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.


Pashtun Embroidery

Pashtun embroidery is very beautiful . Embroidery is used by Pashtuns to decorate a wide range of objects. It is used for household objects such as table cloths, mats, towels, curtains, bags, prayer cloths, as well as decorative blankets for horses and camels.

I found the following article about Pashtun embroidery here:

“There are various groups of Pashtun, each with their own style of embroidery. There is also a difference between Pashtun urban embroidery and Pashtun nomadic embroidery.

The Pashtun living in the Wardak region, for example, are noted for multi-coloured silk embroideries on a monochrome cotton or silk ground. The embroideries are worked in satin stitch in complex geometric designs that radiate out from a central motif, such as a star.

Mangal Pashtun, from eastern Afghanistan, often use satin stitch to create lozenges that cover the whole embroidered surface. The difference is in the accent, worked in holbein and back stitches in black and white, so contrasting with the colour of the rest of the embroidery. The designs do not follow the grain, but instead form diagonal lines that accentuate the lozenge designs.

Waistcoats for Pashtun men are often decorated with gold or silver coloured braids, which are sewn in intricate, geometric designs onto the ground material, such as red velvet. This type of embroidery is also used for women’s dresses.

The item above is described as a Pashtun purse, Maydan, 1950

Described as Pashtun Mangal, Paktya, 1930.

Purse-Swat, Pakistan

Wardak embroidery on traditional dress

Afghanistan – chain stitch

Paktia, Afghanistan

Afghanistan – chain stitch (detail)

Paktia, Afghanistan

Koochie Embroidery

Gardez, Afghanistan

Silver thread and mirror embroidery

Ghazni, Afghanistan

Pashtun embroidered waistcoat


Koochie embroidered wallet


Very tight chain stitch on Bukara silk.

Koochie dress-detail


Embroidered cap and tassels

Embroidered cap from Kandahar. Tassels nomadic.

Pashtun Vest
Ghazni area, Katawaz. Afghanistan.

Pashtun Cushion Cover

Silk embroidery on cotton

Pashtun Shawl
Swat Valley, Pakistan

Silk satin-stitch embroidery on cotton.

Pashtun Cushion Cover

Swat Valley, Pakistan

Silk embroidery on cotton

Pashtun Child’s Vest
Ghazni area, Afghanistan

Fine silk cross-stitch embroidery on cotton, with silver couching, applied gold braid, and beaded edging.

sسپلنيَ spalanaey

A tradition of Pashtuns / Afghans

When spalanaey seeds ( more commonly known to Westerners by their Persian name espand ) are dropped on red-hot charcoal they make a popping noise and give off a great deal of fragrant smoke. This is done to ward off the “evil-eye”. The evil eye belief is that a person, otherwise not evil in any way, can harm you, your children, your house, your health and so on by looking at you with envy and/or praising you. The evil eye or Nazar can be done out of love and unintentionally so it does not always have “evil” intentions attached to it.

This ancient tradition has it’s origins from Zorostrianism and is still widely practiced today. In Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan when a child returns home after being among strangers, some parents will light a charcoal disk and burn the spalanaey seeds while reciting a poem, actually an ancient Zoroastrian prayer, against the evil eye and directing the smoke around the child. This is done as a protective measure, whether or not it is suspected that the child has been given the eye. The rite consists of an invocation prayer to a deceased but historical king of Persia known as Naqshband, while burning espand/ spalanaey seeds. The word espand refers to a class of Zoroastrian Archangels. It was common that our Zoroastrian forefathers used to pick a patron angel for their protection, and throughout their lives were observing prayers dedicated to that angel. Today whenever we burn espand grains to “espand” ourselves, it is in fact the invocation of blessing of the archangels (Amahraspand or aspand) that our ancestors observed prayers to. In some homes today verses from the Koran are recited instead of that ancient prayer.

Sometimes instead of spalanaey being burned it is just mentioned. For example when a child is sick his or her mother will sometimes wet the child’s hair and say ” spalanaey di sum” the Pashto phrase to ward off the evil eye. Also when one’s beloved says some sweet words to them the other often says ” spalanaey di sum” to ward off the evil eye.


An Afghan Spandi burns seeds to drive away the evil eye in the early morning in Kabul, Afghanistan. Spandi is a person who walks around the neighborhood with a burning pot of the spalanaey seeds to sprinkle incense in return for a small fee.


Not just a Pashtun vice

Whether we like it or not the tobacco known as “naswar” is associated with Pashtuns. Naswar is primarily used in Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Sweden and India. In Pakistan though it is is predominantly used by members of the Pashtun ethnic group. Some of the many varieties of naswar are produced in different parts of the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Province of Pakistan and the city of Bannu is especially famous for producing the best naswar.

Naswar is held in the mouth for 10 to 15 minutes. If it is chewed it produces a bad taste in the mouth. Usually, the consumption varies but mostly people take it on an hourly basis as it is highly addictive. Nowadays most of the educated Pashtuns are against the use of this product because of it’s detrimental health effects.

An assortment of naswar.

A worker crushing dried Tobacco for converting it to Naswar. Naswar or dried Tobacco is used mostly by Pashtuns but it is also popular among many others. Naswar could be found in two colors i.e green or Black, and the use of Naswar is by placing a small portion like a small tablet inside the mouth and then extracting the juice out of it without bringing down the material of naswar to the stomach, and after few minutes the Naswar is then thrown out.

Naswar waiting to be sold in Karachi.

Ghazni Pottery

Afghanistan has a long tradition of producing clay products, especially in the region of Ghazni. Comparison between prehistoric pottery shards and pieces from the pre-war period indicates that the basic shapes and designs of Afghan pottery changed little in 5,000 years.

Beautiful clay bowls from Gazni Afghanistan

An Afghan man making pottery