SHEEP TO SHYRDAK
These are pictures which show the process of what is involved in making a shyrdak. It begins high in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, where the sheep are out to pasture during the short but sunny summer months.
Sheep are then sold or traded at weekly animal bazaars, where the sheep are graded on the quality of their wool, size and breed.
The sheep are then sheared of their wool and the wool is collected. This wool will become an Altyn Kol shyrdak after a lengthy process of cleaning, pressing, dying, and stitching.
The wool needs to be made into felt. This is done by laying the wool onto a reed mat and beating the wool with long, thin reeds, usually made of metal. This cleans the wool of most of the dirt. The wool is picked through by the women, taking out more dirt and dust.
Once the wool is laid out on the mat, it is then rolled up and boiling hot water is poured over it. The water is poured over the roll, and the wool is then stepped on and pressed with the feet(known as "walking the wool") or the arms and hands. This is usually a family affair, as pressure is needed to press the wool and bound it together into felt. So, anyone and everyone is invited to help "walk the wool," as this is a crucial point in the shyrdak making process.
After the wool is properly walked, a process which may last for a day or more, the newly created felt is laid out in the sun to dry. Once it is properly dried, the felt is then cut and dyed.
The felt is cut according to the necessary designs for that particular shyrdak. The cut pieces are placed into a kazan (a large iron bowl typically used for cooking large meals), which contains boiling hot dye (natural or artificial, depending on the colors), sitting over a fire.
The pieces of felt are submerged and stirred, ensuring that each piece of felt receives even coverage.
After the dyed pieces are dry, they are carefully stitched together and then stitched onto a thick, tough, brown piece of felt which forms the underside of the shyrdak.
Once the final decorative stitching is in place, along with the yarn that outlines the shyrdak and its designs, a label is applied to each piece, denoting its size, its creator and which village she is from.