This colourful woman’s tunic belonging to the Kochi tribes native to Afghanistan and Baluchistan province in Pakistan was purchased at the Sharjah Islamic Market (suq), recently named The Blue Souk, in the UAE by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli in 1999. It was eventually added to The Zay Initiative.
This is a Kochi tribal women’s tunic dress with a fuchsia pink silk skirt, a brown printed woollen (bodice_yoke)/(yoke) and velvet sleeves. The dress was perhaps repurposed.
A full skirt with pleats it is embellished with (suzani) style embroidery primarily in (chain_stitch) technique with yellow, blue and green silk floss threads. The hem of the fall has a border in plastic silver foil sewn to the piece in (couching) style with scalloped edging in metal corded threads.
The middle of the skirt is folded inside and stitched possibly to shorten its length for a later wearer. The dress had been repurposed further by parting the front completely to be used as a cape or jacket. Before cutting it, the front yoke was constructed of a vibrantly printed woollen fabric with floral motifs with metallic edging ribbons as borders in golden and silver colours.
The shoulders are constructed of lavender silk patches with suzani style embroidery in yellow, pink, blue and crimson with mirror inlay. The back of the yoke has a green silk bed upon which is also embellished with suzani style embroidery with yellow, blue, pink and shades of red threads and mirror inlay depicting floral and geometric motifs.
Often such patches would turn out to be parts of (shawl) that was later repurposed as part of a dress. The green silk base also features four pompoms in woollen threads and embedded mirrors on all four corners out of which one is missing perhaps damaged. This green base fabric is bordered with a thick trimming of yellow plastic beads (gul_i_peron) that also run around the v-shaped neck and is accompanied by red beading.
The sleeves are made of glittery velvet with plastic silver foil sewn to form repeats of large four-petalled floral motifs in a geometric style. The cuffs are made of rather broad patches of cotton fabric embroidered with a ribbon or trimming of golden metallic thread wrapped around a thick cotton strip in multiple tiers alternated with a thin brocade panel and a silver plastic foil trimming. An additional layer of embellishment is rendered to the dress with the colourful woollen pompoms sewn over the metal trimmings. The sleeves are finished with a blue plastic beaded edging.
The back of the skirt around the waist has an extra flap of fabric densely embroidered with plastic beads in gul_i_peron style and metallic threads in a variety of colours mostly depicting geometric patterns. This flap was separately constructed on a thick transparent plastic base and was sewn to the dress.
The piece is lined with patches of plain cotton fabric on its yoke and sleeves.
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.
- 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.