Uzbek Embroidered Clothing (Afghanistan)

Modern Uzbek woman's coat from Afghanistan. Modern Uzbek woman's coat from Afghanistan. Courtesy Textiles Research Centre, acc. no. TRC 2008.0232a.

The Uzbek are a Turkic people of Central Asia and they live primarily in modern Uzbekistan, but there are large populations in northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Uzbek men and women’s clothing may be embroidered (the decoration on men’s clothing tends to be more discrete). Until recently, many of the clothes of the Uzbeks in Afghanistan and beyond were still made of hand woven silk, for the women, and striped silk and cotton for the men. Much of the embroidery is linked to the trousseau that the bride will bring with her on her marriage. The embroidery is carried out sometimes for many years preceding the wedding by the girl/bride, and her family and friends. These embroidered goods include the festive garments, handkerchiefs, leather boots, door hangings, bedlinen, and also the covers for the wedding mirror and the bags to hold the Koran. Also noteworthy is the embroidered cloth for the bridegroom's horse, together with head ornaments and bands.

During the nineteenth century in Afghanistan, Uzbek dress for men generally consisted of a long shirt (kuylak) of cotton, under trousers (ischton, balak) also of cotton, which were sometimes embroidered, especially down the sides and along the ankle cuffs; an under kaftan (chapan) and then one or more over kaftans (chapan) depending upon the status and wealth of the wearer. Both the under and outer kaftans reached to mid-calf height, so that embroidered trousers and boots would be visible. The outer kaftan was kept in place with a belt (kamar), which was often decorated with silver or gold plaques.

Headgear consisted of a small cap (tubetaikaduppi) over which was wound a turban. Originally these caps were slightly pointed. There were many different types of caps, depending on the social status of the wearer, their religion (Jewish or Muslim), occupation and the occasion. Most were embroidered or quilted into intricate designs.

Footwear consisted of high, leather boots suitable for horse riding. These were often embroidered with intricate designs similar to those found on the kaftans.

By the end of the twentieth century Uzbek dress for men is basically a Westernized outfit consisting of a shirt with trousers. However, on special occasions, an Uzbek festival outfit is worn consisting of shirt and trousers, over which is worn an ikat or embroidered coat and an imposing headgear.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Uzbek women’s dress basically consisted of a pair of wide trousers, often with the upper half in cotton, while the lower, visible section was of an ikat material. Over this was worn a tunic (mursak), which usually had a long slit down the front so that breast feeding an infant was easy. Over the trousers and top was worn a kaftan. These garments were often embroidered with large, colourful floral motifs. At home it was normal for a girl or woman to wear a cap, with a panel down the back of the cap that was used to cover the hair. Both the cap and the hair panel were often made out of velvet and elaborately embroidered. The main outer garment is a long coat with false sleeves that is draped over the shoulders. The outer coat was often embroidered, but not quite as vividly as the dress.

By the end of the twentieth century embroidery patterns on garments were usually based around a central rosette and either radiate out or are used as a frame with designs tending to be rounded and sinuous in shape with vivid, contrasting colours. What look like bouquets of stylized flowers often decorate the slits on the lower side seams of coats.

Until recently, in northern Afghanistan, around the town of Andkhoy, one could still find locally produced so-called Bukharan tambour embroidery, made with gold and silver thread. These were embroidered by men, as women were regarded as unfit to work with gold thread, since during their monthly periods might affect the gold's sheen.

See also the TRC Needles entries on a coat from Uzbekistan from the late nineteenth century, and on Lakai Uzbek  embroidery, and the TRC digital exhibition Afghan Dress (TRC, Leiden, 2017). See also the TRC digital exhibition Dressing The Stans: Textiles, Dress and Jewellery from Central Asia (TRC, Leiden, 2017).

Sources: PAIVA, Roland, and Bernard DUPAIGNE (1993). Afghan Embroidery, Lahore/Rawalpindi/Karachi: Ferozsons, and Gillian VOGELSANG and Willem VOGELSANG, Encyclopedia of Embroidery from Central Asia, the Iranian Plateau and the Indian Subcontinent. London: Bloomsbury Publishing 2021.

TRC online catalogue (retrieved 18th April 2017).


Last modified on Monday, 17 May 2021 17:07
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