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Termeh Iran’s most luxurious handwoven cloth

By Arghavan Shamsara

Termeh, as the most sumptuous Iranian handwoven cloth, has for centuries manifested the artistic essence of the Iranian culture in clothing and décor.

The handicraft, which is woven with silk and wool and sometimes with gold and silver, is mainly used for decorative purposes in important ceremonies and in making various items such as table-cloths, bed sheets, scarves, cushion covers, curtains, garments, waist bands, robes, royal headdress and even bags and  shoes.

The production of the luxurious fabric originates from Iran and Kashmir region in northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The artwork reached its zenith with more elaborate designs and diverse colors during the Safavid dynasty in Iran in late 16th century after Shah Abbas brought senior expert weavers from China and Armenia to use their experience in enhancing the quality of the artwork.

The Iranian southern provinces of Yazd and Kerman are well-known to be the hub of superior quality Termeh production. As the ancient Silk Road passes through both provinces, the Termeh produced in the area has long enjoyed an international fame, with merchants from different countries introducing the artwork to the other parts of the world.   

Weaving Tehrmeh is a highly complicated task as the design is not printed on the cloth. The design, however, is made though arrangement of different colors of weft threads on warp yarns. The task requires a Termeh art expert to work on the weaving machine, while one or more assistants, called Gushvarehband, arranging the colors of the weft threads.

It normally takes eight hours of intensive work on a traditional wooden Termeh machines to produce 20-25 cm of the handicraft.

The quality and value of Termeh depends on the intricacy and aesthetic features of design, diversity of colors, density of texture and the material used.

The major symbol used in the design of Termeh is the botanical motif of Aryan Botteh (Paisley) which represents Cypress and tree of life in Zoroastrian folkloric tradition.

In the Iranian ancient culture, cypress is regarded as the symbol of resistance, liberty, fire and spirituality.

Other motifs used in Termeh design include clove, birds, fish and geometric shapes such as circles and squares.

Termeh colors are all traditionally from natural sources, usually plant-based dyes. The most common background colors for a Termeh are the different shades of red, turquoise, green, orange and black.

The greater the number of colors, the greater the value. Elaborate Termeh designs can incorporate up to 200-300 different colored threads.

Following the expansion of British colonialism and its growing influence in Iran during the Qajar dynasty (1785 to 1925), handwoven Termeh handicraft experienced a downward spiral, like many other industries, and it is almost going extinct nowadays.

However, Iranian craftsmen have managed to revive the art, relying on technological advances over the past 70 years. The growing use of semi-automatic machines in several Termeh manufacturing workshops across Iran, particularly in Yazd Province, is inevitably transitioning the artwork in Iran.

Apart from the growth in the quantity of Termeh production, artists use computer designing techniques to create more elaborate and intricate designs in the works.

While Termeh is gradually losing its rustic handicraft charm amid technological advances, the artwork is experiencing another phase of its evolution in the modern world, with manufacturers introducing more diverse Termeh products to the fashion and decoration industry as well as the cyber space.

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