Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Woodblock Printed Cloth of Uzbekistan

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Vintage woodblock piece, early 20th century
According to Tashkent art critic Shakhalil Shayakubov, hand-made printed cloth was a widespread and well-developed craft in the 11th century AD in Uzbekistan. One of the main centres was at the weaving town of Chitgaron, near Bukhara, whose entire population was engaged in producing printed fabrics.

Communities organized themselves around aspects of the production process: in one neighbourhood were the weavers, another group made mineral and vegetable dyes, wood carvers made intricate kalyb (blocks) to apply pattern on a cloth. All these artisans would bring their goods to the main neighbourhood where the cloth was printed by dipping the kalyb into trays of dye before being stamped by hand on the fabric. Silk Road merchants would then carry the fabrics along their route.

Regrettably, with the introduction of chemical dyes and machinery, most print masters could no longer sustain a livelihood; the communities dwindled and many techniques and skills were lost.

It was only in the 1970s, with the opening of an Indian shop, Ganges, in Tashkent, that Uzbeks saw that those Indian fabrics were printed using the same techniques as their forefathers. At the same time an association of artisans was established to revive the lost and forgotten secrets of folk crafts, including woodblock, known in Uzbekistan as chitgarlik. Craftsmen collected ancient looms and kalyb, studied museum exhibits, and sought out old practitioners.

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Detail of A. Rakhimov's printed fabric
A young Tashkent man, Abdurakhim Rakhimov, whose great-grandfather and grandfather had been famous chitgar masters, spent several years researching ancient dyeing techniques and experimenting with natural plant materials to recreate the colours and designs of his forebears.

The main dye (black) is made from metallic rust, pomegranate peel and Iranian bean seeds, to which is added apricot resin as a thickening agent. The red dye is derived from a plant ruyan with alum added. I was fortunate to see an exhibition of Mr. Rakhimov's work at the Museum of Applied Arts in Tashkent in 2005, where I purchased two beautiful tablecloths.

The US Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation is also contributing to the development of chitgarlik in Uzbekistan. A project in progress at the Said Ahmad Hodja Medressah Artisan Development Centre in Margilan, Ferghana Valley, is working to revive block printing and establish a natural dye workshop. By opening a natural dye lab and teaching artisans how to operate it, the project aims to promote the use of natural dyes and assist in maintaining the historical accuracy of chitgarlik.

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A. Rakhimov's printed fabric
To date, using photographs and existing block collections found at museums throughout the country, project participants have recreated and restored over a hundred kalybs. Participants are conducting ongoing research to gather material for a chitgarlik reference book, which will include information about kalybs, natural dyes, dyeing methodology and proper printing techniques. It will published in English, Russian and Uzbek.

Tashkent's Museum of Fine Arts and the Applied Arts Museum have splendid woodblock pieces. Nargis Bekmuhamedova in Samarkand reworks vintage woodblock fabric into beautiful coats, jackets and hats. The antique shops in Bukhara are also a good place to poke around for vintage woodblock fabrics.

On an Uzbek Journeys tour you will also have a chance to view the woodblock  process at the workshop of a contemporary artisan in the old city of Tashkent. The 3-day Ferghana Valley excursion includes a visit to a woodblock printing studio.

Related posts:
Symbols in Stitches: Uzbek Suzanis 
Suzanis as Upholstery: the Brilliance of Bokja Design 
In Search of Lost Paradise - Woodblock Exhibition, Tashkent
Uzbekistan: A Passion for Woodblock Printing 

Materials Source: Shakhalil Shayakubov The Secrets of Ancient Craftsmen

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kyrgyzstan Fashion Week, 4 - 8 April 2012

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The NAH collective's gown; image from Reuters
Fashion Week Kyrgyzstan was launched in Bishkek in 2006 to support the creative potential and skills of young Kyrgyz designers. Held in Bishkek's Russian Drama Theatre in spring and autumn, the event provides exposure for designers, photographers, hairdressers and make up experts to an international audience. Over 5,000 guests attended in 2012.

The week consisted of a number of fashion shows where over sixty designers from all over the country exhibited their work. There is a competitive element and the winner of the Grand Prix category will take part in an international fashion show in Germany.

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On the runway; images from Reuters
Another goal is to support the overall textile industry: by showcasing the creative talents and quality workmanship available in Kyrgyzstan, the organizers hope to attract foreign retailers to partner with local production houses.

The design collective NAH  showed amazing, origami-style pieces, while several young designers focused their collections on national motifs, using locally manufactured silk and felt.

On Uzbek Journeys tours to Kyrgyzstan you visit several design ateliers in Bishkek, including that of Aidai Asangulova, who was a winner at a previous Fashion Week event.

Related posts:
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan 
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Basso & Brooke Meet Ikat on the New Silk Road Project
art craft tours to kyrgyzstan central asia
On the runway; images from Reuters

Monday, April 2, 2012

Uzbek Ikat as Interior Design Element

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Weinrib's ikat armchair; image Madeline Weinrib's atelier
As well as being part of beautiful garments and accessories, ikat designs are appearing in wallpapers, carpets, stencils and furnishing fabrics. There are traditional bold patterns and strong colours and some of the new pieces are pastel wash-outs, that look very pretty.

New York-based textile designer and painter, Madeline Weinrib has collaborated with Ferghana Valley ikat weavers and thread dyers for years producing contemporary, bold designs. She has written an interesting article in Hand/Eye magazine describing the pleasures and challenges of creating the fabrics in Uzbekistan. As she writes "There is no other place where you can find masters with the capability to make these beautiful fabrics. We feel we are creating beautiful, useful things and keeping a tradition alive while providing a living to so many people there..."

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Ikat cushions from Fabricadabra
Of particular interest in that article, unfortunately not online, is a note that "A certain museum in Tashkent (which shall remain nameless) sells our rejects..." I will be in Tashkent shortly and will certainly track it down!  Weinrib's collection is beautiful and she deserves kudos for introducing ikat into contemporary interior design.

Generally Uzbek ikat is woven in widths of 38 to 50 cms, so it can be tricky using it as upholstery as seams may show. For pelmets, curtain trims and cushions, however, it is perfect, adding a definite accent to a room.

Ikat wallpapers are now available commercially and can be attractive as a feature wall. Etsy shop Olive Leaf has gorgeous, reusable ikat wall stencils. Created from original hand-drawn artworks, they are transferred and precision cut into durable, easy to clean, clear plastic.

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Ikat reusable stencil from Olive Leaf
Olive Leaf states that each stencil has been designed to ensure a fun and simple project that could be completed in an afternoon by the novice DIY enthusiast.

Although Uzbek Journeys tours do not visit the Ferghana Valley, you certainly will see silk ikat weaving and have the chance to purchase fabulous fabrics, including silk velvet ikat, in Samarkand and Bukhara.

Excursions from Tashkent to the silk centres of the Ferghana Valley can be arranged pre- or post-tour.  View the choices of art and craft Ferghana Valley tours.

Related posts: Feruza's Ikat Store, Bukhara
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Ferghana Valley Silk Ikats: Tying the Clouds
Uzbek ikat robes feature in Russian textiles book
Nargis Bekmuhamedova - Samarkand textile designer
Basso & Brooke Meet Ikat on the New Silk Road Project
Central Asian Ikats: Colors of the Oasis 
The Story of Uzbek Silk Production: Step by Step