The Woven Valley of Uzbekistan
Ikats, Ikats, Ikats
My first visit to Uzbekistan was ten years ago, arranged by Raisa, a local travel agent who helped Aid to Artisans set up a network of weavers in the Fergana valley. It’s a great story: Aid to Artisans gave these talented weavers small grants of $500-1000. The money enabled them to attend textile shows in Santa Fe, where they sold everything they’d made! Ten years later, I’m back to see these weavers again, some of whom now have boutique hotels, restaurants or thriving textile businesses.
How Ikats are Made
Margilan is the place for hand-made Fergana valley ikats. With the help of some local artisans, I got to witness all the various stages in their production. First the silk thread is made, then washed, then warped. A pattern is drawn on the silk, bound, then dyed. Next comes the shafting, then the weaving, finishing and calendaring! I was exhausted just watching all of the steps needed to produce this magical fabric.
Basically, the town of Margilan functions as a collective of sorts. One workshop sets up the looms, weaves the silks, then dip dyes the tied silk threads. Another workshop just calendars the fabrics, another one sews finished goods. All of the workshops rely on each other; no one workshop could effectively manage all of the steps needed to produce these textiles.
My Travel Tips
When you visit Margilan, don’t miss the Kunstepa bazaar. Vendors sell cotton ikats by the meter, the prices are quite reasonable and the range of designs, from traditional to modern, is breathtaking. The men’s quilted robes and sashes are remarkable.
For antique textiles, I found a lot more in Bukhara and Samarkand which I am not mentioning here but of course you must visit some of the largest cities on the famed silk route. Have fun and bring an extra suitcase or two.