Mongolian Quilting Stitches

Mongolian Quilting Stitches
A collection of stitches, patterns and a brief history.
Mongolian Quilts? Well, no, but rugs, blankets, saddle pads, carrying bags and show
soles – yes! In a culture that uses felt for the variety of purposes the Mongols do, you
find ways to strengthen and enhance the felt. You, quite literally, weave it into your very
In this case the quilting of felt serves several purposes. It isn’t just running a thread
through fabric. Felt is part of the heart and soul of the Mongolian people and it interacted
in almost every aspect of their lives. The primary direction of this topic is to introduce
you to the various stitches and stitching patterns used by the Mongols. However, I can’t
help but add in a few items of interest and amusement that go hand in hand with the
It seems that sewing or quilting stitches are fairly similar no matter where they
originate. There are some variants. I don’t se the French knot in the Mongolian
collection but I also associate it with embroidery rather than quilting. There are running
stitches and blanket stitches and herringbone designs, some of the patterns are quite
elaborate and could, with an industrious needle worker using various colors, produce
some beautiful patterns. Which, as is evident in the rugs in many Gers, just exactly what
they did.
What I find most interesting is the shamanic aspect of the quilting and felt work. For
example, in the case of felt being quilted, the edges of the felt are frequently reinforced
with a braided or woven rope called the ZEEG. On felt rugs this Zeeg marks the
boundaries of portions of the ger. Those delineations also mark the border between the
men’s and women’s side of the ger. Those same lines are part of an ‘organic’ clock used
by the Mongols to tell time. Time is somewhat relative and thus the hours are actually
two hours long and overlap each other. But it is the relationship of the shadow on the ger
rugs and the roof poles that tells time for the residents.
The various patterns used in Mongolian quilting vary somewhat from clan to clan.
The preferred colors and items seem to be fairly consistent throughout the Central Asian
areas inhabited by the Mongols. Dye seems not to have been an option in most cases so
the threads tended to be whatever color the animal was – thus lots of browns, grays, black
and white. A prized rug would be very white with dark brown or black stitching. (No, I
have no idea how they kept them clean.)
Items of felt that are frequently quilted are Ger walls, door flaps, rugs or mats, saddle
blankets, boots or shoes, hats, assorted bags and pouches and carrying containers. The
majority of the patterns are geometric and repeat over large areas, however, you will also
find more decorative work in the form of animals and plants. I wondered at the evenness
of the layout but discovered that many villages apparently had a pattern maker who
would assist in laying out and marking the patterns for the quilting. I’ve found no
reference, so far, to such things as what we call Quilting Bees. The patterns would, quite
literally, be drawn on the felt with a fairly permanent ink made of Ochre powder and
fresh dung. One of a young bride’s first projects was to create and stitch her own rugs for
her future home.
What follows is a collection of stitches and designs used in the felt quilting. The first
view shows the actual various stitches and pattern formation.
The following pictures are examples of various quilting patterns and design usage. It
appears that the finished pieces all have zeeg’s.
The zeegs are braided or plaited strand of threads made of horse, camel or yak hair which
has been spun into threads then gathered in multiple strands for strength. In one
reference it was mentioned that the threads were spun directly from the yak. I’m afraid
I’ll have to check that out a bit more closely before I can suggest you sit by your yak and
spin thread from it.
The object for today’s quilting exercise is a scissors case. In searching for things
Mongolian I came across a pair of very modern looking shears that originated in China
well before even Genghis Khan’s time. IF you prefer to make a needle case I have a
photo of that also but Mongolian needle cases were hung on the wall of the ger – not,
apparently, toted around on a chatelaine.
Scissors case.
In studying the homelier aspects of Mongolian culture I find that the edges between
various societies are much more blurred than we’d like them to be. The many designs
and patterns I’ve located are native, in one form or another in cultures that span the globe.
Stirrups that have every appearance of being Celtic but are actually Mongolian. Muslims
in the Oirat clans who have blond hair and blue eyes. Simple tools such as spindles and
cups appear very similar whether they be Mongolian, Celt or Ethiopian. Curious, isn’t it?
A short bibliography;
Felt Art of the Mongols by Luntengiin Batchuluun, Mongolian University of Arts and
Culture, 2003. Printed in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Material Culture of Mongol Altai Region by Besud Ayushin Baasankhuu, Institute for
Mongol Altai Studies, Ulaanbaatar, 2006.
Sadly, neither book contains a bibliography of its own.
Should you have questions or want to discuss this further, feel free to contact me.
Chagan Khulan (Karen M. Summerfelt-Hume
3607 Young Road, Millers, MD 21102
443-789-9050 (NLT 9 PM)
[email protected]
Copyright, May 26, 2007, Karen M. Summerfelt-Hume