Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ikat in Bukhara: More hopped up than a kid in a candy store

Bukhara’s not the best place for ikat. I know this. Margilan, in Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley, is where most ikat is woven.

Standing in front of Feruza's shop, glorious ikat behind me

But when I see the streaks of color hanging in Feruza’s window, the stacks of ikat, brightly colored jewels lining the shelves and towering high on the tables, and the flawless tailoring of the clothing she has ready made, I decide that my first ikat purchase will be here.
Some of her ready-made garments

I’ve loved textiles for as long as I can remember. As a young child I admired the carpets my parents had brought back from Pakistan, admiring even the mistakes that showed the carpet had been painstaking made by hand. In my childhood bedroom I had an embroidered wool wall hanging from Kashmir, and though it was covered in animals, gazelles and elephants and birds, they were not the stylized, cuddly animals that usually grace a child’s room.

Jumping on the bed (I'm on the left). Kashmiri wall hanging in the back, floral embroidered bed covering in the front :)

I saw ikat for the first time in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, where I, a very frugal traveler, lusted after the glorious antique silk robes that had come from Central Asia. One robe cost more than I spent in a month of travel, though, so I could only look on longingly.

I found ikat again in northern Thailand and Laos, in regions where each stilt house has a loom under it and where, it’s said, a girl is only ready for marriage when she has mastered weaving.

In Laos, riding on a soviet-era Minsk motorbike, I saw for the first time how ikat is made—how the patterns are tie-dyed into the unwoven threads in a mishmash of dots and lines that somehow, magically, turn into flora, animals, and bold splotches of abstract design.

There in Laos I bought my first ikat. I bought a meter from the woman who had woven it. With a pair of scissors she had borrowed from her neighbor, she cut the fabric directly off the loom.

In Feruza’s shop in Bukhara I saw hundreds of meters of ikat, more brightly colored and abstract than in Laos, made of silk and cotton. I needed only to choose one, tell her what I wanted, and it would be mine in 36 hours. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, only much, much more excited. I felt like a kid in a candy shop with $10 and permission from her parents to go nuts.

Just some of Feruza's fabrics

I showed Feruza pictures of the two designs I wanted—a fitted dress with a flared, 50s style skirt, and a wide-leg jumpsuit. She took detailed measurements, reading them aloud in Tajik to her mother, who jotted them down. All that remained was to choose which candy to buy.

I feared the decision would be difficult, but it wasn’t. I picked cotton—cooler in the heat and (vegan alert!) no silkworms needed to be boiled alive to produce—in colors and patterns that looked different from anything I owned.

100% cotton ikat on the shelves here. The colors tend to be more subdued than the silk or silk/cotton blend.

The next day, Feruza came to our hotel and brought the rough, unfinished garments to get an idea of the fit. I gave a few notes, we decided where to place the zippers, and I promised to help her the with an English application to a craft fair she wanted to go to in the US the next day when I came for my final fitting.

Less than 12 hours later, I saw the finished clothes and felt a mix of excitement and tremendous relief. The tailoring was professional—with hidden zippers and finished seams—and as I was spending more money than I’ve allowed myself before, I was enormously pleased to see this result.

The finished dress
The jumpsuit before a final minor modification

The dress and the jumpsuit fit well, with only a minor modification needed. But before we sent them back to the tailor, Flounder and I did a little photo shoot in the historic area around Feruza’s shop with the idea that she could use the images as advertisement or in her applications to craft/art shows.

From our photo shoot in historic Bukhara

To take a look at one such application, Feruza invited us to her family’s home, a beautifully restored house in the old Jewish neighborhood of Bukhara, where we were welcomed by her mother, plied with tea and sweets, and attempted to make sense of the convoluted application process and demanding English-only questionnaire.

Two hours later we parted, having only made a small dent in the process. I picked up my garments after their final adjustment—jewel-like and perfect—and knew that could Feruza only get direct access to more American and European buyers, both she and those customers would be richer for the exchange.

Until that day, if you travel to Bukhara, stop at Feruza’s shop and, like that kid with $10 at a candy store, go nuts.

Another photo from the photo shoot :)
Feruza’s shop is located near the archway just southwest of Lyabi Hauz. Approximate opening hours 8am – 8pm.
Str. B. Naqshband #78
Trading dome ‘Toki Saraffan’
(+99865) 224 15 70
(+99891) 413 97 37
(+99890) 715 99 99


  1. great article. i enjoyed reading about your ikat adventures very much.

  2. An amazing adventure in the lovely world of such unique textiles,,,thank you for sharing your experiences. By the way, you look wonderful and could be a professional model!

    1. Thanks, Aunt Caroline! You're very sweet, but I feel like compliments from aunts fall into the same category as compliments from moms--perhaps a little bit biased ;)

  3. I was relating to this article so hard! One thing about having a grown-up job that I'm looking forward to is being able to buy beautiful, handmade clothing made from quality and ethically-sourced material.

    1. It's the best! I love knowing where my clothes come from. I also love eating chips for dinner should I feel the urge :) another grown-up perk!

    2. Wow - such beautiful fabrics! I'm going there in September & I can see I will spend a lot in this shop.. ! Do you mind me asking how much you paid for the two outfits you had made?


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