felt rugs of Kyrgyzstan
By Simon Houlton, Unique Rugs UK
Felt is thought to be the oldest manmade
material. Some suggest they predate weaving
with origins in the Neolithic period, perhaps as old as 9000 years. In its
simplest form, felt is produced by the simple yet laborious process of pressing
together wool, water and soap. Historically, many examples have been found concentrated
between the Balkans and Mongolia.
Felt makers of Kyrgyzstan are traditionally
women who would make many felt items including shyrdak felt rugs for the simple
purpose of providing clothing and shelter to keep the nomadic tribes warm. Felt
coverings would have been used to make the wall and roof of the yurt to protect
from the inhospitable weather of the central Asian steppes, whilst brightly
decorated felt rugs would be placed on the floor.
Although the nomadic lifestyle in
Kyrgyzstan has largely diminished; felt rugs continue to be made for the home,
tourists and a small, yet dedicated, export market. The making of a Shyrdak
felt rug is still done by traditional methods. Each rug takes the wool from
approximately four sheep; the wool is then cleaned and dyed using natural dyes.
The maker chooses vividly contrasting colours such as red and green or brown
and orange; different colours represent different aspect of the surrounding
environment. For example, red and blue
together represents the Tien Shan Mountains and Lake Issyk kul. A pattern is then marked onto a thick naturally coloured
backing layer in chalk and a contrasting pattern is laid out incorporating the
symbolic motifs of the Kyrgyz people. The felt rug is the soaked with soapy
water and rolled into a tight bundle that is then kneaded. This process is repeated until the felt is
firm and the pattern set. Once the felt rug is dried the pattern is stitched to
strengthen the edges and provide another contrasting colour. The final result
is a stunning, stylised positive/negative example.
A Shyrdak felt rug will last
approximately 30 years provided proper use. Generally, cleaning is needs are
minimal: The high lanolin content of the wool acts as a natural stain repellent
against spills, as most liquids and non-sever spills may easily be dabbed up.
The best way to care for a Shyrdak rug is to use a gentle air vacuum. This will remove any surface dirt and pilling
of the wool fibre.
rugs are a desirable alternative to other area rug options. The dual interest with felted rugs may also
be incorporated in wall design as hangings even within modern homes. Although relatively unheard of within the
floor covering market, and somewhat difficult to obtain, such rugs are steadily
gaining popularity and becoming more readily available in the West. Older examples often hold their value well,
and in many fine examples are sought after by collectors. A fine example in excess of fifty years has
appeal to a widely growing audience with appreciation potential and sound
Additional Examples of Felt Rugs.
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