Posts Tagged ‘USSR’

We have started our journey from its furthest western point – the truly amazing town of Khiva in Uzbekistan. The first sight of it is gob smacking – towering mud brick walls surround an inner city of a square kilometre where every house and street is the same pale sandy colour. But what buildings! Mosques and minarets, palaces and medressas, domes and courtyards of stunning turquoise blue tiles.

Khiva seems to have been ruled over by a succession of cruel and bloodthirsty Khans who enjoyed enslaving, beheading, and generally behaving very badly. It was eventually conquered by the Russians and 50 or so years later by the Bolsheviks and became part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist State and thus the USSR in 1924. The place was so impressive that even the Soviet planning department left it alone.

I chose the Meros B and B because of a book called “Carpet Ride to Khiva” which I read last year. The author lodged with the family here for 7 years and while he was here, started a silk carpet weaving workshop and later an embroidery workshop which are both nearby. Once we decided to come to Uzbekistan, I knew I wanted to visit Khiva and see the workshops. Anyway, the house is full of kilims and embroidered suzanis, the family is welcoming, the view from the roof is great and our balcony looks out on the western wall, so it was a pretty good choice.

The weaving workshop is in an old madressa with a domed courtyard surrounded by lots of small rooms where the women sit at looms knotting silk into beautiful carpets. The dyestuffs used to dye the silk are all natural – pomegranate and onion skins, madder and indigo, walnut and oak galls. They have to get a lot of it from Afghanistan which is expensive and somewhat hazardous these days.

The weavers sit three abreast knotting furiously, beating down ferociously and listening to loud pop music but they are all very jolly and even understand our Turkish (yay!)

Madrim, the master dyer shows us where the silk is dyed. He drives us a couple of miles down a potholed track, through a blue door and into a garden full of madder plants. There are bowls of onions skins with apple, mulberry and vine leaves, pomegranate skins and madder, alum mordants and steaming vats of wood ash and grated soap which are used to scour and wash the silk before dyeing it.

The workshop was set up about 10 years ago with help from UNESCO and The British Council but now they have to stand on their own two feet and so they’re trying to produce more dyestuffs locally and experiment with using wool which is cheaper than silk.

The silk carpets themselves are stunning. The designs come from the tile work and the enormous carved wooden doors in Khiva. Jim and I both fall in love with one particular carpet and we think long and hard, but the price is beyond us – especially at the beginning of a long trip.

This blog is going to feature one particular textile from each of the places we visit. If we could have spared a thousand quid it would have been the carpet……… however…….the project has also set up an embroidery workshop, employing another 24 women. Here the same naturally dyed silk is used to produce the traditional embroideries commonly known as suzanis for which Central Asia is famous. We can afford 2 exquisite cushion covers, one featuring a design painstakingly copied from an ancient hand-carved door, the other taken from beautiful old tiles.

So that’s what we got from Khiva. The carpet’s still waiting there, giving us a very good reason to go back one day.

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