Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Urban Legend of Paternayan

Ad for Paternayan yarn from Good Housekeeping Needlecraft, Spring-Summer, 1980

I don’t need to wade through all that text to figure out the legend of Paternayan yarns. The photo is clear evidence that if you say “Paternayan” three times into the bathroom mirror, a humongous, fez-wearing djinn will sneak up behind you and ravage you. Or possibly turn you into a man-or-woman kebob. Suffice to say, unless that’s a flying carpet she’s making, this lady has very little time left to enjoy the “quality, durability and lustrous color” of Paternayan yarns.

Yes, of course, I’m sure that’s what this advertisement is about. True, a warning about super-sized, supernatural slaughter is a strange way to promote tapestry and rug yarns. Then again, we’ve already seen yarn companies promote their products with handmade adult diapers and wild yarn orgies.

Oh all right, if you insist, I’ll read the actual ad.

For the actual ad (and more snark!):

“No one else in the world had ever made such a yarn. In fact, to this day, though imitators have come and gone, nobody makes a yarn as good as Paternayan yarn.”
I have a sneaking suspicion that the huge, honking djinn played an important part in all those imitators being “gone”. To heck with cowboys, Willie Nelson should have sung, Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be Paternayan’s competitors.
“Today, more than 50 years after its development, the wool for Paternayan Persian yarn is still sheared from sheep raised in one particular (and secret) region of the world.”
I suspect Paternayan’s secrecy had nothing to do with concerns over sheep rustling. Much like today, Iran wasn’t a popular country in the United States during 1980. However, co-founder Harry Paternayan was astute enough to realize that the average North American wouldn’t connect the word Persian with Iran.

Still, I don’t think it was Harry’s best idea to replace the negative image of hostage-taking fanatics with a menacing, man-and-woman-eating giant. Who, on closer examination, also appears to be a Ginger!

“Paternayan yarns are recognized by everyone from Mid-Eastern potentates...”
Hmmm, I’m not sure if Harry’s trying to manipulate me with fantasies of the Exotic East à la Ottoman Empire, or if he means that Paternayan yarns are very popular with Shriners.
“ scholars at The Metropolitan Museum of Art...”
I realize that some people enjoy modern art, but just keep in mind that this is MoMA’s idea of fashion.

And no, I didn’t deliberately mix up the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the Museum of Modern Art because I thought the above image was way funnier than anything I saw at the Met.


“... as the world’s richest and most colorful. In fact, many of the colors we’ve developed over the years were considered impossible achievements by the color experts of the day.”
Yes, I’m sure that compared to summoning Djinn, mixing colours for yarn is a doddle.

Whaddya mean the djinn djokes are getting old?

“Harry Paternayan, co-founder of Paternayan Brothers, still oversees our yarn plant.”
I wasn’t able to find out if he still was, but it’s rather unlikely as Harry was already an adult when he left his native Turkey in 1916...

Hang on, the Paternayan family was from Turkey not Iran? No wonder their sheep farm’s location was secret! They didn’t want anyone to find out they were selling Turkish, not Persian, yarns. Or, looking at the tiny print at the bottom of this ad, Phoenix, Arizonian yarn.

Still, I have a sneaking admiration for the clever way the Paternayan brothers cashed in on the North American veneration of Persian rugs.

“Paternayan yarns have always been legendary – not just for their quality, but for the quality of the shops that sell them. Small, independent businesses run for the most part by yarn and craft experts themselves.”
Paternayan still won’t deal with Walmart, but even their mighty djinn couldn’t protect them from discount stores on the internet. I doubt that will change unless someone scans a djinn into the internet and ... eep!

There, I read the ad! But now I have a confession to make. Fact is, I’ve known all along about the real legend of Paternayan. You see, a friend of a friend’s cousin told me that if you say Paternayan three times in the bathroom mirror, Phentex spiders will sneak up and attack you.

Of course, I don’t believe in these ridiculous urban legends, so I’m not going to do it.

What’s that?

I am not a coward! Fine, I’ll prove that this Paternayan legend is nothing but a sack load of schoolgirl silliness. Just wait a sec, while I pop into the washroom to look in the mirror.

Ahem. Paternayan, Paternayan, Paternayan

You see? Nothing happened. No Phentex Spiders!

Hang on, did you hear that? It sounded like something behind m...


Errata: Thanks to Faithful Reader Hind, I now have a whole new appreciation for the culture clash that produced this ad.

Hind wrote, "The name Paternayan (or any family name ending with 'yan') means that the two brothers who established this yarn industry are Armenians. I have heard that Yan means 'son'. The fact that they immigrated to the USA in 1916 shows that they fled from Turkey one year after the massacres against the Armenians there. The Armenians are living in many Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt. They are well known here as very efficient craftsmen, with great artistic talents. They are also clever merchants. One of your links says that their original craft was repairing Persian carpets, which was, until now, a highly esteemed artistic craft, which required the best materials, as genuine Persian carpets are invaluable.

"What I find interesting in that ad is that the Armenians, who are used to be in our part of the world highly respected for their talents, expected the same esteem in America, from people who didn't know their reputation. That is why the ad sounds so haughty when it is written in English, while it would sound quite normal if it were written in Arabic, or in any other Middle Eastern language.

"The other interesting thing in this ad is the Djinni standing behind the woman, who is putting his hand over her's. He is not intending to harm her, on the contrary he is inspiring her, and guiding her hand while she works. Djinn in folklore and tradition are mostly not bad. They have supernatural powers which they use to inspire the people whom they favor. Every poet or artist,was believed to have his own Djinni. In Arabic the word 'Abquari' means genius, which means literally 'belonging to the Vally of "Abquar"', the place where Djinn were supposed to dwell. So every genius has some relation with the Djinn. This ad wants to say: If you use our yarns, which are made by the supernatural power of the Djinn, they will also inspire you while you work. Again, such a thing would sound quite normal here, but not in America.

"This shows that the Armenian company, after being in America for over 60 years when that ad was written, still kept their Eastern traditions, which were not always understood correctly.

"PS: You may notice that I sometimes use the word "Djinn", which is the plural form, while "djinni" is the singular."
Thanks, Hind!

I've heard many stories of North Americans making cross-cultural advertising gaffes, so it's fun to see it works both ways.


  1. For whatever it's worth, you're right about Paternayan brothers being Armenians from the Middle East, probably Turkey. Their company was purchased by S.C. Johnson quite a few years back, I'd say at least 20 years back and then resold I don't know to whom. The name and product lines survive.

  2. Hi Anonymous
    You are correct, sometime in the early 80s the Paternayn line and the Dyehouse equipment associated with the dyeing of Paternayan was sold to the craft division of Johnson Wax and then ultimately Alan Getz who continued the line under the name, JCA, Inc. In 2012 Mr. Getz died and we purchased the dyehouse equipment and the Paternayn name and formulas. We have been re--introducing the line for the last 9 months and by the end of the year will have all of the colors re-establshed.
    Please let me know if you have any questions.
    Claudia Raessler, Business Manager
    Saco River Dyehouse
    32 Main St., Bldg. 13-W
    Biddeford, Maine 04005