Shyrdaks are Kyrgyz felt carpets, handmade made using patterns and sewing techniques handed down through generations. Always produced by a community of women, they were important to nomads as decoration and insulation for yurts. Their production is still a symbol of family, a gift handed down mother-to-daughter.
In May, I visited the home of Mairam Omurzakova, one of the founders of Altyn Kol, or “golden hand”, a women’s cooperative in Kochkor. After serving my little group a spread of local dishes, Mairam and her family demonstrated how wool from sheep raised in the Tien Shan Mountains goes “from sheep to shyrdak”.
The first step, done before we arrived, is placement of the wool onto a reed mat, where it is beaten with long, thin reeds, usually made of metal, to remove dirt and dust. This is followed by hand-cleaning.
At Mairam’s house, the demonstration began with the blessing words, “Bismilah” and sprinkling of already cleaned wool with soapy boiling water on a reed mat. The mat was then rolled, pressed and tied, wrapped in what Mairam called “the Chinese usual bags”.
Rolled up and down the driveway for about half an hour, it was stamped by feet to press it, a vital step called “walking the wool”. After a final pressing of the rolled felt by hand, it was rinsed in water, ready to be spread in a field to dry in the sun. Once dry, the felt would be cut, dyed and stitched.
“Walking the wool”
Patterns drawn, cut and stitched
Basics done, Mairam showed us how patterns are created in felt, and stitched to such beautiful result.
Altyn Kol exports shyrdaks and other felt handicrafts, all produced by its membership of more than 1,000 Kyrgyz women. Twice each year, the cooperative also holds exhibitions in the Kyrgyz Cultural Museum in Bishkek.
Here in her own words (time 4:20), is the process Mairam and her family made look so easy!