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A very unusual dress

A jumlo is an elaborately decorated, knee-length dress from Kohistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, formerly known as the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. Kohistan means mountainous land (koh, mountains, -stan, land). This difficult and remote region has a complex cultural history that reflects centuries of trade, migrations and intermingling of various groups from Afghanistan, Central Asia, Pakistan and northern India.
Some of the remotest groups live in the upper Swat and Indus valleys. The villages scattered throughout these valleys are famous for wool weaving and embroideries. In particular the women are known for creating finely embroidered garments. These items include a dress known as a jumlo, which is regarded as being one of the most elaborately embroidered objects from the entire region.

Jumlos are normally made from black cotton. The dress is made in three main parts, the bodice; long and wide sleeves, and a full skirt. The bodice of some of the more modern examples have short zips down the front so that the bodice can be easily opened for breast feeding a baby. These dresses are famous for their very full skirts, which are made from numerous triangular gores (insets, godets) hand-sewn together. Many of these skirts have hundreds of gores. One of the dresses in the TRC collection has over 800 gores (TRC 1999.090), while the other has a mere 100 plus (TRC 1998.032). The dresses are normally worn with a pair of trousers (shalwar) decorated with embroidered cuffs (paincha) and a similarly embroidered shawl (chuprai).

Jumlos are famous for the decoration on the wide sleeves and the front of the bodices. These are decorated with embroidery in a cross stitch and a darning stitch. The bodices and sleeves are embellished with numerous plastic, pearl and metal buttons, press-studs, coins, as well as metal amulets of various sizes and designs. Strings of metal beads threaded on cords are often used to finish off the cuffs. Buttons, beads and coins are also sewn onto make a tinkling sound when the wearer moves. This noise is said to scare away evil spirits.

The individual motifs are based upon roundels, star shapes, horns, floral diamonds and chevrons, depending on where the garment comes from. These can be worked in a wide variety of colours and motifs, but red, yellow and white are favourite, especially in the older garments. Symmetry is also very important and the bands are copied on each side of the garments. The lines of beads and buttons are precisely sewn on to reflect the designs and to emphasise the geometrical patterns.

There are two main jumlo styles, with numerous local variations. The two basic forms are from the Indus Kohistan to the east and the Swat Kohistan valleys to the west. In general, Indus Kohistan jumlos have very full skirts and are decorated with minute cross stitches, surface darning stitch, and sometimes tent stitch. The colours used for these garments tend to be dark red, ochre and white. The neck openings and front panel are normally heavily decorated. The individual motifs are based upon roundels, star shapes, horns and floral motifs. There are usually two roundels (gul, flowers) on the shoulders. In contrast, the jumlos from Swat Kohistan use mainly surface darning stitch, while the sleeve cuffs are decorated with cross stitch designs. These sleeves are often taken from older, Indus Kohistan dresses as these are regarded as being better quality work. The decoration down the front of a Swat Kohistan dress is based on two perpendicular panels. The designs are mainly diamonds and chevrons that are worked in a wide variety of colours. The more recent garments are often embroidered with very brightly coloured yarns.

The TRC collection includes a jumlo from Swat Kohistan (TRC 1999.090) dated to the 1960's or 1970's. Another example derives from the Swat Kohistan (TRC 1998.032) and has been dated to the 1950s or early 1960s, by comparing it with similar garments in other collections.

The display that is available for loan includes the two jumlo's, photographs and an accompanying text.

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TRC Gallery exhibition:
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