Each rug is hand made from the fleeces of about 4 or 5 sheep in a process which takes all winter.

The rougher wool from the autumn shearing is picked clean by hand.  It is washed with soap, then rinsed first in warm water, then in cold. 

 

The damp wool fibre is put into a dye bath for fifteen minutes; it is then warmed and left to sit for forty-five minutes.

Depending on the type of dye, components such as soda ash, salt or vinegar may be added.  The mixture is stirred often, for even dyeing.  The wool is then spread out on clean paper or canvas to dry.  

  

 

Making natural dyes 

Traditionally the colours are taken from a limited range but selected to react strongly with each other.  

Red and blue, brown and white, orange and brown, red and white, and red and green are very common combinations with specific meanings.  

For example, red and white together are said to promote fertility and red and blue together represent the waters of Lake Issyk-kul and the earth of the Bright Mountains.  

Until the beginning of this century, natural dyes were used exclusively, especially indigo and madder, but nowadays aniline dyes are also used.  Some shyrdaks will include both dyed and undyed felt.

 

Naturally-coloured wool fleece is beaten with sticks to separate the fibres evenly.

These are then laid out on a sedge mat (chij) in three layers.  

For the 'bright felts', a final layer of dyed fibres is laid onto the naturally-coloured background.  

The chij is approximately one foot wider and two feet longer than the intended felt.  The initial layer of wool is three or four times thicker than the finished felt will be.  It is centred on the chij, with plenty of room left on all sides.  

Hot soapy water is liberally applied to the wool, which is then rolled up in the chij.  It is tied with rope in three or four places, and the wool and chij are rolled back and forth across the palms of the hands and the elbows for forty to fifty minutes, starting the process of kneading.  

Neighbours and passers-by are invited to help kick the bound chij to and fro.  During this process, the roll is opened several times and more soapy water is applied. 

After the initial kneading, the wool begins to hold together as felt.  The roll is unwound, and then is turned over exposing the opposite surface of the wool.  

More soapy water is applied, and the kneading process is started all over again.  The whole process takes several hours.  When the felt is absolutely firm, it is rinsed and dried.

 

 

 

 

The shyrdak is typified by strongly stylized natural shapes, arranged in such a way that the outline of one becomes the outline of the next.  The motifs on Kyrgyz rugs are distinctive but share some of the characteristics of those of other Central Asian Turkic nomadic people.  Each motif has a specific name and meaning.  The ramshorn, for instance, denotes male potency and the half-bird half-woman denotes the protective mother goddess.

 

There is usually no objective ground or background.  The jigsaw effect is accomplished by laying two felt pieces, of the same size but different colours, evenly one on top of the other on a flat area.  

A chalk drawing of a special Kyrgyz pattern is drawn on the upper surface of the top piece of felt.  A very sharp knife is used to cut along the chalk lines, through both pieces of felt at the same time.  

The felt pieces are then separated leaving a green 'inner' piece, which fits into the red outer piece and a red inner piece which fits into a green outer piece, just like a jigsaw puzzle.  

The various parts of the shyrdak are arranged and stitched together, and then sewn into a thicker felt backing.  The stitching is usually done with hand produced yarn made of goat or camel hair for added strength.

Although the final stitching of the shyrdak is the most time consuming part, it is also the part that gives the shyrdak maker the most joy.  A tremendous amount of care is taken to make each stitch perfect, and in some families, quilting is common.  Sometimes the name of a special granddaughter or a special date will be stitched or quilted into the design.

 

 

Shyrdaks, decorated with cut and sewn patterns, last for 25 to 30 years.  Any woman with craft skills can create shyrdak, but especially skilled makers (usta) are called upon to draw and cut the designs.  No felt is wasted; the reverse pattern left over will either be part of the same felt, or be used to make a second shyrdak for a sister's wedding. 

Each rug is a reflection of the natural and spiritual environment of its maker and is a source of great pride.

  

 

To order a shyrdak felt rug please visit our online shop.