Back when we were doing the expat stint in Pune, India, I wrote about Kasuthi (aka Kasuti, Kashida), a blackwork cousin that deserves to be better known by Western double running stich aficionados. I recently stumbled across another sample of related stitching, this time from a bit further north.
The Hazara people, mostly in Afghanistan, but also present in Pakistan practice an interesting and related form of linear geometric stitchery. It’s hard to date beyond “traditional,” and given current geopolitics, deeper investigations are unlikely. But here is the limited info I’ve found, plus some examples, and some sources of additional information.
The Hazara are known for several forms of stitching, mostly but not exclusively counted styles using satin stitch, straight stitch, double running stitch and cross stitch, and is better known for phulkaris (large shawls often worked in geometric, counted straight stitches). These double running stitch pieces in particular are probably made by women of the Wardak Hazaras, who live mostly southwest of Kabul. This style is usually worked in cotton or silk on linen or cotton grounds. These double running stitch pieces are often finished out as small mats, bags, shawls, prayer cloths, and other covers.
First is the artifact that piqued my interest.
This is piece in the collection of the George Washington University Museum, Accession T-1240. They note it’s provenance as being Hazara from Afghanistan, probably sometime between 1880-1920. That mushy date range is the earliest and although it’s only semi-hard, is the only date I’ve seen for this style. Note the fields of diapered patterns stitched on the count on a not-so-evenweave ground. The designs skew east-west compared to north-south due to there being more ground fabric threads per unit measurement in one direction than the other. But skew or not I love the repetition and color usage. So I went looking for more.
This artifact is probably the best represented on line for the style, and shows up in most on-line photo collections of Afghan embroidery, although not always with attribution. It is nicknamed “The Snowflake Shawl” and was collected by Jania Mishra, the author of the art blog/sales gallery Woven Souls. She places it as Hazara, but does not opine a date. Still it’s clearly antique/vintage. Her write-up includes lots of close-up photos, and notes the relationship of this style of stitching to mathematical theory. Pop by her blog to truly admire the diverse detail of this piece.
More examples. On the left is a bandanna size prayer cloth that was sold by a textile/rug auction dealer, and on the right is what’s described as a Hazara napkin in the Galerie Ariana ethnic textiles sales site. (No affiliation with/endorsement of these sellers – I find dealers’ on-line photos and attributions an occasionally useful research supplement, although not all dealers’ listing data are of the same quality.)
What can we conclude about dissemination and influences?
Double running is one of the simplest, oldest and most ubiquitous of stitches. The scholars of Kasuthi posit a vague “Persian origin” before adoption, mention of in literature, and refinement of the style in the Deccan area Chalukya dynasty courts of the mid 500s to mid 700s, and that dynasty’s later resurgences through the end of the 1100s, culminating in the disciplined style and vocabulary of traditional motifs that are known today through surviving examples dating to the 19th century. Overland trade routes have connected Northern India and Afghanistan and beyond going back to antiquity. The the flow of both peaceful and aggressive contact is also well known, as is historical trade that connected the northeastern African coast with India. Egypt’s Fustat region is another area where visually similar double running stitch artifacts from the Mamluk era (1200s-1500s) are found.
Is this another survival of some sort of time-lost tradition that also gave rise to Kasuthi, the Mamluk works, and by extension over time and geography (and by direct quotation noted by others as well as myself), the stepwise and geometric designs found in early European modelbooks at the dawn of the popular print era (early 1500s), and on to early European blackwork and strapwork? It’s tempting to speculate so, but we have absolutely no proof.
These Afghani pieces could also have been a product of later cultural influences, as waves of association washed back and forth along time’s shores. But the clear correspondences, whether they can be affixed to defined family tree, or are just casual correlations due to the limits of geometry and the simple stitching style itself, are to me are a source of endless fascination.
Here are a couple of sites with additional information on Hazara embroidery in general:
Source material for the Mamluk styles mentioned
- Marianne Ellis. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt, Asmolean Museum, London, UK, 2001. ISBN1-85444-135-3.
- Ashmolean Museum Yousef Jameel Center for Islamic and Asian Art, Newberry Collection of Islamic Embroideries
And there are more traditional regional counted styles to explore in this area of cultural confluence. I promise to keep digging.