Posted by Richard Farber on 07-18-2005 01:13 AM:

the relative expence of silk cotton and wool

dear all

the question that i would like to ask is

what was the relative price or expence of cotton silk and wool in the various areas of central asia and how did it change over time.


richard farber

i am thinking of the very large numbers of items of clothing that were made with a silk cotton mix in the 19th century and only of silk in the early twentieth century . . . was this price related?

i believe that concrete information on prices would be very beneficial in understanding the use of the various materials

Posted by Steve Price on 07-18-2005 10:47 AM:

Hi Richard

That information ought to be available, although I'm not sure where. I'd expect wool to be the least expensive fiber in the groups whose economy revolved around raising sheep, and that cotton and silk would be easiest to obtain in the urban centers.


Steve Price

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 07-31-2005 03:27 PM:

The Queen of the Sciences...

Greetings Richard, Steve, and All

It was my economics professor, good ol' H.P.G. H. Thomas, who pointed out the singular nature of economics and it's relationship to our natural world. If it occurs, it's somehow a function of economics.

Richard, you had stated that

"i am thinking of the very large numbers of items of clothing that were made with a silk cotton mix in the 19th century and only of silk in the early twentieth century . . . was this price related?".

Jahannes Khalter, in his Arts and Crafts of Turkestan, notes that

"The cultivation of cotton, which had origionally been imported from India,had a centuries old tradition, too. Cotton growing and sericulture (silkworms) were the foundation on which the flourishing textile workshops in the towns of Turkestan depended. Cotton has been an important export article since before the Russian conquest. As early as 1880, the long-fibered American cotton-plant was introduced by the Russians and areas of cotton cultivation were considerably enlarged. A great number of irrigation projects, particularlly those carried out after 1920, aimed at the extension of cotton growing. Today, two thirds of the Soviet Union's cotton harvest is gathered in the Republic of Uzbekistan. Cotton growing in Turkestan made possible the rise of Russian textile manufacture. As early as the last decades of the 19th century, cheap Russian cotton printed fabrics were beginning to supplant the products of the traditional Turkestan textile workshops more and more, bringing them almost to a standstill, except for the production of ikat materials with very simple decoration. (Kalter, pg.16)".

This would suggest to me that a decline of indigenous cotton production could be the root cause of fabrics composed entirely of silk supplanting the earlier cotton /silk blends.

Also from Kalter, the following

"According to the literature, in Turkestan, silk and mixed silk/cotton fabrics are called"abra" or "adra", in Afghanistan (according to Janata), generally "pardah" (meaning a curtain)."and,

"To make ikat, the yarn is stretched on the loom. The work is described by Janata as follows: "In the present case, the threads of the warp are dyed before weaving by tying them together in bundles according to the desired pattern. A material of several colors requires several binding and dyeing processes. Since it is impossible to tie the bundles so tightly that sharp outlines are produced, ikat weaves can be recognized by the way the colored sections flow in the direction of the patterned threads. One ikat weave requires the services of nine specialists, from spinning the silk yarn to weaving. In other places, for simpler products, fewer sufficed. It is not yet clear who made the ikat fabrics. The repeated expressed theory that it was made by Jews has not been substantiated. Janata's conclusion that they were made by Tadzhiks (Arab ethnics) is the most probable, especially since all the data relating to what craftsmen belonged to which ethnic groups, indicate most of the craftsmen practising technically sophisticated crafts were in fact Tadzhiks."

Will be back with more before long.


Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-25-2005 06:49 PM:

Ikat = Arab?

Hi Steve, Richard

Follow this link to an example of 10th century ikat production from the Arabian Peninsula. Further evidence that ikat production in Central Asia could have been of Arabic origin?


Posted by Chuck Wagner on 09-25-2005 10:11 PM:


Hi Dave,

I don't think that the presence of this piece in Yemen necessarily means it was made in Yemen. With centuries of oceangoing trading going on along the shores of the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Peninsula, and East Africa, I think it's equally likely that it came to Yemen from the ports of South Asia or Persia.


Chuck Wagner

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-25-2005 10:44 PM:

Hi Chuck

The first line from the Met's link to Tiraz states,

"The striped textiles of Yemen were famous in medieval times throughout the Islamic world. They were made in the ikat technique, in which the cotton warp threads were bundled together and resist-dyed before being arranged on the loom to form patterns of arrowheads and diamonds"

and granted, it doesen't state that they were made there, but if memory serves, Yemen is recognized as an early producer of cloth in the ikat technique.


Posted by Chuck Wagner on 09-26-2005 07:01 AM:

Hi Dave,

Hmmm. I missed the little Description link.

The aggregate result of what I have read about the origins of ikat strongly suggests that, for Asian and circum-Asian cultures, the technique spread outward from India via trade routes.

Interestingly, and unlikely to be connected with Indian trade routes, ancient ikat fabrics have been identified in Pre-Columbian locations in South America.


Chuck Wagner

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-26-2005 10:42 AM:

Supply and Demand

Hi Chuck
Don't get me wrong, I havent mastered this by any measure, just trying to put it into perspective. Way back in the days of the Muslim expansion, this region of Central Asia was settled and administered by the Arabs. Early ikats are found in the (9-10 cent.?)in Central Asia, so it's history of production could be of substantial duration. And consumption of these Yemeni ikats is described as a pan Arab phenomonon. No proof but...


Posted by Richard_Farber on 09-26-2005 12:42 PM:

dear all

to my understanding it was only in the dying of cloth that the jews of central asia took part in ikat production. this is third or fourth hand information from various catalogues published in israel


richard farber

as to the question of ikats made in yemen. the might or might have been made there and research is necessary. i just wanted to remind us all that the port where materials were exported from often gave the name to the product. you ruggies probobly remember many examples

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-27-2005 12:01 AM:

Time, Research, Progress March On...

Hi Richard

You had stated that

"to my understanding it was only in the dying of cloth that the jews of central asia took part in ikat production"

and as such was my own. Follow this link to a K.S.U. Museum presentation of Kaleidoscopic Dreamcoats: Central Asian Ikat Robes. So far all well and good. Then we find this Boston Museum of Fine Arts review, in which the varied ethnic artisans,

" Tadjiks, Jews, and Uzbeks-cooperated to make ikat fabric".

Still nothing out of the ordinary. But next I come across, in an Artscope review of the
Goldman collection that

"Ikats were produced among the resident Jewish population as well as by Muslims, and a Jewish groom in 1874 paid for his bride: "nine robes, one garment of French silk, one brocaded waistcoat, a silk garment, two ikat mourning robes, sandals with gold embroidered overshoes and a bathing apron."

Which is correct? Also, I find

"Fragments and records of ikat go back 1,200 years in Yemen, on the Arabian peninsula, and in Java, one of Indonesia's big islands, said Massumeh Farhad, chief curator at the Sackler. It may have sprung up independently in many places where weavers were seeking new patterns and color effects"

on the Carl Hartman (AP) review of Goldman's exhibit at the Sackler. This of course does not preclude the possibility of the techniques migration through trade with India, as forewarded by some authors.

Also, the following from Khalter, above,

"According to the literature, in Turkestan, silk and mixed silk/cotton fabrics are called "abra" or "adra", in Afghanistan (according to Janata), generally "pardah" (meaning a curtain)."

I think it worth mentioning that the products of Jewish craftsman, save for items of ritual, were indistinguishable from those produced by others in Turkmenistan. Memory serving, as always .


Posted by Steve Price on 09-27-2005 06:01 AM:

Hi Dave

Your message presents the following two statements as though they were mutually exclusive:
1. my understanding it was only in the dying of cloth that the jews of central asia took part in ikat production (from Richard Farber's post)

2. Ikats were produced among the resident Jewish population as well as by Muslims, ... (from an Artscope review of the Goldman collection)

I don't see anything contradictory about those, unless we take the second one to mean that there were central Asian Jews who produced ikat cloth (from dying to weaving) on something more than a casual scale. I'd also incline to taking the conventional wisdom as being more likely to be correct in the absence of evidence to the contrary.


Steve Price

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 09-27-2005 07:56 AM:

Reinterpretation =Transformation?

Hi Steve

I had just thought it interesting how the same information, reworded and or used within a different context, lends itself to reinterpretation. Together here the distinctions are readily apparent, individually less so.
We read from the K.S.U site, that

"Both technical knowledge and social status were passed from father to son, and marriages were usually contracted within the same occupation class, assuring that selected crafts remained the specialty of certain ethnic groups",

much less prone to misinterpretation than

"Ikats were produced among the resident Jewish population as well as by Muslims".

Kindered examples of Richard's above cited "third or fourth hand information"?


Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 10-11-2005 02:12 AM:

History of Turkestan Textile Exports

Hi Richard, Steve

Just another passagr or two from Kalter regarding the production of textiles in Turkmenistan.

Only in the 9th century did independant Islamic states emerge in Turkestan, at first still formally dependant on the court of the (Arab) Caliph. The most important of these states, culturally as well as economically, was the Samanid Empire (874 - 999). The Samanid's capital was Bukhara, their most important governor's seat was Nishapur.


As documented by tens of thousands of Samanid coins found in Scandanavia, but also a few scattered ones in Central Europe, Samanid trade, passing via the Volga basin, reached nearly the whole of europe. The list of export goods made up by the Arab geographer Mukadasi in the 10th century (Brentjes 1976), is long and impressive. His (incomplete) list comprises: rugs and prayer rugs from Bukhara and Samarkand, fine cloths and weavings made from wool, cotton, and silk, soap, makeup, consecration oil, bows that could only be bent by the strongest men, swords, armour, stirrups,fittings, saddles,quivers, tents, rasins, sesame, nuts, honey, sheep, cattle, horses and hawks, iron, sulfer, copper.

They have been exporting these textiles for a long time.