No craft smacks more of Kyrgyzstan than the quintessential nomadic felt rug called a shyrdak. Shyrdaks are pieced together from cut pieces of sheep’s wool after weeks of washing, drying, dyeing and treatment against woodworm. The appliquй patterns are usually of a kochkor mujuz (plant motif), teke mujuz (ibex horn motif) or kyal (fancy scrollwork) bordered in a style particular to the region. Brightly coloured designs were introduced after synthetic dye became readily available in the 1960s, although natural dyes (made from pear and raspberry leaves, dahlia and birch root, among others) are making a comeback.
The ‘blurred’ design of the ala-kiyiz (rug with coloured panels pressed on) is made from dyed fleece, which is laid out in the desired pattern on a chiy (reed) mat. The felt is made by sprinkling hot water over the wool, which is then rolled up and rolled around until the wool compacts. Before you purchase a shyrdak, ensure that it’s handmade by checking for irregular stitching on the back and tight, even stitching around the panels. Also check the colour will not run (lick your finger and run it lightly over the colours to see that they do not bleed).