A talim with too many half nals

Recently I have been working on a revised draft of two pages of photocopied shawl talim that were sent to me back in 1998 by Dr. Jon Thompson.  They show four scrolls of talim instructions with groups of 12 and 13 lines of text, totalling 51 lines, all greatly reduced in scale to fit A4 sheets of paper.

thompson talim p.1

thompson talim p.2

While I have gotten used to seeing shawl designs as detailed as they could be, with weft passes of one or two nals predominating, even a preliminary look at this talim reveals a profusion of “half” nal symbols, specifying that the weft passes under just one warp thread, or under several but with its placement accurate to one warp thread exactly.  (“Nal” means “pair” and in the 2/2 twill fabric structure of shawlweaving, where at each treadling of the loom two adjacent warp threads are raised and the next two lowered, that pair of raised threads is the usual unit of counting the distance a coloured weft thread is inserted before it is exchanged for the next colour.)

talim number symbol key

Half-nals are routinely used in old shawl talim at the ends of alternate talim lines to signal their placement in relation to the twill weave structure – like the half bricks at the ends of alternate courses of a brick wall – and can be used occasionally within the design instructions to give the best possible placement and resolution of fine details.  Normally, weft threads are exchanged in the slightly wider space between nals, but half nals require that weft threads are exchanged between the two warp threads of a pair.  It takes much more effort on the weaver’s part to keep accurate count, to reach in between the fine warp threads, and just to navigate the thicket of crowded weft threads on the working side of the fabric.

talim colour symbol key

My first attempt to draft a design from this talim produced a field of confetti too scattered to recognize anything, except that I was probably misinterpreting the instructions.  Since then, I concluded that in the case of talim number symbols representing half nals, where a number shows a “half” notation both before and after, the count of warp threads includes the “halves”.  Thus while “o-” would be one-and-a-half nals or 3 warp threads, “-o-” would be one-and-two-halves nals, or more descriptively one-of-two-halves nals, but only 2 warp threads.  This was not an obvious interpretation to come to, but if “-o-” represented 4 warp threads, there was no other symbol in the talim text – that I would expect to appear more often – to represent two-halves comprised of just 2 warp threads.  A lone half nal, just one warp thread, is represented in the text by a simple vertical stroke.
So I finally set about drafting a new diagram from the talim text according to this newer interpretation of the many instances of “two-halves” symbols.  I began with approximately 60 nals at the start (left-hand end) of each talim line, and was encouraged to go on and add another 60 of each, still less than half of the total line length of about 300 nals.   At that point I gave up the idea of continuing, because the design still seemed to be breaking up due to accumulated errors.
The illustration with two drafts shows the recent draft with my new interpretation of “two-halves” number symbols at the top, and, at the bottom, the result of portions of lines shifted simply by eye to try to bring them into alignment with lines above and below.  To this point I haven’t gone back to the talim text to see if my nips and tucks corresponded to unclear text symbols.  (Each “brick” unit of the grid represents a nal, two raised warp threads and two lowered, and two picks of weaving.)
The most noticeable thing absent from the draft is the rest of a very large design.  Talim lines of 300 nals in width, at an average sett of 80 warps to the inch, would span 15 inches, perhaps half of a centre-field point-repeat pattern, typical of the later 19th century.  The portion shown here would cover about 1.25 by 6 inches.
The most noticeable shapes present are pink on a background of two shades of blue.  On these curving pink bands are segments of dark red meander interspersed with three-petaled blossoms outlined in blue.  The area including the pink bands appears to be enclosed on the left and below by a band of medium grey, and on the right, bright green, next to a more elaborate rope-like band of grey outlined with pink.  On both sides are tendrils of dark blue outlined with pink, and blue background areas display intermittent black and red details.  The colours representing the various colour notations in the talim were arbitrarily chosen for high contrast, and no attempt has been made to “correct” scattered, seemingly inconsistent colour details.

portion of the talim as drafted

The accumulated errors could be due to any combination of fumbles, blots, and scratch-outs visible in the text, similar errors innocently recopied in a fair hand for the text that we have, and my own misinterpretations and lapses.  Among the talim texts I’ve worked on there has been a wide range of accuracy, some producing a clean design and some fit only to be sold to tourists as an artifact.
This talim is obviously a small slice of a very large design, and I have seen some ambitious, similarly-large designs being woven today, perhaps encouraged by the CAD software developed for the carpet industry that is also being used to prepare shawl talim.  But this talim is unique of those I’ve seen, and exceptionally challenging for the weaver, for its use of so many half-nal details.  In fact, it is hard for me to imagine that the specification of such hair-splittingly fine detail would be needed in such a large-scale design.
I have purposely scanned the talim pages at a high resolution so that the reader can copy them (start by clicking on the image) and take up the challenge of trying to produce a draft showing the design clearly, colours traditionally associated with the talim symbols, or what are the misinterpretations of number symbols that I am still making.  Your comments are welcome.


~ by Peter Harris on 27/11/2012.

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