What is Termeh?

An example of termeh articles
An example of termeh articles. Image credit: Wikipedia

Termeh is the name given to a specialty cloth that originated in Yazd. Traditionally, the cloth was hand-woven using natural silk (Persian, ابریشم abrisham) and wool fibre (Persian, پشم pashm). Termeh can take the form of fabric, sheets, panels and other shapes. 

Good quality traditional termehs are part of a family's heirloom in much the same way as are (the related) Kashmiri scarves. They are often an article used in Iranian weddings - such as the sofreh used as a floor spread sheet. In these type of termehs, gold and silver threads may be incorporated either into the weave, as part of an embroidered pattern or as a border. 

Both Yazd and neighbouring Kerman regions have the reputation of producing quality termeh. As is the case with Persian carpets, traditional Yazdi, as well as Kermani termeh, have a reputation of being of superior quality and workmanship. Yazdi and Kermani termeh were traded throughout the Aryan trade regions, that is along what came to be known as the Silk Roads.

Termeh and Aryan Trade

Marco Polo, travelling the Aryan trade roads (called the Silk Roads) passed through Yazd in 1272 CE. He arrived in Yazd at about the time that Zoroastrians had been reduced to a minority in their ancestral lands. Nevertheless, Zoroastrians would still have asserted but who would have still asserted a considerable presence. Polo described the city as good and noble, and took remarked that city was noted for its silk production. 

"Yazd also is properly in Persia; it is a good and noble city, and has a great amount of trade. They weave there quantities of a certain silk tissue known as Yazdi, which merchants carry into many quarters to dispose of." 

In ancient times, Yazd and Kerman were silk and wool textile manufacturing centres together with Kashmir in the northern Indian subcontinent and the Fergana valley (presently in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). Yazdi silk designs do share some similarities with Fergana silks and Kermani scarves competed with Kashmiri scarves. It is quite possible that local merchants and traders based in one of these areas acquired samples made in the other area and asked local artisans to weave a similar design and fabric.

Termeh Products

Termeh at Yazd bazaar
Termeh at Yazd bazaar.
Image credit: BrianMcMorrow

Nowadays, the more expensive termehs are usually spreads called sofrehs (floor spread sheets or table-cloths), say about 150 cm. (five feet) square. Other termeh products are scarves, cushion covers and mats. However, at one point in time, termehs were also used to produce curtains, garments, quilt covers, cummerbunds (Persian kammar-band meaning waist bands), robes and even royal headdress such as turbans.

Assessing the Value of Termeh Products

A termeh's value is based on the following:
- The fineness and quality of the fibre and thread;
- The incorporation of gold and silver dramatically increases the value;
- The number of coloured threads used in the weaving. The greater the number of colours, the greater the value. Elaborate termehs can have two to three hundred different coloured threads;
- The number of layers that constitute the fabric, the large number increasing the value;
- The addition of a border and wider borders;
- Fine woven designs usually add more value than embroidered designs. Intricately embroidered designs called sermeh doozy. Printed designs add the least value;
- The uniqueness of the design;
- Lining the fabric. Lining normally adds to the value;

Termeh Patterns

Yazdi Zartoshti doozi (needle-work) patterns
Yazdi Zartoshti-doozy (needle-work) patterns. Image credit: Berasad

One of the most common design motifs associated with the termeh is theboteh (also spelt botteh) motif known in the west as the paisley design. The history of the boteh motif, termehs (and indeed Persian carpets as well) and Aryan trade are closely linked. 

The design for tablecloths may include a chequered or honey-comb pattern. Other design patterns include stripes, both wide and narrow, the Atabakipattern, and the Zomorrodi pattern that was predominantly green in colour. 

Image patterns popular with Yazdi Zartoshti women who engage in Zartoshti-doozy (Zoroastrian needle-work / embroidery) include the tree of life, the cypress tree, the juniper tree, clove, four or eight petal jujube, peacocks, roosters, hens and chicks, hoopoe, fish and geometric shapes such as circles and squares.


Stripped Patterns

Termehs with a multi-coloured stripped patterns are associated with Zoroastrian folk designs used for women's pantaloons, as well as with Kermani scarves. The stripes patterns are both narrow and wide, subdued in tone and quite colourful. Examples are shown in the images below.

Kermani Shawl with a stripped design
Kermani Shawl with a stripped design
Image credit: Afshar

Kermani Shawls

Kermani Pateh-Duzi Embroidery. Wool on wool shawl with saffron background
Kermani Pateh-Duzi Embroidery. Wool on wool shawl with saffron background.
Mid 19th Century, 78 x 78in, 189 x 189cm. Image credit: TextileAsArt
Antique Kermani woven shawl c 1750 CE
Antique Kermani woven shawl c 1750 CE
The shawl was fragment and reconstituted from several pieces.
Image credit: Eccentric Wefts

The examples shown here in the images above and to the right are those of woven (above) and embroidered (right) shawls of Kerman. The pateh-doozy / pateh-duzi or embroidered shawl of Kerman is made using a background material known as shal, a word that became 'shawl' in English. The shawl is often woven using a twill weave and the most common colour of the base fabric is red - though as we see in the images here, a variety of other colours are used. The pattern for the shawl is embroidered on the base fabric, the design for which is pounced over the surface of the fabric using carbon (coal dust) dusted over perforated parchment. The carbon dust outline is further defined by a pen. Some embroiderers developed the technique of following the texture of the twill weave with their embroidery producing a patterned shawl that could easily be mistaken for a more expensive woven shawl. 

A type of intricately embroidered fine shawl is the aksi meaning 'reflection'. Here, even though the the pattern is embroidered on one side, by splitting the warp thread into half, a 'reflective' image is produced on the other side of the shawl. 

As with the weavers, expert embroiderers are a vanishing breed. Today, a few surviving Kermani embroiderers can be found in the Kermani village of Hudk.