Clothing & Items of Personal Adornment
To help get things started, and organized, I'll start this thread with an embroidered belt from southeast Uzbekistan. It was represented to me as a Tajik piece, but I have no way to verify that. It's very thoroughly covered with a dense silk chain stitch.
This is obviously not for day-to-day use; this must have been made for ceremonial purposes, possibly wedding attire. It has several cute little bugs incorporated into the design; the back is a piece of abr-dyed ikat silk. The attached pieces are a knife sheath and a tobacco bag. The belt is 44 in. long; the sheath is 11 in. long.
In his opening salon, Steve showed us a Tajik wedding veil. These are called roobands (sometimes: rubands). They were in use by the Tajiks inhabiting the mountainous area called the Pamirs; if what I read is correct, these fell out of use in the early 1900's.
Here are some images of another piece. Note that the base cloth is handspun cotton. The stitch that is used for this design is quite sparse, and appears to be designed to conserve the embroidery material. Look at the tedious work that was required to silk-wrap the cotton to build the mesh for the veil:
All I know about them is what I have read, and references are not easy to find. To date, these pieces have been uncommon in western markets. I'll put the text of a writeup from another site here, and a link to the page if you want to see more of the site; it's interesting.
Ruband. Embroidery of the Pamirs and the foothill districts is characterized by a remarkable diversity of forms. Here it is mainly made on clothes: on shirts and chemises (along the collar and the vertical cut), women's frontlets-sarban-daks, the bride's iace-coverlng-ruband, men's and women's belts-kamarbands and takbands.
Local embroidery has its special individual style with predominantly geometrical pattern.
Particularly noteworthy are women's embroidered face - coverings, rubands, used during the wedding ceremony. Their remarkable coloring and interesting ornaments have attracted attention of different scholars. Ruband is an ancient nuptial garment of Tajik women living in the mountains. In our days it is no longer used and can be found only in a few museums. It is a square or rectangular piece of cotton fabric (75x75 or 90x75 centimeters) covered by embroidered ornaments. In the upper part there is a small rectangular opening for the eyes with a net made from white silk threads. The two upper corners have long colored strings with tassels for fastening ruband on the head (usually it is worn over the head-dress). The edges are trimmed with a dark plaited braid. The cloth is embroidered with silk threads in a compact flat stitch, so that the smooth lustrous surface of the ornament makes its flatness still more evident. It may be noted that this technique is very economical, as threads are not used on the reverse side of the cloth. The scheme of ornament is determined by the rectangular form of ruband. It consists of a number of rectangles inscribed into one another. The one in the centre, having a more elongated form than the others, is divided into several horizontal strips, with the netted opening for the eyes in the upper strip. The ornamental motifs of rubands are not particularly diverse. They include stylized trees, triangles, rhombs, geo-metrically outlined flowers, birds, rosettes, etc.
The ornamentation of ruband is an interesting product of the popular art. N. A. Kislyakov appraised it as follows: "As far as we know, neither nomadic or semi nomadic peoples nor the settled population of Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan which used the woman's face-covering - parandja or chadra, have possessed or possess now so richly ornamented wedding face-covering as ruband of the mountain Tajik. Modern Tajik embroidery adheres to the traditions of the late 19-th and the early 20-th centuries. The handicraftsmen continue to produce things which are still used in everyday life or connected with the living national customs. On the other hand, many types of embroidery, as, for instance, zardevor and ruband, have gradually gone out of use. The high artistic and aesthetic standards of popular embroidery make it possible to use it for decoration of the modern interior and ornamentation of clothes. The traditional methods and techniques of popular embroidery are successfully used by many factories working in the Republic.
The bulk of the material published in the album is based on the museum funds. A certain part of it was gathered by the author during expeditions in Tajikistan and the Tajik-populated districts of Uzbekistan. The drawings of embroideries were made from life, that is, directly in the interior where each embroidery has its definite place and is set off by the national decor of the room. In our opinion, this method has some advantages, because an embroidered piece in its natural environment enables you to grasp better the subtleties of this specific art, to feel its nuances and reproduce all this with greater accuracy. In gathering the "field" material attention was paid not only to big decorative works but also to very small pieces ornamenting clothes and things of domestic use. An analysis of the collected material, showed that small embroidery preserves the local features of the place where it was produced much better than embroideries of a bigger size. A considerable body of material was gathered in the main centres of the industry and their environs. Some other districts, however, are represented by a comparatively small amount of material, and there are some localities which have not yet been surveyed. The samples reproduced in the album give a rather comprehensive picture of the Tajik art of embroidery and illustrate its main peculiarities. A greater part of this material has not been published before. The author is greatly indebted to Doctor of Arts N. A. Nurdjanov, Master of Arts N. A. Belinskaya and Master of Arts N. N. Ershov whose advice and cooperation were most valuable in the preparation of this volume.
Hi Chuck -
Good stuff in your post above.
I quite like the belt, knife sheath, tobacco pouch set. Nice greens. Do I see evidence of Chinese influence? Cloud bands, etc. Don't think I've noticed such usage in things attributed to Tajiks.
I really know nothing about the real tribal distinctions in this area but have run into "national character" type descriptions of some of these ethnic groups. As I recall, Tajiks are often described as, urban, Persian speaking. Tajiks are often in such literature compared rather unfavorably to Uzbeks. Do we know if these pieces were woven by more rural Tajiks?
I have also sometimes wondered about the border design in this veil. Could it be representational? Perhaps some kind of ornamented rooster?
Such veils seem rather frequent in recent years but are admittedly attractive.
R. John Howe
A problem with many of these pieces is lack of provenance, so we can only rarely "know" much about them. As you have pointed out, most attributions seem to be regional rather than tribal. I don't think the Kirghiz & Tajik tribes have had nearly the studious attention that the Turkomen tribes have received. Only a few westerners have put much effort into the Uzbek tribes, largely the Lakai & Kungrad, although Kungrad is a regional term as well as a tribal term.
And, I suppose that with the large amount of older textile materials available in the former Soviet Union, there may be a certain amount of "reproduction" going on that might be hard to identify, particularly the assembly of a single piece from fragments of several older pieces.
In the particular case of the rooband, I have been told by one person that reproductions are being made in Tashkent. There is no way for me to verify this. Such an operation would have to have access to handspun and hand woven cotton cloth (karbos), and I have doubts regarding much recent production of such material.
Roobands are said to come from the Tajik Pamirs region, which holds both urban and rural population centers, which is not really very diagnostic. It's like saying something comes from Appalachia. It's probably rural or rustic, but could easily have come from a large town.
Regarding the designs, it's my understanding that the bird figures are a "male potency" thing and the florals are a "female fertility" thing. However, other than a few Russian ethnographers, I doubt that there is anyone alive today that has a valid explanation for the designs.
I am very fond of the belt. Janet Harvey (in Traditional Textiles of Central Asia) notes that it is common for a bride to make very special items for the groom, and she mentions belts specifically. So, given the high quality of work and festive appearance, I would guess it's probably a dowry item.
It wouldn't surprise me to find Chinese design elements in Tajik or Kyrgyz items. They, like eastern Uzbekistan, are regions that were conquered and held by the Mongols for centuries, and are in such close proximity to China that trade inspired design influence must certainly have found its way into region. You'll see that in a suzani I'll be posting a little later.
I love your belt. But you’ll need a knife for that sheath.
Something like the ones shown in this thread:
or, better like one of these:
First, Filiberto, those are some business-oriented knives behind that Tajik knifesmith. Very utilitarian, and with a shape that is just unusual enough so that I wonder if it is notable as a regional marker.
I had an opportunity (which is different from having the money) to buy a gorgeous ceremonial Uzbek knife several years ago: calligraphy cut into the blade, engraved, very nice. But too expensive.
Now, still undaunted, I'll move on to a topic that must be included in any presentation of Central Asian silk textiles: baghmal, or, silk velvet ikat.
While not exactly rare in the market, it is uncommon and generally pricey. The most expensive, and most beautiful, baghmal pieces are the intact 19th century overcoats (or better, mantles) like the one shown in a journal writeup by Wendel from a while back:
or this one, from Kalter's "Arts and Crafts of Turkestan", which also has some great embroidery on the sleeves:
Probably the next most common manifestation is the mounted rectangular panel, most likely cut from older overcoats that were otherwise unsalvageable. Again, an example from Wendel's journal piece:
The other way baghmal shows up is as smaller articles of clothing either purpose-made, or made from scraps of larger items, such as hats and caps. Like this one, with a long tail that hangs down the back of the wearer:
Before looking more closely, I think it would be useful to have a quick review of how baghmal is made (which is easy, because there's very little documentation). The best writeup I've been able to find is in Janice Harvey's "Traditional Textiles of Central Asia". She writes "For the manufacture a complex threading of a double warp was necessary. A foundation warp of plain orange or pink silk threads was threaded alternately with an ikat-dyed warp several times the length of the plain warp and set on a separate beam. As the weaving with a cotton weft progressed, the ikat-dyed warp was raised separately over grooved wires inserted on alternate picks. After a section was woven, a sharp blade was run down the grooves, leaving the velvet pile with its clear ikat pattern held by the alternate pick of cotton weft."
I haven't been able to find any images of Uzbek baghmal production facilities. However, in Italy, there is a facility in Firenze called the Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio, which seeks to "ensure the survival of the finest hand-weaving techniques, especially of the velvets and brocades of the Italian Renaissance". This includes the manufacture of handmade silk velvet. While not quite the same as silk ikat, the process is similar. The following diagram and image, of a worker slitting the velvet pile, are from their website (http://www.fondazionelisio.org/in00e.htm ):
Now, we can look a little closer at the cap, and enjoy this sumptuous and complicated bit of textile:
In these last two images we can see the structure up close, and in the worn areas, see both the cut and uncut loops of the ikat silk warp:
It is my understanding that there is now an effort underway in Uzbekistan to resurrect the production of baghmal, the old fashioned way. If this effort is successful, collectors will have to find a way to discriminate between new and old pieces. Here's some evidence; as part of UNESCOs worldwide cultural activities, it awarded the following Crafts prize:
Second Prize of US 3,000 dollars to Mr Rasuljon Mirzaakhmedov of Uzbekistan for reviving the art of weaving chenille – “Bakhmal”, a traditional octahedron ornament using the ikat technique.
Here is a pair of shoes / booties that appears to be from the same area.
They are the size of my palm. Found them in an old shop in Beijing.
Any comments about its origins.
First, Jaina, those look like Western China/East Turkestan or Mongol work to me. Very fine work on such small pieces.
Also, to fill out the Central Asian pieces a little more, I'll show you an embroidered womans cloak from what is now called Nuristan (Land of The Enlightened) or sometimes, Kohistan. It's a region that encompasses portions of far northeast Afghanistan and far northwest Pakistan. This area was previously referred to as Kaffiristan (Land of the Infidels), and may well represent the last conquest in the expansion of the Islamic world; it was forcibly converted from animism to Islam in the mid-1890s by AbdurRahman Khan.
This is a modern piece, probably from the 1960's or so. It's about 8 feet long and 5 feet high. All the embroidery work is done by hand.
There is a metal zipper along the bottom edge that serves no functional purpose; such decoration is common in Afghan and Pakistani work:
Some of the work is exceptionally fine; this area measures about 8 x 8 inches:
And for the unbelievers out there , here's an image of the back of the piece, showing that it is hand work:
I have several images of a tunic from the same region somewhere in the Turkotek archives; if I can't find the reference I'll repost them. It's also got some very nice handiwork.