KNOTS OF NATIONAL MEMORY
Turkmen national embroidery is an original phenomenon. Like the famous Turkmen carpets, it has not only been preserved in its original form but also developed further in line with new trends, becoming a distinctive brand of the modern Turkmen fashion industry.
The ornamental embroidery is currently widely used both in everyday traditional clothes and modern outfits of Turkmen women. Despite the advanced technologies and equipment that make it possible to quickly reproduce any pattern, modern women of fashion prefer hand-made products, especially appreciating replicas of ancient samples of national ornaments. In addition, painstaking handwork offers an endless series of variations and improvisations, giving the final product individuality and “spirituality”.
In Turkmenistan, needlework has always been the occupation of the best hereditary craftswomen. Among them are those who pay great attention to the preservation of ancient ornaments, restoration of lost patterns.
Like carpet weaving, needlework implies a kind of message, conveying the mood, thoughts and feelings of their creators. In the old days, almost all women knew how to make embroidery, as it was associated with the way of life, rituals and customs of the people. Embroidered outfits were part of the bride’s dowry that girls would prepare from childhood.
Embroidered takhya (headwear), shirts and dons (oriental robes) were also part of the wardrobe of children, boys and men.
Archaeological explorations carried out in the territory of Turkmenistan confirm the antiquity of this type of handicraft, its centuries-old history. At all times, embroidery has been associated with nature, work and life of people. When making embroidery, needlewomen used common motives underlying traditional national patterns. A circle is their characteristic feature, symbolizing a sun. Flower petals and leaves are normally embroidered in such circle.
As a rule, craftswomen also used a certain color set of yarn, which was not very diverse, since in the past they used only a few vegetable dyes. In this regard, the researchers note that the embroidery pattern of the southern Turkmen regions was richer in color than the embroidery pattern of the northern regions. At the same time, natural dyes were strong, preventing embroidery from fading and helping it to retain its freshness, strength and durability.
They also turned to nature to create plots (sketches) for embroidery, trying to adopt from it the colors and shapes of flowers and plants. However, the favorite motives were flowers - lotuses, tulips, often enclosed in a circle or rhombus, providing a kind of starting point for building a composition.
The Turkmen style of making embroidery used to begin with the manufacture of natural fine silk threads. They were intertwined in three layers and twisted into one thread, and then straightened. After twisting three layers separately, the thread would acquire a certain shine.
A variety of embroidery techniques helped to transfer the rich artistic and figurative thinking of craftswomen onto an ornament. Each stitch and sign had its place, and certain patterns symbolized love, friendship, nature, strength, allowing a craftswoman to convey a wide range of feelings and moods.
Festive clothes of women, including wedding clothes, were especially brightly decorated. Magical meaning was attached to many patterns. So, some of the embroidered things were amulets that protected the house and people from various troubles and diseases. For example, a tree symbolized a long life and interconnection of everything on earth, a flower was considered a symbol of beauty and purity, and a red flower was a symbol of earthly love. Circles represented motherhood, fertility and abundance. A circle was also considered a sign of femininity. Squares denoted farmers and fertility of fields. Wavy lines denoted signs of water. Triangles denoted a man.
Color of the pattern had no less symbolic meaning. Numerous shades of red still predominate in the clothes of Turkmen women, including in its decoration with embroidery. This color, beloved in Turkmen folk art, was associated with the life-giving force of nature, and magical qualities were attributed to it, such as promotion of well-being, health, childbirth and protection from the evil eye.
When embroidering, each needlewoman was guided by certain rules and traditions. People tried to protect the most vulnerable places from evil spells and diseases with embroidery. Therefore, they decorated the front of the dress, the back of the shirt, collar, side, neckline, oblique cut and bottom of the sleeves. Over time, the protective meaning of embroidery was forgotten. There remained only the tradition of decorating clothes with embroidered patterns.
Hand-made embroidery also shows its territorial affiliation. Despite the common technique, embroidery, like other types of folk art, had its own characteristics in each locality. One can find patterns characteristic of the regions and color preferences in any embroidery. Over the years, local relations expanded and craftswomen learned from each other, adopted experience of their neighbors, enriching and improving their own patterns.
In the process of skills transfer, experienced craftswomen, mostly older members of the family, instilled in girls feminine qualities such as perseverance, patience, accuracy, obedience, which are valued in the East, but at the same time a sense of color and harmony. And the flight of imagination of each needlewoman transformed the work, making the embroidery unique and “talking”.
In the process of informal conversations, not only skills and embroidery techniques were passed on. They also shared stories about ancestors, legends about love, goodness and peace that helped to decide on a plot of their needlework and, to a greater extent, create patriotic sentiments and aesthetic ideas.
Handmade embroidery gradually turned into a craft. Products with embroidery began to be sold in bazaars, and embroidery became a profession for many skilled craftswomen.
Many old clothing and household items decorated with embroidery have survived to this day. These original monuments of the past centuries, filled with endless love for life and a subtle emotional vision of the beauty of the world, are carefully preserved in the ethnographic collections of the museums of Turkmenistan.
Collections of Turkmen women’s clothing are of great interest. They include head-dressing robes embroidered with ornaments (kurte, chyrpy), women’s dresses (koinek), women’s wrap robes (chavyt, maldoi don, sarytakhta don). Anything produced by the magic hands of Turkmen craftswomen became a highly artistic and unique piece of applied art, distinguished by amazing technique, delicate taste and sustainability of traditions.
Such works can tell connoisseurs of folk applied art a lot about history, nature and climate of the country, traditions and customs of the people, talents of their creators. Since the art of ornamental embroidery is passed down from generation to generation, many ancient patterns are still popular, reflecting the depth of tradition and its promise.
Modern craftswomen study the experience of the past centuries and, on this basis, create new products using lighter techniques in keeping with current realities, in which national embroidery has gone beyond its original purpose. It is now increasingly used not only for decorating clothes but also for decorating interior items (napkins, curtains, tablecloths, pillowcases for sofa cushions, panels) and towels. In modern design, they can be found on men’s ties, shoes, holders for mobile phones, as well as cosmetic bags, handbags and purses, backpacks, hats, scarves, etc.
Being an important component of the national cultural heritage, the ancient art of embroidery of Turkmens deserves more extensive study and popularization, and this was the reason for its nomination to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Preparation of joint proposals in this area was the topic of an online meeting at the Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan with representatives of the UNESCO Cluster Office in the capital of Iran on February 1, 2021.
During the videoconference, the sides discussed the multi-nomination file “The Art of Embroidery” (Kesdecilik sungaty). Turkmenistan and Iran were the representing states. Moreover, Iran mainly represented embroidery of the costumes of the Turkmen ethnic group living in the north of the country, which is currently widely used by many Iranians.
From time immemorial, hand-made embroidery has reflected the originality of the national traditions of the Turkmen people, and the international recognition of its importance will contribute to the preservation of this type of folk art and further strengthen the ties between different cultures.