Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. Copyright 2010 Textile Society of America.


Kyrgyz people, representing the ancient nomadic civilization of Central Asia, manufactured felt from time immemorial and utilized it in all aspects of their lives. The portable house of Kyrgyz tribes, the yurt, was covered by felt, while the interior decoration and richly ornamented rugs, household goods, clothes, and toys were felt as well.

Felt also had sacral meaning and played an important role in the social life of the tribe. The elected leader was lifted up by tribe members on a piece of white felt, symbolizing public acknowledgment of his power; in funerary traditions a piece of felt was used to wrap the body of the deceased. A harmonious perception of the surrounding environment, reflected in ornament and color combinations, as well as a marvelous sense of proportion, was peculiar to ancient Kyrgyz artisans. They transformed ordinary felt items, which were used in everyday nomadic life, into objects of art with high aesthetic value. Design elements, consisting mostly of plant and animal motifs, reflected pre-Islamic, shamanistic beliefs, which involved esoteric knowledge passed from the creator to the concrete recipient.

This presentation will give an overview of historic as well as contemporary felt products, produced by Kyrgyz craftsmen, designers and artists in the 20th and 21st centuries. The wide array of felt products utilizes traditional felt technologies, as well as mixed techniques with use of other natural fibers, such as cotton and silk, reflecting both Kyrgyz culture and the personality of the artist.