Tent bag or juval face, knotted wool pile, woven by Tekke Turkmen woman, Turkmenistan, Central Asia, about 1900
This very finely woven tent bag face is an exceptionally good example of the work of the once nomadic Tekke Turkmen women of Turkmenistan in western Central Asia. Tent bags like this were known as juvals; they were made in pairs and were used to store household items and clothes within the demountable Turkmen trellis tent or yurt. The top of the bag was left open and they were either hung on, or stacked against, the back of the yurt. Soft and portable, tent bags were also ideal for transporting the family's belongings when they moved on with their flocks and herds. The back of this example, which would have been in weft-face plain weave, is now missing. Some of the round Turkmen trellis tents were very large. The outside was covered with felts and the inside with fine carpets, tent bands and tent bags. Textiles were an essential, easily portable part of the tent; they were highly decorative and also served a range of functions.
Carpet weaving was a female activity which could be accomplished at home in conjunction with child care. Turkmen weavers excel at their art, producing a wider range of beautiful work in varying techniques than any other tent dwellers. Although some juvals and some of the smaller bags called torbas were flat woven, most tent bags were made using the knotted pile technique, as in this example. Knotted pile weaving was exacting and provided the highly accomplished Turkmen women with the opportunity to exhibit their unrivalled weaving skills. Many of the items they made were smaller pieces of great personal value which were woven for the dowry and utilised the finest materials. As such, they reflected the artistic and social aspirations of the weaver, and were regularly passed on through the family as heirlooms.
Of Turkic origin, the Turkmen people are believed to have migrated westwards some two thousand years ago to establish themselves in Central Asia and eventually in Iran, Syria and Anatolia. While essentially cattle and sheep herders, the Turkmen also owned large numbers of transport animals such as camels, horses and mules. Their considerable numbers empowered them to act as a political force from time to time.The Tekke are one of the largest of the twenty-four listed groups of the nomadic Turkmen people of Iran and western Central Asia, and one of about eight Turkmen tribes who led a nomadic pastoral existence in western Turkestan until at least the end of the 1900s.
Christina Sumner, Principal Curator Design & Society
(with thanks to Ross Langlands)
This decorative face of a nomadic tent bag was constructed in knotted pile technique. A tent bag of this size is known as a juval, sometimes spelled chuval; they generally have a plain weave back and an opening along the top and are used for storage in the tent.
The design of this bag face features roughly octagonal medallions and smaller angular motifs known as guls. These, together with the weaving structure, indicate that it was made by a woman of the Tekke tribe of Turkmen nomads. The designs of Turkmen guls vary and are typically indicative of the particular Turkmen tribe to which the weaver belongs. Major and minor guls are often used together to create a dynamic repeating design over the field.
Tekke weaving, as in this example, is typically worked on an ivory wool warp with two shots of weft between each row of Persian or asymmetrical knots. The predominantly red colour palette is also characteristic of Tekke, and Turkmen carpet weaving.
The Tekke Turkmen tent bag or juval face was purchased by the donor, Dr George Soutter AM, in Sydney in the early 1980s. Dr Soutter, a retired pediatrician, first became interested in oriental rugs as a medical student in South Africa and has collected rugs, carpets and textiles for many years. He was the founding president of the Oriental Rug Society of NSW Inc., one of the Museum's first affiliated societies.