Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kuchi Beadwork

Beaded medallions from Afghanistan

Beadwork has played an important part in decoration and ceremony in Afghanistan since very ancient times. There are many different cultural groups who live in the region that is now divided into Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern Iran and Turkmenistan. These peoples were mostly nomadic, now tending to stay in one area because of warfare, strife and political unrest. However decoration, protection and tribal identification remain very important and beadwork is still an art form in most of these areas.

The round beaded medallions that many dancers have incorporated into their costuming are traditionally called gul-i-peron or beaded ‘gul’. They are made on small circular pieces of felt or leather decorated with seed beads, shells, mirrors, etc. and attached to dresses, bags, animal harness and many other items. Gul and other beadwork are found almost anywhere there is space for adornment and come in an infinite variety of sizes and more recently a variety of shapes. Usually made in traditional colors and patterns, they are still produced by hand today.

Lots of examples of Kuchi beadwork are listed at The Red Camel in the beadwork category.

For more information, see:
Harvey,Janet (1996)Traditional Textiles of Central Asia. London: Thames and Hudson.
Kalter,Johannes (1983)The Arts and Crafts of Turkestan. London: Thames and Hudson.

You Say Talhakimt, I Say Tanfouk...

Red talhakimt

Have you ever seen these and wondered what they were and where they come from? These beautiful little pieces are called talhakimt or tanfouk and are worn in Mali and Mauritania in the Sahara and West Africa as hair ornaments and pendants. This design originated in India in the 1800s but was produced in pressed glass in Czechoslovakia for African trade beginning in the early 1900s.

They come in many colors, including the red, blue and green you may have seen, plus yellow, light blue, white and black and many different shades. Some colors and materials are much more rare than others and can be very expensive. You can find these in a variety of sizes from very tiny to over 3 inches in length. Some are even made of metal or beautiful natural agate. For examples, see the Red Camel's selection of talhakimt here near the bottom of the page.

Talhakimt can be made of glass, agate or other materials

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Working with Coins

Tribal Coins with loops

This is a topic that I've covered on The Red Camel's FaceBook page, but it's worth repeating because I think its a good tool for those that make or embellish their own tribal costumes.

Using coins to decorate your dance costumes is quick and easy. Coins add shine, sometimes a bit of noise and are the original tribal decoration! Coins can have loops that thread either from front to back or side to side, or simply have holes drilled through. Most coins used for belly dance costumes are either newly made reproductions (easily told by the light weight), or are real Indian or middle eastern coins, usually Pakistani, Afghani or Persian. Real coins can generally be told by the older patina and heavier feel. Moroccan coins are seen less often, and some of these are small and lightweight, but most are larger and look and feel like 'real' coins. There are also other real and reproduction coins available. Any of these can be used for costuming and methods for attaching are generally the same for all.

Coins with drilled holes can be sewn directly to your costume. If you want to use jump rings, you can attach them to chain or some kind of cord and either sew the chain/cord down for a nice even row, or let it drape over the belly or swag around the hips.

Middle Eastern coins are the most plentiful for costuming and have wide loops soldered to them that thread from side to side. Indian coins can have wide, side-to-side loops or can have smaller loops that thread front to back. The smaller front-to-back loops can be sewn directly to your costuming piece with relative ease. The loops are small enough that the coins don't move around too much and will stay in place fairly well.

Coins with wide side-to-side loops are better off strung on a cord of some type to help keep them in place when they are attached and thus give a more consistent look. Sometimes you can find coins that have been removed from old clothing and decorative items that are still on their original cords. The added bonus of this is that these coins are usually all the same size and shape and are already spaced out fairly evenly along the cord. Most old cords are either rolled fabric or are a flat braided cord, sometimes consisting of two or three separate strands sewn together.

These are a breeze to just sew directly to your costume. The cords can be cut to any length, generally without having to worry that they will come undone. Just giving it a few stitches along the end is enough to keep them from unraveling. If the cords aren't the right color, try throwing them into a pot with some RIT dye!

Coins with wide loops that have already been removed from their original cords can easily be restrung. The easiest way I have found to do this is to braid some yarn and run it through the loops. The best yarn to use is the cheap stuff from a craft store. Added plus, it comes in every color! Use 6 pieces of yarn, 2 in each strand, to make a cord that fills the loops and holds the coins in place well. Make the braid a little bit longer than you need for your project. Then take a piece of scotch tape and roll it around the loose ends, like a shoelace end. This will easily pass through the loops on the coins and prevent the braid from coming undone. After your coins are strung, sew the cord down, evenly spacing the coins. Don't forget to cut off the tape and secure the ends of your braids well so they don't fray.

For an interesting variation, try alternating large and small coins in a row or making a pattern with various sizes and shapes.

That's just about everything you need to know about using coins. They're a super easy way to add tribal decoration to your costumes!

You can find real coins for tribal bellydance costuming here at The Red Camel's website.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What's so Fun About Tribal Jewelry?

Olami Cuffs from Afghanistan

You mean apart from wearing it and feeling like you're connected to a tradition much much older than yourself? Well, for me the most fun is hunting for those old authentic well-loved pieces. The ones that are worn smooth from being touched many times, either because they are a much-loved family treasure, handed down from mother to daughter, or rubbed for protection against evil forces or simply for luck. The ones that are well made, well designed and lovely both to look at and to wear. The ones that have meaning in every detail. There is nothing quite like the feel of old tribal silvery jewelry under your fingers.

My love affair with tribal jewelry began when I was still pretty new to belly dance. I danced with a troupe that was mostly cabaret style ('sparkly girls' for those who are unfamiliar with the term) instead of tribal. But I began to really love this jewelry when we danced at ren faires and I was free to wear tribal jewelry and incorporate those elements into my costuming. I loved hunting down just the right pieces and making something very special out of them.

So as I continued to dance I continued to look for these pieces everywhere I went. Thrift stores, flea markets, estate sales, around town, on vacation - wherever my destination was. I loved finding these beautiful items so much that my house soon abounded with them and it was time to do something about it. That's how The Red Camel was born.

Now I still get to shop for that perfect piece of tribal jewelry. Anywhere. Everywhere! And I still have a spare bedroom. Although I must confess that I do keep some of the very best pieces for myself. But I can't keep it all and you may be the next lucky benefactor of my delight in rooting these pieces out of their secretive hiding spaces.

See what I've found here: www.redcamel.net