Sumakh Technique

Sumakh (soumak, sumak, sumax) is one of the oldest known weaving techniques, identified among charred 7th century BC fragments excavated at Gordion, near Ankara in Turkey. In recent centuries, it has been most prevalent in the Caucasuses and several other regions. Many prominent authors attribute the wealth of Caucasian sumakhs to the Lezgi people (see Wright and Wertime, Caucasian Carpets and Covers, p. 56, 69). Even today, neighboring Lezgi and Azerbaijani villages weave exclusively sumakh and pile carpets respectively. The distinction is uncanny.

There are three different types of yarn used in weaving a sumakh, each with its own unique function. The vertical warp (thick) and horizontal supplementary weft (thin) create the base weave, and the horizontal pattern weft of color yarn creates the visible design.

In a completed piece, the warp is only visible as the fringe, and the supplementary weft is not visible at all.

First, the warp is strung vertically on the loom. Then the weaver begins a single row of pattern weft by wrapping pieces of various colored yarn around the warp, going across for 4 warps and back behind 2 (see illustration below).

A single piece of yarn is continuously used for each color. After all of the wraps for a specific color yarn are completed on a row, it is left hanging, ready to be used on the next row.

Once the yarn segment becomes too short to wrap, its tail it pushed through to the back side, and a new segment is started. This creates the shaggy backside on sumakhs before they are washed and trimmed.

Once an entire row of pattern weft is completed, a continuous string of supplementary weft is quickly run over and under the warp all the way across the sumakh. The weaver beats down the supplementary weft with a forked tool to ensure the tightness of the weaving. The weaver then completes another row of pattern weft, continuing to complete the sumakh row by row.

The sumakh technique is marvelously complex. Where every knot in a pile carpet is tied exactly the same, the wrapping of the yarn in a sumakh is never identical. Whether the yarn is creating a single or double vertical line, or is heading at a diagonal, or has a same color section several wraps away, all determine exactly how the yarn will be wrapped, and where its tail will hang. The completed sumakh is an intricate web of weaving mastery.