Tent Bands of Central Asia (Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.)

Architectural Textiles: Tent Bands of Central Asia
The Textile Museum
Washington, D.C.
Through August 19, 2007

The recent resurgent interest in feltmaking among Fiber Artists has spawned new interest in the nomadic structures of Central Asia, namely the Turkistan region, home of peoples known as “Turkmen.” The newly named countries of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are among the places where traditionally constructed felt yurts exist today. These portable dwellings are homes for the nomads in the steppes (plains) of Central Asia. Yurts are round structures, assembled with a lattice or trellis wall, a door frame, roof poles and a crown. The shape of the roof can vary. After erecting the lattice structures, large “mother felts” are wrapped around the outside framework for protection from the elements. These felts are made from wool shorn from the sheep that accompany the nomads, and the wood for the lattices is acquired through barter in other regions. Long tent bands or ribbons are tied around the circumference of the yurt. These bands are woven pieces that measure about 18 inches wide and 50 feet in length.

The Textile Museum is now featuring Turkmen weavings that incorporate a variety of techniques and reflect the intimate family histories of those who weave them. The colorful woven tent bands include a mixture of complex multi-media techniques, such as tufting, flat weaving, varying pile heights, and pile knots. Taking up to three years to complete, they relate the personal stories, designs, and artistry of their creators. When worn from exposure to the elements, parts of these bands are recycled for use as mats, rugs, and interior decorations inside the yurt.

The highlight of this fascinating and well documented exhibit was viewing the accompanying movie, sponsored by Sam Walton’s daughter-in-law. This movie features an Asian family constructing a prize winning yurt in a contest setting. Their entry took five years to complete and included lavish tent bands and interior decorations of rugs, wall hangings and tassels.

UPDATE: The Voice of America did a news story on the exhibit that was broadcast in Uzbekistan. (It’s entirely in Uzbek, but the piece does feature great shots of the pieces on display.)