Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From the Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. Copyright 2010 Textile Society of America


Russian handwoven, tapestry-technique shawls of the nineteenth century form an understudied group of textile art, especially when compared to Russia’s widely-known printed shawl industry. Often considered by Western textile and fashion historians to be a parallel industry to the production of woven shawls of the Kashmir style in France and Britain, further investigation suggests the contrary. The manufacture of Russian tapestry-technique shawls developed as a distinctly separate industry, addressing nineteenth-century Russia’s established shawl trade and shifting geopolitics. The Russians continued the production of these extravagant shawls long after the Kashmir shawl’s fall from fashion grace in the West due to a variety of influences:

• Russian nationalism in the decorative arts during the reign of Emperor Nicholas I (1825-1855)
• The industrialization of Imperial Russia’s textile industry
• Russia’s Southern expansion of her empire

While providing a glimpse into textile production in Imperial Russia, the fabrication of handwoven, tapestry-technique shawls also communicates the desire of a nineteenth-century empire that had emulated Western European traditions for over one-hundred twentyfive years to close itself off finally from the ways of the West. These shawls aided in re-establishing a truly Russian identity in the decorative and applied arts.