Part 1

The Karakalpak Kiymeshek
Role of the Kiymeshek
The Aq Kiymeshek
The Qızıl Kiymeshek

Part 2

Different Qızıl Kiymeshek Patterns
Distribution of Qızıl Kiymeshek Patterns
The Dating of Qızıl Kiymesheks
Pronunciation of Karakalpak Terms

Part 3

Other Kimeshek-Like Garments
The Qazaq Kimeshek
The Uzbek Lyachek
The Tajik Lachek and Kuluta
The Turkmen Esgi, Lechek and Chember
The Kyrgyz Elechek and Ileki
The Khimar and Similar Islamic Veils

Part 4

Previous Ideas on Kimeshek Origins
A Short History of Veiling up to the 16th Century

Part 5

The History of the Kimeshek
Where to see Karakalpak Kiymesheks

Different Qızıl Kiymeshek Patterns

As already mentioned qızıl kiymesheks can be classified into a variety of types according to the type of embroidery stitch used and the embroidery pattern (nag'ıs) applied to the orta qara:

Cross-Stitch Qızıl Kiymesheks

The cross-stitch pattern
The cross-stitch pattern.

The first categorization of qızıl kiymesheks depends upon whether the orta qara was embroidered in cross- or chain-stitch. Cross-stitch qızıl kiymesheks all have one identical feature – in place of an orta qara made of qara ushıga they have a similar shaped decoration made from a strip of chequered cotton shatırash, embroidered in cross-stitch with a row of Khorasanı mu'yiz motifs. These are similar to those often seen in the lower horizontal band of the aq kiymeshek aldı, and have a similar colour scheme, being embroidered in raspberry red silk thread on a background of green, yellow, and white. There is normally a narrow upper and lower border of red and green barber's pole decoration.

Cross-stitch qizil kiymeshek 4633
A cross-stitch qızıl kiymeshek, probably made between 1885 and 1890.
State Museum of Art named after Savitsky, No'kis, inventory number 4633. See "Dating" below.

Cross-stitch qizil kiymeshek 7128-83
A cross-stitch qızıl kiymeshek, probably made between 1895 and 1900.
Russian Museum of Ethnography, Saint Petersburg, inventory number 7128-83.

Cross-stitch qizil kiymeshek
A very old and simple cross-stitch qızıl kiymeshek.
The Richardson Collection.

Cross-stitch qizil kiymeshek 31877
A very old and highly decorative cross-stitch qızıl kiymeshek with a much later faux ikat quyrıq.
Reserve Fund of the State Museum of Art named after Savitsky, No'kis, inventory number unknown.

Some cross-stitch qızıl kiymesheks are clearly not original, since the qızıl ushıga is much more recent than the original cross-stitch orta qara. Rather than waste a perfectly good strip of embroidery from a damaged kiymeshek, the maker has recycled it to make a new garment.

Cross-stitch qizil kiymeshek 31877
A qızıl kiymeshek that was remade using the cross-stitch from an older headdress. Acquired from Balymsha Arzuvea in 1984.
Reserve Fund of the State Museum of Art named after Savitsky, No'kis, inventory number 31877.

In some cross-stitch qızıl kiymesheks the upward sloping ends of the orta qara were also embroidered in cross-stitch, although in others they are embroidered in chain-stitch on a qara ushıga background. In most examples the outer edges of the aldı have a narrow border of qara ushıga (the shettegi qara or edge black) embroidered in chain-stitch and edged with red jiyek. Generally the only decoration on the qızıl ushıga consists of rows of qos mu'yiz surrounding the orta qara and the shettegi qara. In a few examples however the areas below the face opening and the orta qara were filled with cross-like and other individual motifs.

However the majority of qızıl kiymesheks were embroidered in chain-stitch and they can be classified into the following six types:

Qoralı Gu'l Qızıl Kiymesheks

The qorali gu'l pattern
The qoralı gu'l pattern.

The qoralı gu'l, or fenced flower pattern, has a row of from five to nine diamonds each split diagonally into quadrants, each quadrant containing an eight-petalled flower head. Allamuratov referred to this flower head as either an apricot flower, erik gu'l, or a cotton flower, g'awasha gu'l, neither of which have eight petals!

Qorali gu'l qizil kiymeshek 10589
A qoralı gu'l qızıl kiymeshek, acquired in No'kis in 1974 and restored in Moscow.
Reserve Fund of the State Museum of Art named after Savitsky, No'kis, inventory number 10589.

The most common number of diamonds is seven. Sometimes the pattern has been poorly planned and includes an incomplete diamond. The triangular spaces in between the diamonds can be filled either with floral motifs or with shiylawısh (wood-plane) motifs.

Qorali gu'l qizil kiymeshek 4182
The magnificent qoralı gu'l qızıl kiymeshek with a sarı adras quyrıq.
Regional Studies Museum, No'kis. Inventory number 4182, no provenance.

Qorali gu'l qizil kiymeshek
A qoralı gu'l qızıl kiymeshek from Kuybıshev sovxoz, Xalqabad.
Probably made in the 1920s. The Richardson Collection.

There are at least four rare variants of this pattern:

  • in the first the flowers are replaced by swastikas
  • in the second the diamonds are much larger and fewer in number
  • in the third the diamonds are larger and are split diagonally into nine cells, and
  • in the fourth the diamonds have merged to form a continual diagonal lattice, with a flower head in each lattice cell.

Qorali gu'l qizil kiymeshek KKP05.48T
The second variant of qoralı gu'l qızıl kiymesheks with large unsegmented diamonds containing large flower head motifs.
Acquired by the Karakalpak Branch of the Academy of Sciences and now in the Reserve Fund of the Savitsky Museum, inventory number 7651.

Qorali gu'l qizil kiymeshek 5044
The third variant of qoralı gu'l qızıl kiymesheks with diamonds containing nine cells.
Regional Studies Museum, No'kis. Inventory number 5044, no provenance.

In the last example, the upper half of the aldı is made from red machine-woven cord, while the bottom half is made from qızıl ushıga.

Shayan Quyrıq Nag'ıs Qızıl Kiymesheks

The shayan quyriq pattern
The shayan quyrıq pattern.

The shayan quyrıq nag'ıs or scorpion's tail pattern is somewhat similar to the qoralı gu'l pattern, except the diamonds are smaller and therefore greater in number. Furthermore the diamonds are not delineated, but the triangular spaces in between them are, placing the visual emphasis on the latter. The pattern consequently appears as two rows of triangles, the apexes of the lower row touching the apexes of the inverted upper row. The diamond-shaped spaces left in between contain various crosses, the arms of which usually contain one pair of scorpion's tails and another pair of plant-like motifs.

Shayan quyriq qizil kiymeshek 5111-39
A simple shayan quyrıq qızıl kiymeshek.
Russian Ethnography Museum, Saint Petersburg. Inventory number 5111-39.

Shayan quyriq qizil kiymeshek 5961
A shayan quyrıq qızıl kiymeshek from Xalqabad.
Reserve Fund of the Savitsky Museum, No'kis. Inventory number 5961.

Shayan quyriq qizil kiymeshek
A superb shayan quyrıq qızıl kiymeshek from Qon'ırat.
The Richardson Collection.

Some of the cross-shaped motifs in the shayan quyrıq pattern sometimes resemble certain Qazaq motifs:

A Qazaq-like cross motif
A Qazaq-like cross in the centre of a shayan quyrıq orta qara.

The Russian Ethnography Museum has a high proportion of shayan quyrıq patterns among its relatively small collection of kiymesheks. Some were collected by Savitsky in the 1950s, but the example shown above was transferred from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in the early 1940s and was most likely collected in Karakalpakia in the 1930s.

There is a second pattern type of this kiymeshek in which the crosses appear to be composed entirely of plant shaped motifs.

Shayan quyriq qizil kiymeshek 7129-99
The second type of shayan quyrıq qızıl kiymeshek has more uniform crosses.
Russian Ethnography Museum, Saint Petersburg. Inventory number 7129-99.

Shayan quyriq qizil kiymeshek 1-83-1272
Another shayan quyrıq qızıl kiymeshek with plant motif crosses.
The State Museum of History, Tashkent. Inventory number 1-83-1272.

The number of pairs of triangles in the shayan quyrıq qızıl kiymeshek generally varies from nine to twelve, although there are often additional lower triangles at each extreme end. However one example from the Tashkent History Museum - shown above - contains only seven pairs of triangles. Each triangle is generally filled with yet smaller triangles and tiny floral motifs.

The scorpion's tail motif looks very similar to a reed head to us, and in the past we have referred to this pattern as qamıs nag'ıs or reed pattern.

Segiz Mu'yiz Qızıl Kiymesheks

The segiz mu'yiz pattern
The segiz mu'yiz pattern. Note the ır'gaq or zigzag border.

The segiz mu'yiz or eight horns pattern also has a row of diamonds, six or more in number, each containing an x-shaped cross and each sprouting eight hooks or horns (the segiz mu'yiz motif). This pattern also appears in two different forms.

In the first form the segiz mu'yiz motif itself is not embroidered but appears as the qara ushıga background, outlined in yellow and/or green chain-stitch, with an outer edging of red embroidery. Its red diamond-shaped centre contains a diagonally oriented cross and generally four small circles. The segiz mu'yiz motif is quite distinct and has the appearance of an appliquéd figure.

Segiz mu'yiz qizil kiymeshek 6198
The first type of segiz mu'yiz qızıl kiymeshek, acquired in 1962 from Taxta Ko'pir.
Reserve Fund of the State Museum of Art named after Savitsky. Inventory number 6198.

Segiz mu'yiz qizil kiymeshek
A second example of a segiz mu'yiz qızıl kiymeshek from Qarao'zek town.
The Richardson Collection.

In the second form the segiz mu'yiz motifs are less obvious, being embroidered in red chain-stitch and tending to merge with each other. In some examples two of the motifs are embroidered in green. The centre of each motif contains a small diamond, inside of which a small cross is usually embroidered . This version appears very similar to the mu'yiz pattern orta qara shown below.

Segiz mu'yiz qizil kiymeshek from Shimbay
The second type of segiz mu'yiz qızıl kiymeshek.
Owned by a family from Shımbay.

Segiz mu'yiz qizil kiymeshek
Another example of the second type of segiz mu'yiz qızıl kiymeshek.
The Richardson Collection.

In 75% of both types of segiz mu'yiz qızıl kiymesheks the outer border of the orta qara is decorated with the ır'gaq or zigzag motif.

Mu'yiz Nag'ıs Qızıl Kiymesheks

Mu'yiz pattern
The mu'yiz pattern.

The mu'yiz nag'ıs or horns pattern consists of a complex lattice or matrix composed of small curled hooks or horns. This pattern also comes in two forms. In the first form a dramatic red lattice covers the entire surface of the orta qara. The Karakalpaks sometimes refer to this version as the shubal nag'ıs, meaning that the pattern has no beginning and no end.

Shubal nag'is qizil kiymeshek
A fine example of a shubal nag'ıs qızıl kiymeshek.
The Richardson Collection.

Shubal nag'is qizil kiymeshek
A second example of the shubal nag'ıs qızıl kiymeshek.
The Richardson Collection.

Shubal nag'is qizil kiymeshek
This shubal nag'ıs qızıl kiymeshek was made at some time prior to 1934
by Menjegu’l, a Mu'yten-Samat woman from Terbenbes Island on the southern coast of the Aral Sea.
The Richardson Collection.

In the second form the red lattice is not so wide, being enveloped by an outer border of ırg'aq or zigzag motif.

Mu'yiz qizil kiymeshek
The mu'yiz qızıl kiymeshek.
The Richardson Collection.

Mu'yiz qizil kiymeshek
A second example of the mu'yiz qızıl kiymeshek from No'kis.
The Richardson Collection.

The latter version often contains small elements of green, sometimes expressed in the form of a diamond. Karakalpaks call this detailing bawırsaq, after the small lozenge shaped pastry served at weddings and festivals.

On Eki Mu'yiz Qızıl Kiymesheks

This pattern is somewhat similar to the second segiz mu'yiz pattern, except that each diamond contains a twelve-horned or on eki mu'yiz motif, rather than an eight-horned or segiz mu'yiz motif.

On eki mu'yiz qizil kiymeshek
An on eki mu'yiz qızıl kiymeshek.
The Richardson Collection.

Other Qızıl Kiymesheks

One occasionally encounters kiymesheks that do not fit into any of the above categories. They usually contain a mixture drawn from different standard patterns, as if the embroiderer has decided to create a hybrid.

However one kiymeshek in our own collection is totally unique, with the orta qara patterned with three rows of a running mu'yiz design.

A rare qizil kiymeshek pattern
A qızıl kiymeshek with a unique design, made by a woman from the Alep No'kis clan in Shomanay.
The Richardson Collection.

This pattern shows that some Karakalpak embroiderers were completely innovative with their designs.

Distribution of Qızıl Kiymeshek Patterns

In order to shed light on the popularity of the various pattern types we have accumulated a sample of all the qızıl kiymesheks that we have so far encountered in the field, in museums, and in private collections. The sample covers a total of 103 kiymesheks.

The distribution of patterns within the sample is as follows:

Pie chart
Distribution of qızıl kiymeshek patterns.

The simple cross-stitch pattern accounts for just over 15% of kiymesheks in the sample, with the remaining 85% being chain-stitch. However this may overstate the frequency of the cross-stitch pattern, since there is a relatively high incidence of this pattern in our own collection. The Savitsky Museum have informed us that out of their inventory of 171 complete qızıl kiymesheks only 6 are of the cross-stitch pattern type – a frequency of less than 4%.

A better indicator would come from a full analysis of the complete inventories of both the Savitsky and the Regional Studies Museums in No'kis. We have requested both museums to undertake this work and the Savitsky Museum have promised to do this when they can. With the latter museum holding a total of 336 qızıl kiymesheks, 171 complete and 165 in the form of aldıs, this would provide a much more representative result.

The majority of the chain-stitch patterns fall into four main types with not a great difference in their frequency of occurrence. Clearly the qoralı gu'l pattern is the most common, followed by segiz mu'yiz and shayan quyrıq, all of which have the same basic underlying design – a horizontal row of diamonds with interlocking triangles above and below. Of the main pattern types the mu'yiz pattern has the lowest incidence in the sample. It is interesting that although many examples of this pattern have a uniform lattice of horns, others show hints of the horizontal row of diamonds as an underlying design.

Note that within the segiz mu'yiz group roughly two thirds fall into the type 1 category and one third into the type 2 category. Possibly the small on eki mu'yiz group, which accounts for only 3% of the sample, could be regarded as a sub-group of the segiz mu'yiz category.

The existence of only four main pattern types of chain-stitch qızıl kiymeshek is a remarkable finding. Because the basic elements of these patterns are so firmly established and were so strictly adhered to by embroiderers we suspect that they were originally geographically- or tribe-specific.

Nina Lobacheva mentions that her original field notes referred to the different nag'ıs or patterns. She recalls that in the case of the Mu'yten, "the design of the embroidery was allegedly always one and the same and the middle strip of the aldı was wider than in other groups of Karakalpaks". She also refers to a Qoldawlı decoration, unfortunately without describing it. From these observations she suggested that it was possible to assume that in the past several designs were associated with specific groups of Karakalpaks. However she added that in the 1950s such associations were no longer remembered.

We have attempted to see if there is any correlation between the major pattern types and their geographical or tribal origin. This is difficult to do, since the majority of museum kiymesheks have no provenance - their inventory cards show little more than the name of the donor and the date of acquisition. Fortunately a small group of kiymesheks, including a number within our own collection, have better levels of provenance.

Map of the delta
A map of the Amu Darya delta.

Cross-stitch qızıl kiymesheks seem to originate from different tribal groups from all parts of the delta. Two in the Savitsky collection come from Moynaq, while the two in the Russian Ethnography Museum in Saint Petersburg come from Kegeyli region. In our own collection, one comes from Xalqabad, one from Qarao'zek/Taxta Ko'pir, and three from Shımbay (Chimbay).

Let us look at the distribution of the four main chain-stitch patterns. Regarding the qoralı gu'l pattern we know that three examples come from Qarao'zek, two come from No'kis (probably from families who have relocated south), one comes from Xalqabad, and another from Kegeyli.

Of the eight segiz mu'yiz patterns where we have a geographical origin, three come from Qarao'zek, two come from Shege, one comes from Taxta Ko'pir, one from Qanlikol, and one from Shımbay. There is clearly an association with the northern delta.

We have two shayan quyrıq pattern kiymesheks with very good provenance, the first made by a Mu'yten-Samat woman from Qazaqdarya region, the other made by a Qoldawlı woman from Qon'ırat. Other examples come from Qarao'zek and Shomanay regions. Karakalpak people have told us that they associate this pattern with the northern part of the delta.

Finally we have one mu'yiz nag'ıs kiymeshek with good provenance which was made by a Mu'yten-Samat on Terbenbes Island on the southern shore of the Aral Sea. Several other examples come from No'kis, presumably from families who had relocated from rural locations.

The results are extremely incomplete and therefore far from conclusive. Furthermore they are complicated by the possibility that museum inventory cards fail to record the movement of families from their original villages. Many of the Karakalpaks living along the southern coast of the Aral Sea were relocated further south to regions like Qarao'zek during the 1950s, while a proportion of the general rural population has relocated to No'kis since the Great Patriotic War. Even with these limitations it is still difficult to associate any one pattern with any particular location or tribe. Nevertheless for all four patterns there is a strong link with the northernmost region of the Aral delta. This may indicate that the different pattern types originated from different clan-tribal groupings rather than different regions. If there is a link, the Mu'yten and the Qoldawlı seem to be most likely associated with the shayan quyrıq and mu'yiz patterns.

If there once was a tribal or regional bias to the different patterns, it is not surprising that it has subsequently disappeared. Although the majority of Karakalpak clans are exogamous, during the 19th century people tended to marry partners from neighbouring villages in the same locality. The increasing mobility associated with the 20th century meant that marriages were more likely between individuals from distant parts. As it was always the girl who relocated to the village of her new husband, specific embroidery patterns must have been progressively introduced into other regions. It is not surprising that nowadays every single pattern type can be encountered throughout the delta.

Dating of Qızıl Kiymesheks

Based on appearance the qızıl ushıga on many cross-stitch qızıl kiymesheks appears to be much older than that on chain-stitch qızıl kiymesheks. Fortunately there are a number of kiymesheks where we have sufficient provenance to estimate an approximate date of manufacture, so that we can test this observation.

Two museum examples suggest that cross-stitch qızıl kiymesheks date from the last decades of the 19th century:
  • kiymeshek 4633 in the Savitsky collection was purchased from A'bdireyim Berdambetov in 1960 when he was 65 years old. It had been made by his mother, Biybizada Berdambetova, who had been taught to embroider by her mother, Rabiybi, who had died in 1942 at the age of 88. The grandmother was therefore born in 1854 and the grandson in 1894/5. This implies the mother was probably born around 1874 (implying 20 years per generation). She must have embroidered her kiymeshek before her marriage, which would have most likely taken place when she was aged 15 or 16. It suggests the kiymeshek was made between 1885 and 1890.
  • kiymeshek 7128-83 in the Russian Ethnography Museum was acquired from Orazbiyke Niyazbanova from Kegeyli, who was 75 years old in 1958 and was therefore aged 15 in 1898). It was therefore probably made between 1895 and 1900.
We also have Rossikova's historical record of such a kiymeshek, which must have been made some time before she encountered it in 1902.

To complicate matters a few cross-stitch kiymesheks have ushıga that looks no different to the bright red material that appears on many chain-stitch examples. One example was acquired by us in 2003 from a 35 to 40-year-old man having been made by his grandmother, who must have been born after 1900. It was probably made in the 1920s. However it has richly embroidered borders of chain-stitch and we suspect that the cross-stitch orta qara was taken from an earlier kiymeshek. Similar examples show other signs that they have been made up, such as quyrıqs that do not match the aldıs.

All chain-stitch kiymesheks are of a more recent date, most having being made during the first third of the 20th century. Take the example of three mu'yiz pattern kiymesheks:
  • in 2002 in Shımbay, Ma'ryam Bekimbetova showed us a complete kiymeshek made by her mother-in-law, who was born in 1880 but was not married until she was 30. She must have therefore made it before 1910 and it could even be very late 19th century.
  • In 1999 we acquired a shubal-patterned kiymeshek decorated with Tsarist imperial 20 kopek coins. The most recent was dated 1916, suggesting it was made after 1917 (assuming the coins were added when it was made).
  • In 2001 a wealthy family in Shomanay showed us an example made by the owner’s grandmother who died in 1998 at the age of 85. If she made it between the ages of 13 and 15, it would date from 1925 to 1928.
Similar results are provided by two qoralı gu'l kiymesheks. One is displayed in the House Museum of A'met and Ayımxan Shamuratov in No'kis. It was made by the mother of the famous Karakalpak actress Ayımxan Shamuratova, who was born in 1917, the second child of the marriage. If her mother married in 1914 the kiymeshek was probably made between 1909 and 1914. Another was acquired by us in 2005 from a 75-year-old named Pirhan, who was the eldest daughter in the family. It had been made by her mother, who must have been married sometime before 1930, suggesting a date of manufacture around 1922 to 1927.

One final dating is provided by the shayan quyrıq nag'ıs qızıl kiymeshek in the Reserve Fund of the Savitsky Museum, inventory number 5961. This was acquired in 1962 from Biybigu'l Ayımbetova of kolxoz Kommunizm, Qazaqdarya, who was then aged 75. The kiymeshek was made by her mother Gu'ljamila Aiyekeeva of the Mu'yten-Samat clan. If this information is correct and the kiymeshek was made for Gu'ljamila's wedding, it suggests a very early date of manufacture in the first half of the 1880s. However the kiymeshek shows no indication of being so old - it was more likely made for Biybigu'l's wedding in the 1900s.

Pronunciation of Karakalpak Terms

To listen to a Karakalpak pronounce any of the following words just click on the one you wish to hear. Please note that the dotless letter 'i' (ı) is pronounced 'uh'.

aldı jumalaq mu'yiz         qızıl kiymeshek segiz mu'yiz
aq kiymeshek         mu'yiz qızıl ushıga shatırash
at ayıl na'gıs orta qara qoralı gu'l shayı
bo'z pashshayı qos mu'yiz shettegi qara        
gaz moyın piskek qumırısqa bel sırg'a nag'ı
ırg'aq qamıs nag'ıs qurbaqa solaq
iyin qara qara ushıga quwırshaq awız         tikesh
jiyek qarsı mu'yiz quyrıq tu'ye taban


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Zhdanko, T. A., Karakalpaks of the Khorezm Oasis [in Russian], Works of the Archaeological and Ethnographical Expedition to Khorezm, 1945-48, Volume 1, edited by S. P. Tolstov and T. A. Zhdanko, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1952.

Zhdanko, T. A., The Survival of Feudal-Patriarchal relationships in the Private Life of Karakalpaks [in Russian], pages 505 to 519, Works of the Archaeological and Ethnographical Expedition to Khorezm, 1945-48, Volume 1, edited by S. P. Tolstov and T. A. Zhdanko, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1952.

Zhdanko, T. A., The Ornamental Folk Art of the Karakalpak People [in Russian], from Materials and Research on the Ethnography of the Karakalpak, edited by T. A. Zhdanko, pages 373 to 410, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1958.

Visit our sister site, which uses the correct transliteration, Qaraqalpaq, rather than the Russian transliteration, Karakalpak.

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