Ma'dan Embroidered Blankets
These embroidered designs have been part of the Iraqi culture for millennia. They are intrinsically ancient as they are modern, remaining as relevant today as when I began collecting them over 50 years ago. Berbere likely has the most significant vintage heirloom-quality collection in the United States. Some dealers mistakenly caoll them Arab Cicims or Turkoman embroideries, but they are indigenously Iraqi - indigenously Chaldean. The above image shows one of these beautiful blankets made into a lovely ottoman.
Embroidered Blankets from The Marsh Arabs (Ma'dan) of Southern Iraq
The middle and lower basin of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (home to the legendary cities of Ur and Babylon) in Iraq consists of a series of freshwater lakes, marshes, and seasonal floodplains extending from Basrah in the east to within the outskirts of Baghdad to the west.
The Ma'dan has continuously occupied the Mesopotamian marsh region for at least 7000 years (widely regarded as the Garden of Eden's legendary site). In addition to the Islamic faith, the Ma'dan still holds many pre-Islamic beliefs, including present-day Chaldean Christians, an ancient culture dating regionally to 800 B.C.
The embroidered blankets are unique to this specific region. Handwoven and comprised of locally spun and dyed wool, they are finished on ground looms in separate panels, stitched together before the embroideries process. They are then elaborately embroidered by Ma'dan girls for their marriage beds.
The sale of these blankets is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the best embroiderers have long occupied a position of respect within the community.
Each small group or village uses different designs that indicate the origins of the weaver. Each weaver knows the position and size of the patterns she wishes to appear on the finished work and weaves or embroiders free form. Geometric patterns are interspersed with environmental subjects such as the frog, scorpion, date palm, or dome - cultural items that predate modern religions by millennia.
The traditional weaving craft has all but disappeared from the culture. War, economic destabilization, and religious-cultural assimilation have eradicated the indigenous craftswomen who make these blankets. The Bedouin who supplied the woven cloth suitable for blankets has disappeared from the region. Similar blankets are imported from other areas and even from different countries and sold at the few remaining souqs. The newer traditional designs, while pleasing and decorative, are not as densely applied as in the past, and as with many decorative arts, the older embroidered blankets are virtually impossible to find. And if you can, significantly more expensive.
For information on those not within Berbere's permanent collection, please contact us. We will be featuring a series on Instagram in the coming weeks. We hope they are as compelling to you as they are to us.