Termeh (Quilted Textile)
Termeh, as the most sumptuous Iranian handwoven cloth, has for centuries manifested the artistic essence of the Iranian culture in clothing and decor.
The handicraft, which is woven with silk and wool and sometimes with gold and silver, is mainly used for decorative purposes in important ceremonies and in making various items such as table-cloths, bed sheets, scarves, cushion covers, curtains, garments, waist bands, robes, royal headdress and even bags and shoes.
The production of the luxurious fabric originates from Iran and Kashmir region in northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The artwork reached its zenith with more elaborate designs and diverse colors during the Safavid dynasty in Iran in late 16th century after Shah Abbas brought senior expert weavers from China and Armenia to use their experience in enhancing the quality of the artwork.
Following the expansion of British colonialism and its growing influence in Iran during the Qajar dynasty (1785 to 1925), handwoven Termeh handicraft experienced a downward spiral, like many other industries, and it is almost going extinct nowadays.
However, Iranian craftsmen have managed to revive the art, relying on technological advances over the past 70 years. The growing use of semi-automatic machines in several Termeh manufacturing workshops across Iran, particularly in Yazd Province, is inevitably transitioning the artwork in Iran.
The Iranian southern provinces of Yazd and Kerman are well-known to be the hub of superior quality Termeh production. As the ancient Silk Road passes through both provinces, the Termeh produced in the area has long enjoyed an international fame, with merchants from different countries introducing the artwork to the other parts of the world.
Weaving Tehrmeh is a highly complicated task as the design is not printed on the cloth. The design, however, is made though arrangement of different colors of weft threads on warp yarns. The task requires a Termeh art expert to work on the weaving machine, while one or more assistants, called Gushvarehband, arranging the colors of the weft threads.
- Collection of wool: The first step in the process of making a wool termeh, say a woollen shawl, is the collection of the wool that will be spun and woven or knitted into fabric. The finest wool is that which is combed or sheared from underbelly of goats.
- Grading and sorting: The next step is grading and sorting. Different colours of wool are also matched and batched separately. The sorted raw wool is cleaned of dirt and debris.
- Spinning the wool: The production starts with spinning the wool followed by the dyeing process. The dyer, the person looking after the dying of the wool, will have prepared the colours to be used according to samples provided to her or him. The art of natural dyeing has been developed over the ages and is often a closely guarded secret. Many dyers will know how to formulate some three hundred shades.
- Pre weaving: A pre-weaving
expert or group of expert specialists then work on the wool before the weaving
process can start. The different specialist tasks are warp-making, warp-dressing, wrap-threading, pattern-drawing, colouring and pattern-writing.
4-1- The pattern guide is the coded pattern guide and instructions for the colourist and weaver sometimes written in a form of shorthand or code. This process of annotating the designs so that each stitch is written down permits the reproduction of the most intricate patterns employing an extraordinarily wide range of colours.
4-2- The warp is the set of lengthwise yarns that run up and down the loom. The warp yarns are fully attached before weaving begins. The weft is the yarn that the weaver weaves back and forth and in-between the warp to make fabric.
4-3- During wrap-making the worker twists the two to three thousand threads warp threads to the required thickness. To illustrate the number of warp threads and heddles employed during weaving, a hand-woven tea-towel has between 300 and 400 warp threads.
4-4- Warp-dressing is stretching the wrap threads so that they can sustain the strain of the weaving process and the constant pressure and movement of the heddle. A heddle separates the warp yarn for the passage of the weft yarn. A typical heddle is made of cord or wire suspended from the top shaft of the loom. Each heddle has an eye in the center through which the warp is threaded. There is a heddle for each thread of the warp, and as such there can be, say, a thousand heddles for fine or wide warps.
4-5- Warp-threading is the passing the yarn through the heddles.
4-6- After the wrap assembly is prepared, if the fabric is to have a pattern, pattern-drawing is the drawing of the pattern design.
4-7- Colouring is the colouring of the drawing including the matching of different shades using a colour card based on the annotated drawing.
5- Weaving: When the weaving process starts, the weaver if assisted by, say, two or three apprentices, calls out the colours to be used according to the pattern guide. For the weaving the pattern portions, the weft shuttles are replaced by fine needle-like spools. The spools are made of fine light wood with sharp edges on both sides charred to prevent them becoming rough or jagged during use. The pattern’s design is produced on the underside of the wrap with the weaver inserted the spools from above. After a line of multiple wefts is completed, a comb was pulled down towards the weaver with it teeth running through the warp thereby pushing and compacting the weft into a tight weave. If the fabric being produced – in our example a shawl – has complicated patterns, the weaving can be divided between up to ten looms, each working on a particular section of the shawl.
6- Repairing: After the different sections are woven, they are handed over to a specialist will repair any defects and join the pieces together in a manner that the joints are not be visible.
It normally takes eight hours of intensive work on a traditional wooden Termeh machines to produce 20-25 cm of the handicraft.
The quality and value of Termeh depends on the intricacy and aesthetic features of design, diversity of colors, density of texture and the material used.
The major symbol used in the design of Termeh is the botanical motif of Aryan Botteh (Paisley) which represents Cypress and tree of life in Zoroastrian folkloric tradition.
In the Iranian ancient culture, cypress is regarded as the symbol of resistance, liberty, fire and spirituality.
Other motifs used in Termeh design include clove, birds, fish and geometric shapes such as circles and squares.
Termeh colors are all traditionally from natural sources, usually plant-based dyes. The most common background colors for a Termeh are the different shades of red, turquoise, green, orange and black.
The greater the number of colors, the greater the value. Elaborate Termeh designs can incorporate up to 200-300 different colored threads.
Apart from the growth in the quantity of Termeh production, artists use computer designing techniques to create more elaborate and intricate designs in the works.
While Termeh is gradually losing its rustic handicraft charm amid technological advances, the artwork is experiencing another phase of its evolution in the modern world, with manufacturers introducing more diverse Termeh products to the fashion and decoration industry as well as the cyber space.