Woman's Robe or Kurte from the Tekke Tribe, Afghanistan or Turkmenistan

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Clothing and Dress


Woman's Robe or Kurte from the Tekke Tribe, Afghanistan or Turkmenistan


ca. 1960 - 1999


42.1 inches (107 cm) nape to hem: 53.1 inches (135 cm) cuff to cuff.


This robe represents one style (kurte) of the embroidered long-sleeved robes and mantles worn by Tekke tribe women of the Turkmen ethnic group of Central Asia. (Meller, 2013). Kurtes were worn as outdoor coats by Tekke women, topping their daily wear: drawstring pants tapered to embroidered cuffs at the ankles, a long tunic, and a headdress or veil (Vogelsang, n.d.). The sleeves were meant to be vestigial, fastened behind the back.

The construction is done by hand except for nine lines of machine straight stitch in the collar. The embroidery design is made of abstract tulips supported by styylized geometric patterns. This dense, complex lacing stitch known as kesdi is popular among the Tekke tribe of Turkmen (Kalter, 1983). The tulip, naturally abundant in Turkmenistan and northern Afghanistan, is a sign of fertility.

The fabric comprising the body is ketene, considered the “national” fabric of Turkmenistan, hand- or machine-woven in silk or rayon in narrow widths (12-14 in.) with polychrome selvages. Of the printed cotton lining fabrics, which would have been imported from Russia, the monotone orange floral was a popular style, inexpensive to print, requiring only one roller, but complex-looking because of intricate line work (Meller, 2007).

From ancient times, the region now known as Central Asia was invaded, conquered, and occupied by aggressors and civilizations from all directions: Alexander the Great, Huns, Chinese, Persians, the Mongols Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, and Russian Tsars (Hiro, 2011). Imperial Russia eventually prevailed over the British Empire, who had tried to prevent Russian incursion into Afghanistan and from there into India.

After the devastation of the Russian Revolution and World War I, the Soviets rebuilt Turkestan’s infrastructure, but collectivized the livestock and disrupted the subsistence agriculture, turning the region into a one-crop (cotton) economy. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, most of the cotton manufactories closed, leaving the newly independent republics, designated along ethnic lines, of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan to rebuild their cotton industry in the world market (Meller, 2013). After political and religious upheaval disrupted textile markets, other market forces introduced synthetics and silk blends to the construction of traditional garments (Lillethun, n.d.).

From the time of the Mongols, the gift of a robe was a profound honor in Central Asia (Meller, 2013).  While the basic T-shaped robe was ubiquitous and worn by both men and women, there were gender differences in cut and construction and ethnic differences in fiber, weave, style, and color.

Turkmen women, in particular, were prodigious weavers and embroiderers. Their carpet weaving skills sometimes sustained their tribes during social disruption and famine. They produced other domestic textiles, animal trappings, bags, clothing, and hats. Each tribe drew from its own cultural inventory of designs, symbols, and stitches, passed down through generations (Meller, 2013).

Women in modern day Turkmenistan wear head scarves and long dresses, or koynek, made of ketene or printed synthetic or cotton, now imported from China. Older women still wear kurtes over their heads for some occasions, such as grave sites visits. Women of all ages wear kurtes and chyrpys on ceremonial occasions, such as weddings. The clothing and the textiles to make them are readily available at bazaars.

Modern or vintage robes are collected by Western consumers. Kurtes in the style of the URI artifact can be found for sale on web sites, to be worn as modern coats, using the sleeves as sleeves (Turkish Folk Art, n.d.; World of Bacara, n.d.).

Fashion designers have adopted styles and embroidery designs from Turkmen robes for their couture lines. One could speculate that these elements will continue to be popular as long as traditional dress is promoted by tourism and valued by the Turkmen themselves, and their native textile products, such as carpets, are valued elsewhere.


Gervers, V. (1983). Construction of Turkmen Coats. Textile History, 14(1), 3-27.

Hiro, D. (2011). Inside Central Asia: A political and cultural history of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Iran. Overlook Duckworth.

Kalter, J. (1983). The Arts and Crafts of Turkestan. Thames & Hudson.

Lillethun, A. (n.d.). Trade, Textiles, and Dress in Central and Southwest Asia. In G. Vogelsang-     Eastwood (Ed.), Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Central and Southwest Asia. (pp. 89-96). Berg Fashion Library.

Meller, S. (2007). Russian textiles: Printed cloth for the bazaars of Central Asia. Abrams.

Meller, S. (2013). Silk and cotton: Textiles from the Central Asia that was. Abrams.

Vogelsang, W. (n.d.). Regional Dress of Afghanistan. In G. Vogelsang-Eastwood (Ed.), Berg    Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Central and Southwest Asia. (pp. 313-322). Berg Fashion Library.

World of Bacara (n.d.). Coat embroidered red Turkmen chapan. www.Etsy.com


Donor: Linda Welters


URI 2019.02.02


Susan Day


URI 1991.99.01


The main body is made of stiff, plain weave red rayon.

The cuffs and gusset inserts on the front and back are black knit cotton.

There are four printed cotton fabrics in the lining:
1. peach with blue flowers for the main body
2. blue/pink/green polychrome for the collar
3. orange floral on white for sleeves
4. small flowers on green for sleeves 

The collar, cuffs, hem and all open edges are trimmed with black braid and red twist, and hand-embroidered with red, black, white, and yellow rayon yarns.


“Woman's Robe or Kurte from the Tekke Tribe, Afghanistan or Turkmenistan,” Historic Textile and Costume Collection, accessed July 30, 2021, https://uritextilecollection.omeka.net/items/show/377.

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