Steve Price on Artful African and Asian Garments

On September 21, 2019 Steve Price

*

*

gave a Rug and Textile Morning Appreciation Morning program on “Artful African and Asian Garments.”

*

*

Tom Goehner, the TM Education Curator, introduced Steve, saying:

“Steve is a collector and the leading editor and technical manager of the textile discussion site Turkotek.com.  He written for such textile journals as Hali and Oriental Rug Review, and has given previous RTAMs here at the Textile Museum. 

In his professional life, Steve is Emeritus Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.”

Since he was a professor, Steve felt obliged to give a framing lecturette, but promised that it would be short.

*

*

He started by taking a step back, saying “Why to we collect textiles?”  He suggest that sometimes it is rooted in aesthetics, sometimes it begins when we acquire travel souvenirs, and sometimes it may originate in acquisitive, psychological tendencies best not discussed in public.”  But, he continued “a related question is Why do we wear clothes?”  He ticked off some of the reasons:

  • Modesty: in most societies it is seen as desirable to hide the genitals

and, with women, breasts.

*

*

  • Protection from the elements.  Also to lessen the impact of surroundings, jungle-like plant life, etc.  Below is a Chinese coir raincoat assembly

*

*

  • Adornment: the wearer’s view of what is “beautiful.”  (Steve said that he had selected the shirt he wore to make him look nice).

*

*

  • Heraldic purposes: a military uniform, 

*

*

(above is Prince Charles in one of the military uniforms he is eligible to wear)

A priest’s cassock, or even just a clerical collar.

*

*

  • Talismanic (believed to have occult powers, especially protective).  Varies from culture to culture. Materials and designs in costumes and clothing are often used to invoke such powers. 

We didn’t have any African masks in the room, but some like the one below were believed when worn in ceremonies to have such powers.

*

*

Chinese garments are often full of symbols thought to make long-life, happiness, good fortune, etc. more likely.  Below is a fragment of a Chinese child’s hat the includes many such symbols.

*

*

Steve said that he would present garments that he brought, starting with those from Africa and proceeding to Central Asia and finally, from mainland Southeast Asia.

P1

*

*

P1 is a Nigerian man’s robe, made by the Hausa or Nupe of Nigeria.  It is indigo-dyed and embroidered. There would be trousers of the same “stuff” worn loose and flowing.

Details of P1.

*

*

*

*

*

P2

*

*

Ewe people.  Motifs on stripes have meaning.

*

*

Notice that the motifs don’t go all the way to the borders.

*

*

*

*

P3

*

*

Ashante.  Note that the motifs go all the way to the borders.  This is similar on the back.

*

*

*

*

*

P4

*

*

Ashante, 1930 or older. silk and cotton.

Several designs suggest a village chief or leader.  Motifs are not specific to a locale, but are selected by what the weaver or wearer wants to convey.

Details of P4.

*

*

*

*

*

*

Now Steve moved to Central Asia, coats in particular.

P5

*

*

This coat is an Uzbek ikat coat.   It’s for a man, although small by western standards.  It’s said that Uzbek warriors were awarded such a coat for each enemy head.

*

*

Lined with Russian printed cotton.

Other details of P5.

*

*

*

*

*

P6

*

*

Another Uzbek ikat coat.  This time probably for a woman.  It appears  to be all silk.

*

*

Inside is Russian printed cotton.

*

*

*

Additional P6 details.

*

*

*

*

P7

*

*

Turkmen chyrpy.   Embroidered in silk. 

*

*

Worn as a mantle, not as a coat.  False sleeve hang down the back.

*

*

Again the lining is Russian printed cotton.

Additonal details of P7.

*

*

*

P8

*

*

Another Turkmen chyrpy.  Inside Russian cotton {below) is more muted.

*

*

*

Notice that different printed cottons are used at the inside edges and slits.  This seems to be general Turkman usage.

Other P8 details.

*

*

*

Steve put P8 on to show how it is worn.

*

Here he is with it on front the front.

*

*

And here is what he looks like with it on from the back.

*

*

Notice the small piece in the image above that connects the two false sleeves.

I said that I collect on a budget and here, below, is as much of a chyrpy as I can afford.  🙂

*

(actual size: H, 5.25 inches, W, 2.25 inches)

*

*

P9

*

*

P9 is a yellow-ground Turkmen chyrpy.  Again, the bridge and sleeve extensions are different.

*

*

The usual Russian printed cotton lining, with striped designs used at the edges, except for a boteh design at the top and shoulders.

*

*

*

*

A question arose about whether chyrpy ground color had meaning.

Some say that chyrpy ground color signals social status:

  • Dark ground – unmarried girls and women
  • Red ground – married woman
  • Green and yellow ground – more mature women, 40-ish.
  • White ground – a woman of at least 60 who is seen to have been a “good citizen”

The conversation in the Myers Room suggested that this is a market construction and that there is little evidence of it in the literature.

I knew that Elena Tsareva had indicated in Hali, 198, pp. 50-59 that she was engaged in a study of Central Asian garments (a particular ikat coat collection).  I thought that she might have or or encountered some information on this chyrpy ground color question and so I wrote her.

She has responded and agreed to let me quote her:

Coloring of chorpy does have meaning.

On the one side — it was the mark of age: thus, the white ones were used by aged women, no difference the tribe or her family status in the tribe.

Green (made of yashil keteni) and probably also red ones (of gyrmyzy keteni) were worn by brides since wedding and until 40 years old [Morozova A.S., 1971, p. 216].

The less studied are the yellow ones, although they are most numerous in Turkmenistan and Russian museums’ collections. One of the reasons is that that yellow chyrpy were out of use in the late 19th century already, so local population sold them rather eagerly to the Russians when the latter started to buy local works of folk art for museums [1] and international exhibitions [2]. Though pretty numerous, yellow head mantels are no way enough studied, and basic reason is the same – people who sold the pieces and gave information about them did not remember their origin and manner of wearing for sure. Thus –Morozova said they were used by women after 40 [3], while Samuil Dudin wrote that yellow chyrpy were made for unmarried girls, and were out of use before the beginning of the 20th century [4]; while general modern opinion is that girls did not wear head mantles at all.

What I know is that most of yellow silk chyrpy were mostly made and used by Tekke. Yet another tribe to use yellow silk as a material for female headgear were the Salor: their brides put on a yellow dastor head cover on the second day of wedding, and wore it until 40 years old.

Below is quotation of my never published cataloque of textile objects from Halili collections.

The chyrpy under description belongs to the so-called yashyl – green colour – group, though here the shade looks more blue than green. This unclear definition of the tint could have happened because of the age of the piece.

Green was obtained through a two-baths system of dyeing: the textile was dyed dark blue first, and then with yellow. Depending on the quality of dyeing the pigment could have disappeared with time. On the other hand, in many languages there are no special words to differentiate green and blue (Persian kabu+d, for example), so this peculiarity can be another possibility to explain the case. Still the third variant can be that the name of the whole piece was defined by the colour of the collar, which is of beautiful green shade.

If compared to the yellow chyrpy in the collection, the piece has slightly different cut, as has additional gores at the sides. This element makes silhouette more fitting at the waist which is a typical feature for green/blue kind of head mantles as a whole. If to speak about chyrpy cut in general the number of small details we see is amazing: possibly there is no other similar complicated piece of clothes in Central Asian costume, with numerous tiny details, made of various textiles and with different finish.

Most visual part of that variety is textiles, here we find blue, green, violet (side gores) and red (details of lining) keteni silk of local work; imported red cloth; urban-produced cotton print of Central Asian and Iranian work. Amazing thing is that all that variety is not accidental, but follows a stable tradition, with none or very little variations from one piece to another.

This, again, underlines a special ritual meaning of the piece for Turkmen female society which had its own priorities, believes and rituals, not known or very little known to the men. Much of that knowledge is now gone and possibly lost forever as was never described by early ethnographers. The latter were mainly men thus had no chance to talk to women in a pretty much closed Central Asian world, so there is very little hope that we can identify the reasons which rouse Turkmen women to make extremely complicated cuts, follow a very strict order of putting parts of their mantles together, use different linings, and so on.

One should not forget that all that was made in absolutely inconvenient conditions, and that fine silk is a very difficult textile to work with.

[1] One of the first collections of Turkmen clothes we know was composed by K.P. von Kaufman (1818—1882), first Turkestan General Governor. In 1902 his collections were partly sold, and partly donated to the former Dashkov Ethnographic Museum in Moscow, which museum was broken up in 1930s, and handled to several Moscow and St-Petersburg museums. Turkmen chyrpy from K.P. Kaufman collection now belongs to the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), coll. no. 8761

[2] The first exhibitions which showed Turkmen costume to broad European public were: Russian Ethnographic Exhibition in Moscow, 1867, Turkestan Exhibition in Peterhof, 1869, International Textile Exhibition in ST-Petersburg, 1870, Moscow Polytechnical Exhibition, 1872; International Exhibition in Vienna, 1873 and so on.

[3] Morozova A.S., 1971. Turkmenskaya odezhda vtoroi poloviny XIX—nachala XX v.//Zanyatiya i byt narodov Srednei Azii. Sredneaziatskii etnograficheskii sbornik (Turkmen clothes of the second half of the XIX—early 20 c.//Occupations and way of life of the people of Central Asia. Central Asian Ethnographic studies), issue III. Leningrad, pp. 168—223.

My thanks to Elena for these indications, some, never before published.

More recently I happened on to some email exchanges with Peter Andrews and a German friend of his Hermann Rudolf, who collects Turkmen embroidery.

I mentioned this question about whether the ground colors of Turkman chyrpys had social meaning and they both indicated that they did.

Peter spoke first, saying: “

“The information of the colour code to Turkmen chirpis was published decades ago by, I think, Beresneva, and I subsequently repeated it, so far as I remember, in in the Turcoman of Iran catalogue…I remember we repeated it at the TM in Washington when Mugul gave a talk on Turkmen costume some 30 years ago.”

Then Hermann said more specifically: “

“With regard to your query about chyrpys and the meaning of their colours, according to all accounts the various colours – green, blue, red / yellow / white – do have meaning. Chyrpys are worn by married women, and the different colours indicate the woman’s age group. They are therefore a social indicator. I have been told this several times during my stays in Turkmenistan (I was there 12 times, since 1993, about 9 months all in all), and read it in various articles and books.

“This applies to the Teke:

“Green, blue-green, and red chyrpys are worn by newly-married and young women (and older ones, if the woman simply keeps wearing her old chyrpy)

“Yellow ones are worn by women from about 40 years of age onwards

“White ones are worn by women from about 60 years of age onwards

“You can quote:

“Peter A. Andrews: “Crowning the Bride. Some Historical Evidence on Turkmen Women’s Costume (…). With Drawings by Mugul Andrews”.

                           In: Folk 33 (1991): 67-106. See p. 101

“Hermann Rudolph: “Schutz und Segen. Abwehr- und Fruchtbarkeitsmagie in der turkmenischen Frauentracht. In: Eothen 4 (2007):303-356.  Colours see pp. 325-328.

                            (Protective and fertility magic in Turkmen women’s costume.)”

Then, Peter spoke again: 

“Hermann has it right. There is no need to look further.

“The only things I should add is that the age of 40 is drawn from the Prophet Muhammad’s own marriage, and that the Turkmen appear to regard indigo blue as a variety of green. When the Yomut used the chirpi (they no longer do), it was green, but plain apart from applied silver ornament (see my article cited by Hermann). The Teke ones are invariably indigo.

“Both, so far as I know, are referred to as yashil chirpi, green chirpi. By the way it is a nonsense to use an I and a y in chirpy: the Turkmen letter is a dotless I in both positions, sounding like the e in butter.”  

Now Steve moved to southeast Asia.

P10

*

*

P10  was woven in Laos by one of the Thai-speaking people, the T’ai Daeng.  It is a head cloth worn by a priestess.

*

*

Snake images.  One reason many cultures consider snakes to be sort of magical is their ability to move without appendages.  

*

*

*

*

P11

*

*

Details of P11.

Laos.  Motifs include what appear to be birds and elephants.  Birds are considered special in many cultures because of their ability to fly.  Humans can’t even do that badly.  The elephant’s power is obvious.

*

*

*

*

*

*

P12

*

*

Laos, T’ai Hun skirt.

Tapestry borders.  Ground is cotton. patterned areas are brocaded in silk.

Ends (top and bottom) are  are subject to wear and are replaced when necessary.

Details of P12.

*

*

*

*

P13

*

*

Laos, T’ai Hun, skirt.  Similar to P12.

It’s Steve’s opinion that the most sophisticated weavings in the world are those of Laotian hill tribes.

Details of P13.

*

*

*

*

P14

*

*

Cambodia ikat skirt. Silk

Details of P14.

(color difference due to camera and lighting)

*

*

*

*

*

P15

(folded double; it’s twice as wide)

*

*

P15 is another Cambodian ikat skirt.

Details of P15.

*

*

*

*

*

P16 and P17

Two large pieces had hung on the front board and Steve moved to treat them next.

*

*

Steve said that he believes these two pieces were used either as temple hanging or as pantaloons.  He thinks the patterns suggest that they were temple hangings.  Very fine silk.

Let’s treat them one at a time, the one on the right first (we’ll call it P16)

*

*

One detail of P16.

*

*

P17

(the one on the left above)

*

*

Details of P17.

*

*

P18

*

*

P18 was shown horizontally.  It is Cambodian, silk.  It is a type of unisex pantaloon that you might remember seeing in movies like King and IKismet, and Alladdin.

Details of P18.

*

*

*

Steve demonstrated how this panel was converted into a pantaloon.

First the panel is taken behind the wearer’s back and then twisted together in the front.

*

*

Next the twisted part is taken down between the wearer’s legs, brought up in back and tucked into the back.

*

*

My camera work wasn’t quick enough to capture this pass and tucking.  But Steven has given this demonstration before in another session and for clarity I have put it in here.

Here’s a TM volunteer modeling this same hipwrapper.  It starts by being put around her, kind of like a horizontal sling. 

SE4tryona

Next, she holds the two sides together around her waist (I think a clip of some sort was used by the Khmer; she’s holding it closed with her hand).   

SE4tryoneb

Steve is holding the ends of the sling, and twists them together to form sort of a rope.  The rope then get’s passed through her legs and the end is tucked into the waist at the back.

SE4tryonc

SE4tryond

This is a unisex garment.  Yul Brynner wore one in his role as the King in The King and I.

MV5BMTI5MDkzMzYzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA5NTczMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR11,0,214,317_

  *

P19

*

I brought five pieces to Steve’s program.  The first one I want to show here is African and relates to the mainland SE Asian piece P18.

I own only one, sub-Saharan, African textile,

 

a Dida, tie-dyed, tube skirt from the Ivory Coast.  Finger woven from raffia fibers.  The Met bought one, a while back, and took out a page in Hali to brag about it. 

I showed this piece, recently, in another RTAM and had Julie Geschwind in the audience, who knows such textiles, said that she had another, and a hat that goes with it.

She also knows how such pieces are made and demonstrated that, a bit, in this session.  

*

*

She had said, previously, that the big toes are important in the way that such pieces are “plaited” (her term).

She said the plaiter sits on the ground with her legs extended and stretches a cord in a double pass between her big toes.  This cord goes around these two toes and forms an oval basis for the beginning of this plaited garment (which is woven as a tube skirt).  The plaiter works with strands of raffia plaiting them toward her from this “waist” cord.  This plaiting process uses no equipment except the two big toes.

Once the garment has been plaited, it is tie-dyed in a way that creates a definite external texture on the tube ‘skirt.”  (The  inside of this garment remains smooth and comfortable to wear.)

*

*

This garment is put on, initially, as a tube skirt, open at the bottom.  But it is not worn in that way.  Like the process demonstrated in P18 above the strands at the bottom of the skirt are twisted together taken through the legs front to back and are tucked into the waist in the back, converting the seeming skirt into a pantaloon.

She said that such pantaloons are worn by both sexes.

I brought a second piece that I think may be African.  It could be a garment.  It is cotton, woven in six strips and then sewn together.  Nice, fresh colors.  I think it has no particular age.

P20

*

*

*

The closest thing I’ve seen is:

Aso oke fabric, (Yoruba: așǫ oke, pronounced ah-SHAW-okay) is a hand-woven cloth created by the Yoruba people of west AfricaAso oke means “top cloth” in the English language, denoting cloth of high status.[1][2] Usually woven by men, the fabric is used to make men’s gowns, called agbada, women’s wrappers, called iro, and men’s hats, called fila.

Aso oke is from the Yoruba culture in OndoOyoOgunEkitiLagos, and Osun States in southwestern Nigeria and Ajase in southeastern Benin Republic.

The way of making the cloth has remained the same for centuries, however new techniques and production methods have been looked into to eliminate the weight and thickness of the aso oke cloth, and to make it more accessible for casual wear.

*

*

But I’m not sure at all.  I don’t think this is an important textile,  but I’d be interested to hear from anyone who can tell me more about it.

My second piece was Chinese and embroidered.  It was a decoration for the lower edge of a gown sleeve.  The embroidery in silk is very fine.

P21

*

*

Details of P20.  I think it might have some age but to not know.  A curator I showed it to said that real collectors collect them in pairs, confirming my lowly place in the textile collector world.

*

*

A second Chinese piece I brought was a mounted and framed fragment of a Chinese child’s embroidered hat.

*

*

You saw this image at the beginning.  Here are some closer details of parts of it.

*

*

An expert on Chinese textiles told me that the face on this part of it indicates that it was likely made by an non-Han embroiderer.

*

*

*

*

Another Chinese piece I brought was the one below.  It is the front of a child’s rain cape made in rural southwest non-Han China.  It is made of raffia plant fibers but looks like a bearskin.

P23

*

*

Below is a look at its back. It is not woven but instead plaited or knotted.

*

It is one of my responses to the color, color, color mantra that I use to show that texture can also be important.

I quite like it but my wife would like to see it get out of our apartment.

I brought one Central Asian child’s hat.  It was described as Afghan.

P24

*

*

Roger Pratt had brought some SE Asian textiles and we finish with them.

Roger began with a cotton, stole woven in Gujarat, India.  He showed an identical piece from a V&A exhibition in Sarasota, Florida.

*

P25

*

*

P25 is a stole quite similar to one featured in the traveling exhibition of The Fabric of India from holdings of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and private collections that was at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida from July 7 to October 13 2019.

Both were the workmanship one of the artisan Dayalal Kudecha in Bhujodi, Kutch, Gujarat circa 2014. (See page 220 of the Exhibition Catalog V&A Publishing 2019, edited by Rosemary Crill, illustrating how traditional techniques are being adapted to a contemporary context).  

This piece was acquired from the artist in Bhuj.

*

*

Details of P25

*

*

*

*

P26

*

*

P26 is a woman’s ceremonial skirt “pha sin”  made by the Tai Nuea people, Sam Nuea region, Laos in silk, cotton natural dyes, weft ikat, supplementary weft weave.  

This is an archaic banded form, alternating between cotton bands of indigo ikat and silk bands of red ikat with highlights of different colors.  The red bands contain the serpent motif (nak) viewed from above, while the blue-black bands show the same creature in writhing profile.  

See p. 216 of Textiles of Southeast Asia by Robyn Maxwell, published by Periplus Editions 2003 (HK) for a similar example.

Details of P26.

*

*

*

P27

*

*

P27 is a Syrian ikat woman’s jacket (salteh) similar to one recently featured at the exhibition of David and Elizabeth Reisbord Collection at UCLA’s Fowler Museum: Dressed with Distinction: Garments From Ottoman Syria which ran from March 17-August 25.  

Late 19th century, silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft faced weave, slit tapestry technique, and metallic embroidery.

Here is a full view of the front.

*

*

Details of P27.

*

*

*

Below is a sleeve extended.

*

*

*

*

A really beautiful coat.

*

Steve took questions and brought his session to a close.

*

*

*

Tom Goehner announced that he was leaving the Textile Museum and this was his last RTAM.

*

*

Tom has been with the Textile Museum for 11 years.  We wish him well.

Hope you have enjoyed Steve’s strong program.

R. John Howe

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: