a fabrics lover diary

Islamic Textiles


Definition of Islamic textiles:

Conventionally Islamic textiles focus on the works, religous or secular, produced in Egypt, Syria, Iran and Anatolia from the seventh century. Dispite the facts that Asian countries like Pakistan or Indonesia are Islamic their textile production is not considered Islamic by convention.

Before Islam

Textiles were manufactured and exchanged in Iran, Egypt and the middle east much before the birth of Muhammad in the 7th century.
It has been proven that there was some kind of commercial exchange between China, Egypt and the Roman Empire . Silk coming probably from China was found on an Egyptian mummy dated 1000 BC in THEBES IN 1993; The Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BCE) refered to Chinese Silk in the Georgics, versus 121, book2.

Textile technologies were transmitted from the Far East through the multiple conflicts and tribal wars as hostages with their knowldge moved and transmitted their know-how from one area to another.

What Islam changed

Every aspect of life for a Muslim is theotitically governed by the Islam law, the Sharia. There are many avdice or rules relating to fabric, dress, colour and design. Considered as an attempt to imitate the creator in his works, figural representation of human and animals is proscribed. Consequently the art of islamic textile cannot be understood without some knowledge of Islam and its history.

What Islam did not change

The middle-east has always been a complicated area divided into a multitude of human groups with their own customs and powers structure. Islam has not overcome all what exited before , many groups with different believings, many old traditions survived for a very long time. The Islamic textile art was influenced by technic and esthetics coming from the west ( the Bizantine culture) , the north ( Caucasian and central Asia tribes) and the east ( India and China).


Another measure of social status was personal dress. Textiles from the first centuries of the Islamic era survive mainly in the form of fragments, including tiraz, with their characteristic embroidered or woven inscriptions supplying the name and titles of the ruler. Such cloth, produced in state factories, would be distributed by the reigning monarch to members of his court. A remarkable tiraz in LACMA's collection (fig. 16) that testifies to the ecumenical nature of Fatmid society bears a woven inscription in the names of the ruler al-'Aziz (r. 975–96) and his chief minister or vizier Ibn Killis (served 977–90). Killis, who was of Jewish origin, was famous for the financial reforms that helped bring enormous prosperity to Egypt as well as to the vizier.

Woven items play an unique role in cultural and social history. Textiles are one of the chief means of artistic expression of a culture and the most influential vehicle for the transmission of artistic ideas and styles. Texatiles move from national boundaries due to social and political upheaval as well as due to economic and diplomatic circumstances. Textiles were and are a vital economic component of Islamic society. Tiraz cloth production was most important during the Abbasid and Fatimid periods; and cloth production became the official responsibility of a major government department. The issuing of Tiraz became a royal prerogative; (the word tiraz is Persian for embroidery). Tiraz inscriptions often included the ruler's name and title and the date may be inscribed.

Uni Michigan

The Early Islamic World Beginning in the mid-seventh century, Arabic Islamic civilization spread throughout the Middle East, parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa due to increasing political power, economic domination, as well as religious conversion. Even in its earliest stages, this civilization was complex, because multi-cultural, incorporating the territories, populations, and traditions of neighboring civilizations, including Byzantium, Persia, and western Europe, while profoundly influencing them as well. Literacy in the Arabic language, required for study of the Ko'ran, was crucial to the dissemination of Islamic culture. Along with a dramatic rise in literacy came the emergence of decorative Arabic scripts and the growing popularity of inscriptions in all art forms. Signs of the adoption of Islamic culture included the emulation of royal customs and participation in an elite economic network based, in part, upon the giving of significant gifts, such as finely crafted and inscribed textiles.

Tiraz and Other Inscribed Textiles


Inscribed textiles record valuable information concerning broad historical trends. They document increasing government control over the textile industry, names of officials and rulers associated with these prestige items, the spread of Arabic language, the phenomenal popularity of the written word, as well as the special economic force of gift giving. The strictest government controls were reserved for a garment decoration called "tiraz," which is an inscribed arm band, given by the caliph as a badge of honor, favor, and distinction. The word "tiraz" originally meant embroidery, especially a robe with embroidered bands with writing on them. It came to mean an inscription--embroidered, woven, or painted. "Tiraz" was also used to designate the royal factories that manufactured such work and the operations of these factories. The word is of Persian origin, but the practice of bestowing special garments and cloths was an ancient one, mentioned in the Old Testament and Roman histories and important in the Byzantine empire. The most significant precedent for Arabic Islamic custom, however, seems to have come from the beginning of Islamic history, when the Prophet Muhammed gave his mantle to the poet Ka'b b. Zuhayr. To medieval Middle Eastern bourgeoisie, royal tiraz garments were status symbols as well as valuable property. Tiraz were also bestowed privately among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Examples of early Islamic inscribed textiles from the Kelsey Museum's collections provide unique insights into the tiraz collections of named individuals as well.


THE OPULENT WORLD OF TIRA^ AND PRECIOUS TEXTILES It was briefly noted in Chapter Two that the production of special embroidered fabrics in palace textile factories began during the first caliphal dynasty and became a standard element of the Islamic ves-timentary system. Tiraz, or embroidered, garments were in fact such a hallmark feature of medieval Islamic material haut bourgeois cul-ture that they are almost invariably worn by the people depicted in medieval illuminated miniatures with the exception of slaves and laborers. Although the wearing of such luxury garments was by no means as ubiquitous as the illustrations of Arabic manuscripts would suggest, they express a fashion ideal much in the same way as mod-ern magazines or Hollywood depict a mode that was to be aspired to. Because of this centrality of tiraz and other luxurious textiles in the Islamic vestimentary system, no history of Arab attire would be com-plete without some detailed discussion of the tiraz institution and the world of fine fabrics. The Term Tiraz The Arabic term tiraz is a Persian loanword (cf Pers. tardz, “adorn-ment” or “embellishment” and tiriz, “gusset” or “gore”) originally meaning “embroidery” or “decorative work” (Arabic ‘alam) on a garment or piece of fabric.1 It later came to mean a khil’a, or “robe of honor,” richly adorned with elaborate embroidery, especially in the form of 1 Cf. the Persian verb tardziddn. The root appears in the Talmud in a variant reading of Tractate Shabbat 98b in the form tiriz and is understood by Hay Gaon (died Baghdad, 1038) as being of Persian origin. See Samuel Krauss, ed., Additamenta ad Librum Aruch Completum Alexandri Kohut (Pardes: New York, 1955), p. 207a. The Arab lexicographers al-Layth and al-Azhari also believed the word to be arabized ( muarrab) Persian. See al-Zabldi, Toj al-Arus IV, p. 48. the OPULent WORLd OF TIRAZ and PReGIOUS teXtILeS 121 embroidered bands with writing upon them. These embroidered bands ran either along the border of the textile, sometimes arranged in two, or even more, strips around the upper part of the garment or were placed around the neck, around the sleeves, on the upper arm or wrists of a sleeved robe and even on the headdress. In medieval manuscript illuminations most people are depicted in garments with gold tiraz bands on the upper sleeves, sometimes with actual inscrip-tions as in the case of the atabeg Badr al-Din Lu’lu’ ‘Abd Allah in Pl. 23. Tiraz patches frequently adorn men’s turbans in these paintings, as in the case of Pls. 39 and 40. They were used not only as orna­mental borders but were also put in the pattern of the material. Many, if not most tiraz bands contained pious formulas and blessings. But in addition to these formulaic inscriptions, the name of the place of manufacture and of the vizier or other official in charge of the treasury or of the firaz-factory where the textile was produced could be found; more rarely the name of the artist who made the cloth might also be given. In the earliest centuries of Islam, such a garment was worn by rulers and members of their entourage (ashab al-khil‘a). Tiraz (and dar al-tiraz) also came to designate the workshop in which such fabrics or robes were manufactured. A secondary development from the mean-ing “embroidered strip of writing” is that of “strip of writing”, border or braid in general, applied not only to inscriptions woven, embroi­dered, or sewn-on materials, but also to any inscriptions on a band of any kind, whether hewn out of stone, done in mosaic, glass or faience, or carved in wood.2 Until about the middle of the tenth/ fourth century, when the production of papyrus ceased in Egypt, the word tiraz sometimes also designated the inscriptions officially stamped with ink upon the rolls of papyrus in the factories. This usage of tiraz was in turn extended to indicate the factories themselves.

Umayyads (661–750)

Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258)

Safavids Iran
Like the Ottomans, the Safavids inherited a tradition of symmetrical scrollwork designs set with fantastic blossoms. They used them with impressive skill. On the Ardabil carpet, two designs of this type, one laid over the other, cover the vast, dark-blue field of the carpet. A simpler example is offered by the central design on the blue silk hanging. The flowerheads in the borders show the new floral motifs that were imported from India after 1600.(V&A)


Further Readings

Early Islamic textiles: Rogers & Podmore, 1983.
The spread of Islam did not produce a sudden revolution in textile design. Rather, the 600 years after the prophet's death in 632 AD saw the fusion of the great weaving traditions of the Byzantine and Sassanian empires with those of their Islamic conquerors. From these beginnings grew the Islamic textile that we know today. The articles cover: textile techniques at the time of the conquests, the cotton and silk trade; a critical appreciation of aspects of design; the Persian influence; recent archaeological discoveries; the historical context. Contributors include: Simon Crosby, Hero Granger-Taylor, Gillian Eastwood and Clive Rogers.

Islamic Textiles by Patricia L. Baker, 1995, British Musum Press.
Persan textiles from the 6th to the 18th Century. Nancy Andrews reath & Eleanor B. Sachs. Yale University Press
Nancy Lindisfarne-Tapper and Bruce Ingham (eds), Languages of Dress in the Middle East
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