This colourful woman’s tunic belonging to the Kochi tribes native to Afghanistan and Balochistan province in Pakistan was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli at the Sharjah Islamic Market (suq), recently named The Blue Souk, UAE in 1998. It was eventually added to The Zay Initiative.
This is a typical woman’s dress from the Kochi nomadic tribes – also colloquially Kacchi – primarily from Afghanistan and native to parts of Pakistan and Iran. It has a green woollen bodice with a purple silk skirt and velvet sleeves.
The (bodice_yoke)/(yoke) of the dress is constructed of a green wool woven fabric attached to a full skirt with pleating at the waist in two different fabrics. The top fabric is a narrow panel of purple silk (damask) with small diamond-shaped motifs while the bottom is made of plain purple field with a dense brocade border.
The plain purple field is mostly covered with (chain_stitch) embroidery depicting geometric and floral motifs in orange, blue, and pink silk floss threads. The middle of the skirt has a ribbon trimming.
The ribbon is constructed of metal foil threads – silver-coloured metallic threads wrapped in cotton, along with silver colour plastic foil with beads and small metal discs.
The hem of the skirt has a thick brocade border with intricate floral and geometric motifs woven in golden metallic, green and pink cotton threads. The hem also has an additional layer of embellishment in the form of an edging ribbon constructed of metal foil and pale pink, green and yellow cotton threads. The skirt of the tunic is not lined except for the edging ribbon with plain red cotton fabric.
The sleeves are constructed of three different fabrics. A (crimson) red velvet covers the upper arms which are followed by a purple velvet covering the elbows and the forearms and a thick patch of pink wool with (suzani) style embroidery in yellow, blue, green and red for the cuffs. The edge of both sleeves is trimmed with blue plastic beads. The three parts of the sleeves are distinguished with plastic silver foil trimmings much like the skirt but thinner.
The yoke is primarily made of a thin green woollen base. The front of the yoke has a round neck and a slit down the middle as an opening with cotton and elastic velvet bands as fasteners which are stitched on either side of the opening.
The sides of the front opening are trimmed with yet another thin zigzag metal foil ribbon with pink and ivory lace trimming around the yoke with a broader zigzag metal foil ribbon. It has suzani embroidery spilling on both sides of the shoulders in orange-blue and metal foil threads.
The back of the yoke has a rectangular patch in purple silk with mirror works and suzani embroidery in green, yellow, purple, and red threads as embellishments. This patch is bordered with a trimming of tiny plastic white beads in multi-coloured threads. Four metal foil corded ribbons – two in silver and two golden – are sewn along the waistline covering just the sides in an alternate sequence.
The back waistline is covered with an oval-shaped fabric embroidered with multi-coloured beads depicting geometric shapes or (gul_i_peron). This patch of fabric was made separately and attached to the garment and was completely handmade with plastic foils from chips and other packaged edibles as a layer between the beads and the fabric.
The lining of the piece which is primarily limited to the yoke and the sleeves is constructed of three primary fabrics – a floral printed red cotton, a brown possibly thin wool printed with green, yellow and pink floral motifs and dots and a coral plain cotton.
Interestingly, most of these dresses that are found in the West today are samples from c. 1970s Afghanistan. Although traditional women’s dresses of nomadic pastoral tribes, the flamboyancy of these dresses became synonymous with Afghanistan thus identifying the country to the West, especially during the hippie era.
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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.
- 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.