Weaving is an integral part of the tangible culture of the Tajiks. The first archaeological evidence of the emergence of weaving among Tajiks date back to Neolithic era, when weaving looms appear in the agricultural oases. Remnants of clothing made of cellulose and silk fabrics found in the settlements of Sapalytepa date back to second millennium BC.
Traditions related to the production of hand-made fabrics have been taking shape on the territory of ethnic Tajiks for centuries. Historical evidence indicates that, apart from Bukhara and Samarkand, the cities of Khojent, Istaravshan, Kanibadam, Penjikent as well as villages in the Hissar Valley, Khatlon and the Pamirs were among the main centers of weaving in Central Asia.
Ethereal silk, fabrics with gold and silver threads, polychrome silk, woolen and cotton fabrics, combined textiles were all produced here.
Traditions of Tajik textile have acquired a special identity and originality in the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries. Two main types of fabrics were made: cotton fabrics (kalami, alacha, susi, chit), which were mainly produced by women, and silk fabrics (shohi, atlas, khanatlas) as well as semi-silk fabrics (bekasab, banoras, basma, adras, bakhmal and others), which were the products of male labor.
Wool-weaving was common among the Tajiks of Karategin, the highlands of Darvaz and Pamirs. Homespun cloth from sheep and camel hair was used to make men’s outerwear. The most common was production of cloth (ragza) from sheep’s wool of natural colors. The woven fabric was then milled in a solution of pea flour, which gave it extra density and strength. Craftsmen also produced woolen fabrics of chavgilim, bisot and shalkazin.
In the Fergana Valley, there was production of traditional silk and semi-silk fabrics for nobility, woven in abrbandi technique (bound cloud), similar to the technology of production of ikat. Patterns put on fabric were named certain way, and often became additional name of specific cloth. They could be bear the name of the master who first used the pattern, for example: Sokhti Mansuri (“Mansur’s masterpiece”), or according to the associative images of the animal world, pari tovusi (“peacock wing”), koklik kuzi (partridge eye); or due to technological features of a fabric, chapa nuskha (“inverse pattern“); as well as indicative of the coloristic characteristics of the fabric, cabud (“blue”), surkh (“red”) and sharak (“dawn”).
In the middle of the twentieth century silk and cotton handicrafts were almost completely replaced by cheaper fabrics of factory production. But with the collapse of Soviet Union and subsequent independence at the end of the century, due to development of cultural tourism, interest in traditional fabrics and demand for themis growing. In Sughd region, several training centres opened in which wives of labor migrants, single unemployed women and housewives are trained in weaving. This way state authorities are trying to reduce unemployment rates and revive ancient crafts at the same time.
Electronic Library of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of Peter the Great, (Kunstkamera) RAS © MAE RAS Traditional Tajik fabrics