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

A beautiful September day 2012 I visited one of my favourite museums – Davids Samling (the David Collection) in København, Denmark – to view a most interesting exhibition. The visit gave both opportunity for own observations and an informative guided tour in Danish by Anne-Marie Keblow Bernsted who has specialised knowledge of the ikat fabrics’ history, materials and dyeing traditions. My aim with this “Textile Thought” is therefore to share some pieces of information about the complex ikat dyed fabrics from Uzbekistan together with the museum’s magnificent photographs from the exhibition.

Courtesy of: The David Collection, The Exhibition: Ikat – Flaming Textiles from Uzbekistan (2012-2013) Ikat I.

Courtesy of: The David Collection, The Exhibition: Ikat – Flaming Textiles from Uzbekistan (2012-2013) Ikat I.

Ikat dyeing and weaving with the finest of silk thread have traditions continuing far back in time in Uzbekistan, among other places from the regions of Bukhara and Samarkand. One of the Silk Road’s trade routes also stretches across these areas, where one of the worlds oldest preserved ikat fabric (10th century) has its origin. However the kaftans, trousers and other ikat woven fabrics – used by both men and women – displayed in this exhibition were principally made in the 19th- up to the early 20th century.

Anne-Marie Keblow Bernsted explained that 12.000 weavers worked in the area during this period. The advanced combination of reeling silk, ikat dyeing and weaving started with a silk worm’s cocoon which during the reeling gave 1.000 metres of the finest silk thread, and every kaftan needed approximately 20.000 metres of thread or 20 cocoons. These facts indicate that the fabrics are of an incomprehensible fine quality, making it preferable to use 4 or 5 kaftans on top of each other to keep warm. Still, the warmth was not the only reason for using an excessive number of garments, it was additionally a status symbol to own and use several of these costly kaftans.

Courtesy of: The David Collection, The Exhibition: Ikat – Flaming Textiles from Uzbekistan (2012-2013) Ikat IV.

Courtesy of: The David Collection, The Exhibition: Ikat – Flaming Textiles from Uzbekistan (2012-2013) Ikat IV.

Patterns vary mainly from district to district and are designed with simple geometrical shapes or more complex compositions like: flower motifs, Paisley, “flaming” variations, trees of life and often with mirror effects of the said patterns. The used technique is a high density ribbed weave, where the one-coloured weft is completely covered by the ikat dyed warp. The ikat technique/design is with other words always dyed on the warp-threads before the weaving process. The extremely dense weave has 10 threads per millimetre or ca. 4.000 threads on a weave width of 40 cm!

The dominating colours of the fabrics are red, yellow, mauve, blue, black and white. Red was mostly dyed with madder, but cochineal was also in use. Indigo for blue, oak for black and sumac for yellow shades together with several other local plants dyeing yellow. Natural dyeing of these extreme fine silk was even so complex, that each colour had its own dyer. A close-up study of the fabrics reveals too that faintly white stripes sometimes appear on the ikat dyed patterns, this kind of imperfection could happen when the tying of the warp not been as “precise” as the dyer had wished. Finishing the fabrics with a mixture of egg white also made the colours deeper, more intense and durable.

Courtesy of: The David Collection, The Exhibition: Ikat – Flaming Textiles from Uzbekistan (2012-2013) Ikat V.

Courtesy of: The David Collection, The Exhibition: Ikat – Flaming Textiles from Uzbekistan (2012-2013) Ikat V.

There is some uncertainty at what time in history these beautiful textiles were introduced to/developed in Uzbekistan, but it can be established that the fabrics are most complex in choice of material, density of quality, dyeing design as well as the over all weaving craftmanship. The weaving in itself is of a fairly uncomplicated ribbed weave, but the fineness and numbers of the threads add to its complexity. The kaftan’s wide design also make it necessary to use several widths of the narrow fabric (only 30 to 50 cm width). An interesting detail is also the tablet woven cotton ribbons, which have been sewn along the edges of some kaftans displayed in the exhibition. These ribbons were probably both considered as a decorative element as well as a strengthening of the garments. The same purposes had the printed cottons used as linings, a type of fabric imported via the Silk Route from Russia.

“Ikat – flaming textiles from Uzbekistan” displayed a selection of ikat dyed textiles from the David Collection in København, Denmark. The exhibition took place: April 21, 2012 – February 24, 2013 and was curated by Peter Wandel and Anne-Marie Keblow Bernsted. No book or catalogue assisted the exhibition.

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

  • Hansen, Viveka, ‘Ikat – Exhibition displaying Textiles from Uzbekistan’, TEXTILIS (March 13, 2014); https://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)

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