This colourful woman’s tunic possibly belonging to the Kalash tribes native to the Chitral Valley of Pakistan and the neighbouring Nuristan province of Afghanistan, was part of the Sheila Paine Collection. It was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli from Kerry Taylor Auctions, London in 2020. It was eventually added to The Zay Initiative.
Sheila Paine (1929-2022) was a renowned traveller and one of the foremost authorities on traditional tribal textiles and embroidery of Central and South Asia, Near and Middle East and North Africa. A teacher of modern languages, Ms Paine started her collection with English samplers, however, the loss of her husband in 1974 coupled with her love for textiles introduced her to a richly decorated piece from the ‘Kohistan’ – a region shared by Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – at a dealer’s shop in London triggered her passion for textile research.
She started travelling extensively to the remotest places from Central Asia to Russia, South Asia to the Middle East and Northern Africa collecting textiles.
Her travels resulted in a trilogy of travel books which brought her to the limelight amongst museum professionals, academics, and researchers. She collaborated with several museums – The British Museum, London and the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford – to exhibit her collection and photographs as well as publish several books on her textile collection.
In 2008 she sold her collection at an auction at Dreweatts following which her travel came to a sudden halt at the age of 80 after a severe medical limitation. Despite her travel pause she continued to write and exhibit until 2017. She passed away at the age of 92 in March 2022.
This is a black silk (satin) woven tribal woman’s traditional tunic dress with woollen and metallic thread embroidery. A tunic style shift dress with heavily embellished (bodice_yoke)/(yoke) front and back this dress is a typical Kalash tribal woman’s attire from the Chitral Valley of Pakistan.
The front of the yoke is embellished with separately woven woollen patches in pink, blue, yellow, and green mostly featuring geometric designs with a v-shaped opening that is covered by a plain grey cotton flap sewn from the underside with a printed green woollen patch.
A corner of the flap has a stud button possibly made of aluminium for fastening. A silver colour metallic thread or corded ribbon sewn to the ground fabric in (couching) style is also used as an element of embellishment. This metallic cord is looped around to form floral and scallop motifs.
The sides around the waist have an embellished violet velvet patch with colourful thread and metallic trimmings. The shoulders and the top of the sleeves are also embellished with patches of pink wool work. The front of the yoke has a combination of woven and embroidered wool work.
The cuffs are embellished with colourful patches woven in wool. The back of the yoke is constructed of a brown cotton fabric almost entirely covered with woollen embroidery in (satin_stitch) style creating rows of thick and thin lines running parallel to each other, and geometric shapes in pink, green and yellow. The skirt has a small coin pocket in the front.
The entire dress is filled with tiny quilting-style running stitches. The hemline has a border with silver colour metallic and woollen corded threads. The front of the yoke and the skirt of the piece is lined with plain ivory thick cotton with black quilting style running stitch.
Interestingly Kalash is an indigenous non-Muslim tribal community native to the Chitral Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province – previously known as the North West Frontier Province – of Pakistan, and the neighbouring Nuristan province – previously known as Kafiristan – of Afghanistan. Although the population of this community has dwindled over the years in Afghanistan, there is a sizable population still existing in the present-day Chitral Valley of Pakistan.
- Video on Sheila Paine: https://vimeo.com/189136778
- BBC Podcast: The Last Word (Madeleine Albright (pictured), Peter Padfield, Christina Smith, Sheila Paine): https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0bz9dlk
- 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.