When I think of Kyrgyzstan, apart from thinking it the hardest word to spell I’ve met in a while, I think of yurts. Felted wool rugs. Bold designs. Tribal loyalties. Cold mountain life. A lobster-claw shaped chunk of Central Asia bordering China. The Kyrgyz take their name from a word meaning We Are Forty, as in forty clans descending from the legendary Manas who united them; as forty rays emanate from the bright sun on their national flag. Forty fiercely proud peoples trying to become one.
Hidden in the folds of those high mountains are seven sisters. Real sisters, I mean, who have bothered to learn the ways of their grandmother’s felting with which yurts were colorfully and meaningfully adorned. And then, with that legacy in their hands and their imaginations let loose, the seven sisters took another step and began creating exquisite silk dresses and zingy color-rich scarves.
I learned felt-making at SCAD and what I remember is hopping on top of a padded table and squishing wet wool roving with my feet for an eternity until the fibers slowly married one another. Kind of like the old foot-stomping that turned grapes into wine. I danced and wriggled and pawed until those 40 plus fibers became one mingled mat.
The seven sisters are no doubt more graceful and accomplished at this, but it turns out they do it the same way. Then, with ribbons of wool fiber, they delicately arrange felt designs onto silk, so that a transparency occurs between the lines. Very evocative.
clockwise: the yurt as inspiration, one of the Seven Sisters with Susan, an intricate felted shawl they have created, a second sister
The ancient felt motifs, found on stunning Bronze Age remnants, are inspired by spiraling deer horns (symbols of prosperity, courage, power) or a crow’s claw, a dog’s tail - amulets with strong protective powers, as these have been totems of the Kyrgyz tribes.
Our allies have so much fun trying on the Seven Sisters scarves - can’t you see the light in their faces?