Dressing The Stans

Dressing the 'Stans': Textiles, dress and jewellery from Central Asia

The present digital exhibition is based on a 'real' display that is on show at the Textile Research Centre from 12th September until 22nd December 2017. It was organised as part of the 2017 Asia Year celebrations in Leiden, and the official opening of the Asia Library of Leiden University on 14th September. The exhibition shows a fascinating and colourful display of textiles, dress and jewellery from Central Asia: these are the so-called ‘Stans’ (‘Land of…’), namely Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The exhibition includes traditional textiles, garments and accessories for men, women and children, from all parts of this vast and relatively unknown part of the world. The objects on display include ikats, velvets and embroideries from the ‘Stans’ in general. But there are also more specific items, such as Afghan chapans (the type of coat made famous by ex-President Hamid Karzai, and which he wore during his visit to Leiden in 2008), buzkashi apparel (used in the "goat-grabbing" game of Central Asia) , as well as hunting hoods and cloths, used to 'hide' the hunter from his prey. From Uzbekistan there will be examples of the famous suzani embroideries and ikat dresses and coats. All of these objects are talken from the extensive TRC collection, which currently (Septmber 2017) holds more than 17000 items.

An important element of the exhibition is a beautiful collection of ethnic jewellery from among the Turkmen of Afghanistan, on special loan from May and Rolando Schinasi, who lived and worked in Afghanistan for many years prior to the start of the civil war in 1978.

The exhibition has been sponsored by the Leiden University Central Asia Initiative.

1. Introduction

For thousands of years, goods have been transported to and from Central Asia, connecting what is now China, India, Iran, the Middle East, Turkey and Europe. This is the story…

2. The 'Stans' of Central Asia

The term ‘Stans’ is a modern appellation that is often used, perhaps somewhat derogatory, for Central Asia. It covers most of the mountains and deserts between the Caspian Sea to…

3. The peoples of Central Asia

The lands of Central Asia are nowadays inhabited by a wide array of groups, many of whom with their own particular history, language and dress. Roughly speaking, the Central Asians…

4. Raw fibres

Central Asia is home to a range of raw materials that are used for the production of textiles for personal, domestic and public use. Traditionally the main fibre types are…

5. Fleece and felt textiles

Two products that derive from sheep that have played an essential role in many people’s lives in Central Asia are fleece and felt. Fleece is the skin of a sheep…

6. Ikat textiles

Ikat is a dyeing technique that creates a patterned textile by tightly binding individual yarns (warp, weft or both) or bundles of yarns. The threads are then dyed (as a…

7. Woven textiles

A variety of woven textiles have been produced in Central Asia, ranging from simple tabby weaves made on ground looms, to sophisticated brocades and velvets produced on variations of drawstring…

8. Decorative needlework

A wide range of decorative needlework styles, techniques, patterns and end uses exist in Central Asia. These range from very small beaded watch pockets to large, embroidered wall hangings called…

9. Painted and printed textiles

A range of painted and printed textiles have been used in Central Asia for centuries. These include hand painted hunting scenes as well as block printed and roller printed textiles…

10. Knitted textiles

During the 1960’s and 70’s, some young people in the West were known for wearing Afghan coats made from a fleece decorated with embroidery, together with knitted socks. Most of…

11. Jewellery from the 'Stans'

Jewellery, especially that worn by women, has long played an important role in Central Asian life. It is not only decorative, but it has both amuletic (against the evil eye)…