"Desert Flowers" - a talk to the Embroiderers Guild part 2.
The second half of a talk that Silk Road director Peter was invited to give to the Sheffield Embroiderers Guild early December 2019.
We continued the theme of embroidered wedding shawls with an excursion to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is an Islamic republic and representation of living forms isn't permitted, so the embroidery style is mostly geometric in design. The precision of the embroidery is superb and reminiscent of the tiled designs we're familiar with in Islamic architecture. The tidiness of the threads on the reverse side also demonstrates the skill of the embroiderer. Unlike the embroidery of Rajasthan and Gujarat green is a predominant colour, also indicative of an Islamic culture.
Phulkari is a similar style of embroidery found in the Indian Punjab among the Sikh community, the stitchwork is similar in its consistent geometric style but the colours are gold, orange, yellow and white.
One of the most popular items in our old shop Bringing It All Back Home (yes, it was named after the Bob Dylan album) were embroidered Kuchi dresses from Afghanistan. They were made from printed Russian fabrics with an embroidered bodice and cuffs. Several of the audience had vivid memories of Bringing It All Back Home and those Kuchi dresses and one lady had got married in a rare white one - I think we only ever had a handful of the white ones partly because of the difficulty of keeping the fabric clean in the tailors' shops.
This is a vintage mid 20th century embroidered velvet Afghan dress from that same time.
My memories of Afghanistan are a little blurred, our trip had been somewhat back to front due to the vagaries of the cheap Russian Aeroflot flights which had taken us to India rather than Kabul as planned. After some time in India my friend had flown to Kabul and I'd followed on later.
I remember trying to find him in a guest house on Chicken Street and seeing a note to where he'd moved on to. A dozen of us slept on the floor in a circle with our feet pointing to stove in the middle of a room. It was a cold April and there was snow on the Hindu Kush, everything else seemed to be shades of brown: the streets, the clothes, the buildings, the men's skin. I saw no women and, compared to India, the men looked wiry and hard.
The flat bread was the best I've ever tasted, strong and bitter. I bought a metal chest and packed in some embroideries and saddle bags. The flight back to London was delayed for a day and I got separated from my bags and my insulin. A soldier retrieved my insulin and I spent a cold sleepless night in a basic hotel. Later that year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Shortly after this Kay and I flew to Kabul but weren't allowed off the plane and flew on to Delhi.
Afghan embroidery can stunning, this Embroidered Purse has superb fine stitchwork and the Embroidered Hat is a delight.
Many Afghans are still nomadic and these next items of V shaped embroideries, called Saye Gosha, are used by Central Asian nomads to identify an individual's bedding when its stacked inside the tent. Bought in Afghanistan but attributed to the nomadic Lakai Uzbek tribe.
Saye Gosha can be used as an unusual wallhanging or to decorate the backs of chairs or sofas. The second photo shows the reverse side and the type of Russian fabric that was used for our Kuchi dresses at Bringing It All Back Home.
The talk returned to India with a pause to look at a Wedding Shawl from Sindh - the desert region of southern Pakistan that borders Rajasthan and Gujarat and which shares many cultural similarities. Another name for this type of shawl is an Odhani. The embroidered motif is stunning and uses a variety of stitches to represent the neem flower. Neem has antiseptic qualities and a frequent sight in India is people using small neem twigs as toothbrushes.
Single floral motifs are spaced over the bedcover in addition to a central and two offset clusters of bouquets. A superb example of the magnificent embroidery techniques of Sindh and Gujarat.
Wedding Shawl from Sindh.
To be continued.