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Shoe upper - The Stein Collection

The Stein Collection

  • Object:

    Shoe upper

  • Place of origin:

    Mazartagh (excavation)

  • Date:

    400-1000 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Felted and quilted wool with plant fibre string

  • Credit Line:

    Stein Textile Loan Collection. On loan from the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India. Copyright: Government of India.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This quilted felt upper from an ankle shoe was recovered from the fort site of Mazartagh which dates from the 5th to the 11th century AD.

The site is also part of an area of Central Asia we now call the Silk Road, a series of overland trade routes that crossed Asia from China to Europe. The most notable item traded was silk. Camels and horses were used as pack animals and merchants passed the goods from oasis to oasis. The Silk Road was also important for the exchange of ideas. Whilst silk textiles travelled west from China, Buddhism entered China from India in this way.

This textile was brought back from Central Asia by the explorer and archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943). The V&A has around 650 ancient and medieval textiles recovered from the Silk Road by Stein at the beginning of the 20th century. Some are silk while others are made from the wool of a variety of different animals.

Physical description

One ankle shoe upper made of quilted buff coloured wool felt. Sole is missing. Quilt stitching in scalloped design and bottom edge much thicker felted with remains of string of unknown plant fibre.

Place of Origin

Mazartagh (excavation)


400-1000 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Felted and quilted wool with plant fibre string


Length: 29.2 cm, Height: 11.6 cm

Object history note

Michael Ryder has identified the quilting stitches as from semi-fine sheep.

Historical context note

The fort of Mazartagh lies in the western half of Taklamakan Desert, north of Khotan. Among the ruins, Stein found huge numbers of Tibetan documents on wood and paper devoted to military and administrative matters. Many of these dated from the eight century AD, when Tibetan armies conquered the region and occupied the fort. He also found string sandals, shoes made of felt, remnants of wool clothing and nets for fishing. Similar utilitarian textiles had appeared at the Dunhuang Limes, Miran Fort and other military sites. The V&A holds, on loan, several textile fragments from Mazartagh, including woven cotton, hemp string, netting, quilted wool and pieces of shoes.

Descriptive line

Shoe upper of quilted wool felt

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Wilson, Verity. 'Early Textiles from Central Asia: Approaches to Study with reference to the Stein Loan Collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London', Textile History 26 (1) . Devon: David & Charles/Pasold Research Fund Ltd, 1995, pp.23-52. ill.
Ryder, Michael. 'Ancient fibres from the Silk Route in Central Asia', Textiles Magazine. Manchester: Textile Institute, no 3, 1999.
Stein, Aurel, Serindia: Detailed Report of Exploration in Central Asia and Westernmost China Carried Out and Described Under the Orders of H.M Indian Government , 5 vols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1921), vol. III, p. 1294.


Wool; Plant fibre


Felting; Quilting


Archaeology; Textiles; Footwear


East Asia Collection

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