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Jewish woman’s coat

Bukhara, Uzbekistan, early 20th century

Silk Ikat, coton imprimé, 120 x 165 cm


Manteau de femme juive, Boukhara, Ouzbékistan, début du XXe siècle

This silk ikat coat was part of the traditional dress of Jewish women in Bukhara and Samarkand.

The Malayo-Indonesian word ikat, literally meaning “to tie, “bind”, “attach” or “wrap”, is the generic term denoting textiles produced using a technique consisting in dyeing yarn before weaving to create patterns with slightly blurred outlines. To create a pattern calculated in advance, bundles of yarn are tightly bound and wrapped before dyeing to protect the parts intended to remain white. They are then woven to create the predetermined motif. 

The legendary splendour of the costumes of the Jews of Bukhara is due to the fact that the city was a major ikat production centre, in which their community played a key role. Established in the merchant class in Uzbek urban society, the Jews dyed fabrics, wove them and traded in finished products. Masters of the silk trade, they also had access to the rarest and most costly dyes and jealously kept the secrets of their use.  

Around 1850, they obtained the right to join the Russian merchants’ guilds and trade at the great fairs at Orenburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Towards the end of the 19th century, they dominated the entire trade in textiles and particularly ikat fabrics. The latter were widely used for making garments and also in the synagogue to wrap the Torah scrolls, cover the lectern and adorn the Holy Ark.  

Wealthy Jews in Bukhara usually had few luxurious possessions other than their silk garments and furnishing fabrics. In late 19th and early 20th-century images, they are shown wearing splendid coats in interiors furnished with piles of counterpanes in silk and cotton fabrics.

The omnipresence of these valuable textiles was largely due to the custom of offering them at events such as births and marriages (the dowry’s value consisted in the number of garments and fabrics). The quantity and quality of a family’s ikat fabrics denoted its status.  

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