The traditional woven carpets of the Kyrgyz people

A piled floor carpet in “jule” technique, size: 2.5x5m. Materials: sheep wool, goat wool (for the base); natural dyes: moraine, indigo, walnut. 1950s. Kulundu village, Batken region, Kyrgyz Republic. © Dinara Chochun

The traditional carpet weaving takes a special place in the material culture of the Kyrgyz people, nomads and pastoralists of Central Asia. Its centuries-old history, customs and traditions has developed in various forms and techniques and is in demand on the market to this day. In the harsh and minimalistic conditions of nomadic lifestyle, textiles, including woven carpets, were an important part of a girl’s dowry. According to the local customs, when the bride initially arrives at her husband’s house, she decorates her new home’s interior with beautiful textiles given to her as a dowry. Different types of carpets and covers protected people from the cold, gave the home a cozy look and even functioned as furniture. They were created by the Kyrgyz women in different techniques and forms: embroidered wall panels, felted floor covers, woven lint-free and pile carpets.

Kyrgyz woven carpets can be divided into two types:
1. taar or terme-taar is assembled from patterned stripes woven separately and then sewn together in the form of a bedspread or carpet. The stripes bo are woven by one craftswoman on a primitive loom using the terme or kajary techniques. The length of the patterned stripes reaches up to 20 – 25 meters; the width varies from 4 – 70 centemeters, depending on their purpose. Bo is also used to fasten together different parts of the yurt, a portable dwelling of nomadic peoples, assembled from a wooden frame and felt covers.

2. The Batken, Osh and Jalal-Abad regions in the south part of Kyrgyzstan, located in the Fergana Valley of Central Asia, are considered to be the birthplace of the Kyrgyz woven traditional carpets – kilems. The main business of women to this day in Margun village in Leilek district of Batken region is carpet weaving. In the villages Kulundu, Samarkandek, Toguz Bulak, Aibikeh, Chimgent, Andarak, Kok Tash, Patkhoz, Bulak Bashy, carpet weaving is also developed and practiced by local women. Usually, women weave big size carpets, which can reach 2,5x4m or 2,5x5m, on horizontal looms – duken. Woven carpets with nap – zhule kilem, lint-free – arabi kilem and mixed – pombarkyt kilem.

The preparation of yarn using an archaic spindle – iyik is the most labor intensive and time consuming action. For different types of weaving, yarn is produced of varying degrees of twist and thickness in accordance with the specific requirements. Cotton, camel and goat wool is used for the base of the carpet, where is local sheep wool is mostly used for weaving. The pile knots are nailed with a wooden comb with teeth; the pile thread is cut off with a knife, and trimmed with scissors. In the traditional Kyrgyz carpets there are 80-90 thousands knots per 1 square meter. Pile height is 6-8 mm. A large carpet is woven by several women collectively. Approximately 3-5 women can complete a big arabi-kilem in 7-8 days, jule and pombarkyt – in about 15 days.

Predominant colors: all shades of red combined with blue or black. Yellow, orange, pink, green, white and brown colors are used in limited quantities. For coloring, vegetable dyes made of local plants as onion and nut peels were previously used; since the end of the 19th century – aniline. Carpets are decorated with geometric, floral and horn-like patterns. The main ornamental motifs are: kaykalak – curl, tai tuyak – foal’s hoof, bychak uchu – knife tip, it taman – dog’s paw, ala monchok – variegated bead, boru gozu – wolf eye, jyldyz – star, etc.

By the beginning of the 21st century, weaving crafts in Kyrgyzstan almost had disappeared. Cheap machine-made synthetic carpets mostly imported from China and Turkey had practically ousted labor-intensive and expensive traditional carpets and strips made locally of natural raw materials. Nevertheless, hand-made carpets are still sold in the markets of Isfana, Batken and Kulundu villages. The main consumers are the locals of the Ferghana Valley, who appreciate them for traditional aesthetics. Prices for the dowry carpets at the market vary: 180-200 USD – for arabi, and 600 USD – for jule. The interest among local population to the traditional woven carpets increased due to the shyrdak, traditional Kyrgyz felt carpet, becoming the most successful craft product at the local touristic and export markets. In 2012 shyrdak was inscribed into the UNESCO List of ICH under the danger of disappearance.

The Crafts Council of Kyrgyzstan with the support of local administration is training of various traditional weaving technologies to the young generation of weavers in rural areas of the Kyrgyz Republic. International organizations support rural craft communities and cooperatives to create new working places, buy necessary equipment and train in both business management and marketing. This helps Kyrgyzstan to reach the UN goals of Millennium: to decrease poverty and safeguard traditional culture.

A wall cover made of the woven patterned stripes in “kajary” technique. 1990s. Jalal-Abad region, Kyrgyz Republic.
A craftswoman weaves a patterned stripes using the “terme” technique, in the circle of a rural community on summer pastures. 1990s. Alai district, Osh region, Kyrgyz Republic.