Gabbeh or gabba are one of the warmest and most creative types of Oriental rugs. Their design is a great example of how simplicity is beautiful. These designs are usually kept very basic with geometric motifs or symbolic shapes.
Some Gabbeh rugs are known to have large open fields and most of them have just a few color combinations. The vegetable dyes used to make Gabbeh carpets give them a very bold and vivid look.
History of Gabbeh
Gabbeh rugs are handmade rugs, traditionally woven by Qashqai and Luri weavers in the Zagros Mountains in southern Iran. The distinct characteristic of these rugs is that they are thicker and coarser than other types of Persian rugs.
The pile can sometimes be as much as 1′ in thickness. These rugs are constructed from local handspun sheep wool and vegetable dyes and have a relatively low knot density.
What is a Gabbeh Rug?
The word Gabbeh loosely translates to raw, uncut or unfinished. Until recently it was a rather appropriate description for these coarse, crudely knotted rugs made by the weavers for their own use rather than for commercial purposes. This definition doesn’t do justice to the versions you see today though.
There is nothing crude, subtle or understated about modern Gabbeh rugs. These later variants are filled with bright colors and bold designs with weavers giving free reign to their creativity.
The only thing that has remained unchanged is the unmistakable uniqueness of each rug.
Drawing Inspiration From Everyday Life
Every design has a story behind it. Some rugs may simply depict the landscape that moved or inspired the weaver while other designs may tell a tale or convey the weaver’s emotion with symbols and figures representing parts of the weaver’s narrative.
It is this intrinsically personal and unsystematic process that renders a Gabbeh a completely distinctive work of art and which distinguishes it from many other types of weaving or knotting processes in rug making. It also makes it difficult to classify the designs of these rugs as they do not follow any preset rules.
The patterns are usually very basic with only a limited number of decorative objects which are mostly rectangular representations of different animals.
A few of the more daring pieces have no discernible design at all. They are woven as a vast field of solid color with design elements being dictated by the wool quality and the color variegations. Most of the varieties have ‘barber pole’ selvages, which is a type of selvage where the edges are wrapped in two different colors.
Natural Colors Add To The Allure
Bold, bright colors – oranges, reds, rusts and yellows, are the hallmark of Gabbeh rugs. Only organic dyes are used. The dyes are extracted from plants and roots indigenous to the Zagros mountain range and formulated from traditional recipes that have been developed over centuries.
Some of the raw materials used to create these stunning colors are madder root, pomegranate skins, indigo and walnut husks among others.
Indian Gabbehs are inspired by the Persian originals.
These rugs are woven in India using soft, long fibered wool, bright colors and simple geometric shapes that resemble the Qashquai rugs from Iran.
The only difference is that the Indian variants are slightly stiffer in body and have little if any color variation because of the unavailability of the natural dyes that were used in the original rugs.
Pakistani Gabbehs have designs that are similar to the Persian Qashqai versions but are woven using fine Australian wool yarn so these versions are superior in quality and resemble silk carpets.
Their high knot density provides a stronger durability at lower price as compared to their Persian counterparts.
Typical Gabbeh Design Styles
- Basic style is configured of a mostly open field and large geometric shapes such as triangles and rectangles in the field region of the rug.
- Panel style contains small to medium width border at the perimeter of the rug and repeating geometric panels throughout the field. The repeating panels are typically square or triangular.
- Stripe style has horizontal and sometimes vertical stripes running across the field of the rug.
- Open Field style has a large open field with repeating square shapes making up its border.