Soumak (also spelled Soumakh, Sumak, Sumac, or Soumac) is a tapestry technique of weaving strong and decorative textiles used as rugs and domestic bags. Baks used for bedding are known as Soumak Mafrash. Soumak is a type of flat weave, somewhat resembling but stronger and thicker than kilim, with a smooth front face and a ragged back, where kilim is smooth both sides. Soumak lacks the slits characteristic of kilim, as it is usually woven with supplementary weft threads as continuous supports.
The technique of making a soumak involves wrapping wefts over a certain number of warps (usually 4) before drawing them back under the last two warps. The process is repeated from selvedge to selvedge. The wefts are discontinuous; the weaver selects coloured threads in turn, and wraps each within the area which is to have that particular colour. Unlike kilim, the back is left ragged, with all the loose ends of the differently-coloured weft threads visible, sometimes several inches long, providing extra thickness and warmth. Also unlike kilim, there are no slits where colours meet, as there is a supplementary or structural weft which supports the coloured pattern weft. Some late Soumaks made by the Kurds are however "weftless", lacking the structural weft support, and the stitches naturally overlap.
Soumaks tend to be finely woven, and although not as durable as piled carpets, they are stronger than kilims. The soumak wrapping often covers the whole surface of a bag or rug, but it can equally be applied in decorative strips, contrasting with the plainer and thinner flatweave areas. For example, camel bags from Malatya in Eastern Turkey could be woven in simple flatweave stripes of red and blue, with broad strips of soumak weft-wrapping with motifs for fertility and protection.
Bags were sometimes woven with a face of soumak, with a tapestry-woven kilim-like top creating slits between blocks of colour: a rope was threaded in and out of the series of slits to fasten and close the bag. Sizes vary, from carpet format through bags for bedding or for use on pack animals, to tiny tribal domestic bags. The following images show the appearance and construction of just such a soumak saddle bag, woven in Luristan at the end of the 20th century. The Lurs sometimes, as here, combine soumak and knotted carpet piling to adorn a single piece. To form the motifs, the weaver may adjust the direction of the weft threads. As Marla Mallett explains, "Tapestry weft yarns need not always be horizontal. They can be pushed about as the weaver wishes, to easily form curved or slanting shapes."
Detail of woollen handle
Simple red and blue striped rear, without weft wrapping
Detail of weft wrapping: "weft yarns .. can be pushed about as the weaver wishes"
Detail of motif on front
Detail of decorative border, with slits for rope to close and secure bag
Saddle bag shown open one side
Detail of edge with narrow strip of pile carpet
Detail of reverse showing ragged ends of weft threads of different colours
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Soumak products are made in the Caucasus (especially the Shirvan region), Southern and Western Persia including Luristan, Turkish Anatolia, by the Shahsavan tribe and the Kurds in north-western Persia, and by the Baloch people on the Persia–Afghanistan border.
The name Soumak may plausibly derive from the old town of Shemakja in Azerbaijan, once a major trading centre in the Eastern Caucasus. Other theories include an etymology from Turkish sekmek, to skip up and down, meaning the process of weaving; or from any of about 35 species of flowering plant in the Anacardiaceae or sumac family, such as dyer's sumach (Cotinus coggygria), used to make dyestuffs. If this last is the source of the name, then it is derived from the Arabic and Syriac word summāq, red.
- Thompson, Jon (1988). Carpets from the Tents, Cottages and Workshops of Asia. Barrie & Jenkins. pp. 78, 167–168. ISBN 0-7126-2501-1.
- Mallett, Marla. "Basic Tribal and Village Weaves". Retrieved 24 January 2016.
- Cassin, Jack (1998). "Soumak and Kelim weaving of the Caucasus". Weaving Art Museum. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
- Haack, Hermann; Wingfield Digby, George & Cornelia (trans.) (1960). Oriental Rugs: An Illustrated Guide. Faber & Faber. pp. 25–26.
- Wendorf, Michael (November 2000). "The Nature of Kurdishness". Hali. 113: 73.
Kurds also continued to create weavings using simple and ancient techniques such as weft wrapping without intervening ground wefts (weftless soumak), paired warp tapestry, and other techniques long abandoned by other weavers.
- Middleton, Andrew (1996). Rugs & Carpets.
- Gillow, John; Sentance, Bryan (1999). World Textiles. A Visual Guide to Traditional Techniques. Thames and Hudson. pp. 64–65. ISBN 0-500-01950-9.
- "Bag face (T.205-1922)". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
- "Luri Rug, South West Persia". Persian Rug Village. Archived from the original on 25 January 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
- O'Connell, Barry. "Fantastic Animal Shahsavan Soumak Bagface 3rd quarter 19th c". Persian Carpet Guide. Archived from the original on 15 February 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
- "Kurd Soumak Bagface Late 19th C". Persian Carpet Guide. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
- "Soumac". Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
- Etymology of Sumac at Etymonline.com and also at and . Etymology of Rhus at Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology. IV R-Z. Taylor & Francis US. p. 2306. ISBN 978-0-8493-2678-3.