This beautiful Brocade and (Ikat) silk robe (yatak) was purchased from an independent dealer in Brussels by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli in 1998. It was eventually The Zay Initiative enhanced its collection.
This yatak is constructed of a Brocade silk fabric woven in (Twill_tapestry) with Ikat overlay was possibly a man’s ceremonial robe or (Khalat).
It has large floral (Damask) motifs in beige with black outlines. It also features a layer of Ikat design in a range of colours – yellow, pink, blue, and green in multiple shades. The floral motifs in Damask are created with supplementary (Weft) threads. A panel or row on each sleeve and vertically down the back midriff has a line of meandering floral designs made with the (Warp) Ikat.
The distinct collar lapels on the piece suggest that it was a man’s garment. The piece is lined with ivory printed cotton with floral and pomegranate motifs suggesting its undeniable Central Asian possibly Uzbeki origin.
The edging of the lining is constructed of green-stripped woven cotton. The entire piece is hand stitched. Two slits on either side are provided for ease of movement and riding for the wearer.
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.
Thus, it is fascinating how the connotation of a word that was originally loaned from the Arabic word Khil’ah meaning honorary robes changed in Central Asia and referred to any robes. However, when the Central Asian loan word Khalat reached South Asia its connotation changed back to the meaning of the original Arabic word.
Similarly, the word has been borrowed in modern Russian to mean any robe, while in Romania a derivative ‘halat’ is used for garments such as smocks, bathrobes, and dressing gowns.
Additionally, the Yiddish and the Ashkenazi Jewish community use another derivative ‘khlat’ that 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 is sometimes classified as a cloud – abr – in Tajik as the patterns are reminiscent of the iridescent reflection of clouds on the water.
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 (Weft). 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.
The Uyghur word ‘atlas’ and its Central Asian synonym ‘adras’ is probably a direct loan from either Greek Atlas or Arabic ‘(aṭlas)’ which means silk in Arabic, because traditional Ikat fabric in Central Asia was made of silk fibre.
Opinion is split on the origin of the Arabic term. While one group believes that it comes from the Aramaic word with the same pronunciation which means dusty or black, another suggests that it was a derivative of the Greek Atlas a name given to the biggest moth – Attacus Atlas – in the world’s native to China, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia that also happens to produce the finest quality silk.
It is only fitting that one of the biggest moths in the world shares a name with Atlas, the Titan god of Greek mythology cursed to hold up the heavens for eternity and synonymous with endurance. However, scientists have long speculated that it could have been given its name because of the patterns on its wings, which also look like a paper map.
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