Traditional Baluch embroidered dress
By: Iran Ala Firouz
The area traditionally known as Baluchistan (q.v.) comprises the large southeastern portion of the Persian plateau and portions of southwestern Afghanistan and western Pakistan. The Persian province of Baluchistan is inhabited mainly by nomads and a settled rural population. This region is particularly noted for a distinctive type of richly embroidered women’s cos¬tume, which is still commonly worn in the villages. The embroidery, traditionally produced in cottage in¬dustries, is even now, despite inevitable changes, particularly in the color combinations of the needle¬work, one of the popular handicrafts for which an active market exists.
The basic garments are variations of the traditional and tribal costume characteristic of Persia as a whole: a long, loose robe with a round neckline, a slit down the center of the bodice, and long, wide sleeves tapering toward the wrists (plate cxliii), worn over a chemise and wide trousers narrowing at the ankles and with a drawstring at the waist. The fabric used today is synthetic. The material maybe plain or printed with an all-over design. Either black or solid bright colors, predominantly red, plum, and orange, provide fitting backgrounds to set off the very fine and colorful embroidery. As the available fabric comes in narrow widths, numerous seams cunningly fitted together are necessary for the wide chemise. Occasionally, the dress is made up of wide satin pieces in a variety of colors patched together in orderly stripes. The costume is completed with a long, rectangular headscarf of transparent fabric, usually black, colorfully embroi¬dered all around.
Baluch embroidery is worked on a base fabric of loosely woven cotton in panels, which facilitates de¬tailed needlework. The embroidered panels are sewn onto the dress, covering the wide, square bodice entirely (zī; plate cxliv); the long rectangular panel down the center front of the skirt (jīb) comes to a point at the top, where it touches the bodice. The cuffs of the trousers and sleeves in particular are also provided with wide bands of embroidery. Nowadays, however, the trouser cuffs are generally embroidered with a simple machine-made motif. The vertical seams of the robes can be ornamented with either narrow bands of machine-made motifs or gilt edging, and an unusual feature is a square patch of embroidery appliquéd on the back of the shoulders. The borders of the neckline, cuffs, and bodice closing are neatly finished in a distinctive fashion. In some areas of Baluchistan mirror work is also incorporated into the embroidery, anchored by buttonhole stitching; alternatively sequins are scattered over the embroidery, a type of ornamentation favored in Pakistani Baluchistan (see xix, below).
Embroidery is worked in strictly compartmentalized repeat geometric and angular designs; stylistic differ¬ences in the patterns and colors reflect different geographical areas within the province. The motifs may be stylized versions of flowers and plant forms.
The colorful and opulent ornamentation of Baluch dress may be a response to the harsh environment. Traditionally embroidery was worked in lustrous mercerized cotton thread, in a rich range of orange, red, and plum shades, crisply set off with touches of dark green, maroon, royal blue, and black and flecks of white; now it has generally been replaced by nylon thread. The embroidery itself is very fine, intricate and detailed. The stitches consist of large double back stitches (ṣarrāfī-dūzī), double braid stitches forming ridges, eyelet-hole stitches, running stitches, button¬hole stitches, ladder stitches, satin stitches sometimes forming a chevron design (ẓarīf-dūzī), fine interlacing stitches (perīvār-dūzī), and small blocks of satin stitches forming geometric shapes (balūčī-dūzī).
It is relevant to add a word about the traditional jewelry invariably worn by Baluch women with their embroidered costume. The wrists are ornamented with pairs of wide silver bracelets with raised designs. There may also be a choker of semiglobular gold roundels with granulations, topped with alternating red and turquoise stones and surrounded by a double border of plastic gold beads, the whole composition sewn on a band of black material. A profusion of different silver rings worn on the fingers and in the nostrils completes their adornment.
In contrast to the women, men traditionally wear sober white clothing consisting of long, very loose shirts over extremely full trousers (approximately 2.2 m wide), which fall between the legs in folds and taper only at the ankles. The headdress is a white turban with protruding ends.
This article is based on personal observations. See also I. A. Firouz, “Needlework,” in J. Gluck and S. Gluck, eds., A Survey of Persian Handicraft, Tehran, 1977, pp. 256-58. Idem, “Countering the Anonymity of Daily Routine. Embroidery in Iran,” Asian Culture 34, 1983, p. 22.