Julkhyrs (bear rug)

Possibly Samarqand, Uzbekistan, late 19th century
Wool warp, weft
H × W: 276 × 125 cm
Gift of Richard Isaacson
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery       S2018.25

One of the most distinct type of carpets associated with present-day Uzbekistan is the so-called julkhyrs or “bear rug,” with its long and thick pile. Produced in the late nineteenth century, this type of rug was woven in strips on a narrow beam loom, a technique that dates back centuries. The strips were then sewn together and the pile sheared with a knife, lending the surface an uneven, ragged finish. The bold and colorful design of this julkhyrs recalls the hues and motifs found on contemporaneous ikats.

An unusual characteristic of this julkhyrs is the last strip, which runs in reverse to the other three. The fourth strip was produced on the loom as a left border but sewn on the right side of the rug. Although the woven border design and edge finish match the rest of the rug, the inversion introduces a distinct optical effect, changing the way light reflects off the pile. The strip is also shorter than the others. Was this an intentional choice or a mistake? Evidently, symmetry and perfection were less important to the weaver than creating a soft, colorful, and luxurious floor covering. When sewing together strips of ikats, inverting their orientation was also a standard practice.