Quilts From Central Asia

Last month Jim and I traveled across northern Nebraska and through Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park. We’ve posted several times about our 3,000 mile road trip in our joint blog, Our View From Iowa.

When we returned, we dropped south into Colorado before driving across southern Nebraska. For our route, the most convenient way to cross the Missouri River is on I-80 at Omaha. To get that far, we went through Lincoln, NE, home of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.

A few days before, Jim asked me if I wanted to stop at the museum on the way by. Well, YEAH! I visited the museum with my sister a few years ago and was glad for the opportunity to go back.

The current exhibits included four small galleries, none of which drew my interest. Besides the small exhibits, a large gallery displayed dozens of quilts and other textiles from Central Asia.

It’s easy (for Americans!) to believe that quilting has its origins in the US, and is primarily an American craft. But people quilt all over the world and have since early textile history. The quilts in this exhibit show the beauty of a quilting tradition with which we’re less familiar.

The items on display played many functions. There were household objects, such as bedding and wall-hangings to decorate the interior of yurts. Some clothing for children had triangle motifs to bestow protection from danger. And horse “blankets” would dress up the plainest horse. Here are just a few of the many objects. Click on any picture to open BIG in a new tab.

Patchwork and embroidered wall hanging from southern Kyrgyzstan, mid-20th century. Note the combination of pineapple and other blocks in the outer borders. Also see how the HST are a little unpredictable.

We missed the label on this one. See the asymmetry with the extra border on left side. Also the placement of blocks is asymmetrical. Some of the blocks are unpieced ikat.

Patchwork hanging from Uzbekistan, mid-20th century. The tiniest flying geese I’ve ever seen. See how the corner blocks differ on all these miniature pieces of the bigger quilt.

Patchwork hanging from Uzbekistan, mid-20th century. So intricate! And note the background setting triangles for each of the blocks. Have you ever been so bold?

Wholecloth ikat quilt, Uzbekistan mid-20th century. I want this…

Embroidered quilt, Uzbekistan, late 19th-century. This reminds me of Indian coverlets from the 1700s.

I could have spent a lot more time looking at these beautiful pieces. But the road called and we headed home.


41 thoughts on “Quilts From Central Asia

  1. Eric

    I happened upon your post because it talked about Central Asia, a beautiful place my wife and I have called home for the last three and a half years. Those quilts are beautiful and look like many we’ve seen here. That’s great to know Central Asia has been sharing it’s rich history with the world!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It was so fun to see them in person. Some museums keep you roped back from the textiles, but in this one you can get right up to them. It definitely allows a different relationship with the piece.

  2. Clairequilty

    Always I look forward to your words. They are learning tools to me and I bookmark them to look at more than once. Never am I disappointed in all the information you present. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Mrs. P

    These are quite beautiful! I’m so glad this is an art/craft that still is in fashion, unlike lacemaking which is almost nonexistent.

    Sometimes it’s the side trips along the journey that bring out some of the interesting features in ones travels.

  4. Shasta

    Wow these are incredible. I really like the one you talked about the bold setting fabric. I really like the look of square in square blocks, and this one is amazing, but I really don’t like making them.

  5. snarkyquilter

    So glad you made that stop in Lincoln and had the chance to see how patchwork has been interpreted in other cultures. I’d love to learn more about the sources of the fabrics used. It doesn’t look like there was quilting, just piecing. Is that correct?

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      There was quilting in some places, but they were mostly not “quilted” as we think of it. The wholecloth ikat was quilted lightly across its surface. I didn’t have a picture of the small child’s coat. It was a long-sleeved, thick (padded) garment. It had appliqued triangles arranged from hem to collar, like flying geese in beak-to-tail direction, stitched through the centers to attach them to the coat. That was definitely quilted.

  6. KerryCan

    I think it’s so interesting to see patchwork techniques that we use being used on these quilts from across the world–polygenesis in action! It gives a sense of how similar we are, in spite of our differences . . .

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      There’s a big coffee table book on Indian quilts I’ve been tempted to buy. The similarities and differences with what “we” do are so fascinating.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I loved the strong colors and the irregularities. It’s the imperfections (are they??) that make quilts so interesting. Once you’ve seen perfect, you don’t need to look more. But with imperfect, there is a lot to look at.

  7. knitnkwilt

    I recently got to the International Quilt Study Center too and, like you, spent most of my time at the Central Asian exhibit. Elegant garments for people and camels.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, in truth, I didn’t look much at the garments. But there were a couple of tiny coats with triangles sewn on them, which were precious. It was well-presented. Thanks for revisiting here.

      1. Scott

        I quilted for a few month and made my daughters a few things. You gave a lot of incentive. Thanks for still being there.

          1. Scott

            My wife had two heart attacks last year. Recovery has been slow, starting over on many things. I thought helping her quilt might benefit her – I’d cut and pin and she’d sew. Tried it with small squares. So next week I’ll cut large squares and see how it goes. Just random squares with nothing in mind but doing.

          2. Melanie McNeil Post author

            “Doing” is important, even (or maybe especially) for those who can do less. I wish you both many blessings in her recovery. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

  8. katechiconi

    Oooh, those *tiny* flying geese… I love that last piece, with the beautiful embroidered motifs. It has a strangely modern look, like a William Morris reproduction, or a Liberty print.


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