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A shyrdak from KochkorKochkor is a perfectly ordinary little Kyrgyz town. It has its fair share of picturesque, dusty, poplar lined streets, its open man holes, clapped out Ladas and “mountain” Audis, men in white felt hats and large women in flowery head scarves. It may have more than its fair share of men sitting on street corners playing cards, grocers shops with not many groceries but 65 different varieties of vodka and indeed plenty of members of the all-day VDC (Vodka Drinking Community).

Kochkor womenKochkor

Kochkor menVodka

However it does have some good home stays and it’s a centre for shyrdaks. What the hell are shyrdaks? I hear you ask. A few weeks ago I asked the same question, and now I can tell you the answer in perhaps too much detail. A shyrdak is a felt rug and you will find several of them in every Kyrgyz house or yurt you visit. Every Kyrgyz woman makes a large shyrdak and a large alagi’iz (that’s another kind of felt rug) for each daughter she has and gives them to her when she gets married. They are also a good way of using up some of that surplus sheep’s wool and of generating some much needed income.

Jim in shyrdak shopKochkor is a well-known centre for buying these rugs and so that’s why we’re here. We are lucky to meet Dinara (a very confident and competent 27) in the “Altyn Kol” (Golden Hands) handicrafts shop. There are lots of shyrdaks on sale made by thirty or so different women who live in Kochkor and the surrounding area.

First of all Dinara takes us to meet an elderly lady who is one of her best shyrdak makers. She is working in the back yard at her home and she makes all her rugs herself from start to finish.

This involves

  1. preparing the wool
  2. making the felt (you are already an expert in how felt is made – if not, read my last post)
  3. drawing the design and cutting out the felt
  4. spinning the yarn used for the edging
  5. sewing the pieces together
  6. quilting the top felt onto its felt backing.

Here’s some pictures of some of that…

Making shyrdaksMaking shyrdaksMaking shyrdaks
After all that we have to buy some. Most of the colours are just a little too bright for our subdued British tastes, so we go for the ones in natural wool colours. However we can also order rugs and that way we get to choose the colours and designs we’d like, and even better news, Dinara will ship them to us when they are ready!

So there we are all ready to leave Kochkor with six shyrdaks and full rucksacks to carry and now we just need to find a shared taxi. The price is right and there are already two passengers, so all is well – the only problem is that there’s a quarter of a dead cow in the boot and its bloody carcass is leaking through the totally inadequate bit of cardboard it’s sitting on. There is no way we are going to allow our precious rugs anywhere near that!

No problem! Passenger transporting said carcass to his friend in the city is despatched to fetch plastic bags to cover it up a bit and we gingerly allow our bags in the boot. Honestly fussy bloody tourists! It’s just another typical Kyrgyz moment.

ShyrdakMaking a shyrdak

Making shyrdaks can be communal work and baby- sitting may also be incorporated. Here the felt backing layer is being quilted onto a very large rug.

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