Out of the Closet – A Central Asian Garment

Carpets, textiles, embroideries; all things tactile be they Turkish or Central Asian, from this or that corner of the globe, all have held a level of fascination for me.

In my previous post I wrote about the challenge of speaking in public.  Dare I call it a phobia but whatever was at work in my psyche as an adult I have avoided situations where I have had to address an audience larger than a handfull of people.  I have had encouragement from many people in my life to break beyond this self imposed limitation. One quote that remains in my mind was from my daughter Leah, my business partner, who said, “Mom, you are passionate and knowledgable about this area just let your passion show.”  There was a definite ring of truth to her encouragement. So standing on the foundation of so many words of support, I broke through the barrier that has muzzled me publicly for years.  My thanks to each of you who spoke words of encouragement to me and helped me to open my mouth and speak.

Having the opportunity to do a presentation on my collection of Turkish and Central Asian garments was fun for me as well as informative for those who attended.  One garment that was not as familiar to all of those in attendance was a Tajik paranja.

Lining of Paranja

This garment worn mainly in urban centres by Tajik and Uzbek women is cape like in terms of construction with no functional sleeves and was worn falling from the crown of the head in conjunction with a ….black horsehair veil (chachvan).  The paranja/robe has long ‘vestigial sleeves’ falling down the back of the robe.  While researching this garment I was surprised to find that a garment of a similar style dated back over 2500 years. I had assumed this was a garment of Islamic origins but it in fact predates Islam.  I wrote earlier about the Pazyryk felts of the 4th century BC and the extraordinary beauty and powerful presence these pieces exuded at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.  I was interested that this style of robe was found in one of the Pazyryk mounds of the same era when they were excavated in the late 1940’s in the Altai Mountains of Siberia.

The exterior of the Tajik paranjas dating from the 19th and 20th centuries tend to be of  understated coloured silk or cotton pinstripe but it is the colourful linings which I find most interesting.  It is common to find wonderful ikat linings around the interior openings of the robe.  The main lining of the body are often Russian trade chintz although the older pieces are lined completely with pieced ikat textiles.  One can visualize women walking in the street with the dour exterior of the paranja and the flashes of the magnificent ikat linings proclaiming status and presence.

The embroidery on the exterior of the paranja is less fine than the workmanship on Turkmen chyrpy which are close in terms of the cloak like design with the ‘false’ sleeves hanging down the back.  There are also more attached tassels, beads and pieces of silver ornamentation found on the Tajik-Uzbek paranjas. The paranja have an attached band at the interior top of the garment which is used to secure the garment in place and to keep it from slipping from the head of the wearer.

Catherine and Terri modelling the Paranja

During the presentation for the New Calgary Rug and Textile Club a friend helped by modelling the paranja.  Having the garment on a person helped to illustrate how it was worn and how the false arms fall down the back of the robe.  I provided a handout of some of the sources that I had used when researching various topics that were part of the presentation.  I found the website for the Powerhouse Museum of Sydney, Australia of particular interest with it’s well catalogued collections.

It may seem a leap from carpets and kilims to shalvar, socks, hats and chapans but there is in fact connections of interest.  Be it the spinning of the fibres, the dyes used, weaving of the textiles, design motifs and the colour used the crossover between the clothing of the regions and the flatweaves and rugs is an interesting area to explore and a path to a broader appreciation of the design and colour aesthetics of  the peoples.



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