By Larisa Vilensky
High up in the northern Himalaya Mountains, the Tadzhik people of Pamir plateau, divided between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, still live a simple, centuries-old life, herding animals. Here we find a rare art, the making of colorwork crochet socks, called by the Turkish word Jourab. Larisa Vilensky provides rare insight into textile history,with her original research showing clear links between the making of these Jourabs and the ancient arts of Persian and Anatolian rugmaking.
Knitting and crocheting of colored socks is a very popular craft in the vast territory of Eurasia, spreading along the river Volga, around the Caspian Sea, and further into the Middle Eastern steppes of Turkestan and mountains and valleys of Pamir.
All this territory was once conquered by the armies of the Turkish Seljuk Empire, the boundaries of which were as far north as the steppes of Sarmatia on the Volga River near the modern city of Saratov, and as far east as the Pamir and Kazakh steppes. Built on Persian culture, the Seljuk Empire promoted carpet making in all of its territory. Azeri of Azerbaijan, Armenians and the Dagestan people in the western parts of the empire, Turkmen, Tajik and Kazakh tribes in the east, as well as the regions of the former Khwarizmi Khanate in the east (Samarkand, Bukhara, etc.) were all engaged in carpet making.
The craft of carpet making required a steady supply of threads and dyes. Cold northern steppes and high altitude plateaus had ideal dry and cool climate for growing sheep. Oasis and deserts of the south were natural environments for camel stock. Plants suitable for dyes also varied from place to place, supporting production of dyes of different colors and qualities.
Although the name of the craft was the same, each region produced carpets in different colors, using techniques native to that region. Interestingly enough, all the places where beautiful carpets were crafted also had a tradition of making colored crocheted socks. In the area of Dagestan and Azerbaijan these socks are called “jourabs”. This term for the colored socks is known as far as Punjab in the East. People of Turkey call these socks “chorabs”, which is in essence the same word.
Some sources suggest that remnants of carpet threads were used for making jourabs. In many areas the patterns used in the carpets are found in jourabs as well. When we look at the tools and techniques of making carpets we will find similarities with crochet as we know it today.
The modern jourabs are made in two very distinct crochet techniques. One technique is based on the single crochet stitch, another on crochet slip stitch. We can find the elements of this technique in carpet making, which suggests that jourabs and carpets were likely produced by the same craftsmen. It also means that the origins of modern crochet may be in carpet making and that crochet originated in the carpet making regions of Anatolia and the Middle East.
The Mongolian invasion into Russia created perfect conditions for all crafts to be blended together. The Mongols did not, however, introduce carpet making to the people of the Sarmatia and Lower Volga. Ancient carpets were found in Scythian burials in Lower Volga region of Russia and dated as far as 4th century AD. Mongols brought together the carpet makers of Sarmatia and Tatarstan, Central Asia and the Lower Urals (Bashkirs).
Over time, techniques, tools, dyes and patterns were exchanged, greatly enriching the craft. Given this interchange, it is difficult to determine which craft and which tool originated in a particular region. Knitting needles were used interchangeably with the crochet hook, using the same colored charts.
As this article is written for a crochet magazine, we are focusing on the techniques of sock making using only crochet. In many regions jourab making requires both knitting and crochet skills. Somehow, the Tajik people of the Pamir area still preserve the old style of making jourabs using crochet only.
Pamir is the system of mountains spread over the territories of Tajikistan, Kirgizia, Afghanistan and China. It is sometimes referred as the Northern part of Himalayas.
Geographic isolation of these places, caution with regard to strangers, and traditional Muslim customs made exploring these areas very difficult. Seeing this beautiful craft became almost impossible. We must thank fearless mountain climbers and tourists who are visiting these areas and not forgetting to post photos of Pamir nature, Pamir people, and their beautifully crafted jourabs. Practically all information included in this article is translated from Russian and taken from Russian websites. These incidental photos and stories, which somehow included jourabs in the thick of tourist attractions and gear, allow us to compile and bring this article to you.
Some say that the most admirable jourabs are made in the valley of Bartang river. A very unique crochet pattern is shown in first jourab from the left. The natural slant to the left of crochet in the round gives these jourabs special textural effect. The second jourabs from the left are made with the traditional Central Asian star, often found in carpets of the region. Scythian patterns can often be found in the colorful knitted socks and mittens of Russian people. The central symbol of fertility “gandunai hurshed” (swastika) was removed after WW II anywhere in the Soviet Union. The similar style can be noticed in the border patterns on three of these Bartang jourabs. The similarity of motifs prompts speculation of a common origin of knitting patterns of Northern Russia and the crochet patterns of Bartang.
The darker colored socks at right are by far the most interesting and intricate of all. The composition of these socks is comprised of the most versatile combination of carpet elements including flowers, S-sign and other geometrical shapes found in carpets of Central Asia. We can assume that these jourabs are made entirely with slip stitch. Those who are proficient users of slip stitch know that it is all but impossible to create sharp geometric shapes using slip stitch. However slip stitch is best for creating free form “fuzzy” flowery and feather-like ornaments
Similar patterns can be found in Afghani crochet. For a long time Pamir Tajik people have been traveling from Afghanistan to Tajikistan without heeding borders.
Pamir carpet and jourab crafters use symbols of nature, geometrical shapes and solar signs. Each element has its own name. For example, peacock feather is called “pari towus”; hen is “chahak”; scorpion is “kazdumak”; flame is “alowak.” Combinations of colors can vary: red, purple, yellow, green, brown, black and white. Color charts are passed from generation to generation visually without recording the process.
It was not in the tradition of the jourab makers to pass them through generations as heirlooms. They were worn and eventually worn out and discarded. The utmost treasure, passed from generation to generation of crafters, was the collection of secrets of making the beautiful socks as we know them today. Families of dyers, spinners and crocheters keep their timeless traditions of extracting natural and very strong and bright dyes in secret. The most common plants used for color dyes are henna and the bark of hazel (Córylus) trees. In earlier times crochet hooks were made from the branches of local shrubs.
The making of jourab is very similar to creating modern day top-down crocheted socks. The unfinished jourab shown below is started from the top and follows the color chart through the entire leg area. When the tube covering the leg is of the right length (usually the length from knee to ankle), the jourab maker starts forming the gusset area. The flexibility of crochet as compared to knitting allows for creating the gusset in various ways.
It is very likely that the crocheter used the following technique to finish the gusset area. The jourab maker creates a “diameter chain”, which completely crosses the bottom of the leg tube. It divides the opening into two halves. One half is designated for the heel, the other for the foot area. The crocheter first works the foot area in rounds, creating a cone of sufficient length to fit the gusset. Then she works the second half in similar fashion, creating a cone for the heel by making symmetrical decreases in the round.
Traditionally, the foot is finished with natural off-white color for the entire foot, or with colored stripes. In jourab crochet there are no set rules of how to insert the hook into the stitch. Some prefer front loop, others back loop, and some may work into both. The final size of jourabs is quite large and resembles the size of boots.
These bright colored patterns in geometrical figures seem to just jump from the carpet and onto these jourabs. The only way to buy them is to visit the area of the river Rushan. Make sure you are properly equipped for survival, because these places are considered the most difficult for travelling, even for experienced mountaineers.
We include at bottom an example of a commercial version of Pamir jourabs which resembles a traditional Russian sock. The heel is square shaped. The entire sock is made using slip stitch. The sock is shorter and resembles a boot sock, which is good for hiking. These crochet socks are widely available in many local tourist shops and online stores which sell craft items.
Can you color these jourabs using your imagination? They are knit and come from Badahshan in Tajikistan. Similar to all jourabs, they have braided threads which are used to wrap and tie the sock around the leg. Can you guess why these ones are knitted? Knitted patterns have straight stitches whereas crochet patterns make stitches slant to the left.
The article began with the statement that crafters interchanged both techniques utilizing the same color charts. It seems that the word “loop”, once originated from carpet making, migrated into both crochet and knitting making it very difficult to separate the crafts from one another.
Article written for the interview with Mavluda Raxmatova for BBC «Ð¢Ð°Ð¹Ð½Ñ‹ ÐŸÐ°Ð¼Ð¸Ñ€ÑÐºÐ¸Ñ… Ð”Ð¶ÑƒÑ€Ð°Ð±Ð¾Ð²» http://www.asiaplus.tj/articles/201/4325.html
Mountain climber sites http://www.skitalets.ru/; http://tour.dsp.kz/pamir2004/diary3.html
Craft Russian sites: http://av-trik1.blogspot.com/2008/12/blog-post_04.html
Technique of Dagestan carpets:http://www.carpets.dgu.ru
History of Carpet making by Fomenko and Nosovskij
Russian carpet site: Carpets.dgu.ru
History of carpet making: http://new.chronologia.org/volume6/tur_capit.html
Special thanks to my husband, who patiently edited my “uncombed thoughts” and special thanks to Dora for inspiring me to do this research
E23D35C6-B9AB-4697-8724-4381752B8543 [at] earthlink [dot] net”>
Larisa Vilensky acquired her knit and crochet skills in Russia in her family. At age of 25 she moved to Canada and 10 years later became very active in all aspects of knitting and crocheting craft. Studying history through textile became the most interesting venue in all activities. In 2008 she wrote a book “The Book of Russian Knitting” where she shared her skills in knitting and crochet with readers. Currently she is working on her next book “The Book of Russian Crochet” in which she is going to talk about all aspects of crochet developed in Russia.
Learn more about “The Book of Russian Knitting” here http://www.headwaterwool.com/BookDetail.aspx?row_num=4