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TUNISIAN CARPETS AND TAPESTRIES

“From a need, to a women’s profession, a passion and a national industry.”

Being at the crossroad of various civilisations, Tunisia has always been well known for its weaving. The ancient Greeks already famed the carpets and tapestries of Carthage, five centuries before Jesus Christ.
During the first century of Islam, the “Aghlabides” emirate of Kairouan paid its tribute to the calife of Baghdad partly in carpets and tapestries. Later, travellers reported the usage of various forms of weaving in the palaces, the homes and by the tribes : floor carpets, saddle carpets, etc.

Anchored in the traditions, but also open to external contributions, this know-how was at the origin of typically Tunisian weaving, inspired by the oriental carpets but also following regional and ethnic traditions, whilst filling out daily needs and having sometimes several functions.

A tapestry is a decorative textile work, adorning a wall or covering a piece of furniture or the ground, manually woven on a horizontal or vertical loom, the pattern being made of dyed threads of wool or silk which are packed so as to hide the master strings. Examples are most wall carpets, but also the "Mergoum" and the "Klim".
A carpet is a knotted decorative textile work, generally long wool, with a tied stitch, cut an woven on a vertical loom, often with a velvet-like surface, used to cover the ground. An example is the “Kairouan”.

Legend attributes to “Kamla”, the daughter of a Turkish governor of Kairouan, the introduction in 1830 of the knot of “Ghiords” (ghorza) of Anatolian (Turkish) conception. The “Kairouan”, which inherited the name of the city where it was originally produced, is the ascendant of a variety of present day Tunisian carpets. It is a rustic carpet, made of natural or dyed long wool. Its pattern includes a large and generally hexagonal central space, corner pieces with stylised patterns and large border strips with geometric or floral designs.

This carpet was introduced in various Tunisian cities, resulting in a myriad of varieties, each characterised by regional artistic influences, religious beliefs, prophylactic symbols as well as inputs from ceramic decoration and embroideries.
At the same time as the introduction of the “Kairouan”, vivacious colour schemes were increasingly adopted in function of the imagination of the artisans.A graduating of blue, green, black and white with an influx of shades and lights , usually settled on a desert yellow, where dunes are always moving.

At the beginning of the Twentieth century, the introduction of industrial dyes and their sometimes bad application somewhat altered the quality of the Tunisian carpet. This lead to the creation of a new type of carpet, the “Allouche” which uses the natural scale of sheep wool colours from black to white, through the different shades of grey, beige and brown.

The “Mergoum” and “Klim” are ground tapestries, characterised by the combination of two simple geometrical patterns, the lozenge (or diamond shape) and the triangle.

They belong to the millenium old art of North Africa’s first inhabitants, the “berbers” and remind us of their jewelry, their potteries and even their tattoos.Originally, the Tunisian carpet originally did not exceed 40000 knots per square meter (20x20 texture). Today however, some Tunisian carpets reach 250000knot (50x50 texture) with the most frequent textures being “30x30” or “40x40”.

After mastering the fine textures for woollen carpets, the Tunisian artisans have started the weaving of silk carpets, encouraged by the demand from local and foreign customers for this product, similar to the Oriental and the Persian carpets.
In this way, between the authentic local craft and the various adaptations, certain modern Tunisian carpets and tapestries have acquired international notoriety, thank to their originality or to their specific Tunisian character.

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