Khamak embroidery

A Kandahar Tradition

Khamak, an intricate form of embroidery, is worked in silk thread and is a trademark of Kandahar. Girls learn this ancient art form at an early age and continue to do it throughout their lives. Inspired by complex Islamic geometric patterns, Khamak is unique to Kandahar and is considered by art experts to be one of the world’s finest embroidery techniques. It is traditionally used to decorate the striking, floor-length shawls worn by Southern Afghan men, as well as table linen, women’s head-coverings, and girls’ wedding  trousseaus.

The practice of Khamak involves counting the threads of the fabric weave (hence cotton and linen are the best raw materials for this embroidery) in order to stitch geometric shapes with silk-thread. The work is done in a sitting position with the embroidery positioned on the top of a bended knee.

Works of Honor and Love

Traditional Khamak includes natural themes, such as flowers, leaves and trees, in addition to the geometric shapes of Islamic art. The women of Kandahar Treasure themselves creatively combine natural and geometric shapes to create patterns much like their ancestors did. But they are also continuously creating new designs, many of which will be showcased for the first time to the public on their most beloved man (a brother, husband, or son). In Southern Afghanistan, women rely on their men to be the exhibitors of their fine art, and men have naturally learned to “show-off” publicly with the best embroidered work on their attire.

Stitching Hopes and Dreams
The practice of Khamak embroidery provides spiritual escape from the mundane, meaningless, day-to-day life of Afghan women. Through the refinement of her stitches, the Kandahar woman expresses her innermost desire for aesthetic beauty. Hajira describes this in her own words when she writes “When I would get into an argument with my husband, and he would leave the house to calm his anger, I had the four walls of my house around me to calm myself down. My anger and frustration would feel like a mountain on my shoulders…Doing Khamak gave me the peace that I needed. Through creating beautiful designs I would divert my mind to calm myself down, and the end result of finishing a beautiful work of art would give me the satisfaction that I needed.” Afghan women stitch their hopes, dreams and desires into embroidery as quietly as they live in Kandahar.

Traditional Khamaki Embroidered Shawl  

Decorative Pillows
Embroidered chiffon scarves


An Afghan woman works on a form of embroidery called Khamak at Kandahar Treasure facilities in Kandahar city, June 14, 2009. Kandahar Treasure, a non-profit project of the Afghans for Civil Society which started out in 2003, employs women artisans from the Kandahar area in order to develop more economic opportunities.

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