In the Western world, patchwork and quilts primarily have been secular objects. To be sure, certain religious groups have specialized in quiltmaking, specific congregations have made quilts to support their particular causes, and countless individuals have displayed their faith through pieced and quilted textiles. But when it comes to culturally-embedded characteristics, North American, British, and European quilts largely have remained functional, artistic, and commemorative rather than religious or spiritual.
In Central Asia, however, scraps and small pieces of fabric—including those used in patchwork—are regarded as inherently talismanic, imbued with a protective power. Across Central Asia, people tie fabric scarves, strips, and patches onto bushes and trees that dot the expansive landscape. Each small scrap of fabric, sometimes called älem, serves to ward off destructive forces. Especially prevalent at shrines (mazar), these colorful fabrics mark sacred sites believed to be the graves of heroes, saints, ancestors or legendary figures, although certain natural phenomena such as streams, waterfalls, and mountains are considered to possess a similar miraculous power. One example particular to Turkmenistan is the chile agach, which can be a tree limb leaning against the wall of a shrine, a freestanding wooden construction, or a hurdle built close to the ground. It is believed that by passing through, under, or around this hurdle tied with colorful fabrics that danger will be averted and ailments will remain with the fabric strips tied on the chile agach.
The bits of fabric that function as patchwork components have a similar protective function. Each piece of fabric repels or confuses evil spirits or absorbs their ill effects so that nearby humans will not be affected. Repeating triangles, in particular, hold special power and appear on textiles ranging from small domestic items to large wall hangings. According to traditional Central Asian thought, patchwork's innate ability to protect people from unseen negative forces make it valuable, not only for its practical purposes, but also for its spiritual ones.