Tufenkian Armenian Carpets

Our Armenian Collection was created in 1993 and includes four different programs, ranging from traditional, delicate and refined to bold, archetypal designs. Read below to learn more about the various weaves and how James was inspired to bring new life and energy to the craft of handmade rugs in the land where it all began.

Esfahan Armenian weaveEsfahan Weave

Knot count comparable to or higher than Tibetan Shakti. Available in all wool. May mix soumakh and pile construction. The most luxurious of Armenian qualities. Smooth, thick pile, ADA compliant Lends itself to delicate, fine detail designs. May mix up to three plies of yarn.  Dyeing process deliberately creates color shadings Treated with special wash to emphasize abrash and color striation

Tabriz Armenian WeaveTabriz Weave

Knot count comparable to or higher than Tibetan Shakti. Available in all wool. May mix soumakh and pile construction. Knot count and pile slightly lower than Esfahan quality. Suitable for detailed designs. Triple-ply yarn construction. Dyeing process deliberately creates color shadings. Treated with a special Swiss wash to emphasize abrash and color striation.

Oushak Armenian WeaveOushak Weave

Knot count comparable to or higher than Tibetan Shakti. Available in all wool. May mix soumakh and pile construction. Most textured and least finely knotted of the Armenian qualities.  Suitable for larger scale patterns. Most competitively priced in the Armenian Collection. Production began late '90's along with Tabriz.

Kazak Armenian WeaveKazak Weave

Our first Armenian construction is just below Oushak and used for the more tribal historical reproductions of very old Armenian designs that connected our weavers with their ancestral roots.  Though most sizes are traditionally smaller than 6x9, we have created several designs available in 8x10 to 10x14.

Virtues of  Armenian Wool

Armenian sheep, ‘Vochkdar’, wild and hardy, roam free across the mountainous land and Tufenkian has taken pride in raising them with respect for the traditions of more than a century ago. Indeed it is their wool – ‘poort’ – that is the essential starting point for every fine Tufenkian Armenian carpet. It is on the one hand the extremity of dedication and on the other an obvious quality control move to make to actually raise the sheep whose wool is ultimately spun into yarn, the luscious ‘Mahnoom’ for these carpets. In re-inventing the Armenian carpet industry, Tufenkian has researched its history and returned the process to what it was like in pre-Stalinist times.

“Each step of the process is as variable and surprising as the person who executed it; by some remarkable alchemy in the finished carpet this accumulation of variables, this infinitude of imperfections is in sum perfection itself.” -James Tufenkian

Hand Carded

The first step in the creation of Tufenkian’s rich yarns – the ‘Mahnoom’ – is called carding. One handful of wool is placed between two metal-toothed brushes and gently combed until the fibers are roughly aligned. It is a labor intensive process that has been traditionally used to prepare wool for spinning. Hand carding respects the precious fibers, and the resulting yarn is very natural and distinctively raw.

Spun with foot power

In homes and small village compounds Tufenkian workers sit at simple, foot-powered wooden wheels called ‘Mahnello ahneev’ carefully guiding the labor-intensive process of spinning with a practiced hand. The balance between wheel and hand is too delicate to yield a mechanically uniform product. The rich, organic texture of the resulting yarn couldn’t be more perfect for Tufenkian Oushaks, the subtle colors and warm feel in every way augmented by the homespun yarns created by the skilled Armenian weavers or ‘monorghs’.

Swiss dyes for consistency, color fastness, and breadth of color

The wool is dyed in small lots by hand, but the pigments are provided by Swiss metal complex dyes. “These dyes, from an aesthetic and practical point.” Tufenkian explained, “simply have no peer. They enable color consistency well within the acceptable range for a handmade rug, plus they are light fast and never run in washing. At the same time, they allow for expression of the subtle striation of color that is among the prized characteristics of my production.” For the Oushaks, the tonal variations required to give the warm feel of antique, while maintaining new pristine color, is both a conceptual leap and a technical challenge. The feeling speaks for itself.

Weaving and Shearing

Tufenkian Armenian carpets are woven by hand, knot by knot by skilled ‘Manorghs’, Armenian weavers. Each knot results in a single point of color in the pile of the finished carpet. Weavers at the loom pull knot by knot, creating a dense, luxurious fabric. And because each weaver pulls each knot tight with a different force, there are no straight lines or rigid details in the resulting Tufenkian carpet. Weaving remains as it has been for many hundreds of years hand pulling and knotting wool on mahogany framed looms, the ‘Dazgah’.

Brief historical Background of Armenia

The first nation to adopt Christianity, in the year 301, Situated a the crossroads of Europe and Asia between the Mediterranean, Caspian, and Black Seas, Eastern outpost of the Byzantine Empire for 800 years. Armenia bore the brunt of each new onslaught of invaders hoping to conquer Byzantium, seize its riches, and extinguish the Christianity that it nurtured and spread throughout Europe. Scythians, Mongols, Arabs, Mamluks, Turks and more ravaged, or were ravaged first in the Anatolian highlands of Armenia.

Armenia was finally crushed as an independent nation in the 13th century. It's people suffered, and many dispersed to create new communities throughout the world. But somehow Armenians survived for the next 600 years despite the harsh domination of successive Moslem overlords in their land of rugged mountains, austere stone churches and perpetual bloodshed and mourning.

Armenian in the Soviet era and the return to hand made rugs

Armenia has long been a Mecca for fine carpets but during the last 75 years, this craft tradition was largely disrupted under Soviet rule. “What I discovered in my research,” Tufenkian remembered, “was that the tradition of Armenian hand made carpets was sadly broken by Soviet rule, both the integrity of the materials and workmanship of a centuries old tradition all but destroyed. The designs I envisioned required a fine and sophisticated level of hand craftsmanship. And I believed that by combining a dedicated design vision with breakthroughs in the dyeing process that we could launch a renaissance of Armenian carpet weaving.”

The ancient art of making Armenian carpets by hand using the finest materials is cherished and nurtured by Tufenkian. Each carpet is carefully crafted, the methods virtually unchanged from time beyond memory, using traditional techniques in the service of contemporary design. The glowing imperfections of natural materials and the variations of the human touch are celebrated by Tufenkian in every stage of the process, the result of a commitment to promote individuality and inspiration in all of its productions. Truly, each carpet is unique unto itself, conceived in a journey through a sea of human hands weaving it into existence.

Tufenkian Business in Armenia - Twenty Years in the Making

One fall evening in 1992, James Tufenkian, a third generation Armenian, sat in his New York apartment overlooking the East River, reflecting on the good fortunes of his family in America. Like so many other immigrants to America, James had lived to achieve the American dream. He had prospered in international business, creating a prestigious design and manufacturing firm bearing his name. But as he flipped the remote control on his TV, James Tufenkian found his heart ripped of all joys. “I had come to New York to be closer to my Armenian heritage,” James Tufenkian recalled of the day he saw a news report on Armenians burning their furniture to keep warm, “and I just couldn’t sit there watching it on television and not do something.”

In fall of 1993 James Tufenkian journeyed to Armenia with plans to begin a full-scale hand made rug operation to implement his design ideas. “I thought it would be quite simple,” Tufenkian reflected, “to get a number of skilled Armenian craftsmen and just begin making Armenian carpets. What I found, however, was that 75 years of Soviet rule had all but eliminated that centuries old Armenian tradition.” Armenia, which is at the heart of the traditional hand made rug center, has long taken pride in its fine carpets. The demise of the industry was a move calculated by Joseph Stalin to break the love of freedom and strong spirit of the Armenian people.

This was a setback for Tufenkian. James now realized that he was not simply expanding the cherished industry of his native country – he was reviving it from the dead. Over the course of the first year, James located the few remaining fine craftsmen in Armenia and hired them to make rugs of his design and train others in this ancient craft. To further the progress, master spinners, dyers and other skilled craftspeople were sent from the Tufenkian facility in Nepal.

In 1994 Tufenkian started a full-scale operation. “I started making Caucasian carpets,” Tufenkian reflected. “I made these perfectly beautiful carpets and brought them to the market only to find no one wanted them – a real horror story.” Tufenkian was down but not beaten. The facility was working. What was missing was the right product to produce. “I had been talking with my favorite dealers” Tufenkian recalled, “and one of them said ‘How about Oushaks?’ I instantly knew that was it. Antique Oushaks were zooming in price, and there was a great demand for large Oushaks – 8’ x 10’ or larger – which were almost non-existent.”

Tufenkian’s re-invention of the Oushak offers every conceivable advantage. Size is under complete control, colors are authentic, and condition, the downfall of most antiques, is by definition mint. Tufenkian Armenia currently employs over 1,500 people and is steadily growing.

As always, the business success of Tufenkian in Armenia has a bigger picture goal. “The biggest problem in Armenia is the lack of employment, a very harsh thing for people who love and respect the work ethic so much.” To counteract this problem Tufenkian has created jobs but on another level he is cutting the problem off at the pass. Tufenkian is contributing to an orphanage to train children for the future work force. “As I grow my business, “Tufenkian told me, “I hope that I can create the types of jobs these children need, to make a difference in Armenia.

For Over 25 years, James Tufenkian has been the leading designer of hand made carpets internationally. While his form has often been artlessly copied, his content – not compromised from design vision to handmade completion – has never been approached for its ability to create a lasting vision of beauty from conception to your home.

“One of the things I have discovered while designing exclusively for hand made products” James explained, “is that their place is easy to overlook, but nearly impossible to replace. The infusion of hand made beauty brings a sense of calm to our fast paced, computer run world. We need what they have to offer at least as much as they need what we have. It’s about balance. It’s about exchange.”

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