Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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ShyrdaksThe Shyrdak is a traditional Kyrgyz thick felt carpet that can be laid out in a yurt, or simply on the grass. They are often found in Kyrgyz homes, either on the floor, or sometimes on divans, or even as a wall hanging. The carpet is noticeable for the contrasting colours and large patterns.

It is claimed that a shyrdak can last for 30-40 years - but the amount of use will affect that.

Originally, shyrdaks were monochrome - using just two colours, but in the 1960's it became fashionable to make multi-coloured shyrdaks and many bright colours are often used. A more recent trend is to return to monochrome patterns using “natural” dyes producing patterns in brown, grey, black and white.

Recently, the large traditional patterns are often replaced by geometrical designs such as rhomboids or hexagons. The traditional designs are based on things in the natural environment that would have surrounded the yurt - a dog, a goat, sheep, flowers even the head of a person.

ShyrdaksThere are several different techniques used in making shyrdaks. In the method most commonly used throughout most of Kyrgyzstan today, (the exception is the extreme South Western part of the Osh oblast), two square pieces of coloured felt (say, red and green) and loosely stitching them together. Then the outline of a pattern is drawn in chalk in a corner of the top layer of felt. The second half of the pattern is produced by folding the felt over and hitting the back so that the chalk outline is imprinted as a mirror reflection - the pattern now covers half of the square of felt. This process is repeated to produce another mirror image on the other half of the square. In this way a perfectly symmetrical pattern is produced.

A sharp knife is then used to cut round the outline. It blunts very quickly, so needs frequent sharpening. The result is four pieces of felt - two backgrounds and two inner patterns - in different colours. The two background pieces, which are still connected by the thread originally used to join the two squares, are separated.

The inner part of one colour is then sewn into the background piece of contrasting colour to form a square panel. When the second panel is completed the two are sewn together to give a mirror image of contrasting colours. Larger carpets can be made by joining together several panels.

The panels of the carpet are then surrounded by a border. Different regions of Kyrgyzstan produce different sorts of border. Common are black and white triangles representing the mountains.

Finally, sewing on a backing to give extra thickness - especially if the shyrdak is to be placed on the floor completes the carpet.

ShyrdaksAlthough it is possible for one person, working alone, to produce a shyrdak, it is customary for several women in a village to work together to produce the larger ones. The smaller carpets take about 15 days to make, while the larger ones can take about one and a half months. Working on her own to produce a shyrdak 3mx2m can take a single person anything from 6 months to a year to make. Also, although traditionally made by hand, there are now factories that produce shyrdaks using machinery. The results are much quicker production times and more “perfect” patterns.

Shyrdaks are made throughout Kyrgyzstan - but the Naryn region is famous for the quality and variety of shyrdaks made there. Some particularly fine examples are to be found in the town museum on Moskovskaya/Razzakova Street.

The same techniques can be used for producing other objects as well as carpets, and wall hangings, such as bags, small panels for use as tablemats and even jackets to be worn on cold winter days.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #6

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