Posts Tagged ‘walnut’

A cradle cover from UrgutUrgut is about 45 minutes from Samarkhand and has a famous Sunday market – just like Harry Tufffins! (Shropshire joke). So we are up early and into a shared taxi by 9am.

The market has recently been moved out of Urgut centre to an out of town location much to the annoyance of the traders who complain that it’s too hot, lacks the atmosphere of the old one and nobody can find it. The hundreds of

The back of Urgut Market

The back of Urgut Market

buses, taxis and cars in the car park (think the Trafford Centre in the desert) seem to disprove the last one but it certainly is hot! And it’s also very picturesque with the Zarafshon Mountains in the background.

Woman selling clothThe vast majority of this famed market is given over to the display and purchase of cheap clothes, fabrics, kitchenware, plastic flowers, toys, and so on – in other words, not very interesting to us. But right at the back there are some stalls selling embroideries and jewellery so that’s where we head for.

Portrait of two women

The mono-brow is quite a popular look

Our appearance sets off something of a sensation and we are quickly surrounded by women waving cloths in our faces and shouting dollar prices at us. Obviously the only people still interested in buying these things are foreigners so they have to make sure that no-one gets out alive!

I am busy bargaining (hard) for some tribal looking coral and silver jewellery while Jim is deep in conversation with a young man on one of the stalls. He is Umur Bek, Bek for short, (29) and he and his mother are selling some decent embroidery. He tells us they are made at their home near Urgut and he invites us to come and visit them the following day, and so of course, we do.

The family house is actually quite a way out of Urgut and is hidden away deep in the dry dusty country-side.

The gaBek's hometes are painted blue with flowers and the house is covered in suzanis and surrounded by a big garden. Thirteen people live there and other family members live in the neighbouring houses. Bek’s mother, Mahuluda (53) is the chief suzani maker and the other women who work there, are her daughters in law, aunts and cousins.

The silk embroidery thread they use is both commercially bought and dyed here in the garden. At the moment they are dyeing with onion skins and walnut, the pomegranates will be ready in October.

Marjona embroiders with her familyGrandma dying silk

Bek’s daughter Marjona (“Coral”) is already a pretty good embroiderer and she’s only 7, and his two little boys watch as their Grandma makes a fire, boils some water and pours some dried walnut husks into a muslin bag. She leaves the hank of silk in it for 30 minutes, and it comes out a nice pale brown.

Mahuluda has been embroidering since she was a girl and remembers making suzanis with portraits of Lenin on when she was at school in the 1960s. The family seem to have managed to make a living for themselves all through the Soviet era and now they are doing well.

The outdoor kitchen

The outdoor kitchen

After lunch (more food!) we have a look round the house and see all the ways that the embroideries are used. A bride has to embroider six pieces before her wedding, and Bek says his wife did this for him so it obviously still goes on. These six cloths are

  • a suzani (a large cloth which goes on the wall of the house)
  • a cover for the wedding bed
  • a smaller cover for a wooden or metal trunk
  • a belt for her husband
  • a prayer cloth
  • and a mirror cover which is used to cover the mirror at night (for modesty’s sake or for superstition? I’m not quite sure)

Later she hopes she will make a cradle cover for the traditional wooden painted cradle. Apparently the Soviets tried to get rid of these “manifestations of feudal consciousness” but embroidery and indeed painted cradles seem to be back with a vengeance.

Room with displayed clothsFinally we look around a big room stuffed with old textiles, sacks of straps and rolls of braids, old coats, hats, and cloths of all shapes and sizes. “Now that’s what I call a shop” says Jim. I find an old cradle cover which has obviously been used as there are two holes which would fit over the top posts. That’s the one I want.

Before leaving I go to the most unusual bathroom I have ever been in, so I’m sure you will want to know about it.

Jim in a room full of interesting things

Good shop, eh?

A daughter in law shows me down the garden to an area with head -high mud walls and a narrow rectangular hole cut in the earth floor. There’s no water, or toilet roll, only a large basket of what look like stones. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with them, and I don’t really like to ask! Waiting outside, my host pours water out of a jug for me to wash my hands. This clearly is a place where you don’t waste water.

So that was Urgut. The cradle cover has a very domestic design of Uzbek teapots on it and is a reminder of a day spent with people who seem very happy with a life which feels as if it has changed little for centuries. Jim says it’s all a manifestation of feudal consciousness, but I quite like it!

Painted cradles in the market

Painted cradles in the market

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »