I still remember the first time I saw embroidered textiles from Central Asia. An Afghan trader unloaded a pile of them in my shop and I was stunned. The colors, the tiny stitches, the organic and imperfect finishing… It was love at first sight! A few years later, I met Abdul Wardak, became partners with him in a gallery where I had access to endless examples of the talent from that region: textiles, carvings, ceramics, metal work, jewelry… I love it all, but the embroidery is especially close to my heart.
I asked about these strange pieces, shaped like an L. What were they for? Afghans told me they were used as decoration on walls and on bundles. But, it seemed so odd to me…
Many of them were longer on one side… Hmmm…. Why? I finally found out that they were called “Saye Gosha”. Janet Harvey’s Textiles from Central Asia is a must have for anyone interested in that region. Many of the textiles I was now helping to sell were documented there. But, she didn’t really explain what they were used for.
I made a stole for a preacher friend with one of them. I have one draped across a chair and another over a chest. They look great sewn on to jean jackets…
There are basically two kinds of designs that I have seen: cross stitch and a satin stitch that is more organic. I finally found out about a textile forum called TurkoTek which is a treasure trove of information and discussions by expert collectors. Unfortunately, the site is antiquated and it is very hard to navigate or to find things again once you left the page. There is this article that talks about provenance and types, including that these are also called “segusha”.
I am pretty sure that I finally found out how these are used on TurkoTek, but cannot find the article that talked about it… You will NOT believe it! These textiles are sewn on to the corners of quilts! When not in use, the quilts in a yurt are piled up high and if you want to pull out a favorite one, you would do it by looking for the embroidered corner! An indexing system…
The above photo does not show a pile of quilts, but you can get the idea of how nomads store their goods in a yurt. Fascinating!
Abdul and I no longer have a gallery together, but I manage his online presence and he has loads of inventory. He has several of these saye gosha in his shop on Etsy.
These old textiles are disappearing all over the world. When you think about all of the changes that have happened in the last three decades, it is amazing that we can even have access to them. Afghanistan, especially, has had its culture literally bombarded for all of this time and although the skills are still there, it is difficult for people to engage in this kind of work when they are struggling to have access to basic necessities.
Ethical traders help villagers and nomads by providing them with needed income and encourage them to continue making these wonderful works. And, those of us who can purchase these textiles help save them from destruction or oblivion.
See what Abdul has on Etsy now: