“As a contemporary artist obsessed with the decorative, I often wonder why the Russian export textiles illustrated in this book have remained so compelling to me for such a long time. There is something pagan and exotic about them. When I compare them with American printed textiles of the same era, I feel that I am looking at two different species. The American prints sit nicely, politely ready to be subsumed into the homogeneity of a patchwork quilt. By contrast, the Russian textiles have turned up the volume – of scale, color, and visual intensity – to rock-concert levels…Everything seems to have been picked up, recharged, enlarged, and rechanneled.”
Russian Textiles showcases the striking printed-cotton textiles designed and manufactured in Russia specifically for export to Central Asia (formerly known as Turkestan, and now comprised of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan). More than 175 full-color photographs spanning a variety of periods and styles from Art Nouveau florals to Soviet-era agitprop are featured. Additional archival photographs help put the textiles in context.
Most of the textiles in this book are from the collection of the author
The diverse peoples of Central Asia, whether nomadic or settled, both shared a rich textile culture. Felt-covered yurts as well as mud-brick houses had little furniture, if any at all. Padded patchwork quilts placed on the floor served for seating and sleeping. The walls were hung with handwoven and embroidered textiles for both practical household needs and purely aesthetic pleasure. Men, women, and children wore long outer robes in rainbow-colored silk stripes and ikats that were made by local artisans. The robes were usually lined with block-printed homespun cotton.
However, as Imperial Russia gained more and more control over Central Asia, machine-printed cottons from her factories began to flood the bazaars. Inexpensive, brightly-colored, and comfortable to wear, they became popular with the local people both to use as lining material and to make their robes from. Archival photographs from 1910 show as many people wearing printed-cotton robes as robes made from local fabrics. Russian prints were also a favorite for whole-cloth and patchwork quilts that were stacked neatly against a wall when not in use.
The Russian mills of Ivanovo, Vladimir, and surrounding regions turned out tens of thousands of different textile designs for the bazaars of Central Asia. Most of the mills are long gone, but some of their creations still survive in all their vibrancy, protected within the silken folds of the robes. One could say that this book is indeed “the inside story”.
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Look Inside Russian Textiles
Introduction (pages 14 + 15, and selected images)
The archival photographs in Russian Textiles are from sources in the Library of Congress. Those from 1871-72, are from the four-volume Turkestanskii Al’bom, which was commissioned by the first Russian governor-general of Turkestan, Konstantin Petrovich Von Kaufman, in order to document that area’s peoples, customs, and architecture. Those from 1911, were taken by the photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Sponsored by Tsar Nicholas ll, he was outfitted with a specially equipped railroad car that enabled him to complete photographic surveys of eleven regions of Russia’s vast empire. His color photographs were made using a single glass plate onto which the same image was shot three times in rapid succession, using red, green, and blue filters, respectively.
Left: GROUP OF JEWISH CHILDREN AND A TEACHER.
Samarkand, 1911. The teacher wears a Russian printed-cotton robe under his outer one, as does the boy in red next to him. (photograph from the Library of Congress)
Right: ON THE REGISTAN: SHIR-DAR MADRASSAH. Samarkand, 1911. The Registan Square has been the center of Samarkand ever since the first madrassah was built there in the early fifteenth century. In this photograph, at least twenty-one men and boys are wearing printed robes, most likely of Russian fabric. (photograph from the Library of Congress)
Chapter 1 - Paisley (pages 52 + 53, and selected images)
The paisley motif as we know it today dates back to seventeenth-century Kashmir shawl patterns, where it appeared as a graceful flowering plant with roots, a slightly curved central stem, and a nodding flower head. Over the following centuries, the plant form became more complex, and gradually evolved into the more stylized “cone”, “pine”, and “cucumber” (Russia) shape familiar in the West.
Whereas most Russian paisleys share the same origins as those in the West, certain ones in this chapter exhibit a different look (e.g. spread right and thumbnail far right). Most of these date from the last third of the 19th century and appear to be block-printed. Exhibiting a vigorous quality that is at the same time sophisticated and primitive, these fabric designs are uniquely Russian.
Left: ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH
(lining of an ikat robe). Russia, late 19th c.
Right: BLOCK-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH (backing of an ikat panel). Russia, mid-20th c.
Chapter 2 - Pre-Revolutionary Florals (pages 80 + 81, and selected images)
By 1867 Russia had consolidated her control over most of Central Asia and the push began in earnest to turn Turkestan into a major cotton-producer in order to supply Russia’s rapidly growing textile industry – as well as provide a market for the finished product. Bright colors, particularly red, and bold florals were popular with both the Russian peasants and the people of Central Asia. Most of the patterns were derived from traditional Western European designs, but colors were often intensified and repeats simplified on cloth made for the Central Asian markets. This twist on the conventional imparted a certain edginess that now appeals to Western eyes as well.
Left: WOMAN’S ROBE
. Khiva (Khorezm region), early 20th c. Adras ikat; lined with Russian printed cotton (opposite). 47 x 54”. Dark-colored ikats like this one were favored by the people in this area. Note the two Turkey-red paisley scarves lining the side panels of the robe.
Right: ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH (lining of the robe opposite). Russia, early 20th c. This was a relatively expensive fabric to print. It required eight copper rollers (one for each color). Each roller was half-etched in a time-consuming process that enabled several shades of a single color to be printed with the same roller.
Chapter 3 - Art Nouveau (pages 98 + 99, and selected images)
Referred to as Stil’ modern in Russia, the distinctive Art Nouveau style flourished during Russia’s Silver Age, a period from 1890 to 1917. The Art Nouveau fabrics in this book are similar in design to those of Western Europe but differ in color. The Europeans favored muted shades or dark, often somber greens, golds, and browns, whereas the Russian Art Nouveau prints for Central Asia were vividly colored. There they were frequently made up into traditional T-shaped robes, where the long straight panels showed off the bold patterns.
Left: WOMAN’S ROBE
(shown inside out). Probably Bukhara, late 19th – early 20th c. shohi (all-silk) ikat, lined with adras ikat lapse and Russian printed cotton (opposite). 47 x 63”
Right: ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH (lining of the robe opposite). Russia, late 19th – early 20th c
Chapter 4 - Post-Revolutionary Florals (pages 124 + 125, and selected images)
On October 25, 1917 , the Bolsheviks seized power. Nine months later, on July 17, 1918, the tsar and his family were executed. The next three years were chaotic. Civil war, strikes, peasant uprisings, acute food shortages, and a struggling new government resulted in a complete disintegration of the Russian economy. By May 1920, only eight of Ivanovo’s one hundred thirty textile mills were open.
Under Lenin’s New Economic Plan (introduced in 1921), the industry did recover and by 1928 employed more people than any other Russian industry.
Under Stalin, large vertical textile combines were built in Central Asia that both manufactured and printed cloth. The patterns were very similar to those produced in Russian mills.
Left top: ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH
(lining of a woman’s ikat parandja – a cloak-like garment; colorway of the textile below). Russia, mid-20th c.
Left bottom: ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH (colorway of textile above). Russia, mid-20th c.
Right: MACHINE-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH (lining of a girl’s robe). Russia, mid-20th c.
Chapter 5 - Post-Revolutionary Modern (pages 154 + 155, and selected images)
After the 1917 revolution, among the first wave of artists who stepped into the design studios of the barely functioning state-owned mills were the Constructivists. Their designs reflected their ideology – spare, abstract or geometric motifs in one or two colors, which symbolized the universal Soviet man or woman.
Neither understood nor appreciated by the people in Russia and Central Asia whom they were designed for, these minimalist patterns were replaced by thematic, also called “agitprop” patterns. These messages were clear – tractors, machine parts, light bulbs, planes and trains – all cleverly worked into repeating patterns.
However, they too failed to appeal to their intended market and these patterns were officially declared “inferior and inappropriate designs”. The mills once again began to turn out pretty floral prints.
Left top: TURKMEN SADDLE COVER
. Turkmenistan, 1920s-30s. Wool pile, backed with Russian printed cotton (below). The backing appears to be original to the piece.
Left bottom: ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH (backing of saddle cover above). Russia, c.1930. This design is very similar to one created in 1927 by P. Leonov for an Ivanovo textile mill. A colorway of the design was also found lining a Turkman child’s kurta (poncho-like garment). Among the Soviet symbols shown are sunrays spreading out from behind dark clouds; sunflowers flourishing across the red ground; and five-pointed stars.
Right: ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH. Digital restoration of the saddle-cover backing opposite.
Chapter 6 - Outside Influences (pages 162 + 163, and selected images)
Throughout the history of printed textiles, their designs have reflected cross-cultural influences. The mills in and around Ivanovo and Moscow manufactured large quantities of printed cloth for their huge domestic markets as well as for export to Central Asia, China, Persia, and Japan. During the late 19th century, Europe, the United States, and Russia looked to France as the leader in fashion. Textile manufacturers subscribed to Parisian swatch services and traveled to France and England to buy textile designs from the studios. Many home furnishing fabrics with large-scale motifs and one-directional repeats were adapted from these designs and exported to Central Asia, where the local people used them for their traditional robes.
Left: WOMAN’S ROBE
(shown inside out). Uzbekistan, late 19th- early 20th c.; adras ikat, lined with Russian printed cotton (opposite); 49 x 55”
Right: ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON CLOTH (lining of the woman’s robe opposite). Russia, late 19th – early 20th c. Influence: Western European home-furnishing design
Chapter 7 - Stripes and Chits (pages 194 + 195, and selected images)
Prior to the influx of inexpensive Russian prints, most Central Asian robes were made from a variety of locally woven stripes, ikats, and solid color silk. They were usually lined with handwoven, block-printed cotton called “chit”.
By the 1870s, Russian printed-cotton cloth had became widely available. Poorer folk began making their robes out of it, while those who continued to wear the more expensive handwoven silk ikat and stripes, used it as lining material – to the detriment of the chit workshops.
Russian mills also produced an endless array of both yarn-dyed and printed stripes. While these did not catch on as primary robe material, they were used extensively for the inside borders.
Well into the 20th century, Turkmen women continued to weave silk stripes in traditional colors and patterns for their family’s clothing.
Left: ALACHA STRIPES.
Turkmen, first quarter of the twentieth century. Silk warp/cotton weft. 3 x 3”. Handwoven striped fabrics such as these were commonly used for clothing, household articles, or animal trappings. These particular pieces were backed with chit (block-printed handwoven cotton cloth) and joined with many others to make a large and very decorative patchwork camel trapping.
Right top: BLOCK-PRINTED COTTON CHIT (lining of a Turkman man’s red/yellow striped silk robe). Central Asia, early 20th c. This popular pattern was resist dyed in an indigo bath. The weaving, printing, and dyeing of the cloth all took place in regional workshops.
Right bottom: BLOCK-PRINTED COTTON CHIT (backing of a Kyrgyz embroidered tent hanging). Probably Uzbekistan, first quarter 20th c.
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