Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


In nineteenth century courts of the khanates and oasis cities of Central Asia, rulers, wealthy merchants and other well-to-do men and women wore boldly patterned warp-ikat and ikat velvet robes, often stunning in their patterning and variety. Nineteenth century ikat costumes and other textiles are well documented in private and museum collections today and have been the focus of considerable attention by collectors, dealers, and scholars since the 1970s. This robe is from a Turkish collection of Central Asian ikats given to the Textile Museum in Washington D.C. in 2005 by the collector Murad Megalli (Fig. 1).

Nineteenth century ikat textiles are also well documented in photographs such as an 1871-72 portrait of the last Khan of Kokand (Fig. 2). These dynamic ikat textiles appear to have burst upon the scene in splendid complexity in the early years of the nineteenth century supported by the wealth and sophisticated taste of the khanate courts in what is today Uzbekistan. Their use spread and by the end of the nineteenth century, atlas was worn not only by a wealthy elite but, in simpler versions and various garment styles, by many peoples throughout Central Asia.

They were – and are - also worn by the Turkic Uighur people in what is today Xinjiang China. In 1865 Ya’kub Beg, commander in chief of the armies of the Khan of Kokand in the Ferghana Valley, marched over the Pamir mountains to what was then Chinese Turkestan, conquered Kashgar and the surrounding territories and established a lavish court supplied by ikat weavers and other artisans brought with him from the Ferghana Valley. A few years later, when the tea merchant and mountaineer Robert Shaw visited the cities of Khotan, Yarkand and Kashgar on the branch of the old Silk Road that skirted the Taklamakan desert to the south, he was presented with several splendid ikat coats in the Uzbek style, some of which are now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.