When we talk about textile arts what we mean is using plant, animal, or synthetic fibers to create objects. These objects were either for everyday use or for decorative purposes. Even though it pre-dates Islam, producing and trading textiles has long been an important part of Arab culture. Thanks to the Silk Road, many Middle Eastern cities prospered from the making and selling of textiles. As Islamic dynasties grew, they also took over industries such as textile production. Textile production is possibly the most important craft of the era. The most important textile produced at that time was undoubtedly the carpet.
The art of carpet weaving was especially important in the Ottoman Empire. People used carpets as both decorative furnishings and for their practical value. Throughout the empire, Turks used carpets not only on floors, but as wall and door decorations. Not only did they add aesthetic value to a home, but also provided additional insulation.
Made of silk or a combination of silk and cotton, these intricately knotted carpets often heavily depicted both religious and other symbols. Hereke, a coastal town in Turkey made exquisite pieces. Known for their fine silk weave, Hereke carpets usually donned the floors of royal palaces.
Iran’s Safavid Empire (1501–1786) contributed to several aesthetic traditions, but particularly to the textile arts. Once an occupation for nomads and peasants, carpet weaving evolved into a well-executed industry. It used specialized design and manufacturing techniques.
The 16th century saw one of the most special Persian weaving techniques. Arbil, in Northwestern Iran, produced some of the best carpets in the world. These carpets commemorated the Safavid dynasty.
Textiles soon became a large export industry. Europe saw Islamic carpets as luxuries. In fact, several European Renaissance paintings depict these carpets. These show the presence of Islamic textiles in European homes during that time.
Islamic textiles are not just all about carpets, however, as textile production also included cloth and garments. In fact, Islam and the development and refinement of Indonesian silk go hand in hand. As Islam banned certain images, batik design became more elaborate and conceptual. It is rare to find depictions of animals on traditional batik. However, it is quite common to find serpents, puppet-shaped humans, and the Garuda. This is a legendary bird or bird-like creature of pre-Islamic Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology.
Even though batik pre-dated Islam in Indonesia, it reached its apex in the Mataram, the Yogyakarta and other Royal Islamic courts. This is because Muslim rulers supported and encouraged the textile’s production. You can still get batik today which is mainly used for clothes such as sarongs and headscarves.
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