Russian Textiles by Susan Meller

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.

Robert Kushner, “More Might Not Be Enough”, Russian Textiles


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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To purchase this book for $75 plus shipping (with or without autograph), please contact Susan Meller.

Look Inside Russian Textiles

Chapter 4 - Post-Revolutionary Florals (pages 124 + 125, and selected images)

Chapter 5 - Post-Revolutionary Modern (pages 154 + 155, and selected images)

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