[ My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: I | By Viveka Hansen ]

During April 1994, I had the pleasure to work as curator for this unique collection of embroidery from the Kaitag people in Daghestan exhibited at Christinehof in Skåne, Sweden. The unusual patterns embossed with beautiful colour combinations fascinated more than 5,000 textile interested visitors. The thirty-five embroideries, dated between the 16th and 19th centuries, were on display in five of the castles newly restored rooms.

South Dargin region, Daghestan. 18th century or earlier. “Horses in two Rows”. Silk embroidery on cotton, 93 x 56 cm. Courtesy of: Textile Art Publications (TAP), London.

South Dargin region, Daghestan. 18th century or earlier.
“Horses in two Rows”. Silk embroidery on cotton, 93 x 56 cm.
Courtesy of: Textile Art Publications (TAP), London.

We have learnt a lot about the earlier, fairly unknown embroideries from Robert Chenciner, an English researcher on the Kaitag’s regional history and ethnography as well as everything linked to the embroideries. The results of his six years of fieldwork were presented during the autumn 1993 in the book, Kaitag Textile Art from Daghestan.

Kaitag region, Daghestan. 18th century. “Spiralling Horns”. Silk embroidery on cotton, 90 x 67 cm. Courtesy of: Textile Art Publications (TAP), London.

Kaitag region, Daghestan. 18th century.
“Spiralling Horns”. Silk embroidery on cotton, 90 x 67 cm.
Courtesy of: Textile Art Publications (TAP), London.

The Kaitag region has over the millennia been invaded by countless cultures, something which can clearly be seen in the shifting characteristics of the patterns. Here we see among others; Mongolian, Chinese, Byzantine, Ottoman and Celtic art, mixed with the regions own art forms. The silk embroideries were used through ritual means, at births, weddings and funerals. Infant cot covers were embroidered with symbols which would protect the new born from ‘the evil eye’ and before the wedding it was tradition for the bride to be draped in her costly dowry, consisting of a beautifully embroidered cloth. The embroidery was done with great precision and vivid colours, however it was not something which could be admired, as the embroidery’s backside was only meant to be shown. The only situation when the motifs were visible, were when used as ‘grief cushions.’ At funerals the embroideries could be placed over the dead’s face, so that nobody could see the deceased. The hope being that it would rewake the dead to the living.

Kaitag region, Daghestan. 18th century or earlier. “Elk on Red”. Silk embroidery on cotton, 120 x 78 cm. Courtesy of: Textile Art Publications (TAP), London.

Kaitag region, Daghestan. 18th century or earlier.
“Elk on Red”. Silk embroidery on cotton, 120 x 78 cm.
Courtesy of: Textile Art Publications (TAP), London.

The embroideries are colourful and at a closer inspection; eleven yellow, three red, two blue, four brown and four green shades added with black can be identified. Different local plants were used for the yellow colouring, like for example weld Reseda luteola. For the red, madder Rubia tinctorum, a plant which flourished in the Kaitag area and for other red colourings the cochineal insects, which were probably imported from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Indigo Indigofera tinctoria; from Persia or India was a fundamental part of the natural dyes.

Kaitag region, Daghestan. 18th century or earlier. “Hundred Creatures”. Silk embroidery on cotton, 159 x 117 cm. Courtesy of: Textile Art Publications (TAP), London.

Kaitag region, Daghestan. 18th century or earlier.
“Hundred Creatures”. Silk embroidery on cotton, 159 x 117 cm.
Courtesy of: Textile Art Publications (TAP), London.

The embroidery yarn is comprised of silk, which has been twined by the embroideress. There would have been a high concentration of mulberry trees in Daghestan at the time and so, a large scale production of silk. The stitches are many but the dominant form is laid and couched stitches. This form of embroidery fills the space in question and gives maximal colour exposition with the use of a minimal amount of yarn. Other stitches which are conveyed are amongst others; running stitch, stem stitch, double chain stitch, cross stitch, herringbone stitch and feather stitch. The background fabric for the vividly coloured embroideries, for the most part handwoven cotton was used and on many occasions three or four smaller pieces were sewn together to form the required size. However some of the embroideries have been sewn on thin silk fabric.

Newspaper articles and leaflet from the exhibition of the “Kaitag Collection” at Christinehof Castle, Sweden. Courtesy of: The IK Foundation & Company, London.

Newspaper articles and leaflet from the exhibition of the “Kaitag Collection” at Christinehof Castle, Sweden. Courtesy of: The IK Foundation, London.

The exhibition took place between 1 April-1 May 1994 and was a cooperation between the senior associate member of Sankt Anthony’s College, Oxford and author Robert Chenciner,  Textile Art Publications (TAP) London and The IK Foundation & Company who arranged the exhibition at Christinehof castle, Sweden.

Reading tips

  • Chenciner, Robert, Kaitag – Textile Art from Daghestan, London 1993, Textile Art Publications. Beautifully bound large format book which includes a catalogue of 171 embroideries with full technical analysis. Including; 47 coloured plates, 25 colour images, 171 black and white images with captions.
  • Hansen, Viveka,Kaitag – Textilkonst från Daghestan’, Hemslöjden No: 6, p. 30. 1994.

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

  • Hansen, Viveka, ‘Kaitag – Textile Art from Daghestan (D 1)’, TEXTILIS (May 26, 2013); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)

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