Head scarf (rumal), womens, block printed silk, maker uknown, Samarkand region, Uzbekistan, 1995-1999
A headscarf or shawl, often called a rumal, is an integral part of traditional dress for women in Central Asia today. Scarves are among a number of head and/or face coverings worn by Central Asian women according to their ethnic identity and social circumstances. Scarves like this example are commonly found for sale in the shops and markets of Uzbekistan.
This headscarf is block-printed, a technique which has a long history in the Central Asian region, especially around Bukhara in central Uzbekistan. Block-printing was once extremely widespread and archaeological finds indicate that block-printed cloth was produced in Biblical times. Although block printing was traditionally done on cotton materials, printing on silk for head-scarves and sashes became popular in the 1800s. By the middle of the 1900s however, the Russian textile industry had put most of the hand-block printers out of business and the introduction of synthetic dyes resulted in a decline of quality.
The demand for small block-printed textiles such as scarves has endured however. With the introduction of colour-fast synthetic dyes, hand block-printing is now once again being executed to the former high standards, in particular amongst some well-known families in which the block-printing art has been passed down through the generations.
A head scarf or shawl, often called a rumal, is an integral part of traditional dress for women in Central Asia today. Scarves are among a number of head and/or face coverings worn by Central Asian women according to their ethnic identity and social circumstances.
The colours used in this example - tones of burgundy for the background and rose pink in the motifs - are commonly found in present day Central Asian textiles and traditional dress. The central motif is circular, an ancient form found throughout the region in dress, rugs and embroideries, within a square of floral motifs. The circle is surrounded by six almond (bodum) motifs which closely resemble the familiar boteh or paisly motif. Almonds also appear in the field, alternating with small birds and enclosed by a narrow outer border made up of a wavy, castellated design. In Muslim iconography, the boteh or almond symbolises long life and immortality while the bird is symbolic of one's connection to the spirit world. Each rose coloured motif is highlighted by small oval shapes within which the background burgundy is blue and the rose pink is near-white.
The finest silk fabrics were mainly woven in the Ferghana Valley from natural silk thread, producing a very fine cloth called daroi. The warp and weft of daroi were of the same gauge, giving an even weave cloth. Bukhara was also known as a centre for weaving shawls and scarves known as calgai from Ferghana Valley silk; by the late 1800s, Bukhara was exporting a million calgai a year to Iran. This contemporary head scarf has been woven to the width of a commercial loom and thus has two selvedge.
The production of block-printed textiles in Central Asia was traditionally a craft carried out solely by men and has a long history in the region. Block printing is a time-consuming art that requires a great range of skills, including the carving of the wood blocks themselves. In Central Asia, the techniques were strongly influenced by Indian mordant printing; before printing could take place, the cloth was prepared by soaking in a mordant to fix the dyestuff. Over dyeing was used to create special effects and the dyes fixed by steaming the fabrics in large zinc tanks.
Decorating delicate silk scarves like this example is a complex process done sometimes by block printing and sometimes by tie-dyeing. This scarf was patterned by means of a two-stage block-printed resist process, firstly using a blue dye with the areas to be rose pink blocked out, then blocking out the small oval areas and over-dyeing with pink. Blue and pink together produce the background burgundy.
The head scarf or shawl, sometimes called a rumal, is an integral part of traditional dress for women in Central Asia today. Scarves are among a number of head and/or face coverings worn by Central Asian women according to their ethnic identity and social circumstances. Block printed silk scarves are still used by women to cover their heads and by both sexes as sashes to tie round the waist of the traditional robe or chapan.
Purchased by Christina Sumner from the hotel shop in Samarkand during an overseas-on-duty visit to Central Asia in October 1999; subsequently sponsored for the Museum collection by the Oriental Rug Society of New South Wales.