Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000


Copyright © 2000 by the author(s).


Turkoman embroidered materials from the late 19th and early 20th centuries collected in Afghanistan were largely unaffected by the commercial pressures brought to bear at that time on other women's handicrafts such as carpets and kilims. Over time, the relative affluence of different tribal groups and the free time available for embroidery affected the style and richness of embroidered materials, but dowry robes, hats, bags and numerous talismariic objects continued to be embroidered for family use. Examination and comparison of these materials with others in museum collections from neighboring Turkmenistan reveal close parallels in pattern and composition, as well as in the inclusion of specifically apotropaic and magical elements within the designs. Although many border and field patterns are widely distributed among the Turkoman tribes, the overtly protective elements within embroideries often take unique, individually creative forms. Many are closely related to talismanic forms found in jewelry. Embroidered protective elements are found primarily in the garments of children and women of child-bearing age, who are most vulnerable to evil influences from human and spirit contacts. Stories and sayings collected from Turkoman women, who act as midwives and traditional healers in communities distant from modem medical facilities may help to explain the meaning and use of these embroidered articles. The author's own fieldwork is supplemented by the analyses contained within the extensive Soviet ethnological studies of the 1940s to the 1960s.