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Story behind Persian art of Zilou weaving adorning House of Leadership

Zilou carpets, which have covered the house of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei, are adorned with motifs called “Zolfak”, popular in the Iranian city of Meybod.

Zilou carpets (traditional hand-woven floor-covering), which have covered the house of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, are adorned with motifs called “Zolfak”; and now these motifs and inscriptions are known as the motif of “leadership” in the Iranian city of Meybod in Yazd Province.   

Zilou weavers in Meybod say that since Zilou carpets with Zolfak motifs have covered the House of Leadership, those who order them the Zilou carpets say, "We want the Zilou of the House of Leadership."   

Zilou looks like a simple cotton rug. A study of its weaving techniques, engravings and inscriptions shows that there is a rich culture behind every weft. The simplicity and sincerity match the architecture and the spirit of the people in this area.

The Zilous are made in local workshops with patterns woven on them being simple geometric shapes, especially the Zilous that have covered the House of Leadership and Jamaran Hosseinieh (a place for seasonal Islamic rituals). These Zilou carpets, which are the work of Meybodi artists, are a symbol of millennia-long Persian art and culture; and they have now found an opportunity to be seen.

A large warehouse in the heart of Meybod is where Zilou weaving machines bring art on fabric. The old craftsmen still chase Zilou weaving with their hunched backs and shaky legs. They are the last generation of traditional Zilou weavers who weave patterns with no scheme on all-white carpet looms.

The manufactory is filled with the sound of spinning machines and hands that do not stop for a moment.

According to Abdul Karim Ghanipour, the 62-year-old head of the Zilou weaving cooperative, each Zilou weavers has to walk between 8 and 10 kilometers a day to weave the carpet.

Ghanipour, who, like most of the locals, has been weaving Zilou since the very young age, believes warping loom is the most difficult stage in Zilou weaving. He says, “Zilou is composed of warp and weft. The length of the thread is about 24 meters and you can weave eight Zilous in each loom.”

Speaking about the Zilous that have been woven for the House of Leadership, he notes that, “All the Zilou carpets for the House of Leadership have been woven here and we have spread it out in the House ourselves. And the reason why Zilou is used in Jamaran Hosseinieh or the House of the Leadership is because of Zilou's simplicity and sincerity.”  

Zilou, as put by Ghanipour, is mainly made of cotton. “Cotton is cool and useful in tropical countries while wool is warm and is recommended for countries mostly with cold climates.”

“Zilou is two-sided, washable and durable for at least 50 years,’ he adds.   

“The yarn used in Zilou should be spun 7 times and 7-layer weft yarn should be placed next to each other. The yarns are produced in Isfahan. Spinning machines are also made in Iran. Everything that is done to weave Zilou is full Iranian,” said Ghanipour.

Alireza Saghaee, 67, is also another craftsman working at the manufactory. The veteran artificer does not think about retirement because he says the only way for him to make a living is through Zilou weaving.

Regarding when he entered the profession, Saghaee says, “My father was also a Zilou weaver and I learned this craft with passion when I was only 7-8. I mostly weave old patterns that I am already familiar with. I also have a machine at home and I weave Zilou. If I am alone, I weave half a square meter a day.”

Saghaee also adds that he stands up on his feet for 8 hours a day. “This is a kind of exercise, but it hurts the legs over time.”

Meybod has recently been named by the World Crafts Council - Asia Pacific Region (WCC-APR) a world city for Zilou, which is commonly woven across the central Iranian city and its outskirts.

Zilou has unique characteristics compared to other types of Iranian handmade carpets. Zilou is made of plants and this handmade floor covering has some important characteristics which are so advantageous for the human environment and health.  

Unlike other Iranian handmade carpets, which are woven by wool, Zilou is completely plant-based. Zilou does not have lint, so it does not produce aerosols. Physicians insist on using it for the child, elders, and the ones with respiratory disease.