With all the recent chapters in geopolitics in mind you’d be forgiven for immediately thinking of war and terrorism when someone mentions Afghanistan. However there are many positive things that the country is known for, not least of which is their historic penchant for creating high quality rugs and carpets.
Categorically speaking, Afghan rugs and carpets are a specific type of hand-woven carpet textile traditionally made in Afghanistan; however there are Afghan rugs and carpets that are produced by Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Rug makers across the whole region tend to describe their rugs based on ethnic groupings, hence why they are called Afghan rugs. There are rug makers from many different ethnic groups such as the Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz and they all name their rugs accordingly. Character traits of Afghan rugs are that they are individual, well made and often very expensive. The rugs are mostly of medium size and dyed using vegetable and natural dyes to achieve the rich colours. A myriad of different patterns and colours are used. A popular style is an octagonal (elephant’s foot) print shape with a deep red background.
Two popular Afghan rug styles are the Khal Mohammadi and Baluchi prayer rugs.
Khal Mohammadi carpets take their name from someone called Khal Mohammadi, strangely enough. He developed the deep red tones characteristic of the style. The style’s ethos is to be warm and inviting and will also feature dark blue or black thread for fine detailing. Most of the time they use the repeating ‘elephant’s foot’ pattern in rows and columns. These rugs are produced by the Turkomans in northern Afghanistan who use wool in symmetrical knots at a relatively high density.
Baluchi prayer rugs are made by the Baloch people, based in the south and west of the country. Typical forms of Baluchi prayer rugs are denoted by their town of production. A prominent example is the Adraskan rug; Adraska is located in the Herat area. A defining characteristic of this particular style is the depiction of elongated animal and human forms. Many Baluchi carpet makers are also based in Iran in the Khorasan area. Some defining characteristics of a Baluchi rug include plant motifs woven in an angular geometric style, and like the Khal Mohammadi style, feature strong reds with dark edge detail. Occasionally tufts of camel hair are woven into the niches.
Although there are a lot of known Afghan carpet types it is often hard to know quite where specific carpets have been made or what styles can be attributed what tribe. Because of the extreme localisation of carpet construction in Afghanistan and the previous nomadic history of the ethnic groups involved it is often hard to define clearly the different styles. There hasn’t been extensive study and research apart from a few Russian field studies, and so the categorisation and the naming of Afghan carpets can be interchangeable.