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Decorative Arts And Crafts Of The Kazakh
Among varieties of Kazakh folk arts and crafts felting occupies a prominent position. Origins of this art date back to the end of the Bronze Age.
The Kazakh culture is the direct heir of nomad traditions that evolved in the prairies for almost three thousand years.
The art of koshmovalyanie [felting] of the Kazakh relates to household crafts and, at the same time, to artistic crafts as felt cloths were exported to international markets.
Felting is making a non-spun textile of natural wool and creating high-class works of art from it.
Felt production is a major part of creative activities of the Kazakh ethnos, that is determined in the first place by dominating prevalence of sheep, foundation of nomad way of life, and consequently abundance of sheep wool.
Felt served as the main external cover for yurt carcass. Yurts of wealthy people were usually covered with white felt.
Felt articles, due to quantitative volume, played the leading role in traditional everyday life of the Kazakh people.
Usually, felt production involved mutual help of female relatives, neighbors and friends. It was both social and collective creative activity accompanied by humorous traditional songs, couplets, rituals, food and games.
Before getting to work, people would slaughter a mutton and ask for blessing from God and the goddess of fertility, the ancestor of female crafts.
Almost all the process of making felt was accompanied by magic rituals.
Felting began with preparing wool.
Usually, sheep wool from autumn shearing was used — “küzem jün”.
Wool underwent several stages of processing.
At first, dirt and litter were knocked out, and then it was thoroughly washed in warm alkaline water.
The process was repeated several times depending on how clogged wool was.
The washed through crude was rinsed in clear, preferably warm, water and wrung without twisting.
Then, the clean wool would be laid out on mats to dry in the sun.
Dried wool was laid out on leather and whipped with harrow rods. The purpose of that was to further purify wool and make it more flamboyant.
The crafts women used wool both of natural color and colorful, and so they achieved artistic effect by using contrasting colors and similar ones. In old times, the Kazakh used roots, leaves and bark of different plants as colorants. Coloring usually was performed in the yard.
Salt was added to the colorant to stabilize color tone.
After coloring, wool was rinsed in water, wrung without twisting and dried.
There was an interesting ritual connected to fluffing of colored wool. The hostess would hide a piece of fabric, tied in a knot, in wool beforehand. During wool whipping, this fabric knot would cling to a rod of one of the women, who, as it was considered, received the grace. In response to this luck, she had to organize a feast with her treats.
There was another interesting custom. During wool fluffing and preparing tekemet [carpet], the hostess could give as a gift a wisp of colored wool to an unexpected female visitor with the wish to make a similar tekemet for her kids. In gratitude, the guest had to invite all the crafts women for supper or bring a meat treat, because she got from the hostess well wishing believed to be magical.
On the next day, women would evenly lay out wool for background on mats. Then, experienced crafts women, with a grasp of scale and proportions, would apply colorful patterns from wool or cut-outs from semi-rolled felt. There was another way: the pattern was applied onto a semi-rolled canvas called “taldırma”.
After these procedures, the surface and workpieces were splashed with hot soap water, rolled and tied with ropes on the ends and in the middle.
Then, one or two people would pull the roll by the center rope, and others were performing a two-hour process of pressing [08:36] “tibu” — beating of the spinning roll with feet. Meanwhile, every ten minutes the roll was abundantly poured over with hot water to keep temperature up.
At the next stage, felt was removed from mat, and, after folding three times, was again rolled up.
After being poured over with hot water again, felt was wrapped warmly and laid out in the sun for steaming so that wool got clutched well.
After a while, the felt roll was put on mat, and women began the process “bïlïgben bas” — they pressed the roll with hands and elbows. Only after that the next technical procedure followed — “qarpw”, when felt was tossed and pressed with hands.
Then, during 10-15 minutes the crafts women would spin the roll horizontally to distribute pressure on felt evenly from all sides.
Finally, canvas was being stretched length- and width-wise and rolled up from all sides.
To complete this procedure, carpet was rolled out and dried. After that, to increase density, canvas was poured over with boiling water again and tramped down manually.
Felt quality was determined by the its density level, evenness of thickness, smoothness of texture and rims.
Tekemet prepared for a daughter to be married wasn’t fully finished. It was considered to be better to complete it in husband’s home that will magically contribute to friendship of the two families.
After finishing work, the hostess would make a treat for women again.
To avoid evil eye, there was a branch of harmel [peganum harmala] or a patch of red fabric put by the carpet.
Usually, people would scatter wheat on finished carpet and pronounce wishes of wealth, health and long lives for children.
Following the custom “kol uzdyk”, the hostess presented her assistants with wool and needle with thread. These things were considered magical.
Felt carpets appear as accents in many customs and rituals. Especially, white carpets. Carpets were put under cradle before the newborn was laid in there for the first time. That was meant to protect health and stimulate wealth and well-being in the child’s life in the future.
The Kazakh considered the white color sacred. A great symbolic role was assigned to dairy products that the Kazakhs called with one word “aq”, meaning “white”. The white color stood for pristine purity, innocence, justice, the good, and also signified high social status. So, for example elevating the elected khan on a white koshma was akin to inauguration in the old times.
Laying a baby in cradle “besik” was a big celebration for the Kazakh. This ritual was usually entrusted to a respected elderly woman with many descendants.
Before putting a child to cradle there was a ritual performed. Various sweets and treats were thrown into the hole in cradle, meant for hygiene purposes. Meanwhile, the woman would ask the guests: “Ishtima?” (“Did you poo?”)
Sweets were intercepted by guests, and everyone replied to the question: “Tishti” (“I pooed.”)
Treats were given to guests with the wish that such a celebration would happen in their homes too.
A knife was put under boy’s pillow and mirror under girl’s one. It was believed this way courage or beauty would pass to the child.
By the bedhead, steel arms were laid — it not only had to scare away evil spirits, but also, according to beliefs, helped the child grow up to be a protector and fighter.
After the child was in, the cradle was covered with seven or nine objects, among which there had to be the father’s things.
When the bride appeared in her husband’s home for the first time, she was seated on white felt. The ritual was performed so that life of the newlyweds were bright and prosperous, and so that fertility of the daughter-in-law was healthy. As we see, the white color played a very important role in Kazakh people’s life.
Expressive are two- and three-color tekemets, large in size, with their format diminished by large ornament. Such carpets stand out due to their monumental, impressive design.
Multi-colored tekemets demonstrate especially subtle transitions of colors. This peculiarity depended on artistic vision of crafts women as well as on quality of material and technique.
Wool for ornament was laid out manually, “to eye”, so there was a slight imperfection of contour, making the carpet more vivid. What is more, felt pieces were of different thickness which resulted in difference of color intensity.
Ornament is of great importance for felt objects, and it is mostly large scale.
By organizing canvas space ornament makes its scale more vivid.
Usually, decorative composition of felt objects is divided into center space and framing fringe, where color and pattern motives echo each other.
In general, symmetry is characteristic for felt carpets.
On holidays, when guests were received, smaller felt carpets, “syrmak”, were put on tekemets. They are divided by the technique of production into mosaic, applique, quilted and mixed technique varieties.
A mirroring ornament was created by putting two, tightly rolled, felt pieces of different colors. Ornament was drawn with charcoal or chalk, and after that both layers were simultaneously cut out with a sharp knife.
The cut-out ornaments were swapped and sewn in along the ornament’s fringe. Seam lines of ornaments were closed and fixed using quilting technique with colorful wool cord “jïek”, woven in herringbone manner.
Mosaic carpets are different with their precision of pattern and expression of color combinations.
The structure of imagery, inherent to these objects, is characterized by expression and power of inner tension.
Rich variety of ornaments and bright polychromy distinguish carpets “bastırma sırmaq”, decorated using thin felt or fabric in applique technique.
These workpieces or ornamental motives were first laid out on felt canvas to create the intended composition and then fixed with threads and finally sewn in.
Edges of the ornament were bordered with a wool cord for aesthetic completeness.
Ornament of [18:50] “betpes” carpet was created by colorful cord applied to felt canvas.
Islam spread among the Kazakh thanks to various connections of nomad prairies with the Muslim world. According to duties of the faith, a Muslim would pray five times a day.
A prayer-mat, “jaye namaz”, was used for praying. It was also made of felt.
In most cases, jaye namaz was decorated with symbolic motives, like the World Tree or mihrab of a mosque. It was considered that by placing jaye namaz on a clean spot a Muslim shielded himself from the external world.
After prayer, jaye namaz was rolled and kept in a safe place.
Felt clothes were popular with the Kazakh. In particular, white felt was used to make male head-wear “qalpaq”, with a high crown and wide brims, with cuts on the sides.
Qalpaq of prominent people was embroidered with silk and spun gold.
For greater visibility, warmth and evil eye protection, white felt was used to make horsecloths and felt sweat-cloth [20:33] “terlik”, put under saddle to ease friction.
Usually edges of felt products were bounded with a bright cord and fringe, which gave the piece artistic finish.
New hand-made objects were used for exchange of goods, payoff, or reward in various life situations — be that birth of the firstborn, housewarming or wedding.
Durable and beautiful carpets were must-haves in every home. They revived interior with vivid colorfulness.
Also, at guest reception, for each person there could be individual decorated carpets — “dongilik tusinir”, “mayauza”. With such design, the floor looked like a flower field.
Due to economy of living space, where furniture was minimal, various small home accessories were invented. There was a system of suspended felt bags attached to projecting notches of grate “kerege”.
In addition, women made various covers for furniture to prevent damage and scratches.
In static conditions, bags “kerege kap” and “ok kap” with hanging tassels were used for storage. There were also felt suspended bags “ayne kap” for handkerchiefs, hair brushes, mirror and soap.
Decorative kitchen bags were also created for kitchenware safe-keeping.
Felt tea tablecloths are quite impressive — “chai kiiz”, decorated with multi-color threads.
Such objects expressively demonstrate artistic possibilities of living ornament.
People also were aware of healing qualities of wool. In case of rheumatoid arthritic in knees it was advised to walk on knees on felt carpet. Felt was attached to organs affected by sickness or cold, which not only warmed, but also healed effectively. It was believed that a child got more energy by touching felt.
This benevolent material with its soft pleasant texture was indispensable for making various things that folk crafts women turned into true objects of art.