Posted by R. John Howe on 12-24-2004 05:18 AM:

Central Asian Embroidery Fragment

Dear folks -

I have a fair number of fragments as a result of collecting on a budget. I do try often to buy fragments that have a more wholistic appearance.

Here is one that is part of a camel trapping.

It is said to be the part of the trapping that resides on the camel's forehead when in place.

Here's a little closer look.

The Turkish dealer from whom I bought it said (after I had done so) that white ground embroidered camel trappings of this sort are as rare as white Turkmen chyrpys.

I thought of putting it up as a holiday textile but it is probably best placed in Pat's salon.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Tomlinson on 12-24-2004 08:28 AM:

Hi John

I think this is a terrific piece !!! Good buy !!

i am not a collector of central asian textiles though i do admire the occasional piece. this piece has that 'added' dimension that is not easily explained in words.

what are the dimensions? you call it a fragment. what is missing? looks pretty intact to me.

best regards
richard tomlinson

Posted by R. John Howe on 12-24-2004 08:48 AM:

Hi Richard -

It's 13 inches tall and 11 and 3/4 inches wide at its widest part.

It is definitely a part of a larger piece, since a camel trapping (even if it was only a head piece decoration) would need to be much larger.

But it does have a "complete" feel about its appearance.

I own another fragment that has a similar complete appearance. That one is the right front chest tab for a Kurdish horse cover. It is "complete" in the sense that it was not cut from a larger piece but came off the loom "whole" as I have it. But it was sewn together with others to make up a "complete" horse cover.

That is the sense in which this head piece, too, is also likely a part.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 12-24-2004 09:28 AM:

Hi People

Here is a complete camel trapping like the one of which John's was a part once upon a time. It isn't nearly as nice a piece, but you can make out the head covering near the top of the photo.


Steve Price

Posted by Steve Price on 12-24-2004 09:56 AM:

Hi Folks

Here is a piece of equipment that my son uses in his role as ice hockey goaltender. Notice the similarity in shape to the camel trapping head covering piece, from which it is undoubtedly derived. True to tradition, it is embroidered (the lettering, some ancient code made up of symbols resembling the letters N*U*T**C*A*S*E, is machine embroidery).


Steve Price

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 12-24-2004 12:39 PM:



There is certainly something heraldic and armorial about your piece.
It was obviously used for decoration, but is it possible that it is vestigal armor?
The diamonds on the full piece Steve shows are reminiscent of chain-mail.
I know that horses were armored in medieval times. I don't know about camels.
Here is a bit about horse armour from:

Horse armour made of steel that completely clad a horse first appeared about 1450. The earliest survivng example, by the Master Pier Innocenzo da Fachno in Milan, is preserved in the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien. To own a horse was considerable status symbol as well as a large investment. For this reason it is understandable that a knight took great pains to protect his horse.It was considered to be unchivalrous to harm the horse of an opponent because a horse was considered a valuable trophy meant to be captured, not distroyed and in a tournament this meant instant disqualification. In battle, knight discovered that their steeds were vulnerable by foes such as archers who did not feelcompelled to obey the code of chivalry, and who themselves had little use for the war horse. The first trappings were introducted in the thirteenth century mainly as protection from missiles (arrows, rocks, etc). First made of fabric, then later of mail, the development paralleled the of armor for men. Solid elements of armour such as chanfrons to protect the face of the horse, crinet for protecting the neck, peytrel for the front chest, flanchard side protection and crupper for the rear of the horse was gradually added during the fifteenth century. Many of these early armour elements were not neccessarily made of steel plates but were often of hard-boiled leather.

And here is a page on camel armour:

You say Central Asian. Could it be Tekke?

Patrick Weiler

Posted by R. John Howe on 12-24-2004 02:17 PM:

Dear folks -

This thread about this quite fragile little piece has triggered some unexpected associations.

Pat, this is a piece of rather delicate emboidery. It may look "shield-like" as an image, but there is nothing armorial about it when one has it in one's hands. I think there might be concern, on the days when it was on the camel, about whether it might survive 'til sunset.

"Heraldic," though, makes great sense to me since camel trappings were essentially an attempt to "pretty" one's camel and it might be logical to have designs attributed more specifically, like Scottish kilts or those on Irish Aran sweaters.

Steve, to be firm, regardless of shape, this piece was applied to the camel a couple of joints higher than the hockey device you provide is applied to humans. I have heard that some camels are nut cases but did not know that they might need one.

I do have to acknowledge that these associations are not without morphological merit.

About the attribution: I cannot remember what the dealer claimed. I'm not sure we know that much yet about Central Asian embroidery, at least I don't. Hence the generality.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 12-26-2004 06:47 PM:

Pat -

I was not reading carefully enough and went right by your word "vestigal."

Considered from that perspective, your thought about such a camel cover perhaps apeing an armorial head piece and a back covering of chain mail seems both imaginative and possible.

I think I remember Elena Tsareva saying that her curatorial responsibilities at the St. Petersburg museum, where she is importantly in charge of Turkmen material, include "armor."

If that is correct, she might have some notions of whether there is any hint of the suggestion you make in the information available to her.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 12-30-2004 08:40 AM:

Dear folks -

I sent the link for this thread to Peter Andrews, the rug scholar in Germany, who has extensive field experience studying Turkmen things.

He said the following in his first reply:

"Dear John

A nice piece. Yes, it is evidently the part of a duye basliq which
covers the face of the camel. To judge from the prevalence of pistachio green, it could be Ersari (this applies to a wide variety of embroidered clothing). What is a bit surprising is the presence of the three-pronged motifs - apparently buds, and no doubt signalling fertlity. I do not recall having seen these elsewhere.

Best regards - Peter"

I thanked him and probed his feelings about the notion that there might be echoes of armor in such covers.

Here is what he said in his second response:

Dear John

I forwarded your picture to Hermann Rudolph, an old friend of mine who has long experience of Turkmen embroidery. He too agreed that he had never seen a white-ground piece like this.

He concurred that it is easier to say what it is not, i.e. Yomut or
Teke, than what it is. Given the green, Ersari is a strong possibility, as I said. He also thought it might be a very old teke piece, on the grounds of the white ground (on a par with white-ground asmaliq), and the probability that the Teke formerly used more green than they do now.

I do not agree that there is any relationship with armour, except in the vaguest sense. Firstly, if you look at Persian miniatures, you will see that horses were never armoured in the way that Western palfreys were- that is probably compatible only with the heavy horses we used - not the much lighter animals in the Middle East and central Asia. Secondly, the use of lappets (which are missing here) on the basliq, dizlik and asmaliq (when of cloth) has a parallel with both Buddhist temple-hangings and
shaman costume. I believe the underlying idea is of light components which will float or flap in motion, evoking the spirit world. I am certain that the parallels between shaman costume and some elements of women's costume, (and that would include wedding trappings) are not accidental: there are too many parallels, as I showed in a lecture to the Turkmen Circle in
Hamburg a year or two ago. It seems that the same belief system underlies both, partly apotropaic, partly as metaphors for existemce in the the upper world.

Best regards - Peter"

My thanks to Peter for these knowledgeable comments.


R. John Howe