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RH421 - Safavid Persian Woman

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Use our pattern to make what Persian Women really wore in the early part of the Safavid period (16th century)!

Full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for Lady's Safavid Persian Outfit including robes, drawers, and undershirt. Fits busts 30.5"-48" and waists 23"-41" with instructions for adjustments to smaller and larger sizes.  All Sizes in one envelope. Embellishment suggestions included.

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Suggested Fabrics:
fine wool, silk or brocade
linen or lightweight silk for lining.
may also be entirely or partially lined with fur

Yardage Requirements: 
robe(s) -- 4 yds at least 60" wide
pants --  2 yds at least 60" wide
shirt --  3 yds at least 45" wide

10-20 buttons and loops for front closure
braid and passementerie trim to taste

Let us help you! At Reconstructing History, we want to see you wearing the best garments you are capable of making. Call us Monday through Friday from 9am until 4pm Eastern Time (or email us at info@reconstructinghistory.com) and we will answer any questions you might have.

Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:

Women's Costume of the Early Safavid Empire

The Safavid dynasty was founded about 1501 by Shah Ismail I. A year after his victory in Tabriz, Ismail claimed most of Persia as part of his territory, and within 10 years established complete control over all of it. The greatest of the Safavid monarchs, Shah Abbas I (1587–1629) came to power in 1587 aged 16 following the forced abdication of his father, Shah Muhammad Khudabanda, having survived Qizilbashi court intrigues and murders. He recognized the ineffectualness of his army which was consistently being defeated by the Ottomans who had captured Georgia and Armenia and by Uzbeks who had captured Mashhad and Sistan in the east. First he sued for peace in 1590 with the Ottomans giving away territory in the north-west. Then two Englishmen, Robert Sherley and his brother Anthony, helped Abbas I to reorganize the Shah's soldiers into an officer-paid and well-trained standing army similar to a European model (which the Ottomans had already adopted). He wholeheartedly adopted the use of gunpowder (See Military history of Iran).

Abbas moved the capital to Isfahan, deeper into central Iran in 1592. There he built a new city next to the ancient Persian one. Embellished by a magnificent series of new mosques, baths, colleges, and caravansaries, Isfahan became one of the most beautiful cities in the world. After a long and severe struggle, Abbas regained Mashhad, and defeated the Uzbeks in a great battle near Herat in 1597, driving them beyond the Oxus River. In the meantime, taking advantage of Tsar Ivan the Terrible's death in 1584, he had gained the homage of the provinces on the southern Caspian Sea, which had depended on Russia till then. From this time the state began to take on a more Persian character. The Safavids ultimately succeeded in establishing a new Persian national monarchy.

But this is the story of Safavid clothing before this Persianization (which incidentally incorporated a good deal of style from Abbas’ English allies). Clothing worn until the turn of the 17th century retained many of the elements of the Timurid Dynasty, the Turco-Mongol Empire of Tamerlane that controlled Central Asia from the mid-14th through the end of the 15th century. Female fashion had thrown off the rigid Chinese styles of the Mongol Empire and had become long and flowing.

As we can see in the picture of a Safavid princess at left, there are still some clear indicators of Mongol influence. Her headdress is decidedly of East Asian origin and the decoration of her uppermost robe resembles the “Cloud Collars” of Chinese robes. The excessive length of her sleeves also hark back to Mongol dress.

And yet this princess’ clothing is very different from that of the her steppes cousins. Her innermost garment can can glimpsed through the aligned openings of all her other garments. It is a sheer white undergarment with a slit neck. Over that she wears a dark blue robe only visible at her chest and her right wrist. A single button closes the round neck and the garment appears open to the waist where it either buttons or is simply caught in the belt. A light blue garment covers this. The light blue garment appears to have no closures on the upper body and descends in a “V” opening to the waist. Like the dark blue garment beneath it, it has tight sleeves, but the sleeves of the light blue garment are long enough to completely hide the wearer’s fingers, as we see on ther left arm. The sleeve on her right arm is pushed up and makes delicate wrinkles at the wrist. The skirts of this garment completely cover the princess’ legs.

Her uppermost garment is an orange robe with a black embroidered yoke on the shoulders. This is known in Chinese dress as a Cloud Collar. It is likely appliqued onto the orange robe. The robe itself is not closed in any way, not even tucked into a belt or sash at the waist. This is typical of Persian overrobes of this period. The sleeves are also appear short. They may in fact stop at the bicep or the princess may have put her arms through a slit at that level on the sleeve and the rest of the sleeve could be hanging behind her. It is impossible to tell from this picture, but hanging sleeves were a frequent fashion of this time period.

All the garments appear to be made from a soft silk brocade with floral motifis in gold. Her “ballet flat” shoes are worn over unstockinged feet. Drop earrings, a choker necklace and pearls attached to her headdress further adorn her.

The dancer in the illustration at right is contemporary with the princess described above although she is not as carefully drawn. Her short-sleeved yellow robe is fastened with passementerie closures over a beige long-sleeved robe with an all-over pattern of gold lozenges. This must have a V-opening for it is not visible at the neckline. Her underrobe is deep blue and has similar gold motifs all over. It fastens at the neck and the slit front is open to the waist. A slight difference in colour underneath indicates the presence of an undergarment of some kind. Her shoes are black “ballet flats” and either her stockings are patterned or her feet are hennaed. Her headdress consists of a white triangular veil with blue and red stripes and the corners decorated. It appears to be held in place by a blue, white, and red jeweled chin strap and a headband with three gold jewel-topped wands sticking up out of it. These may be feathers in the previous century’s headdress called rusari i arayishiyi pardar. Her black eyebrows are drawn together and a blue lozenge is painted above where they meet. Other dots on her face may also indicate the use of cosmetics.

“Nushaba recognizes Iskandar” from around 1540 (shown at left) is not much different from the Princess on the previous page, although her clothing appears less decorated. Her uppermost robe is blue and open in front. Her arms emerge from slits in the upper arm and the sleeves hang behind. On her left side and at her feet, we can see a pumpkin colour that may be this robe’s lining. Under this she wears a pink long-sleeved robe that closes in a V at her waist. Under this is a slight indication of another robe of the same cut, this one green. Under it all is a black robe that buttons at the throat with a single round button. The front is open to the waist. This robe shows nowhere else in the painting. On Nushaba’s head is a Mongol “crown” (taj i mughuli) like that on the Princess seen earlier. She also wears red drop earrings. A black sidelock of hair falls over either ea and the rest of her hair is braided behind her.

The Safavid Persians were Muslims and traditional wearers of the veil. No woman went without her head covered, even in the company of other women. A woman in the minature “Kay Khusraw crosses the Jayhun” shows the typical outdoor dress for a Safavid woman -- an all- encompasing white veil called chadar. Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, the Spanish ambassador to Timur in the early 15th century, said: “These women go about, covered all over with a white sheet, with a net made of black horsehair before their eyes.” Other visiting Europeans describe the same sheet-like garb.

The old woman shown in the detail at right from “Majnun brought in chains to Layla's tent” from the Khamsa wears a maqna’a, a veil, usually white, that covers the head, shoulders and neck, much like a hood. Sometimes this was simply the arrangement of a veil to accomplish this coverage.

Worn by all women in the 14th and 15th centuries, by the Safavid period the maqna’a appears to have become the choice of old women. Young married women and unmarried girls wear a kerchief pinned to a cap, called charghat or turi sari kutah.

Detail from “Sindukht comes out of Kabul with gifts” from the 1530 Houghton Shahname (reproduced below left) shows a closeup of this headdress. She wears a red skullcap on her head. Black beads like pearls on a string seem to hold the cap like a chin strap. The white traingular kerchief on her head is decoratively knotted at the corners. It appears to be pinning to the red cap. A sheer wimple-like veil covers her neck but is not shown in the illustration at left.

Another detail from a 1530s Shahname (“Zahhak receives the daughters of Jamshid” at right) shows a white veil with blue and red stripes. It is secured with white pearls under the chin and the left side is flipped over to the right side of the head, not unlike the English way of wearing French hoods in the 16th century.

Outdoors, the black horsehair eye-covering flap -- picheh -- was worn as noted by the Venetian ambassador in 1571: “And I saw the mother of the Sultan Mustaffa Mirisce... come out with her face covered with a black veil...”

Although we hear that Persian women wore drawers like their Turkish counterparts, their robes are so long that pants are never seen. This detail from “The meeting of Layla and Majnun in the desert, surrounded by wild animals” at right shows a glimpse of trouser just above Layla’s shoes. They appear to be straight and not gathered at the ankles as are other women’s pants of the time. Detail from “Majnun brought in chains to Layla's tent” (reproduced at left) shows a better view of Perian women’s pants. They are full enough for the wearer to squat as shown and they taper to the ankle.

Although the most detailed paintings of Persian women indicate a thin white undergarment worn next to the skin, there are no depictions to show its shape or construction. In the 1540 miniature of Khosrow watching Shirin bathing (detail reproduced at right), Shirin has hung her green and red robes and her Mongol crown on a nearby tree and one of her boots is nearby her bathing area. But there is no kamiz to be seen anywhere. Shirin wears a blue skirt-like garment trimmed with blue. It is not unlike the skirts worn by men in the bathhouses (and shown at left). Shirin is shown combing her knee-length hair. She is topless although her arm is positioned to cover most of her breasts. Her hands and feet bear reddish-brown dots, presumably henna decoration and she wears bracelets on her ankles and wrists.

On the following page, Shirin is shown while visiting Farhad. She is astride her horse and wearing Mongol-type riding boots. She is accompanied by a group of female attendants all dressed similarly to herself. Her dress corresponds with that of the other women shown in this document, except that she wears a Mongol crown on top of her charghat. Her attendants wear their charghat alone. Shirin appears to have henna decorations on her hands.

For more, purchase this pattern.

This information © 2008 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History

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