The embroideries are all roughly the same size, just over 2ft by 3ft, and were handed down within families because of their magical powers. They were used first, embroidery inwards, to wrap the newborn baby in its cradle; then a bride would wrap her jewels in one, again embroidery inwards, when she carried them to her new home. In death, they were used for two rituals. A cloth would be laid, embroidery down, over the face of the departed, and in some communities the women would turn the embroideries temporarily into cushions stuffed with herbs and lay the departed's clothes on top to speed his or her soul to heaven.
The first study of these embroideries has just been published by Robert Chenciner, an Oxford ethnographer who has spent many years, on and off, in Dagestan. It is called Kaitag, Textile Art from Daghestan and is the first book published by a new company called Textile Art Publications, formed by Michael Franses earlier this year. Chenciner gathered the embroideries from families who are now more interested in fast cars and Coca-Cola, and has brought them to London with the blessing of the local museums, which already have excellent collections.
Dagestan, Chenciner explains, is the size of Scotland and contains 32 ethnic groups, each with its own language - of which the Kaitag is one. The Republic of Dagestan remains part of the Russian Federation and is located on its southernmost border. Most of the population lives in the 700 mountain villages, up to 2,700m above sea level, where these embroideries were made.
Lobed Crosses (left) is thought to have been made in the 18th century and reflects Christian influence from Georgia rather than local Coptic tradition. It is estimated at pounds 9,500. The Tree of Life (above) is part of a microcosmic map in which the horses and riders at the top and bottom attempt to find their way to heaven. It is expected to fetch pounds 12,500
Magical powers: Six Masked Horsemen (above), an 18th-century embroidery from Dagestan. It appears to be a local version of a 17th-century north-west Persian design and is on sale at pounds 16,000. Sun Sign Pillow (left) echoes the local pagan iconography found carved on tombstones and woodwork. It is estimated at pounds 10,500
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