Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


Kyrgyzstan has experienced extreme political and economic disruption since independence, most notably economic collapse and two subsequent revolutions. In the Soviet era, women's domestic textile practices, especially felt-making, continued, albeit less frequently than prior to the Russian conquest. During my first fieldwork in the early 1990's, felt was largely made at home. Most often it was found in the homes of people's grandmothers, although younger women did still make felt shyrdaks to give to daughters for weddings. Great experts were feted by Soviet officials, given medals, and work was sold in tourist shops, but in general, all textile arts were a domestic affair. Twenty years later, there has been a textile renaissance. Seen as a means of transcending political and economic circumstances, felt shyrdak making has been seized upon by rural groups to make goods for export, while for the younger generation, fashion, design and the possibility of global success has led them to draw on their ancestors' skills in felt, weaving, leatherwork and embroidery, synthesizing the textiles of the old 'felt-road' with new materials and technologies as new global 'silk road links' are re-established. This paper explores how domestic textile practices among Kyrgyz women over the past 20 years, while drawing from a dynamic tradition of great historical depth, have engaged with and challenged political and economic developments during the transition to the global market. Particular attention is given to the period (March-April 2011) of the anniversary of the second Kyrgyz revolution.