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!