Warp-Substitution Jajims

Marla Mallett

Among my favorite tribal weavings from Western Asia are the striped covers called jajims.  I've bought them occasionally over the years, and have been delighted recently to find some very nice examples.  For serious collectors, these are among the most important, yet most neglected and least expensive of surviving antique tribal textiles.  Unfortunately, some examples are now being taken apart as Middle Eastern restorers hunt for old vegetable-dyed yarns to use in repairing more pricey antique kilims and pile carpets.   


Shahsevan weaver in the Hashtrud area of  Northwest Iran.  Photo: Jenny Housego, from her excellent small book, Tribal Rugs: An Introduction to the Weaving of the Tribes of Iran, New York, 1978.
Jajims are typically about 5 feet square.  They are warp-faced, and each is made in a long strip that is then cut into several equal portions that are sewn together.  Most often we find from four to seven panels combined.  We occasionally come across exceptional old examples having just two or three panels, and we can be glad that this much has survived of these beautiful pieces. The weavings depend for their effect on a sensitive selection of color for the warp stripes, and the clever repetition and combination of simple motifs.  

Weavings with warp or weft-faced plain stripes are sometimes very beautiful, but in the narrowest technical sense they are not jajim;  they did not require the same level of weaving skill or intensive weaving time. The word jajim  applies most properly to warp-patterned weavings, while the somewhat similar word, cicim, properly describes a brocaded weaving--whether done in separate panels or a single width.  Designing within these two structures is very different.  


Jajims were multi-purpose articles.  Often they were quilted, and used as covers.  In the winter such a piece could be placed over a family's korsi, a small charcoal brazier, and the family sat around it with their legs covered. Other times a jajim could be spread on the ground as a cover or used as a blanket. Especially sturdy examples served as horse covers.  Usually when we find old jajims, any quilted layers underneath have been removed, but we may find remnants of quilting threads on the pieces.  For us, jajims make lovely bed covers, couch throws, or table covers.  The most beloved textile in my personal collection is a jajim that I've used as a bed cover for many years; it merely lies on top of a simple, coarse cotton cover that extends down the bed sides.  It's wonderful with a pile of kilim pillows.  

Warp-substitution jajims have been made throughout Persia, Anatolia, the Caucasus and some of the Turkmen areas. For several years no one had reliable information about where specific pieces were made, and the tendency was to automatically label them Shahsevan and assume that they came from northwest Persia or Azerbaijan.  We now know that many of these were actually Kurdish, and originated in Khorasan.  Other examples come from Western Iran.


The Warp-Substitution Technique
A jajim's layout of plain and patterned vertical stripes is determined when the weaver warps her loom.  In the pattern sections she strings the loom with extra warps:  pairs of yarns in contrasting colors. Sometimes in plain-weave stripes she alternates colors individually, so that tiny crosswise bands or dots appear when the piece is woven.  
To create a warp-substitution design, the weaver chooses either a dark or a light yarn from each warp pair to incorporate in the fabric.  She drops the unwanted yarns to the back of the fabric, where they float loosely.  After selecting, or "picking" the yarns individually for a complete horizontal row, she puts a weft through the new shed she has just formed. After putting a weft through the opposite shed, she picks the next pattern row.  In Middle Eastern and Central Asian work, the width of patterned stripes is usually limited by the number of warp yarns a weaver can grasp in one hand, transfer individually to the other as she picks the pattern, and then transfer to a temporary shed stick. 

The process of picking warp-substitution designs is much the same as that used for double-weave fabrics;  the warps on the bottom layer are simply left unwoven for a warp-substitution jajim, while they are woven as a separate fabric layer to produce a double weave.  

Designs are usually limited to two colors in any warp position. The design options are severely limited, since these two colors must be incorporated in the design in nearly equal proportions to maintain proper warp tension.  Warps used in the design are forced into a sinuous path by the interlacing wefts, getting tighter and tighter as the weaving progresses.  Since warps not used in the design are left loose on the back they can soon begin to sag. The weaver must then adjust her design to incorporate them.  
Because of the restrictions, weavers using this technique have been especially creative.  Designs devised within this ancient structure have often been copied in other textile media, such as knotted pile--especially for borders.  For more discussion of this, see my manual, Woven Structures, Chapter 10, and also the article on this website, Tracking the ArchetypeThe extremely close relationship between structure and design make this a fascinating fabric construction for both weavers and serious students of tribal textiles.  

Tribal Textiles

  Marla Mallett
1690 Johnson Road NE
Atlanta, Georgia  30306  USA

Phone:  404-872-3356
E-mail:  marlam@mindspring.com

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