The rumal, literally a “handkerchief”, is a large square designed primarily for women’s wear. Well-to-do women from Iran to Egypt wore it folded diagonally round the waist or shoulders, or draped over the head as a veil. Rumals were also popular on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the fashion being to wrap one around the shoulders and across the front of a woman’s low-cut dress.
Rumals were primarily kani shawls skilfully put together from many pieces by the rafugar (needle worker) whose expertise was such that their seams were all but invisible. These assembled patchwork shawls were generally defined by large butas that often occupied most of the space. Towards the latter half of the 19th century, the motifs became so large as to cover the entire expanse, as seen in the shawl shown here. The white octagonal centre is surrounded by elongated butas stretching the length from the ends towards the centre, in deep reds, purples, and greens. The butas are filled with small flowers; larger ones appear in the border. Circumscribing the kani-worked piece is a fringe that has small squares or gates of plain twill pashmina in orange, red, black, white, and green.