Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


Formed as a small confederation of Turkic tribes on the middle Syr Darya in the mid-sixteenth century, the Qaraqalpaqs continually sought defensive alliances with the more powerful sedentary states and nomadic hordes that surrounded them, even attempting to gain the protection of Imperial Russia by swearing allegiance to the Empress in 1743. As the Qazaqs of the Junior Horde steadily forced them south into their present homeland in the Aral Delta they increasingly came under the domination of the Khivan Uzbeks. The material culture of the Qaraqalpaqs was not only changed by the cultural influence of the Khivans but came close to annihilation as a result of increasingly repressive taxation. It was rescued thanks to the Russians, who began their military advance into Turkestan in the mid-nineteenth century culminating in the conquest of the remote Khanate of Khiva in 1873. The majority of Qaraqalpaqs finally became citizens of Russian Turkestan. Russia's newly emerging textile industry was quick to exploit its newly-opened colonial markets. As the prosperity of the Qaraqalpaqs began to improve they not only gained exposure to Khivan semi-silk ikat, pure silk sashes, polished alacha and the culture of farmed cotton, but also had access to Russian woollen broadcloth, inexpensive printed chintz and woollen shawls. Over time they began to incorporate these new textiles into their costume. At first the changes were modest but by the start of the twentieth century the new textiles had inspired stunningly new decorative embroidery designs and dramatic new fashions.