A Silk Road speciality
Traditionally handwoven, these wonderfully personal items come in all shapes and sizes from small prayer mats to large luxurious rugs. Each region developed its own distinctive style, so carpets were prized as much for their artistic value as for their functionality and were often seen as a symbol of prosperity, good taste and domestic comfort. The largest single collection of carpets is thought to have belonged to the Emir of Bukhara, who had over 10,000 examples in his palace. Even today, thick, richly patterned rugs are still a firm favourite for wedding presents.
Three main types of carpet produced in Uzbekistan
There are three main types of carpet produced in Uzbekistan: felt mats, flat-woven, pileless carpets, and pile or tufted carpets. Felt mats were the earliest form of carpets made here. They were produced by nomadic herders using surplus wool from their sheep. These warm, thick, waterproof felts were usually plain, left the natural cream or grey of the original wool, or sometimes dyed with natural pigments, such as indigo for blue, madder root for red, and pomegranate peel for yellow. In desert areas, women also made similar rugs from camel hair.
Flatweave carpets were traditionally woven on simple wooden looms that could be easily folded making them ideally suited to a nomadic lifestyle. Coarse yarn was spun on wooden spindles that have been used by our ancestors since time immemorial and are still used today by artisans around Dzhizak and Nurata to create the famous loosely woven julhir carpets. Made from long, narrow strips stitched together, these carpets have a distinctive pattern of stripes edged with diamonds and triangles. Nowadays, woollen or cotton threads are preferred. The flatweave carpets handcrafted in Bukhara are considered to be the finest in the country while Surkhan Darya carpets are renowned for their unique two-tone base threads.
But the most valuable carpets are the tufted carpets. A mass of densely knotted threads spun from the finest fleece skilfully fashioned into rich designs, these are truly magic carpets. And making these luxurious rugs is an extremely time-consuming task, demanding the utmost concentration and skill from the artisans. The warp threads are stretched on the loom, then the weaver knots individual threads onto them, hitting each one down with a metal hook so that it sits tightly alongside the previous knot. Attention to detail is paramount as a single knot of the wrong colour in the wrong place could ruin months of careful work. Like embroidery, carpet knotting traditionally belongs to the realm of women, and techniques were handed down through generations from mother to daughter. Even today, young women can often be seen at the loom.
Designs and patterns were also passed down through the generations. Striking and personal, each unique design reflects ancient perceptions of the universe, and the women used symbolic, stylised motifs, rhythmically woven into the surface of the carpet, as magical, protective talismans. Muted blues and reds prevail, but yellow, orange, green, white and black also appear.
Carpet Making Today
The ancient skills of carpet weaving are enjoying a comeback in Uzbekistan. Many modern weavers are seeking to save the lost techniques of carpet making, returning to natural dyes and the secrets of their ancestors. New trends are also appearing, with silk carpets enjoying new prestige in Tashkent, Margilan, Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva. Traditionally, no Uzbek home was complete without its carpets, and now, thanks to the dedicated work and amazing craftsmanship of Uzbek artisans, the magic of these rich rugs can bring Oriental flair and panache into homes the world over.