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Uzbek Carpets that warm the heart ...

"Сarpets warm your heart and please your eyes". This saying expresses in the best way possible the significance of carpet weaving art for the Uzbek people. There would be no house in Uzbekistan without carpets. By tradition that developed in antiquity, carpets have always been an important part of dwelling decoration, often replacing furniture. Carpets have been used to cover the floor and to decorate the walls, and their artistic values have always been appreciated no less than their functional properties.

Uzbek carpets

Carpet weaving art has been known in Uzbekistan from times immemorial and carpet varieties are so diverse that it is difficult to find any other region in the world where large felt mat, flat-woven carpet and Oriental pile carpet would be equally popular.

Probably, a large felt mat was the most ancient kind of carpets. Nowadays this invention of nomadic people still serves shepherds on mountain and steppe pastures. They cover their yurts with felt mats and put them on the floor, as, according to the popular belief, neither a snake nor a poisonous spider – Black Widow will ever crawl on it.

Predominantly women are engaged in felt mat manufacture. Washed and fluffed fleece or camel’s hair is sprinkled with water and spread evenly on a reed mat or another felt mat. The half-finished product is rolled up and tied up with a rope. Several women simultaneously roll it with their legs, throw it up and beat. After a while they unroll the bolt, moisten the half-ready felt with water, wind it up on a round timber and go on felting until the cloth is ready.

Uzbek carpets

White dense felt mats are considered to be the most valuable, but grey and color felts are also manufactured. In Khoresm, Karakalpakstan, Surkhandarya and Fergana valley they produce polychromic felt mats decorated with plain ornaments.

It is difficult to say with certainty when exactly the carpet weaving art appeared. Probably it happened when women learnt to spin threads from fleece. While excavating in Uzbekistan semi-nomadic tribes’ dwellings, dating back to the late Stone Age, the archeologists found stone spinners. Nowadays in some rural areas women still use stone or wooden spindles with similar spinners. By means of these spindles it is possible to spin a rather thick coarse yarn. In Nurata intermountain valley, in Jizzak and Andijan such yarn is used to weave long-piled carpets – julhirses which resemble bearskin. The julhirs is not densely woven, but its surface is soft and fluffy, whereas its archaic ornamentation reminds of its ancient origin. The central space of a carpet is often woven as longitudinal stripes with repeating patterns on them. The edging in the form of a chain of rhombuses and triangles emphasizes the geometrical harmony of the pattern.

Uzbek carpets

The original long-pile carpets – julhirses with elegant cheerful coloring make glory of Samarkand carpet-makers until present day. The Andijan julhirses are distinguished for their original design. The central part of these carpets is covered with crosslike patterns, whereas in the edging there prevail wave-like motifs and the color treatment is based on the contrast of dark blue and red.

For making flat-woven carpets women use factory-made or home-made yarn, which they themselves dye. Quite often these carpets are woven from cotton threads. The flat carpet weaving techniques are extremely diverse. The smooth surface of such a carpet is formed by interlocking warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads. In different regions of the country flat-woven carpets vary in texture, ornament and coloring. The women weave these carpets on primitive narrow-beamed looms – the same were used by women of steppe tribes thousands years ago. The width of the carpet cloth produced on such a loom does not exceed forty or fifty centimeters. These narrow carpet strips with alternating bright crimson, yellow, black and green stripes are sewn together to make a flat carpet practically of any size. Carpet cloth is also used to make pouches and saddlebags – hurjuns for transportation of cargo on camels or horses.

The Bukhara flat-woven carpets have always been considered the best. They are woven on wide-beamed looms. These carpets are usually of big size with large simple patterns of white, red and yellow colors.

The Surkhandarya skilled workers manufacture flat-woven carpets in the complex techniques «gajari» and «terma» with a geometrical ornament on a bicolor base. They also produce «afghani» flat-woven carpets from high-grade wool yarn. The «arabi» decorative carpets woven in the so-called «slit» techniques are also very much appreciated in Uzbekistan. Their expressive large patterns are composed on the contrast of bright and white spots.

The wedding carpets «beshkashta» are particularly elegant. Their multi-color and a little prominent pattern is created by the warp threads twining round thick weft threads. The prominence of such pattern over the surface gives the impression of embroidery.

But a real glory to the Uzbek carpets was brought by the «gilam» carpets. It is difficult to determine the epoch when the pile carpets appeared. It is only known for sure that among the goods transported by caravans on the Great Silk Road from East to West there were oriental pile carpets which highly valued everywhere. The high quality of local products was praised by Marko Polo who visited Central Asia in the 13th century. “One has to know that the finest and most beautiful carpets in the world are manufactured here”, he wrote in his travel notes. Two centuries later Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, a Spanish ambassador to Amir Temur's court, vividly described “bright red carpets” he saw in Samarkand palaces, gardens and marquees of the ruler of Movarounnahr. Unfortunately, only a few carpets dating from the late 17th – early 18th centuries have survived to our days.

Uzbek carpets

In old times carpet weaving was exclusively a home craft and traditionally only women were engaged in it. The best spring fleece was selected for making carpet yarn. Moreover, only the longest and the thinnest fibers were used to spin the threads, as the value of a carpet was always assessed by the density of its weaving. The best carpets woven from the thinnest threads have several thousands of knots per square decimeter.

In the past rich people and court nobility had hundreds of carpets and carpet products for any occasion. Probably, the largest collection of carpets belonged to the emir of Bukhara. He had about ten thousand carpets and the whole staff of attendants to look after them. The significant part of these riches was received by the emir as gifts from his courtiers. From time to time he for his part presented them with carpets as well.

Oriental carpets possess a remarkable property which distinguishes the art from the craft: the older the product is, the higher is its value. And at the beginning of the twentieth century a keen demand for carpets, which started being exported from Turkistan, even gave rise to such a phenomenon as counterfeit carpet products. Carpets were purposely aged in order to increase their market value.

Carpet weaving is a labor-intensive, painstaking and regulated business. It requires perseverance, diligence, attention and, at the same time, accuracy and swiftness in movement of hands. The high speed with which a skilled carpet-maker ties the threads on the warp stretched on the loom, and with a metal hook fastens the knot stuffing it tightly, makes it difficult to follow the swift movements of her deft hands. As men usually can not stand such a pace of work for a long time, carpet weaving has been traditionally women's home occupation. Women transmit their skills from generation to generation, from mother to daughter, using their personal experience as the most illustrative example. In the old days the Uzbek carpets ornaments created by skillful carpet-makers were imparted with magic meaning. The patterns were based on stylized floriated and zoomorphic motives, magic symbols and totem signs.

It is necessary to note, that old carpet-makers – gilamchy applied only natural dyes to dye the yarn. They knew a lot of plants from which such dyes could be extracted. The moraine extract was often used to get red dye of different tints. Indigo provided a range of dark blue colors. The decoctions of oak-bark, walnut-bark and pomegranate-bark were used to dye the yarn in brown, black and yellow colors. Recipes of dyes were carefully kept in families of carpet-makers and transmitted from generation to generation as an imperishable wealth.

Uzbek carpets

Being invariable in its basic trends, carpet weaving in Uzbekistan preserves its local originality and regional distinctions in styles. Thus, diversity of colors and patterns, big sizes and long pile distinguish the Bukhara carpets. The carpets with laconic and expressive patterns of a red-black-blue color spectrum are manufactured in Samarkand. The central part of these carpets is divided into big oblique rhombuses with single-type medallions, and their edging is ornamented with a chain of rhombuses. Thick carpets with cut pile are also very interesting. In design the centre of the carpet is decorated with «shield pattern» medallions. In Andijan region they weave carpets in a red-blue color spectrum. The composition of these carpets is made up with a central part occupied by longitudinal stripes and an ornamental edging.

In some villages of Fergana valley carpet makers skillfully processed wool and got wonderful combinations of scarlet, crimson, dark red and rich bright-blue colors. The carpet center was edged by a frame of three stripes and filled with ornamental motifs composed of straight and broken lines and figures in the form of squares and rhombuses with patterns or ornamented stripes inside. Sometimes the central part was decorated with a medallion or a pattern of a blossoming bush or a vase with flowers, which are typical of the Uzbek ornamental art. The carpets with such patterns are called Kashgar carpets thus reminding about the contacts of Central Asia with Xinjiang.

The Khiva carpets are often decorated with floriated ornaments. The inhabitants of the Amu Darya’s flood-lands weave the carpets with patterns in the form of stylized ram-horns and amulets – tumors, which is the indication of their descent from nomadic tribes. Their yurts are decorated along the perimeter with long carpet strips – baskuram, and they store their clothes in special carpet bags – turva.

Silk and gold woven pile carpets occupy a significant place in the history of Uzbek carpets. They contributed much to the fame that oriental carpets gained. Such carpets were produced in palace workshops of Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva and adorned courts of the rulers and nobility. They were given to foreign rulers as valuable gifts since they cost very much.

As time went by, together with a decline of feudal power the manufacture of expensive and labor-consuming silk carpets also fell into decay. And at the beginning of the 19th century this manufacturing technique was almost lost.

Uzbek carpets

The unique craft has been revived in the carpet workshop «Bukhara-Samarkand» set up by Muhammad Avaz. At present more than four hundred skillful carpet-makers work in the shop located in the old part of Samarkand. Thirty or forty silk carpets are manufactured in this workshop every month. Foreign tourists are frequent visitors to the «Bukhara-Samarkand» workshop. Here they can admire the exposed carpets and watch weaving process itself: when in a twinkling of an eye a carpet-maker ties a thread and fastens a knot driving it in its place. The manufacture of one carpet can take from 6 to 12 months as the compactness of weaving is very high: in a pattern of each product it is necessary to fasten many hundred thousand, and sometimes more than a million, knots per square meter.

The change of dark and light tones is characteristic of silk carpets. Looking at such a product from different sides it is possible to see how the background color changes its tints. That greatly enriches the color spectrum of the whole carpet. Although silk carpets are very thin – the length of pile does not exceed 2 millimeters – they are very strong and durable. The colors of these plush surfaces do not fade with time; moreover, they become deeper and richer. There appears silvery or golden shimmering on the carpets, which increase their art value and which makes them be highly appreciated by experts.

Mainly classical oriental patterns are used in the decoration of silk carpets, and the national ornaments are delicately stylized.

In great antiquity carpet yarn was dyed with natural dyes of vegetable and animal origin. Our ancestors knew many plants from which such dyes could be extracted. And today in the «Bukhara-Samarkand» workshop you will not find any chemical "aniline" dye-stuff. Following ancient traditions the contemporary carpet-makers dye yarn with natural dyes of vegetable and animal origin.

Uzbek carpets

In Registan square in Samarkand there is opened a permanent trade exhibition of hand-made silk carpets woven in the «Bukhara-Samarkand» workshop. Tourists and art devotees willingly visit the exhibition hall to admire or buy one of legendary oriental carpets. Silk carpets can also be acquired in Bukhara at carpet stalls under the domes of the ancient shopping mall.

In Uzbekistan it is possible to buy carpets in almost every market. Spread on the floor they compete on brightness of colors, folded as rolls they keep close their refined ornaments, and hung at the shop doorway the carpets are ready to be filled with wind like sails. It may happen that among them you’ll be able to come across the legendary magic carpet from the Arabian Nights.

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