Patterns of Power: Central Asian Textiles

The art of textile making is ancient, dating back to some 10,000 years. Over time, decorations were added to woven fabrics, turning textiles into myriad forms of wearable art. Of all the decorative textile traditions in the world, ikat cloths stands out not only in terms of history but also the vibrancy of the finished cloth.

The word ikat means a decorative technique in which warp or weft threads, or both, are tie-dyed before weaving. Making them is a time-consuming process and requires dedication and great expertise. In some cases, it takes months to assemble the material, imagine the patterns, tie the resist dye before actual weaving begins (that itself is another time-consuming process). The finished product has the distinctive “blurry” look that both mesmerizes the eyes and reminds the wearer of the value of the inexact. Put as one ikat specialist puts it, “with ikat, we are taught to appreciate illusion, not illustration.”  

The ikat tradition spans many cultures, from South America and Africa, to Central and Southeast Asia. The focus of this post is on Central Asian ikats – those made in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, regions that form the heart of the ancient Silk Road. As you will soon see, the ikat cloths of this region are remarkable for the vividness of their colors and design, a fitting complement to the exotic cultures these countries represent.

Countries of Central Asia.

Selected Examples of Central Asian Ikat Textiles

Silk velvet ikat woman’s robe, Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 1850–75. Silk; ikat-velvet; 127 x 150 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Silk ikat wall hanging, Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 1800–1850. Silk warp, cotton weft; warp ikat, warp-faced plain weave; 209 x 142 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Detail of Ikat, Central Asia, late 19th–early 20th century, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of David and Elizabeth Reisbord, photo: Museum Associates/LACMA.
Detail of Ikat, Central Asia, late 19th–early 20th century, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Wall Hanging (Pardah), Uzbekistan, Bukhara, second quarter of the 19th century, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Coat, Uzbekistan, late 19th century. Silk warp ikat, cotton weft, 50 x 60 in. Seattle Museum of Art.
Cushion cover, Yazd, Iran, late 19th century to early 20th century. Silk velvet warp ikat, cotton weft, 33 x 14 in. Seattle Museum of Art.

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