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Historical medieval Islamic arts and textiles influenced by TIRAZ fabric

Introduction

Many words for textiles have been included from Arabic and Persian into European languages; Thus, damask derives from Damascus, the capital of Syria; muslin from Mosul, a city on the upper Euphrates. The royal garments were inscribed with the caliph’s name and came to be known as ‘Tiraz’ – from the Persian Tirazidan, which means embroider and it is a banded decoration and inscriptions on garments.

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Figure 1: Tiraz was produced from about the 7th century until the 14th century. Courtesy: Collected

History of the islamic royal garments

Textiles were important to understand the history of art. Tiraz was produced from about the 7th century until the 14th century. There is a different timeline of this royal fabric production.

  • Umayyad Caliphate: The inscribed Tiraz embroidery first came into existence under the Umayyad caliphate. During this period, Islam began to expand and conquer the people of the Arabian Peninsula. Accompanied to this was the spread of this embroidered fabric Tiraz, which was left upon the conquered people and stated both the name of their caliph and a message about their religious faith. They made mosques with vibrant colors and used geometric designsbecause representational art wasn’t allowed.
  • Abbasid Dynasty: During this period, Baghdad was a thriving metropolis and was visited by traders from the remotest corners of the world. These traders were significant because they could introduce the Tiraz embroidery to the remote corners from which they came and contribute to the spread of the Islamic message the embroideries held. Additionally, this also allowed for the west to come in contact with these inscribed Tiraz’s and fueled the western demand as well as influenced western dress. Through the Western portals of Islam, like Spain, the western dress was directly influenced by this fabric.
  • Fatimid Tiraz fragment: The inscription on 10th-century textile names the first Fatimid ruler, Fatimid Caliph al-Mu’izz (925-975), who found the city of Cairo. The medallions with the animals are a typical motif on Fatimid Tiraz. The production of textiles was an important luxury industry in Egypt at that time. These were widely used in the Islamic world up until about the 14th century.

Under the SafavidsMughals, and Ottomans, Tiraz was highly valued by the court and the elite. During the Egyptian Mamluk Sultanate (AD 1250-1517), the Tiraz production gradually broke down and eventually vanished. The production of embroidered Tiraz, however, survived to the beginning of the 21st century in the form of large-scale embroidered and applique wall hangings, panels and tents, which are often accompanied by Islamic content. These forms are made, among others, in the famous Street of the Tent Makers, in Cairo, Egypt.

Islamic-arts-textiles-TIRAZ-fabric
Figure 2: The inscribed Tiraz embroidery first came into existence under the Umayyad caliphate.

Tiraz manufacturing type

The textiles were usually manufactured in either public or private factories. These factories were called ‘khassa’ meaning private and ‘amma’ meaning public. There was not much of a difference in the production of the Tiraz between the public or private factories since both used the same techniques. The difference between both was the made in a ‘khassa’ was only given to royalty and the ‘amma’ produced Tiraz was given to servants or the military. A person would be able to distinguish where the garment was made because the name of the factory and the name of the designer could be found on the label of the fabric. The production and export of Tiraz were strictly regulated and were overseen by a government-appointed official.

Differences in the making process

Tiraz garments vary in their material and design, depending on the time of production, where they are produced and for whom. Linen, wool, cotton or mulham (mixture of silk warp and cotton weft) were used for the production. Most early it was decorated with colorful motifs of medallions or animals, but with no inscription. The Discovery of this fabric across the periods shows a gradual transition from the Sasanian, Coptic, and Byzantine styles. During the Fatimid period in 11th- and 12th-century Egypt, the trend of Tiraz design shows a revival of these styles. The Yemeni Tiraz has the characteristic striped lozenge design of green, yellow, and brown; this was produced through resist-dyeing and ikat technique. In Egypt, Tiraz was left undyed but embroidered with red or black thread.

Robe of honor

Under the Fatimid caliph al-Mu‘izz (r. 953-75), the khil‘a ceremony gained importance and the technical quality of this garments came to reflect the wealth and influence of their recipients. khil’a means ‘robe of honor’ which can be traced to the time of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the caliph would bestow robes of honor upon deserving subjects. The epigraphic bands on many of these textiles documented new allegiances that confirmed loyalty to the caliph and marked the recipient with honor. In Fatimid Egypt, silk robes woven with gold Tiraz bands were reserved for the vizier and other high-ranking officials, while the general public wore linen.  Robes were also often inscribed with Arabic texts offering good wishes and blessings (barakah) to the rulers. Many robes were cut up and the inscribed parts saved due to their perceived talismanic properties.

Design and cultural significance

Muslim culture and traditions were incorporated into Egyptian life which impacted the textile industry. This fabric were primarily used for decoration rather than a sign of loyalty. After that, people thought it was a symbol of power. They were usually inscribed with the ruler’s names, and were embroidered with threads of precious metal and decorated with complex patterns.  While wearing clothes was encouraged to be prohibited certain textiles; this was due to the political and religious views and stands that society had. The mechanical weaving on a loom also encouraged the use of symmetrical, repeating, and geometric designs that characterize much of Islamic art.

Conclusion

The creation of textiles was among the most important arts in medieval Muslim society. Tiraz has great value because archeologists were able to preserve them due to the good climate of Egypt and because of the quality of the textile. Some of the textiles were found in tombs in Egypt and are now being taken care of in different museums. Many countries continue to use the patterns and motives while incorporating their own design on their tapestry. Tiraz textiles were produced in both caliphal and state-run factories.

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