Various Kyrgyz Handcrafts

The yurta tent was generally partitioned into a section where guests could be received and another for household and kitchen utensils; sometimes a separate place for sleeping was reserved. Mats woven of grass and colored woollen thread, decorated with a kaleidoscopic profusion of geometric designs, were used as screens.

An embroidered carpet (tushkiiz) was usually hung, like a stage wing, on the wall opposite the entrance. It was the focal point of the interior around which all the other yurta decorations were grouped. Felt and piled rugs, bags hanging from the walls, colored coverings on chests, various leatherware with stamped designs, carved wooden stands, and other handmade objects performed useful functions and contributed to the overall decorative effect.

The chief materials used for making yurtas were wood and felt. The wooden framework was covered with felt rugs of different shapes and sizes. Felt was also used for flooring and in the making of various storage bags for clothes and utensils. Felt rugs were decorated with large-scale patterns either by pressing colored wool onto the surface before it was fully matted or by combining two felts of different colors cut so as to produce two mirror-image pieces with mosaic-like designs.

Shirdak felt rugs used as flooring were made all over Kirghizia, with the exception of some localities in the southwest of the republic. These rugs bear clear-cut large ornaments due, on one hand, to the folk artist's awareness of the rug's decorative purpose and, on the other, to the technical limitations precluding the use of small-scale designs.

The composition is based on the accentuation of two to four large repeating circles, quadrangles, rhombs, or crosses. The space between and within is filled with designs consisting of variously shaped curls vaguely suggesting plants or animals.

The impression of ornamental richness and compositional harmony that shirdak felts evince is to a large degree due to their contrasting colors. The most favored combinations are red and blue, and brown and orange. The decorative effect is enhanced by outlining the design with colored cord.

Although the decoration of all Kirghiz carpets basically follows the same lines, it does show some local variations. In the Tien Shan Mountains it is the most traditional. In the Talas Valley, where the neighboring southern parts of Kazakhstan have been an important influence, the predominant decorative motifs are highly formalized plants, although almond-like patterns, presumably borrowed from Uzbek art, also occur. One of the oldest types of decoration used in Kirghiz felts is decorative stitching in camel-hair thread on a light or dark background.

The most characteristic features of Kirghiz pile-woven carpets are their clear-cut large-scale designs based chiefly on geometric motifs with distinct horn-like curls, their high pile (6-8 mm), and their color scheme in which reds and blues predominate, as they do in Kirghiz felts.

The best and most traditional examples of Kirghiz carpets are small-size pieces used for the storage and transportation of domestic utensils. They display greater freedom and expressiveness of design and more color harmony than large carpets. Their ornamentation is not so much the result of symmetry as of balance.

The Kirghizs' taste for large figured patterns with clear-cut outlines and contrasting color combinations is manifest in their embroidery and patterned weaving. Embroidered designs appear on all sorts of objects, adorning their yurtas, clothes, headdresses, and horse trappings. They are worked in colored wool and silk thread on leather, felt, and on woollen and cotton fabrics. In the second half of the nineteenth century, tambour embroidery on black velvet or red woollen cloth became their most characteristic type of needlework. Kirghiz riding habits, which include velvet skirts with tambour embroidery and men's suede trousers, are among their particularly decorative articles of clothing.

In recent years great attention has been paid to the making of embroidered tushkiiz panels, which are indispensable elements in the present-day home interior. In the past, tushkiiz hangings were made of felt and decorated with applique in red cloth or embroidery in colored wool.

If felting, weaving, and embroidery were considered women's handi-crafts, metalwork, leathercraft, and wood carving were practiced by men. Fine carved designs can be seen on the lintels, frames, and doors of the Tien Shan yurtas. The ornamentation, formed by deeply incised grooves, unfolds In a smooth quiet pattern. The contrast between the grooves and the raised parts generates sharp light and shade effects causing the wooden objects to look almost as decorative as a felt rug.

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