Thursday 3 December 2009

A Sofra made for eating from

I can’t resist commenting on the spectacular tribal weaving that we are currently showing in Taste: Food and Feasting in Art until 14 February 2010.

Lent from a private New Zealand collection, it is one of the earliest Turkish textiles in New Zealand. This rug dates from about 1850. It was made by an unknown woman using handspun wool that has been painstakingly dyed using natural plant pigments.

This textile was woven by a nomadic Turkoman weaver somewhere near Balikesir; the largest city in the Marmara region of northwestern Anatolia (now named Turkey). The correct name for such a woven rug is sofra, or eating cloth. Traditionally it would have been placed on the ground as a covering from which dishes containing food would then be served.

The woman who wove this cover first handspun the wool and then dyed it using the ancient colour pigments of madder (for the red) and indigo (for the blue). The intensity and brightness of these hues is amazing and the wool has the reflective, velvety, surface the is only encountered in the finest tribal textiles from Asia. Early 19th century sofra from Balikesir are renowned for their graphic and bold designs. This example has the wallop of an early twentieth century abstract painting. In the flesh this textile zings with colour.

The current owners of the rug have written about this floor cover - 'Striking in its simplicity, its wonderful matured colours and the texture of its weave, this kilim has great appeal. The varying thicknesses of the wefts and the way they are inserted eccentrically in many areas make the rich madder-red field far from static, its intensity emphasised by being placed along the black. Old, plain field kilims of this sort are uncommon.'

Image credit:

Sofra circa 1850

Slit-tapestry weave

Wool and five plant pigment dyes

Warp: wool, s-plied

Weft: Wool, z-spun

Private collection, New Zealand

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