When we talk about textile arts what we mean is using plant, animal, or synthetic fibers to create objects that are designed 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, and 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 possibly the most important craft of the era, and the most important textile produced in that time was undoubtedly the carpet.
The Turkish Carpets of The Ottoman Empire
The art of carpet weaving was especially important in the Ottoman Empire, where carpets were immensely valued as both decorative furnishings and for their practical value. Throughout the empire, Turkish carpets were not only used on floors, but were also used as wall and door decorations, where they not only added aesthetic value to a home, but also provided additional insulation to the home.
Made of silk or a combination of silk and cotton, these intricately knotted carpets often heavily depicted both religious and other symbols. The most valued of these were made in Hereke, a coastal town in Turkey. 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 that used specialized design and manufacturing techniques.
The best example of Persian weaving techniques incorporated in the 16th century can be seen in the some of the best carpets in the world produced in Ardabil in Northwestern Iran which were commissioned to commemorate the Safavid dynasty.
Textiles soon became a large export industry, especially to Europe where Islamic carpets were considered luxuries. In fact, several examples of their popularity can be seen in many European Renaissance paintings that show the presence of Islamic textiles in European homes during that time.
Indonesian Batik Fabric
Islamic textiles are not just all about carpets, however, as textile production also included cloth and garments. In fact, the 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, but it is quite common to find serpents, puppet-shaped humans, and the Garuda – the legendary bird or bird-like creature of pre-Islamic Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology – throughout its design.
Even though batik pre-dated Islam in Indonesia, it reached its apex in the Mataram, the Yogyakarta and other Royal Islamic courts as 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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