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Salon du Tapis d'Orient

The Salon du Tapis d'Orient is a moderated discussion group in the manner of the 19th century salon devoted to oriental rugs and textiles and all aspects of their appreciation. Please include your full name and e-mail address in your posting.

Silk in Central Asian Textiles: A Saturday Morning Presentation at the Textile Museum

by Steve Price

Reports of some of the Textile Museum's Saturday morning "Textile Appreciation" sessions have been presented on Turkotek as Show and Tell topics, but the number of pieces involved made discussion in the format of a single thread awkward.   Not too long ago, John Howe presented one as a series of threads (now archived), which was much more conducive to discussion.  I delivered a talk in that series about a month ago, and John kindly photographed most of the pieces shown.  Since single discussion threads don't seem to work very well for topics like this, I've set mine up as a mini-Salon.  It really is just an extended Show and Tell, of course.

For those not familiar with the format of Textile Museum Saturday morning sessions, the speaker usually talks for about an hour, showing pieces to illustrate his topic.  Members of the audience generally bring things as well, and these are shown at the end. 

I began with comments about some relevant properties of silk.  It has great tensile strength, which allows it to be drawn into fine strands that resist breakage.   Thus, although its ability to withstand abrasion is poor, it can be used for highly detailed weaving and embroidery.  It has a great luster, and takes dyes beautifully.  This gives it an aesthetic advantage in many applications.  It is (or was) a rather expensive commodity in western and central Asia, so items made with it had a certain prestige value.

Here is the only Belouch piece that I own with silk in it, a khorjin face.


It has only 4 or 5 knots of silk in the pile.  I passed it out to the audience, inviting them to try to find the silk knots.  You can see one in the neck of the bird at the upper left side of the field.   The silk is so inconspicuous in this piece that it is hard to imagine that it was used for some aesthetic reason.  Who, except the weaver and the recipient, would even know that there ws silk in it? 

One interesting aspect of this bag is that the nine birds in the field are nearly identical except for color.  That is, every element of the design appears in all of them, although you have to look closely to see that.  The use of adjacent colors with very little contrast makes different elements virtually disappear in each bird.  Compare these closeups to see this.



This is a bag (Koran bag?), silk embroidery on silk ground. 

The embroidery style is pretty clearly Turkmen, probably Tekke. 

This is a Tekke ak-juval and a fragment of a much younger one, being held by me (on the right) and Ms. Amanda Williams, a Textile Museum volunteer.   The complete bag is probably much older than the fragment, and these two pieces are very nice for showing the changes that occurred in Turkmen weaving during the second half of the 19th century.  You can easily see the flattening of the ashik motifs in the younger one.   Color runs in the reds are obvious in it, too, but not in the photo.  The rendering of the stripes is also much more refined in the older example.

This is a little mafrash, clearly from the same Tekke group as the ak-juval.  One interesting thing about it is that the three white ground stripes are done with pile decoration on a flatwoven ground. 

It's pretty unusual to see this technique on anything except tent bands.


These are two segments of a Turkmen tent band.  It was the subject of a Salon awhile ago.

This Saryk khorjin face is not very beautiful, but interesting for the assortment of materials with which it's constructed.  It has lots of silk, cotton, what I believe to be camel hair, and some wool.  If the amounts of silk and of wool were reversed, I think I'd refer to it as having silk highlights.  So, this may be the only piece I've handled that can be said to have wool highlights.



This is a Bukhara suzani, with some closeups of the embroidery.


This is Ms. Williams modeling an all silk Uzbek chapan. 

A silk and cotton chapan, probably older than the all silk one.  You can't tell from the photo, but Ms. Williams is modeling this one, too.  Even though both were probably made for men, they look a lot better on her than they would on me.

An Uzbek embroidered divider or cover, and some closeups of the embroidery.



This is an Uzbek embroidered saddle cover.  You can see the slit (sewn closed) for the pommel just below the upper border.

This is a Tajik wedding veil.  One person in the audience who had spent some time in that part of the world told us that such a veil was worn on only one occasion: the presentation of the bride to the groom's family.

I finished my part of the presentation with this old (how old?) silk and gold thread brocaded sari, from Benares.  It's done in a twill weave that results in dramatic changes in color when the textile moves and catches light differently.


Here are some pieces brought in by members of the audience.  I'm not sure who brought in which pieces, nor am I sure that the owners want to be identified.  For those reasons (mostly the first one), I'll not attribute them to particular owners beyond noting that they aren't mine.


This is a fragment of an embroidered central Asian camel trapping.  It was the part that covered the camel's head; the pointed end being more or less directly above the animal's eyes.


A Caucasian khorjin derived from the well known "beetle bag" design.

This is a very beautiful embroidered Turkmen (Koran?) bag.  Here are two closer looks at it.


A Turkmen khorjin assembled from pieces of an old juval.

The high spot of the morning, for me, was this Kaitag embroidery.  Especially unusual in several ways.  First, the embroidery was not couched and laid, which is the technique used almost universally in Kaitag embroideries.  Second, it's on silk ground cloths.  The design clearly derives from Ottoman yastiks.  The "inscriptions" are most likely just the embroiderers' attempt to make something that looks like writing.  Here are some closer looks at it.


In closing, I thank John Howe for taking the photos and sending them to me.  And, of course, thanks to the kind folks in the audience and to Amanda Williams for her assistance in the presentation.