As I mentioned in my first post about Khiva, a large part of the reason I decided to go there was Christopher Alexander’s excellent book on the UNESCO sponsored carpet weaving workshop he helped set up there. He spent seven years in the city, most of which were spent at the workshop. Throughout the book, readers are exposed to the city of Khiva, the traditional art of carpet weaving, and all the fascinating intricacies of each.
Now independent of UNESCO, the carpet weaving workshop is still functioning and open to visitors who want to come see how silk carpets are made. Unlike most attractions in Uzbekistan, admission is free. I stumbled upon the entrance while wandering past an old madrasah and couldn’t resist stepping inside. The hubbub of the traders outside faded to a murmur as I stepped into the courtyard. A woman greeted me and led me to a side room, where three girls were hard at work on a loom.
I was transfixed. For what had to have been 20 minutes, I watched as the weavers used a shuttle to weave the weft (horizontal) thread through the warp (vertical) threads stretched over the loom. Then, each used a hook-like tool to pick silk through the weaves, making the knots so quickly I had to ask one of the girls to repeat the motion slowly so I could see how it was done. Even after observing her do it a few times at a fraction of the speed, there’s no way I could replicate one. These girls were professionals.
After each row was completed, the girl would get a bludgeoning device and batter the knots tight against the finished rows below. Once everything was snug, she would get shears and snip off all the excess silk. What had looked ragged and shoddy moments before suddenly became intricate and tidy.
One of the girls, Hazeeda, told me that they would probably finish 3 cm of carpet that day. For the current carpet, it would take the three of them 4-5 months to finish. Suddenly, the huge asking price for handmade carpets made a little more sense.
Outside in the courtyard were several displays showing how the silk is harvested, refined, and dyed. The process is fascinating, but for brevity’s sake I won’t cover it here. I really recommend reading ‘A Carpet Ride to Khiva‘, you get a pretty good sense for the process in the book.
After reading the entire booklet about the carpet production process, I talked with another one of the girls and made a small purchase before bidding everyone farewell. Visiting the workshop made my trip to Khiva seem complete. Alexander’s account of its beginning inspired me to come, and that day I found myself walking through the pages of the story. It was every bit as fascinating as I’d hoped it would be!
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Great blog ! I just finished Christopher Alexander’s book and am on my way to Uzbekistan tomorrow. A friend just recommended your blog to me and now I’m even more excited about the trip – hardly possible!
Ah, I’m so excited for you! Have an amazing time! Make sure to try lots of different kinds of food 😉
What an interesting process and experience! I love being given insight into the work of true artisans and I’m sure you got a sense of absolute humility in the presence of their skill. I certainly would have. It’s not every day that you get to observe such precision. Thank you for sharing this experience. Maybe when you’re back in Korea I’ll buy you a beer and we can discuss your travels and the people you’d met.
Oh totally. No way in heck I could make one of those carpets, haha. I’ll be back in Korea this September, maybe our paths will cross!
Awesome cultural experience! I watched a few women weaving while I was in Mai Chau, Vietnam and was completely mesmerised by their focus and patience. It truly makes one appreciate the small things in life, doesn’t it?
It definitely does! I can’t imagine the patience required to do something like that.
I paused when you wrote that the weavers would only finish 3cm in one day. I almost thought it was a typo. Then you went on and I realized that whoa, all that work for 3cm a day, 4-5 months to finish. Those carpets better sell! So much work has been put into them!
Are the “washed and dyed silk” scarves, btw? As usual, love your post!
Yeah, I was shocked! The amount of work which goes into making those carpets is crazy. Really makes you appreciate the finished product 😉
And that washed and dyed silk was actually the material they use to make the carpets!
Interesting! This makes me remember the old weavers in my country, the Philippines. There was an area near my university where the weaving industry was slowly fading. The difference between my experience and yours is the age of the weavers. With young weavers still doing the works, the industry is sure to live on.
Agreed, it was good to see the younger generation doing this. It seems like a lot of places have the same issue the weavers in the Philippines are facing: a dwindling amount of people interested in carrying on traditional practices. Hopefully it regains popularity!