This cloak (abayah) is part of a two-piece ensemble which also includes a traditional Syrian headband (ZI2019.500742.1a Syria).
Purchased from a Kerry Taylor auction in 2019, along with three head scarves (ZI2019.500742.2 SYRIA), (ZI2019.500742.3 SYRIA), (ZI2019.500742.4 SYRIA)
This Syrian cloak abayah is made from two pieces of fabric, each the width of a loom, connected horizontally along the middle with a subtle seam (khat_al khaban). The fabric is hand-woven from chocolate brown camel hair and the decorative work is both embroidered and loom weaved with gold threads (gasab). The resulting geometric shapes and straight lines are featured predominantly across the backside of the right shoulder. The decorative pattern is only woven on the top width of the fabric, leaving all of the remaining parts of the garment solid brown. The wide gold lines are surrounded in light blue, silver, and black. From the back to the front, the garment’s neck is embellished (takhreej) with gold embroidery with a jagged border made up of triangular shapes, in the front, there are two tie cords that end in balls (amayel) made of gold thread.
This rectangular garment is open down the front with small openings for hands. When not worn, the fabric may look like a carpet or swath of upholstery material, but when the body is expertly wrapped in the abayah the fabric turns into an extravagant garment, almost resembling a wide Japanese kimono. The subtle gold embellishment and the sheen of the woven threads contribute to creating artistic shading in the folds and drapes of the garment.
Syria’s long history and geographical location as a hub along the trade routes, led to a prominent international textile industry. Since ancient times, the Syrians have excelled in weaving, using raw materials to sew the best and finest fabrics. The Syrian abayah’s wide shape combines the aesthetics of Bedouin design and the skills of urban industry, taking full advantage of the fine raw material it is sewn from. These types of garments were worn by men of high status since the end of the nineteenth century.
In Syria, the raw material would be locally produced and the men would select their desired colours and request an (aba) or abayah from one of the tailors. The equivalent garment for women was a two-piece outfit known as a (mlayah), (izar), or (sharshaf). Similarly, the women would select the raw, locally produced material in the colours she wanted and have it sewn into a garment by a seamstress.