Aba thumbnail 1
Aba thumbnail 2
Not currently on display at the V&A

Aba

1876 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This man's garment, known as an abba, is traditionally made from two horizontal lengths of fabric, seamed around the middle and across the shoulders: in this example some fabric has been cut away to create armholes. Abbas are versatile and elegant garments; Bruce Ingham writes in 'Languages of Dress in the Middle East', 'they can be worn while standing, sitting or driving and can be used as a cover for the whole body while sleeping ... when walking [it] may either be allowed to drape from the shoulders or the sides may be gathered up slightly and held under one arm so that the ends do not get caught ... when receiving a guest, the right-hand side ... may be taken off the shoulder and brought round under the arm to be held together with the left-hand edge under the left arm. This leaves the right hand free for shaking hands.' This abba was given to the Museum by Naser od-Din Shah, Shah of Iran from 1848 to 1896.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
silk thread, metal thread, weaving, tapestry-weaving, embroidering, sewing.
Brief Description
Robe, woven silk, Kashan, Iran, Qajar period, 1876
Physical Description
Plain weave silk with tapestry-woven metal thread decoration and embroidered around the neck with silk and metal thread in straight stitch, chain stitch and couching .

Two lengths of fabric seamed side-by-side so that the seam is horizontal when the garment is worn. The arm-holes are formed by cutting into the fabric from the selvedges and then the selvedge is folded and stitched together to form the shoulder seam. The ground is a ribbed silk in blue [blue/purple weft and a grey warp formed by a combination of white and black yarn].



[a] Along the shoulder seams at the front, from a 1 cm zigzag edge of white metallic thread, a series of tapestry-woven weft in the same white metallic thread forming regular and angular ‘tongues’: one 17 cm long inside, two 60.5 cm long; the latter terminate in a short line 5.5 cm long almost forming a circle at the end.

[b] Along the hem at the back and front, a series of short tapestry-woven lines 5.5 cm long, alternately silver and gold in a broken zigzag line.

[c] Down the sides of the front panels, a 1.5 cm band of gold thread decorated with a central red stripe, edged with blue/purple breaking into regular lozenge or rectangular stripes. The band is edged with four green lines of weft. This band is edged by two narrow weft stripes of metal thread either side.

[d] On the back, from the arm-hole edge, in the top section, which is a loom width, there is a section of pattern [c] followed by a 3 cm tongue of metal thread 31.5 cm long leading into a wide Y-section of metal thread 42.5 cm wide and extending across the whole loom width. There are numerous narrow weft lines following this outline. The stem of the Y-shape is patterned with a lozenge shape and ‘tower’ form in blue/purple flanked by a partial green stripe either side. Another 3 cm tongue of metal thread follows.

[e] The centre back neck has a warp band 7 cm with zigzag edges either side of gold metal thread, around the actual neck at the back is a 3 cm panel of metal thread embroidered in close diagonal stitching leading into four rows of small metal thread spiral roundels joined with white silk (creating the impression of spangles) with a line of faded purple chain stitch. Narrow weft stripes of the same extend 21.5 cm.

Silk: Warp: black and white combined to form grey, red, blue/purple, light green

Metal Thread: silver strip open S-wound on white silk core and silver-gilt strip open S-wound of yellow silk core. The metal threads are often carried on the back from one group of tapestry-weaving to the next.

Decoration on the shoulder seams uses faded purple silk and silver strip close s-wound on a silk core [probably white].
Dimensions
  • Length: 1322mm
  • Width: 1375mm
  • Selvedge to selvedge width: 66cm
Style
Gallery Label
Abbas are traditionally made from two horizontal lengths of fabric, seamed around the middle and across the shoulders: in these two examples some fabric has been cut away to create armholes. They are versatile and elegant garments, 'they can be worn while standing, sitting or driving and can be used as a cover for the whole body while sleeping ... when walking [it] may either be allowed to drape from the shoulders or the sides may be gathered up slightly and held under one arm so that the ends do not get caught ... when receiving a guest, the right-hand side ... may be taken off the shoulder and brought round under the arm to be held together with the left-hand edge under the left arm. This leaves the right hand free for shaking hands.' Quoted from 'Men's Dress in the Arabian Peninsula' by Bruce Ingham in 'Dress in the Middle East', Richmond, Surrey, 1997 pp.47-48'. The two abbas displayed here were woven in different parts of Iran and yet both measure 139.7cm in length - perhaps they were always made to a standard size?(2002)
Credit line
Given by His Majesty Nasir al-Din Shah
Object history
In 1877, Nasruddin Shah, the Qajar ruler of Iran, approved a donation of contemporary textiles and carpets to the South Kensington Museum. Organised via Robert Murdoch Smith and Qajar minister Emin al-Mulk, the donation consisted of 14 carpets and 60 other examples of textiles, and was directly intended to advertise Iran's textile industry to British consumers. The accompanying letter to the Museum's Lords of Committee outlined the strategy: "We have no doubt whatever that the English Nation has always viewed our manufactures in a kind and friendly manner; and although the Persian Arts have not attained a high rank, nevertheless they have been viewed with a friendly eye and examined in a partial spirit. Such being the case, H.I.M. the Shah resolved that a small quantity of the produce of this country - manufactures by Persian workmen of the present day - should be presented to the said Museum."
Summary
This man's garment, known as an abba, is traditionally made from two horizontal lengths of fabric, seamed around the middle and across the shoulders: in this example some fabric has been cut away to create armholes. Abbas are versatile and elegant garments; Bruce Ingham writes in 'Languages of Dress in the Middle East', 'they can be worn while standing, sitting or driving and can be used as a cover for the whole body while sleeping ... when walking [it] may either be allowed to drape from the shoulders or the sides may be gathered up slightly and held under one arm so that the ends do not get caught ... when receiving a guest, the right-hand side ... may be taken off the shoulder and brought round under the arm to be held together with the left-hand edge under the left arm. This leaves the right hand free for shaking hands.' This abba was given to the Museum by Naser od-Din Shah, Shah of Iran from 1848 to 1896.
Bibliographic Reference
There is a photograph of a 19th century Qajar official, Farrokh Khan Amin al-Dawla illustrated in 'Pivot of the Universe' by Abbas Amanat, 1977. The portrait is signed by Abu'l Hassan Ghaffari and was sold by Sotheby's in 2014. There is another portrait by the same painter, depicting Ali Qoli Mirza Qajar surrounded by Mirza Abdullah and Mirza Ismail. Ali Qoli Mirza Qajar wears a blue Aba. The painting is kept at the Malek Museum, Tehran (1393.02.00045).
Collection
Accession Number
883-1877

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record createdJanuary 8, 2004
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