Visiting workshops is an exciting part of any journey. First, because it allows a traveller to observe the magical process of creation; second, because you start understanding the volume of human energy and expertise spent for things that sometimes seem rather simple. Finally, in the workshops, you have the chance to meet artisans whose hearts and minds are totally dedicated to their craft.
Samarkand is the perfect place for such meetings. Sometimes I feel that interesting people agreed to gather here at the same time, to charm a traveller with their incredible art, knowledge, and charisma.
And it is natural, because Samarkand is the heart of the Great Silk Road, a spacious caravanserai where merchants and craftsmen met and had long, philosophical debates under the shadow of a plane tree, sipping green tea before they started discussing their business.
|Detail of exquisite pure silk carpet. Image: Janet Richardson|
For Haji Baba, of Turkmen background, the weaving of rugs is not a job, it is his life. Ancestors of Haji Baba dedicated three hundred years to this art. Moreover, this dedication accompanied him and his family during the most difficult periods of their life. And they experienced many.
In the early 20th century Central Asia was annexed to the Soviet Union and Haji Baba's family had to leave their Turkmen homeland and move to Afghanistan to avoid expropriation of their property and the banning of their art: weaving was considered private entrepreneurship.
In Afghanistan, Haji Baba worked hard to preserve authentic Central Asian designs and weaving secrets. Moreover, he did everything to tell the world about the art of Central Asia. Haji Baba even lectured at university in the United States, where he shared his knowledge about natural vegetable dyes and carpets. However, a peaceful life in Afghanistan and opportunities to create there were also interrupted, first by the Soviet invasion in 1978, then by the domination of the Taliban in 1992.
|Haji Baba holding madder plant and madder root - used for red dye|
His son, Abdullah, and daughter, Zainab, take care of the workshop today. Instantly they charm you with their energy and passion and then with their encyclopedic knowledge and sense of humour. Between them they speak 10 languages. They show you every corner of the workshop so you can become a weaving expert.
Firstly you are invited to the dyeing area where you learn everything about the birth of silk and creating the colours. All carpets produced here are 100% silk and the threads are coloured using natural, vegetable dyes. Nearby is the garden where madder is grown. There are bags of walnut shells, onion skins and pomegranate skins.
Then you see the weaving process: you go upstairs and find yourself in a large room where you feel as if you came for a party at your closest friend’s house, albeit a rather unusual house. Because there are looms all around. The atmosphere is so cosy you feel as if everyone is related to each other.
|Brother & sister Abdullah & Zainab, who manage the workshop|
Weaving skills were crucial to a nomadic lifestyle. First, because every piece of furniture and decoration in a yurt was woven. Second, women prepared special carpets before their wedding; after marriage they served as yurt doors and floor coverings and demonstrated the skill of the maker.
For women living in the cities it was necessary to prepare suzani as part of the dowry. These decorated walls, dastarkhan (the traditional space where food is eaten) in the house, niches in the walls for personal belongings and many more purposes. From the designs and colours of the rugs and suzani you could can learn about the origin of the piece as well as the dreams and fears of its owners.
Frequently they are decorated with symbols and amulets to attract fortune, wealth, fertility and to turn away the evil eye. In the past, every pattern in the carpet belonged to a certain tribe. Now when we talk about patterns we remember their origins and analyze their symbolism.
|Clara - indispensable part of the carpet team|
Please do not fear that you may be pressured into a purchase. That is not their way. The family enjoys watching your pleasure as you view the beauty of the designs, the harmony of the colours and the quality of the weaving.
For a moment you forget where you are: you start dreaming, you close your eyes and feel as if you are in an Oriental palace far away from reality and routine. If you travel in summer I recommend you lie down on a silk carpet to feel its cool, delicate, tender touch. (I should let you know that the family makes it very easy for you to purchase carpets - credit cards are accepted and shipping can be arranged).
The workshop is a fair employer. All staff undergo a three-month training program. They work five days a week, eight hours and day and have guaranteed annual and maternity leave. There are opportunities for women, after having children, to embroider suzanis at home if they prefer.
|A stunning silk carpet designed like a suzani|
And of course a visit there is included in Uzbek Journeys tours.
Contact Suzanna via email at susanna202001(at)yahoo(dot)com
Read all Suzanna's articles and restaurant reviews.
Symbols in Stitches: Uzbek Suzanis
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|The light, airy weaving room at the Samarkand silk carpet workshop. Image: Richard Marshall|