Fear spread throughout the industry, apparently some siirt blankets were found to give off an unpleasant odor not being fit for sale to tourists or for export. The traditional family run siirt blanket manufacturers had to compete with factory produced blankets. A decline in siirt blanket sales was seen as being a direct result of the “bad odor” of some angora goat hair and inconsistencies between various blanket weavers products, which led to family run businesses being unable to compete with the factory made product. The number of looms in Siirt declined from 200 in 1985 to only 50 today (2011). A university was established in Siirt and the newly formed Research Centre for Crafts began investigating ways to create a more appealing odor for Siirt blankets. A chemical additive was created as a washing and cleaning agent for the pure tiftik, which according to the Siirt University Research Centre for Crafts was successful in eliminating “bad odors” from angora goat hair.25
The significance of WHITE in Siirt Faux Pile Angora Blankets of pure tiftik
Today white siirt blankets command the highest prices, why white? Tradition may be the key. Berthold Laufer outlined the significance of white felt to early Central Asian nomads. Perhaps in Siirt white is still thought of as regal and fit for a king.
“White felt played a significant role among the Mongols during the coronation
ceremony. The king was placed on a mat of white felt which was
spread on the ground. In A.D. 1206 Temuchin was crowned emperor at an
assembly of the princes of Mongolia when he assumed the title Chingiz
Khan. On this occasion he was seated upon a rug of white felt and was reminded
of the importance of the duties to which he was called. An orator
who spoke in the name of the nation addressed the new lord thus:
Direct thy eyes on the felt on which thou sitteth. If thou wilt well govern thy
kingdom, thou wilt rule gloriously, and the whole world will submit to thy sway;
but if thou wilt do the reverse, thou wilt be unhappy and be outcast and become
so indigent that thou wilt not even have a piece of felt on which to sit.
This was not merely intended as a moral exhortation, but the ceremony was
imbued with a deeper significance. Among the Mongols, even of the present
time, white felt is a material endowed with a sacred character. Placing
a person on a white felt rug means expressing to him good wishes for his welfare.
For this reason a bride is seated on a white felt during the marriage
ceremony, or people at the point of starting on a long journey receive this
honor. An animal selected for a sacrifice to the gods is slaughtered on a
white felt. The women therefore, in speaking of felt, carefully avoid the
common word for it (ishighei), which is a term of respect, but substitute for
it the words dzulakhai or tolok. It is on record also that the felt rug which
served for the inauguration of Chingiz, dignified by the fortune of the world
conqueror, was long preserved by his successors as a palladium and sacred
Value today in Siirt
“I know this kind of “kilim” that they make…. it is nice handwork and surprisingly cheap… I always wonder how they manage to make it and sell it at such a low prices! (1 m2 costs about 25 TL = 10 euro)..just incredible!”27
1. “betanî” Web. 3 November 2011 http://thesaurus.babylon.com/Bettdecke Blanket – Kurdish betanî Turkish battaniye.
2.”Tiftik” Web. 3 November 2011 http://www.sosyalci.org/egitim/sozluk/treng/020.htm a. angora, mohair. b. fine, soft wool clipped from sheep in the spring. c. made of angora, angora, mohair. d. keçisi Angora goat. e. tiftik olmak (for cloth) to fuzz, become fuzzy.
3. Iten-Maritz, J. Turkish Carpets Office du Livre SA English Edition. (Translated from the German, Der AnatolischeTeppiche by Elizabeth and Richard Bartlett) German 1977. p.336
4.Ziemba, W.T. Akatay, A. & Schwartz, S.L. Turkish Flatweaves, An Introduction to the Weaving and Culture of Anatolia. Vancouver B.C., 1979. p.116
5. O’Bannon, G. Tulu Traditional 20th Century Pelt – Like Rugs from Central Anatolia. Exhibition Catalogue March 4 – 27, 1987 and April 4 – 25 1987. George O’Bannon Gallery and Sun Bow Trading Company 1987. p.4
6. Wertime . J Back to Basics: Primitive Pile Rugs of West and Central Asia
Hali 100 1998. pp.86-87
7. Tanavoli, P. Persian Flatweaves Antique Collector’s Club Limited 2002. pp.164-169
8. Zeder. M.A and Hesse. B Science VOL 287 24 MARCH 2000 DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5461.2254 Science 287, 2254 (2000); www.sciencemag.org Initial goat domestication is documented in the highlands of western Iran at 10,000 calibrated calendar years ago.
9. “Angora Goat” Web. 3 November 2011 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angora_goat
10. “Angora Goat” Yalçin. B. C. FAO Animal Production and Protection Paper 60, Sheep and goats in Turkey Food and Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations. Rome. 1986 Web. 22 November 2011 http://www.fao.org/docrep/009/ah224e/AH224E05.htm Batu, 1940; Van der Westhuysen et al., 1981; and Shelton, 1981
11. “Spinning Whorls” – “Warp Weights” Web. 3 November 2011 Encyclopædia Iranica | Articles | Wool
12. “Angora Goat Hair” Web. 16 November 2011 http://www.libraryindex.com/encyclopedia/pages
13. “Goat Hair” Encyclopædia Iranica | Articles | Wool http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/wool
14. “Siirt battaniyesi as gifts” Web. 27 October 2011 http://www.answers.com/topic/siirt
15. “Siirt Goat Shearing” Web. 28 October 2011 http://www.libraryindex.com/encyclopedia/pages/cpxlao9oou/goat-horns-breed-short.html The Angora Goat is …… The coat is composed of two kinds of hair, the one short and coarse and of the character of hair, which lies close to the skin, the other long and curly and of the nature of wool, forming the outer covering. Both are used by the manufacturer, but the exterior portion, which makes up by far the greater bulk, is much the more valuable. The process of shearing takes place in early spring, and is conducted with the utmost care ; the average amount of wool yielded by each animal is about 2?; lb.
16. “Mohair Spinning” Web. 28 October 2011 http://www.turkish-media.com/forum/topic/176973-siirt-battaniyesi/
17. “Siirt Mohair Blanket Production” Web. 28 October 2011 www.ito.org.tr/Dokuman/Sektor/1-11.pdf
18. “Siirt Mohair Blanket Production” Web. 28 October 2011 http://www.yoreselmarketler.com/siirt-battaniyesi.html
19. “Siirt Mohair Blanket Production” Web. 28 October 2011 http://www.akithaber.com/HD200412_siirt-battaniyesi-projesi-kadinlara-istihdam-sagliyor.html
20. Mullins, W. Felt Textiles That Changed the World Berg Publishers New York 2009 p.15
21. “Men weave Siirt blankets” Web. 21 February 2011 http://www.akithaber.com/HD200412_siirt-battaniyesi-projesi-kadinlara-istihdam-sagliyor.html
22. DEMİRSOY Dr A. Invertebrate Animals “Omurgasız Hayvanlar” pg 194. “Invertebrate Animals” Web. 26 October 2011 http://www.yazarvizor.com/siirt-battaniyesinin-akrep-kapani-olma-ozelligi/
23. Laufer, B The Early History of Felt American Anthropologist New Series Vol. 32 January-March, 1930 No. 1 p.13,14
24. “Faux-Fur Saving wild animals” Web. 21 October 2011 http://www.veleye.com/kurklerin-hayvan-derisi-yerine-siirt-battaniyesinden-yapilmasi-onerildi/
25. “Siirt Blanket Odor” Web. 15 October 2011 http://www.turkish-media.com/forum/topic/176973-siirt-battaniyesi/
26. Laufer, B. op. cit.,pp. 14-15
27. “Siirt Blanket Value” Web. 6 November 2011 From Charles Fred’s flickr feed 2011 http://www.flickr.com/photos/40279823@N00/6123910735
PHOTO and VIDEO CREDITS
Siirt Angora Goat by Dick Osseman http://www.pbase.com/image/51408990
“In this region one sees many goats of the “angora” (Ankara) type. Long hair, that is excellent for weaving prayer cloth (they’re not knotted as carpets are) or blankets. I bought some in Siirt, but saw the same type here.”
Siirt Blanket Weaver VIDEO by Charles Fred 2011