This beautiful and colourful woman’s traditional padded robe (Chapan) was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli from an independent dealer in New York in 1998. It was eventually added to The Zay Initiative to enhance its collection.
This is a women’s silk (Ikat) Chapan in purple, beige, yellow, aubergine and (Indigo) blue. It is lightly padded with a thin layer of (Batting) made of fine cotton held together with simple quilting style run stitches.
The hems of the Chapan have border embroidery in quilting stitch style in what looks like beige cotton threads, which may have discoloured from plain ivory threads over the years. The embroidery has repeated floral motifs with corner foliage.
The piece is lined with two different cotton fabrics. The primary field is lined with an Indigo blue fabric with repeats of floral bouquets in pink, yellow, red, ivory and green alternated with a rounded berry-like fruit motif also in ivory, and pink with a touch of green.
The main field’s sleeves and border are lined with a plain (Crimson) red cotton fabric. The hem of the lining too has similar floral embroidery as on the outside but in black thread. The piece has slits on the two sides for easy movement and riding. One of the cuffs has a distinct yellow patch of (Warp) Ikat threads.
While a small tear on the front left silk Ikat layer of the Chapan remains unrepaired, a small rectangular yellow Ikat patch on the back has been sewn as an attempt to darn previous damage. Although the colour from the piece has bled in several places testifying to its usage over the years, it still retains its brightness, vibrancy and sheen.
A Central Asian robe or Khalat like this is very common around the old Silk Road. It travelled through India and Iran to the Middle East and through Ottoman Turkey as far as Russia and Romania. In medieval times richly decorated robes or Khalat were given as honorific gifts in India a tradition that was borrowed and continued by the British through the Colonial times when khilat a derivative of Khalat was used as any gift of money or goods bestowed by the British East India Company.
Similarly, the word has been burrowed in modern Russian to mean any robe, while in Romania a derivative halat is used for garments such as smocks, bathrobes, and dressing gowns. Similarly, the Yiddish and the Ashkenazi Jewish community use another derivative khlat which refers to loose long coats with (Shawl) collars.
It is also worth noting that these Central Asian long loose robes were often made of or had lining in silk (Ikat) fabric also known as (Adras) or (Atlas) in Central Asian and Uyghur Turkic respectively.
Usually, silk was cultivated by every household in Central Asia, however, the silk yarn dyeing industry was primarily dominated by the Jewish community of Central Asia.
Central Asian Ikat are traditionally (Warp) Ikat which means they have silk warps with intricate patterns held together by cotton (wefts). These ikats were made in established locations and required the contribution of at least 13 specialised craftspeople. Among them were designers or pattern makers, who drew patterns on the warps, makers of hot and cold dyes, expert resist dyers, loom builders, workers who arranged and adjusted the warps on the loom, and weavers who created the final material.
The fact that these crafts were often organised into guilds and comprised of diverse ethnic groups meant that the completion of a single Ikat fabric was a remarkable feat of occupational and ethnic cooperation.
Amongst the Uyghurs (Atlas) or Ikat was used exclusively for women’s clothing. Historically there were twenty-seven types of Atlas during the Qing Chinese occupation, out of which only four varieties exist today. These include the black Ikat – qara-Atlas – reserved for older women; the yellow, blue or purple Ikat – khoja’e-Atlas – worn by married women; red Ikat – qizil-Atlas – for young girls; and the royal Ikat – Yarkent-Atlas – which was developed during the Yarkent Khanate – 1514-1705 – and displays a wide range and styles.
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- Suleman, Fahmida. Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia (British Museum) The Fabric of Life. London: Thames and Hudson, 2017.
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