This grey silk Central Asian (paranja) was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli from one of the antique stores in the Islamic market suq, known presently as The Blue Souk, at the emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in 1995. It was eventually added to The Zay Initiative collection.
This is a women’s cloak or paranja traditionally worn throughout Central Asia especially the Karakalpakstan as well the lower reaches of the Amu Darya River around the Khorezm region. These robes are long with vestigial sleeves and are draped over the head in public underneath, a heavy horsehair veil.
Made of grey flat woven silk with (suzani) embroidery around the edges in brown silk floss threads it also features tassels in yellow and purple or twisted silk yarns (quadrille). The hem of the piece including its collars and cuffs have borders that were woven separately and attached to it.
Braided yellow silk threads are stitched on the borders too as decorative elements along with silver foil tassels that are wrapped around cotton threads.
The lining is in two different fabrics. Traditionally, both the fabrics for the lining used to be in silk (ikat) but this piece has a silk ikat lining only around the edges.
The inside is lined with black, red, and pink printed cotton with floral motif repeats possibly of Russian origin. Cotton until the 19th century was usually imported from India and was quite expensive. With Imperial Russia’s conquest of the last Khanate, Central Asia’s demand for cotton was met by the Russian textile industry, especially from the city of Ivanovo.
The piece is completely hand-stitched mostly in a quilted style which contributes to an additional layer of decorative elements, especially in the underside.
The vestigial sleeves are long and narrow and are stitched to the back of the robe with a similar purple and yellow braided and woven patch.
Traditionally, paranja were worn by city dwellers possibly both men and women, however, interesting they do not appear at all in medieval miniatures or texts until the late 18th century. It appears that paranja is a result of the gradual transitioning of long jackets with sleeves that were often draped over the shoulders.
- Valérie Bérinstain, Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, Zaira Mis, Marcel Mis. Asian Costumes and Textiles from the Bosphorus to Fujiyama: The Zaira and Marcel Mis Collection. California: Skira, 2001.
- Suleman, Fahmida. Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia (British Museum) The Fabric of Life. London: Thames and Hudson, 2017.
- Embroidery from Afghanistan Fabric, folios. Sheila Paine. Washington: University of Washington Press, 2006.
- Sukhareva, Olʹga Aleksandrovna. Suzani: Central Asian Decorative Embroidery. Samarkand: SMI Asia, 2013.