Kashan is a Town situated in the desert. It is thought to have been founded by the wife of Harun o Rasheed who had a formidable wall built round the Town. It is so hot in the summer that the inhabitants built their houses downward for coolness. Their houses consisted of large, sunken, rectangular courtyards, some as much as 10 meters below ground, with the living quarters arranged in galleries, one below the other. In spite of all its limitations, Kashan possesses a long and honourable record, for its inhabitants, unable to gain a livelihood from the inhospitable land, turned their hands to industry and made their town the principal centre in Iran for the production of fine textiles in cotton, wool and silk. The advent into Iran during the nineteenth century of machine made textiles from the West undermined and finally destroyed the industries of Kashan. The imposing houses of its merchants and manufacturers slowly fell into wreck.
Revival of the Carpet-Weaving Industry in Kashan
The carpet weaving industry does not appear to have survived the Afghan invasions. There are no carpets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries exist in any of our museums or private collections which can, with definite assurance be attributed to Kashan. In the 1880s when the economic position in Kashan appeared to be intractable and forlorn, owing to the collapse of its industries, the seemingly unimportant marriage of Hajji Mollah Hassan, a merchant of substance, with a lady from Arak made a difference.
The merchant counted among his activities the sale of merino yarn from Manchester, for use in the textile industries of this native town. But the trade had fallen off and the Hajji found himself possessed of a quantity of fine merino which was unsalable. He remembered then that his young wife had been a skilled weaver in Arak. And he suggested to her that she should weave a rug with the yarn in his store. A suitable design was chosen, the yarn was given to be dyed, and in due course the first modern Kashan rug was born.
Its workmanship was of the best, its surface as soft as velvet, its colouring rich and clear. The textile experts of Kashan examined it with critical eyes, and it was approved. For, indeed, a rug had never before been woven in Persia with Australian merino.
A second rug was soon started in the house of Burujirdi and a third in the house of Tababai, both prominent merchants of Kashan. All three rugs were quickly sold. The movement was set in train and began rapidly to expand, for the women workers of the moribund textile industries took up carpet weaving with alacrity.
Thus was revived, after two centuries of quiescence, the carpet weaving industry of Kashan.
The Early Carpets of the Revival
The Kashan carpets of the first two decades of the 20th Century differed from the weaves of the rest of Iran in one essential particular; they were woven with imported merino yarns. For the weavers of Kashan continued to follow the lead of the lady from Arak and her first two disciples.
These products were better in terms of design and workmanship than their predecessors.
The Expansion of the Industry
The industry started reviving around 1890 and rapidly grew in the next fifty years and was at its height in the 1940s. Weaving took place in Kashan itself and surrounding villages, most important of which were Nushabad, Armaq, Ravand, Fin, Tahirabad, Mashad, Rahaq, Aliabad, Mishkan, Abuzaidabad and Qamsar, all of which weave carpets fully equal in quality to those of Kashan itself. Additionally there are Aron and Nasirabad, which weave inferior carpets. The remaining villages weave poorer qualities. Natanz, which has developed as a weaving centre since 1930, is a large cluster of villages rather than a town. The area weaves a fine quality, mostly in rug sizes. The fabric is fully equal to that of Kashan, with some characteristics of its own, discernible only by the local experts.
The Industry in 1949
The use of merino yarn did not survive the onset of the crisis of the early thirties, because the wool was too expensive for the market that was in a depression. In any event the local hand spun yarn was not too different after the finishing that was applied abroad. The yarn was spun mainly from wool imported from Sabsevar, Kermanshah and Isfahan. Shortly before the war a power driven carding plant was erected in Kashan and by the late 1940s the wools were machine carded before being spun by hand.
In the forties some of the mills started producing yarns, which although they were not pure merino, but were softer and more even than the hand spun yarn which had been in use since the thirties. The new material produced a smoother, more velvety surface than the old, and it took the dye better.
Kashan is double wefted and woven with the Persian knot. The quality, which is generally woven in Kashan itself and in most of the villages of the area, is a nominal 40 x 40 knots to the gireh of 6.5 centimetres. However, it rarely counts over 36 x 36. This is the same as the quality of the superior grade of Kerman.
Aron is woven, principally in the large village around it, 8 miles east of Kashan. The Aron carpets are coarse in stitch and are unworthy of the renown of the Kashan weave. They usually count only 28 x 30. The designs are all a like.
There are no factories in Kashan. All the looms are in the houses, usually two looms to a house. Or if the house is large and occupied by two or more families there may be four to six looms. Each pair of looms, however, works independently. The weavers are given 4 kilograms of dyed yarn and 1.5 kilograms of cotton yarn per square meter to weave their carpet. Practically all the weaving is done by women and the standard of workmanship is very high.
Weaving is slow in Kashan. The average output per loom, both in the town and in the villages is about three-eights of a square meter per month. Thus it takes an average of two years to weave a Kashan carpet measuring 12 x 9 ft.
The use of European dyes became prevalent by the 1940s apart from some important Kashan merchants. In late 1949, three quarters of the output was being produced for the Tehran market, which called for nothing but red ground carpets in medallion and corner designs. Madder was not much used for the grounds of these carpets. It was too expensive and the shade too mellow for the nouveaux riches of Tehran. A revival of the use of Natural dyes started around 1995 by some Tehran dealers that saw the demand for it in the West.
The designers of Kashan were not very imaginative and the so known Mustofi border was used again and again along with the same field design in their carpets. However, by the forties they had come a long way. By the late forties they were producing the medallion and the Shah Abbas design.