Central Asia is a region full of indescribable wonders, from stunning landscapes to rich culture of its countries. In the past it was closely tied with the Silk Road, a major trading vessel where goods from China traveled to Europe and ideas from different nations mixed freely. As a result, Central Asia is a home to one of the most diverse and stunning carpets, unseen anywhere else. Among them there is a rug which shocks with its beauty and originality – shyrdak. What is so special about it?
Shyrdak carpets are traditionally made in Kyrgyzstan, but are also sighted in Kazakhstan. Famous for its mountainous landscapes, Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of civilizations, as it was a part of the Silk Road, a legendary trading route which connected Asia and Europe. This country’s history records span over 2,000 years due to its rich culture which developed thanks to numerous tribes inhabiting the country. While they handcraft numerous high quality goods, traditional carpets are one of the most sought-after due to their great beauty. In the past when nomads lived in the yurts, rugs were not only decorations but also acted as furniture. Although after the Collectivization in the Soviet Union enforced by Joseph Stalin the nomadic way of life disappeared, tribes did not stop to produce their fine goods. Even today new carpets are being made, mixing traditional techniques with modern ideas.
Felt, used to make shyrdak rugs, is usually made of Merino and Karakol sheep. Both are known to have some of the best quality wool in the world, which in turn reflects the quality of carpets. To make one rug four or more sheep are needed and the process itself can take the whole winter. After sheep are sheared in the autumn, their wool is cleaned thoroughly with soap and then rinsed in cold and warm water. Then damp wool is put in dye bath and warmed. Aside from the dye, bath might contain soda ash, salt or vinegar. the substance is mixed frequently to dye wool evenly. Traditional palette has a limited range of reds, blues, browns, whites, oranges and greens combined together. Each combination has a special meaning, like red and white which symbolize fertility. Though in the past natural dyes were used exclusively, nowadays they are often mixed with synthetic ones. After sitting in the bath for around one hour, wool is spread on clean paper in order to dry.
Next, wool is divided into three layers which are laid gently on a mat known as chij. Usually chij is at least one foot (0.3048 meters) wider and two feet (0.6096) longer than needed. Hot water with soap is applied onto each layer, which is subsequently rolled up and tied with a rope. Wool is then rolled back and forth and kneaded. This is a very social process in which all family and neighbors are invited to help. The roll is opened few times so more water could be applied and after kneading the wool finally comes together, becoming felt. This process can take a few hours and can only be finished when felt is firm and dried. When it’s ready, the pattern is drawn on it using chalk or charcoal. Then, using a sharp knife, it is cut through two outer layers at the same time. Then, the three layers are put together, creating this characteristic jigsaw effect of shyrdaks. Sometimes various parts of shyrdaks are sewn together, creating a beautiful patchwork composition. This is done with handmade yarn, strengthened with goat or camel hair. Final stitching consumes the most time, but this is because of its great importance. Each stitch is made with great care to create a harmonious composition. Seeing dates or names stitched on a carpet is not uncommon.
Symbols of ancient traditions and beauty, shyrdaks are among the most original carpets ever made. While they do not require weaving, the process of cutting the pattern calls for a great skill and precision as great as those needed to make a beautiful Oriental rug.