Chinara and her sister Rosa start our tour of Kyrgyz felting in an oversized closet of fluff - pure wool roving not yet shaped by the human hand. We walk through the impressive stages of wetting, plumping, kneading, flattening, slapping, wringing, and dyeing in sweaty vats - and end up with a rich specimen of felt being tenderly groomed with knife and tweezers to perfection. I see images on the wall of how this tradition has served their nomadic past: a woman's wrapped headdress, the spiritual symbols blessing Kyrgyz yurts, warmth for the nomad's horses.
But what sweeps me away is the design studio, where all of that history is merely prelude. Here, the walls are splashed a wake-up yellow and hold out-of-the-box inspiration to challenge any and all boxed thinking - there are crazy images of what might be in a world swaddled in felt. In the nomadic imagination, say Tumar founders Chinara and Rosa, - the heart is made for freedom, and freedom is life. It seems to apply to their creative thinking as well - freedom to allow ancient practices to serve as tools for the 21st century.
Even though we flew all night and started this day with no sleep, even though coffee is unheard of and I'm gulping down tea whenever offered - there is no need. The whole day is energized with these creative souls imagining the new, the next, the simple architecture of form distilled from their rich past.
Ekaterina leads us to a lunch table laden with platters of rice and meat, vegetables from the garden, and more tea. In an old Soviet apartment building, we walk through a warren of rooms to find the clothing quarters and down the empty halls to the children's corner, where women are stitching the felt into toys and ornaments. I fall for the wild spotted cats and feel sure you'll want them for your holiday tree or gifts.
And that wasn't all. I love the chic computer cases for men or women, the light shawls and cowls that stand up just right over a winter coat, the bedspread and pillows that turn felting from a craft to an art. Bags, wallets, gifts that you cannot find anywhere else - I know that is important to you - Ibu being the only source for these in the US - so you can relax and do your gift shopping knowing this will be the first for a friend.
I crumpled into a bed that night exhausted by the sheer possibilities brought to me that day. I don't know when I've seen such a delightful marriage of heritage and innovation. We talked into the afternoon about collaborations and custom pieces for Ibu, and that is in the works. But for now, see what is here, what is good, what is straight from the nomad's hands to yours. The freedom of heart and imagination. I so felt it. You will too.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker