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Textile Tuesday: Rabari Headdress

Hat, India, 1900-1977, cotton, silk on cotton, silk, 13 x 14 x 13 in.

Katie Slavin is a student in the School of Human Ecology, entering her 4th year as a Retailing and Consumer Behavior major.

After flipping through the textiles featured in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection online navigator, I was immediately drawn to this brightly colored natiyo (headdress) worn by members of the Rabari Culture in India, and was eager to see the actual artifact.

Rabaru headdress detail

This piece is dated to the twentieth century, and was worn by a young child. In addition to the mesmerizing colors, I was very intrigued that this textile functions as a hat. I had never seen such a detailed piece, and never knew embroidery could be so intricate on such a small article of clothing. I wondered whether this item could have cultural meaning related to when a child is born and brought into the life of the community. After conducting research, I found that this headdress is commonly worn on the streets of India for special occasions such as dances, performances, and celebrations, correlating to the birth of a new child. These headdresses are made in all shapes and sizes, and are a common item found in many households, ready to be worn at any appropriate occasion.

This textile demonstrates attention to detail and exemplifies techniques of embroidery practiced by the Rabari. On this textile, many colors of embroidery are placed in rows of satin and chain stitch in shapes such as flowers and circles, revolving around circular mirrors. In India, embroidery is very popular and is used to convey messages. It is thought possible that embroidery first originated in India. The most popular colors used to covey messages on natiyos are red, yellow, blue, green, white and black, all of which are displayed in this hat. There is also a lot of orange in this hat, but I have not determined what that may symbolize. There are many motifs in Rabari embroidery, such as the peacock, snake, or flowers. This natiyo shows a flower motif, symbolizing the mandala and ritualistic drawings.

Rabari headdress back

Textiles in India change with the climate, ethnicity, geography, and cultural traditions. This textile originated from a region where the concepts of bright colors and embroidery have stayed consistent over a long period of time, and these traditions will likely live on in the future.

Discover more about this piece here.

#TextileTuesday is a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

HLATC 50th anniversary logo

In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.