THE RUG FELL ON HER HEAD: AN ARMENIAN CARPET CUTTING CEREMONY
September 17, 2018 | Micaela Nerguizian
Shortly after the last piece of fringe on the silk-woven rug was snipped off from its loom, the rug fell on her head—a ceremonial rite of passage often compared to cutting the umbilical cord after giving birth. It marks the female transition from girl to woman.
“In Armenian we say glkhin ynkav: it fell on her head. If the carpet falls and covers her head and face, like a veil, within the next year or so she will get married,” explains Hratch Kozibeyokian, a third-generation weaver who studies the symbolic imagery behind Armenian textiles.
Kozibeyokian, along with other Armenians involved in sustaining and reviving ancient Armenian weaving traditions, led a demonstration on the Armenian carpet cutting ceremony during the last weekend of the 2018 Folklife Festival. They revealed the symbolism and rigorous process behind this communal undertaking, from setting up the loom and tying the first knot to cutting the last piece of yarn.
The silk rug they presented was the second in a series of three that had been woven in Yerevan, Armenia, as part of a training program at the Folk Arts Hub Foundation. Founder Levon Der Bedrossian co-presented the session on the National Mall, sharing the technique and challenges behind the art of silk weaving.
“The silk is a magical phenomenon,” he said. “If you just think, it starts from a moth. Since it is a subtle material to work with, the process is very difficult, requiring a lot of patience and dedication.”
That doesn’t mean hours and weeks. We are talking months and years—for one rug. Festival participant Diana Hovhannisyan worked on the rug displayed at this cutting ceremony for about fourteen months, along with her other colleagues. Unlike the first rug in the series, which had about 600 hand-tied knots per square inch, this one consisted of 840 knots. The third, which Hovhannisyan is currently working on, has approximately 1,080 knots per square inch. That’s dedication.
Camera: Shaun Weber, David Barnes, Emma Cregan, Hannah Luc, Albouri NDiaye, Charlie Weber
Interview and editing: Kaylie Connors
The participants dedicated the ceremony to the American people as a gesture of gratitude from Armenians. It was the one chance visitors had, during the two-week Festival, to experience this rite of passage, giving them a whole new spin on the weaving tradition and its rituals.
But why is it a female and not a male rite of passage?
According to Kozibeyokian, Armenian girls are traditionally exposed to the craft from an early age, observing and assisting their mothers and grandmothers weave carpets, belts, blankets, and other textiles. When a young girl decides to do her first weaving all by herself from beginning to end, her father builds a loom for her, places the warp (longitudinal section), and ties the first foundation. Once she completes the rug (or karpet, a carpet without pile), her father cuts the remains of the foundation that he tied. Traditionally, the completed rug represents the girl’s first accomplishment in her life, preparing her to face the world.
If her mother and grandmother are happy with the finished result, they invite friends and family to their home for a day-long celebration filled with song, poetry, and dances. During the ceremony, when the time comes for the father to cut the rug, the girl sits on a chair under the loom (as seen in video) waiting for the rug to, hopefully, fall on her head. If the weaver happens to be older and is already married with children, then she would invite another female friend, who is also married but doesn’t have a child, to sit under the loom. If the rug falls on her friend’s head, then she will have a baby.
This cutting ceremony and numerous other traditional Armenian weaving practices have been passed down through multiple generations both for home use and to earn a livelihood. Despite the male-dominated commercial side of the weaving industry, female entrepreneurs, such as Ruzanna Torozyan of Goris Women’s Development Resource Center, have succeeded in forging a path and running their own establishments. Torozyan, another Festival participant who took part in the cutting ceremony, founded this co-op as a way to create income opportunities for rural women. They, in turn, are able to pass down their weaving knowledge while reviving and developing local crafts. Not only do they shear the sheep, wash the wool, spin the yarn, and weave the textiles, but they teach and sell their craft, creating unique pieces that combine traditional and contemporary designs.
At the Folklife Festival, visitors developed a new appreciation for these textiles. Not only did the presenters and participants bring awareness to the importance of the ancient Armenian weaving heritage, but they were able to recreate a ceremony that captured the essence of intergenerational social interaction.
As their celebration came to an end in a culmination of song, poetry, and apricots flying through the air, Kozibeyokian cheerfully proclaimed, “This is just a small taste of what Armenian folklife is about!”
Micaela A. Nerguizian is a production consultant in the performing arts and intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is completing her graduate degree at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, with a focus on cultural diplomacy and international education. As the great granddaughter of Armenian rug designer Bedros Mozian, writing this piece inspired her to journey back into her family’s history.
The Armenian Rugs Society is proud to announce its new eco-friendly, digital newsletter (part of our effort towards paperless operations) and the opening of our new website at armenianrugssociety.org which went live in late April/early May of this year, as did so many things in the world of Armenian arts, culture, and social life.
Changes in the Homeland were followed by great new activities and events here in the US with our three-week long participation in the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival and its associated activities in Washington DC, a rugs exhibit and lecture during Armenia's first Independence Centennial celebration in Detroit, and continued work with our amazing colleagues in Armenia at the Folk Arts Hub Foundation, and so much more...
The Festival brought together Armenian woven arts and cultural artisans and performers from all over, especially from all parts of the Republic of Armenia, which included weavers, sculptors, stone carvers, culinary experts, singers, dancers, and Armenian heritage performers. I was honored to curate the Armenian woven arts/carpets portion of the festival which included master weavers from Armenia's Folk Arts Hub Foundation and Tufenkian Carpets, among others. We were able to interact with countless individuals (some estimates say close to one million...!) over the span of the festival's activities, bringing the rich culture of Armenian woven arts to a greater and very interested audience.
Prior to the festival's incredible outpouring of emotion and celebration, we also dealt with some challenges one of which is sadly ever-present in Armenian life, but reared its ugly head more audaciously, once again, in April. The Azeri government and allies began an international campaign, within the world press and international art circles, claiming age-old Armenian woven arts traditions and carpets were Azeri and part of so-called "Azeri culture." The Armenian Rugs Society rose to face this unmitigated criminal act head-on and, with the aid of a seasoned writer from within our community, issued a press release which echoed the truth throughout the Armenian and non-Armenian press, here and abroad.
Our age-old and, yet, so vibrant woven arts traditions continued to gain steam this year, not only here at the renowned Smithsonian, but in the Homeland where it matters most. New generations of Armenian artists and artisans, academics and experts have taken up both the cause of Armenian woven arts, as well as the weaver's loom. The Armenian Folk Arts Hub Foundation in Yerevan, in conjunction with the Armenian Rugs Society, continues to raise the bar when it comes to transmitting our cultural traditions to new generations of artisans via our well-known (and well-received) Adopt-a-Loom initiative throughout rural Armenia.
In accordance with our commitment to transmitting our heritage to a new generation and serving our community in the cause of our culture, the Armenian Rugs Society is now initiating an internship program wherein interested individuals--high school, college and university students, as well as others--will have an opportunity to help a registered non-profit in its daily endeavors and, most importantly, work and learn in an environment of ever growing beauty and historical significance. Besides the unparalleled experience of working with the Armenian Rugs Society, all interns will also be earning volunteer, work experience, and community service credits.
Please contact us via our email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our CONTACT page with #intership in the subject line or comment area.
More new projects are in the offing including new collaborations and partnerships with universities, research centers, and museums as well as cultural groups both here and abroad, which we look forward to sharing with all our members, supporters and friends around the world and in Armenia and Artsakh.
Thank you for all your support and your generous donations both financial and in kind.
Yours Respectfully and Sincerely,
Armenian Rugs Society
Silk is the noblest of all natural fibers--it is delicate durable and shines like gold. No other woven textile equals it’s beauty.
The Silk Road caravans found their way to Armenia, as well, and Armenian merchants brought the secret of sericulture home.
In Western Armenia (Ottoman Empire), as well as in present day Artsakh, the mulberry tree is abundant and, hence, local production of silk from cocoons thrived as well. During the Soviet Era, along with many folk traditions, the art of sericulture died, too.
Fortunately, today, Folk Arts are experiencing a revival in Armenia. The young generation is embracing the folk traditions and crafts with enthusiasm infusing into them their contemporary creativity.
Having this revival in mind, two years ago Folk Arts HUB Foundation sponsored a silk weaving workshop by inviting Mr. Avak Shirinian from Istanbul to Yerevan. Mr. Shirinian is a world renown master silk rug weaver and he had expressed his desire to transmit his knowledge and craft to the new generation of the young Republic of Armenia.
Two looms and big bundles of colorful silk threads were shipped from Istanbul to the Silk Road Hotel in Yerevan. Also, two traditional designs were provided by Hratch Kozibeyokian, President of the Armenian Rugs Society, in the U.S.
Mr. Shirinian and his long time assistant, Ms. Kadife, conducted silk weaving workshops for 10 straight days. Thus, the challenging and magical craft of silk weaving took root and is continuing to this day.
Presently, we are also offering workshops for ceremonial silk belt weaving which requires a different technique from the historical traditions of Kars-Karin. We are excited and optimistic that this new seedling of silk weaving art and craft will grow to be a healthy tree…
Text by Levon Der Bedrossian