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W.O.W. | Wool Felt

Working with felt is a labor-intensive process, but the result is a product that lasts… and lasts… and lasts.   It begins with collecting the wool (usually sheared by men) and cleaning it (a tedious process in which even children will get enlisted).   After the wool is picked clean and washed, it can be dyed in a multitude of different colors.  Traditional shyrdaks retain much of their natural coloring, as commercial dyes were not available, but certain plants and insects would be used to create the more muted colors that are seen in older shyrdaks.

After the dying process, the wool is laid on a reed mat and fluffed.  It is then sprinkled with hot water, rolled tightly inside the mat, and soaked in more hot water.  For the next few hours it is rolled and kicked, beaten until the fibers flatten and compress together to create a thick solid sheet of felt.

Different colors are laid on top of each other and loosely stitched.  A chalk outline of a design is traced onto the top layer and then cut away.  The “negative” space of the design on the bottom layer is also cut away so now two shyrdaks can be created in opposite colors, without wasting any felt.   Every shyrdak will have a “twin” in this way.

The contrasting colors will be laid out on the reed mat, and undergo a similar fusion process as earlier.  Then they are placed on a thick piece of naturally colored felt and the process of stitching begins.  Several women will often sit and work on a large shyrdak together.

The white or grey coloring of the wool is currently becoming more and more popular in modern shyrdak and felting design.  Also, the blending of silk and felt is becoming a notably Kyrgyz handicraft, with ethereal scarves adorned in thin felt designs now common in souvenir shops.  Pressing silk onto wool is also opening up other possibilities as Kyrgyz women flex their creative muscles around this traditional art form.  

Ruby Mitchell

Online Content Editor @ White Leopard Travel Co.

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