Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ala Ki'iz and Shyrdak, Felts of the Kirghiz

Hello all.
Today I will talk about one particular textile tradition of the Kirghiz people, floor felts.
The Kyrghyz speak a Kipchak Turkish language, and mostly live in the independent nation of Kyrghystan. They also inhabit areas across the borders, mostly in Uyguristan, which is currently part of the Chinese Empire, but small groups are also found in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and other neighboring nations. Here is a map of Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors.

This following map shows the location of the ethnic populations in this region, The Kyrgyz are shown in brown, Kazakh in lavender, Uygur in sage green, Uzbek in yellow, and Tadzhik in fuchsia.

 For more information on the Kyrghyz, see this article.  
The capitol of the Kirghiz is Bishkek, and this is their flag.

 The object shown in the middle of the flag, inside the aureole, is a tündük, the crown or roof ring of the traditional felt covered dwelling, which is English is usually called a yurt, but in Kirghiz is called boz üy. [It is interesting that the term yurt is not used by any of the peoples who live in these dwellings.]

This dwelling is found all through Central Asia, from the Caucuses to Mongolia.  The yurt consists of a door with a frame, collapsible trellises for the walls, the tündük, and poles which form the roof. These are all lashed together, and various textiles are used to cover the frame. Most of the work of raising the boz üy is done by women, except the raising of the tündük. Here is a quick illustration of how to raise this structure. I will talking more about this amazing dwelling in other posts.


The interior of the yurt is decorated with bags, reed screens, hangings, bedclothes, furniture, etc. Each of which deserves an article of its own. Today I will be talking about two types of patterned felt, ala ki'iz and shyrdak. These are used as floor coverings, and sometimes as decorations of the wall and roof. In these photos, you can see patterned felts on the floor and through the roof slats.

Felt is a very old material which is based on the natural property of wool to shrink and matt together under the influence of water, heat and pressure/agitation. True felt is made without any sort of spinning, looping, braiding  or weaving. It is very rare in European folk costume except for hats. Pants, coats, mantles, etc which form parts of European folk costumes are almost always actually woven, and then subjected to fulling [felting] afterwards.

Ala ki'iz is the easier of these two to make. The wool is prepared by beating, thus fluffing it up so to eliminate clumps and shaking out dirt and foreign objects. Traditionally this is done on a piece of canvas or old felt, but today is often done on a steel bed frame.

Then a reed mat, chiy, is rolled out.

A base layer of dark wool is spread over the mat. This is often followed by a second layer of mixed white and dark wool.

Then the patterned layer is laid out in dyed wool. This is done by eye without any sort of guide. Natural dark wool is sometimes used to separate colored areas.

 Hot water, sometimes with soap is poured over the wool, the mat is then rolled up, often covered with a cloth,and the roll is subjected to kicking, pummeling, rolling and other types of impact. This causes the wool to felt together.

 Not uncommonly, a stick is placed in the center, and the bundle is rolled along the ground, pulled by a donkey, horse, camel, or yak. Young boys are often eager to do this work.

The bundle is then unrolled, and the incipient felt rolled up by itself. More hot water is poured over it, and the final felting is usually done by women pressing and rolling it with their forearms.

The finished ala ki'iz is colorful and useful, is usually 2 or more inches thick and will last 4 to 5 years. The edges of the motifs are blurred and usually somewhat distorted because it is laid  out by eye and shrinks during the felting process. They are still striking, and exhibit the typical curvilinear Kirghiz ornament. They are used strictly as floor/ground covers.

Shyrdak last much longer, but also take quite a bit more time to make. 
To make shyrdaks, relatively thin single layer felts of uniform color are made using the same process as shown above.  Two square or rectangular pieces of felt of complementary colors are basted together, then a design is cut out of both pieces, either by eye or by following a chalked line. The two are then swapped and stitched together. 

Various panels are assembled into a composition, then stitched to a single felt backing. The seams are trimmed with contrasting braid, and the whole piece is quilted together, following the contours of the design.

This technique results in compositions with sharp edges. One consequence of this technique is that the positive and negative parts of the composition have equal weight. This is part of the distinctive effect of this ornamentation. Both panels are used, either in the same composition,

or in two separate pieces. which then become 'sisters'.

These are only two of many techniques for working in felt. The shyrdak technique is also used for wall and ceiling hangings as well as bags and other articles.

Here are several photos of various examples of Shyrdaks.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this interesting and perhaps inspiring.

Some of these images are from the collection of the British Museum.

Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals. I also choreograph and teach folk dance.
Roman K.

Source material:
Stephanie Bunn, 'Nomadic Felts', London, 2010
V. Maksymov et al, 'The Kirghiz Pattern', Frunze, 1986
Vladimir Basilov, 'Nomads of Eurasia', Los Angeles, 1989
Tatyana Razina, et al, 'Folk Art in the Soviet Union', Leningrad, 1990
Janet Harvey, 'Traditional Textiles of Central Asia', London, 1996

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Costume of Čičmany and vicinity, Slovakia

Hello all,
Today I will talk about one of the most colorfully embroidered costumes of Slovakia, That of the village of Čičmany and vicinity. The costume of the general area is similar, including the villages of Valaská Belá, Zliechov, Čavoj and others; the largest variation being in the embroidery. Čičmany is in northwestern Slovakia, between the cities of  Žilina and Trenčin. Today it has been declared a Folk Architecture Reserve.

Slovakia has a very rich folk embroidery heritage, but even in that context the embroidery of Čičmany is outstanding. It combines counted satin stitch with needle woven hemstitch, cutwork, faggot stitching and other techniques.

Here is an old drawing of the costume of the neighboring village of Valaská Belá, showing the basic parts of the costume, but with very modest embroidery. This is likely an everyday costume.

 The foundation of the costume is a garment called rubač which consists of a linen tube worn over the torso with straps over the shoulders. A skirt which is full enough to walk in is gathered into the bottom seam. Here is a drawing of one from the village of Moravské Lieskové, which has woven ornament on the midriff. The rubač from around Čičmany is plain white, as you can see from the above images. This garment is essential to the costume.

Over the rubač is worn a very short, full blouse called rukávce, which literally means 'sleeves'. It leaves the midriff uncovered. The front, back, and shoulder pieces are gathered side-by-side into the collar, the sleeves are then gathered into the lower edge of the shoulder piece, and are then attached via a gusset to the sides of the blouse. There is a stand-up collar, and in the Čičmany variant, a wide band of colored bobbin-lace is also gathered into the collar.

The ends of the sleeves are gathered into a flounce. The main focus of the embroidery is on the shoulder insets, but the stand-up collar and the sleeve ends are also often embroidered.

This outfit is from the collection of Jan Letowsky. You may see it and other exceptional examples of folk dress and other items at his website: 

 The front and back fields are tightly pleated.

The embroidery typically has a wide central band composed of cutwork and counted satin stitch, bordered by two bands of needle woven hemstitching [shabak], and then edge patterns.

Front and back aprons are worn with this costume. The back apron is pleated like the blouse, with embroidery over the pleats around the waist. It wraps all the way around and ties in the front. 



The front apron is shaped like a regular apron, gathered into the waistband. There is a band of embroidery across the front which varies from wide to extremely wide. This is  the major focus of embroidery on this costume. The embroidery harmonizes with the other pieces of the costume.


 Since the 1960's the skirts have shown a very unfortunate tendency to get shorter to the point where the outline of the costume is no longer aesthetic. Not everyone has given in to this, thankfully. The girl here above seems to be wearing a white sweatshirt under the costume for some reason. The following photo shows one of the elaborate aprons which form part of this costume, and on the left, the simpler, dark embroidery expected of a widow.

A sash, usually plain red is worn tied around the waist above the two aprons.

 On the head two stuffed linen balls were tied onto the temples with a ribbon. A cap, čepiec, was worn over this, giving a two-horned silhouette, [see the photo with the widow above, and the first photo], and then an embroidered kerchief was pinned over that, in a singularly asymmetrical manner.

 This, of course, refers to married women. Girls wore their hair uncovered. The golden orangey-yellow color now considered typical of Čičmany embroidery is also technically for married women. Single girls are traditionally supposed to have red embroidery, and widows should have embroidery in blue and black.

This woman and her granddaughter are from the neighboring village of Zliechov. The embroidery is similar but includes a wider range of colors. You will notice that the woman's headdress is also different.

I will continue my next article with a closer look at the embroidery of this costume.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative.

Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals. I also choreograph and teach folk dance.
Roman K.

Source material:
Viera Nosálova, 'Slovenský ludový Odev', Slovakia,1982
Anna Chlupová, 'Slovenská l’udová výšivka : techniky a ornamentika', Bratislava, 1985
Jozef Markov, 'The Slovak National Dress through the Centuries', Bratislava, 1956
Jitka Staňková, 'Slovenské a české Tradičné Kroje', Prague, 2004
Blažena Šotkova, 'Volkstrachten in der Tschechoslowakei', Prague, 1956