I bought this amazing piece of embroidery recently at an Antique Fair.

It obviously has some considerable age, and some of the cowrie shells are missing, but the quality of the embroidery is outstanding, and beautiful, and it fits the criterion of ‘anything that anyone has ever worn on their head for any reason whatsoever’, which is the basis of the collection.

Mystery piece of ethnic embroidered headgear (7)




There is a stitched square pad attached to the front of a heavy padded ring by a piece of cord. Obviously this is designed to cushion the wearer’s head from a heavy load. (see below)

Mystery piece of ethnic embroidered headgear





A separate ‘curtain’ of embroidery falls from the back of the ring and hangs down the wearer’s head and neck .

Every millimetre of fabric is covered with the most minute stitchery.

Mystery piece of ethnic embroidered headgear (3)Mystery piece of ethnic embroidered headgear (2)





I have searched through all my considerable collection of reference books, but have been unable to find anything remotely like this piece in style , or method of embroidery.   The yarn used is probably a matt silk thread….some tiny repairs I did were achieved with a single strand of embroidery ‘silk’.   A lot of the stitching is very tiny chain stitch, the remainder  in a larger satin stitch.   The colours are muted, using traditional vegetable dyes.

Mystery piece of ethnic embroidered headgear (6)




It was presumably brought back long ago from some far away place,  and eventually found its way to an antique fair, via a charity shop in the U.K.



SUBSEQUENT ENQUIRIES  have discovered that this originated in Northern India, and came from a formerly nomadic tribe called the BANJARA.   It was probably made at the beginning of the twentieth century, using vegetable dyes.    The piece is made of hand spun and hand woven cotton, which was then embroidered in minute chain stitch, using traditional motifs.    It is typical of such pieces to change the thread colour in random places….presumably just using what was to hand at the time.

This  is known as a GALA .    Sadly, settlement has meant these tribal pieces have lost their relevance, and they are often sold to traders, who then sell them on to the West.

Mystery piece of ethnic embroidered headgear (8)

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