Part of an ensemble with another item also in the collection (ZI2022.500987 ASIA).
This object was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli from an independent dealer in London in 2021 to enhance the collection of The Zay Initiative.
This is a royal blue silk velvet pleated skirt for women featuring a padded waistband, metal thread embroidered embellishment, and a combination of fastenings. Interestingly this piece dates back to c. early 20th century, a period in the history of the Middle East across the Levant and the Fertile Crescent regions also experienced the popularity of such dresses as it was a part of the Ottoman Empire until the onset of WWI and was thus still heavily influenced by the fashions of Istanbul.
The front field of the skirt is embellished with a floral bouquet executed in traditional Turkish (Dival) style embroidery with brass or copper and silver threads (Sirma)/(Tel_Sirma).
The design elements comprise European Rococo-inspired wavy vines, flanked by floral and foliage motifs. A combination of different embroidery techniques has been used here primarily (Couching) and (Satin_stitch). Similar motifs and elements are repeated at the back of the skirt however, the placement of the central motif is lower than the front.
Similarly, the border in the hemline is higher in the front than in the back. Both front and back hemline features a zigzag base along which floral motifs and foliage patterns are arranged. The embroidery style as well as the motifs of foliage and vine inspired by European Rococo designs suggests that this piece was possibly a pre-embroidered fabric (Hüseynî) that was designed for a (Bindalli_Entari).
Although practicing the craft of embroidery was an integral part of women in Ottoman society, pre-embroidered fabrics or Hüseynî for garment making had also been around. The last phase of the Ottoman period especially c. late 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of European Rococo-inspired design patterns and motifs.
Such motifs were constantly being adopted and featured on textiles throughout the Empire, especially for the embellishment of ceremonial garments reserved for weddings and other important occasions.
The Dival technique is a complex and intricate form of embroidery involving multiple processes, from pattern preparation to final execution. It requires carving the pattern from artificial leather with a special knife, neatly cutting it, and supporting it with thick cardboard on a special loom.
The top is then embroidered with metal thread or Sirma in 3 or 6 layers, while the bottom is bonded with fabric-coloured thread that is waxed. This labour-intensive process resembles Turkish wrapping on the front and crocheting in reverse.
A unique feature of this embroidery is that the upper thread is invisible from the bottom. The technique is often referred to as “Maraş work” due to its extensive application in Kahramanmaraş.
Initially crafted by hand, modern advancements have led to machine-produced Dival embroidery, which is more cost-effective. The fabric materials used for Dival embroidery include velvet, Satin, leather, silk, and taffeta and vary in cost based on their pattern size and processing technique.
At its peak, the Ottoman Empire spanned three continents and served as the crossroads between the East and the West – the Fertile Crescent, the Levant, Eastern Europe including the Balkans till the southern edge of the Great Hungarian Plain, Northern Africa, and Eastern Mediterranean.
After the conquest of the Arab world in c. 1516-1517 CE its control over the Middle East lasted for four centuries until the early 20th century with the onset of WW I and the Arab Revolt.
These four hundred years witnessed many instances of mutual Arab and Ottoman cultural influences and exchanges.
Through areas such as social life and art – decorative and performing –we come across several instances of Arab and Turkish culture blending together through the centuries.
Just as European fashion was often inspired by the French court this socio-cultural blending between Ottoman Turkey and the Middle East was clearly reflected in its fashion and material culture.
Thus, while emulating Ottoman fashion as the mark of class in the Arab world was one side of the puzzle adapting Eastern European fashion particularly Balkan as part of mainstream couture culture because of the sizeable Balkan population within the Empire was another. Therefore, it is not surprising to find several articles of clothing and their terms similar between these cultures.
As such The Zay Initiative has in its possession pieces that were constructed in a similar style that was sourced from the Levant region of the Arab world, especially Palestine and Syria. Velvet pieces such as this embellished with Dival style embroidery were often used for ceremonial purposes especially weddings by the women of the Arab world and were often colloquially known as the velvet robe or (Thawb_mekhmal).
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