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.

The illustration with the caption “The Ameer of Afghanistan at home: Life in His Majesty’s harem” was drawn by Balliol Salmon based on material supplied by Mrs. Kate Daly, who for many years was physician to the ladies of the Amir's harem, and who just before had returned to England. The illustration was published in The Graphic, 26 November 1904, p. 697.

"Atmaran, Hindoo of Peshawar" is the title of a coloured lithograph made by E. Walker (d. 1882), based on the work of James Rattray (1818-1854), who was based in Afghanistan during the First Anglo-Afghan war (1838-1842). Atmaram was a Hindu from Peshawar in modern northern Pakistan, who had become the 'minister' of a local Muslim and Uzbek ruler in northern Afghanistan, Mohammed Murad Beg of Kunduz. 

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 Textile Research Centre (TRC), Leiden, houses a necklace from among the Turkmen in northeastern Iran. The object is made of cotton, glass, metal and plastic. The necklace measures 39 x 10 cm.

'Beyond the Chador: Dress from the mountains and deserts of Iran' was the name of an exhibition mounted by the Textile Research Centre in Leiden, from 23 January until 29 August 2013. Visitors at the exhibition were struck by the sheer diversity, the bright colours of the garments and multitude of shapes, which constitute such a marked contrast with the dominant perception of Iranian clothing as being dull and uniform.

The collection of the Textile Research Centre (TRC), Leiden, includes an early twentieth century's woman's blouse (locally called a pirahan) from Iran that is decorated with badla work and applied beads. The blouse measures 54 x 30 cm; the sleeves are 32 cm long. This type of blouse is sometimes associated with Jewish brides. Badla work is called in Irab khus-duzi.

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.

A photograph by Antoin Sevruguin (1835-1933) shows corporal punishment being carried out in an embroidery workshop in Iran. The photograph was taken around 1880. 

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam houses a fragment of a cotton cloth with floral patterns embroidered in silk. It has been dated to around AD 1700 and its origin may be Iran or India. It measures 75.6 x 42.5 cm. It may belong to the same cloth as another fragment, also housed in the Rijkmuseum (BK-NM-3614).

The Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin houses some cutwork curtains from Afghanistan, which were 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 Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin holds a dervish cap from Tabriz, Iran. It has a circumference of 56 cm and is 14 cm high. It is made of silk, wool and metal thread. The main embroidery parts are worked in chain stitch. It dates to the early twentieth century or before.

The Textile Research Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands, houses a hand embroidered, cotton coat from among the Mangal, along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The coat is decorated with stylised flowers and geometric motifs, on the front and back.

The ground material of the coat is a coarsely woven cloth. The embroidery thread is dark red, made of wool. The stitches used are chain stitch and straight stitch .

The Mangal are a Pashtun tribe that lives on both sides of the modern border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

TRC online catalogue  (retrieved 26th August 2018).

WV (26th August 2018)

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, houses a piece of cloth, perhaps the cover for a cushion, which is made of cotton embroidered with silk worked in cross stitch. It measures 130 x 70 cm and is dated to the late seventeenth century. Formerly this style of work was regarded as copying knotted carpets, but some scholars now regard the embroideries as providing the original motifs.

A pair of embroidered woman's shoes from the Iranian province of Gilan, in the north of the country along the Caspian Sea, is housed in the collection of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands. The footwear dates to the twentieth century. The shoes are made of leather and cotton, and decorated with vegetable fibres. They were acquired in Gilan in 1998.

The Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin houses an embroidered prayer mat from Afghanistan. It measures 149 x 103 cm and is made of cotton.

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 Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin houses an embroidered holster for a handgun. It measures 24 x 15 cm and is made of cotton with multi-coloured embroidery, gold thread and applied pearls. One of the techniques used is the chain stitch.

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.

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