Kyrgyz artisans have a long and rich history of making felt. Despite turmoil and economic hardship, artisans continuously work hard to not only improve their craft but ensure its preservation. The craft of felt making has been carefully maintained and passed down across generations. The current practice of felt making is comprised of generation of experience and knowledge. Today, felt making is a combination of traditions and modernity. Women artisans are trained at an early age and become masters of their craft, abiding by traditions and incorporating modern designs.
Traditionally sheep herding was the main activity of the nomadic people in the region, thus felt production has a long history and can be dated back as far as the Iron Age. During the age of the Great Silk Road, felt was among products traded by the Kyrgyz.
Unlike other nomadic people of the region, Kyrgyz lived in harsh environment (94% of the country is more than 1,000 meters above sea level) and thus production and use of felt served as the most practical material for their lifestyle, as felt retains heat and is 100% natural.
The ‘boz yi’ (translated as "grey house" from Kyrgyz) or yurt is a nomadic dwelling which is used by the Kyrgyz. The yurt has a wooden frame and is covered with felt, which makes it easy to disassemble and transport. In addition to its practical use, felt was seen as something of an amulet, something that could offer protection from the evil spirits.
As in the past, Kyrgyz today continue to use simple felting, applique and mosaic techniques for felt production. Traditionally, local vegetation was used as natural dyes. The most popular felt products are shyrdak rugs and ala-kiyiz.
In the Kyrgyz Republic, more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line and 70% of these poor live in rural areas. The rural population depends mostly on agriculture, the predominant sector that contributes about half of the country’s gross domestic product and half of total employment. Wool-based cottage industry, run almost exclusively by women, is the only opportunity in remote livestock-rearing areas to supplement household incomes.
Artisans never stop experimenting, by developing and innovating their products or creating new ones, at the same time respecting and enhancing the history and traditions of their territories. While the Kyrgyz felt products are readily available on the local market, few artisans are able to export their production abroad and thus increase their revenues. This is where DATKA helps them: Our work is focused on exporting their handmade felt products to a wider audience, thus providing our producers with additional income and training on upcoming trends.