Iranian Plateau

Iranian Plateau

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in Central Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many ethnic groups from these various countries also live in Afghanistan. The materials, designs and colours used by the Afghan peoples for their embroidery reflect the central and important location of their country.

Baluch embroidery is a form of decorative needlework associated with the Baluchis. The Baluchis form an ethnic group in the extreme southeast of Iran and neighbouring parts of Pakistan (together generally called Baluchistan), and in the extreme southwest of Afghanistan. In addition, Baluch families can be found in India as well as in the Gulf States and Oman.

The chadari, also often called a burqa, is a form of head and body covering, often decorated with hand or machine embroidery, worn by many women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two names, chadari and burqa, have been used for this style of garment for a long time. Basically, burqa is the Pakistani term, while chadari is used in Afghanistan. However, most Westerners use the term burqa for both forms.

The British Museum, London, holds a long piece of embroidered cloth, some 6.5 by 1 m, which is described as a table cover or a floor mat, but which may be a kamarband, a traditional stretch of cloth wound around the waist. The ground material is cotton, and the embroidery is carried out in chain stitch with an ari hook, using silk thread.

Gul-i pirahan ('flower of the shirt') is the term for an ornamental roundel on Pashtun garments and other items. They are generally made of felt and covered with symbols and objects of good luck and fertility, such as coloured beads, cowrie shells and metal discs. These roundels are usually applied in pairs and stitched to the upper part of women’s dresses, bags and animal trappings.

The Hazaras from central Afghanistan are known for working embroidery on cotton or silk material enlivened by very fine lines of cross or herringbone stitch. Hazara embroidery tends to be a form of counted thread work rather than free style embroidery. It is generally very fine and precize.

The Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin holds a pair of embroidered puttees (leg bands) from among the Hazaras in Afghanistan. The embroidery includes metal thread. The bands measure c. 44 x 9 cm. They were bought in Kabul in 1971/1972. See also Hazara embroidery.

Kabuli embroidery is associated with Kabul, the capital and largest city of Afghanistan.

From the nineteenth century Kerman embroidery is characterised by a woollen ground with a twill weave. The ground is often red, but other colours, such as black, blue or white, are also found. Designs are based on the buteh motif and stylised flowers, which are worked in bands or individually, with coloured woollen threads.

The Lakai Uzbeks moved from Central Asia in the north and settled in the Kunduz area of northern Afghanistan, after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. They are particularly known for their embroidery. Their work is characterised by the use of the cross stitch, and the multi-coloured geometric motifs carried out on bags, belts and bands.

Naqsh work is one of the most famous and striking forms of Iranian embroidery, and was popular in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is characterised by its diagonal bands and patterns of very densely worked stitching. The embroidery was especially used for panels that were sewn onto garments, in particular the lower legs of women's voluminous trousers.

The collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, includes a piece of fabric that was probably meant for a pair of woman's trousers. The fragment measures 65 x 51 cm and is made of a cotton ground material with silk thread embroidery in outline stitch. The embroidery consists of diagonal bands in the Naqsh tradition.

Pateh (Farsi: پته‎‎ ), or pateh-duzi is a style of Iranian embroidery, in particular from Kerman province in the southeast. It may be linked to local carpet weaving, and many of the embroidered designs recall carpet motifs, such as the toranj (bergamia), sarv (cypress) and the buteh (paisley), but also the sun.

The collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London includes an Iranian, Qajar-period prayer mat. The mat measures 130 x 90 cm. The quilted mat has a yellow upper layer that is made of silk and cotton satin. It is decorated with silk thread using straight and running stitch (or back stitch?) and couching. The mat is padded and quilted with a cotton lining. The mat has a woven silk facing (edging).

The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, houses a Qajar-era (nineteenth century) covering from Iran, with silk thread embroidery in running stitch and surface darning, worked on a cotton ground material. It measures 101 x 102 cm. The embroidery shows a range of geometric motifs.

The Cleveland Museum online catalogue (retrieved 3rd September 2017).


The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, houses a Qajar-era (nineteenth century) floor covering from Iran, with silk thread embroidery on a cotton ground material. It measures 175 x 118 cm. The embroidery shows a large stylised representation of a lion in the centre, surrounded by various repeated hunting scenes, including a horseman with a bird of prey, a lion attacking a bull, and nightingales.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses a fragment of a tent panel from Qajar-period Iran. It is decorated partly in the typical Rasht-style (Rashti-duzi), named after an Iranian town north of the Elburz mountains close to the Caspian Sea. The panel is made of felted wool, embroidered with silk and metal thread and inlay patchwork (the latter being typical for Rasht work).

The Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin houses a quilted cap from Afghanistan, which was collected by Oskar von Niedermayer (1885-1948) when he was sent to Afghanistan by the German government to set up the Afghans against the British in India, during the First World War (1914-1918). The mission failed, and the German mission was forced to leave the country.

The Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, holds in its collection a ceremonial tent that is inscribed with the name of Muhammad Shah, the Qajar dynasty ruler of Iran between 1834 and 1848. The tent measures 360 x 400 cm, and the side panels reach to a height of 165 cm.

The National Army Museum in Chelsea, London, houses a shabraque (saddle blanket) that was reputedly acquired on 7th April 1842 during a British sortie against Afghan troops outside of Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, at the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842). The saddle cloth was allegedly taken by Captain (later Major) James Henry Fenwick of the 13th (1st Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot.

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