Country: Afghanistan
Photo: Turquoise Mountain

Afghan embroidery designs vary widely by region, ethnic group, and by individual artist. Traditionally created by women and girls working at home, embroidery appears on a variety of domestic items (bedcovers, cushions, and tapestries) as well as items of clothing (dresses, caps, and shirts). Embroidery is most commonly seen in Afghanistan as a rectangular section of decoration on the front of a man’s kameez (traditional shirt), or on the colourful headscarves of young women. For nomadic Afghans, embroidery decorates the bands used to decorate the family yurt (circular tent), as well as the harnesses on domestic animals.

Photo: Turquoise Mountain

Embroidery is produced with silk, cotton, or wool yarns on similar fabrics (or on leather). This may be augmented with sequins, tiny mirrors, or glass beads, particularly for festive attire such as wedding clothing. Although each region has its own specific motifs and combinations thereof, common patterns include the figural (human figures, animal horns), the celestial (stars, moon, sun) and the vegetal (pomegranates, leaves, tulips). Many of these are thought to be protective or beneficial for the wearer. Kaman-douzi embroidery (also known as zardozi in Iran and India) was once reserved for royalty. Thin strips of gold or silver are wound around silk thread, which is then used to embroider elaborate, shimmering patterns. In the south of Afghanistan, traditional embroidery known as khamak is used to decorate shirts and shawls. It is crafted from silk thread stitched onto linen or cotton, with tiny stitches arranged in geometric compositions which frequently cover most of the surface of the garment. As embroidery is created at home, and can be picked up and restarted as time allows, it is a particularly attractive craft for Afghan women seeking work. Needlecraft is a respected and traditional avenue of self-employment for Afghan women, many of whom use their skills to support their families. A number of international organisations promote and organise these efforts, including Kandahar Treasure and Guldusi, among others. References: Michelsen L.K. et al, Ferozkoh: Tradition and Continuity in Afghan Art. Doha: Bloomsbury Press, 2013. Paine, S. Embroidery from Afghanistan. London: British Museum Press, 2006. Rukhsar Fazely 2012 Embroidered Silk Panel Silk, silk threads H: 37.8 cm, W: 25 cm