Trade along the Great Silk Road commenced as far back as the 2nd century BC. Amongst the variety of commerce — which included wool, leather, cotton and fruits, metal and glassware, jewelry, precious stones and incenses — were the oriental carpets and handicrafts by the Central Asian masters. These textiles were in great demand across the known world.
In fact, carpet production in Central Asia is ancient — from times when people started to produce multi-colored, woolen, felt mats. At that time, carpet making was a home-based industry and usually the carpet-making techniques were the preserve of the women and traditions were transferred from generation to generation.
In Central Asian life, a carpet was something of a necessity and family status symbol. First of all, only the finest spring (sheep) wool was used for weaving carpets to ensure the high quality of products. The longest fibers were used for spinning the carpet’s warp. Such a carpet was used by the family for centuries and it would never lose its high quality. Carpets are used as floor coverings, as piece of furniture and as wall decoration.
Wonderful silk and gold-embroidered carpets were created in the workshops of each palace. These items were expensive and were reserved for decoration of the palace interior and the emir’s apartments as well as being offered as gifts to foreign rulers. Marco Polo having visited Central Asia once wrote the following: “...one has to know that the most beautiful and thinnest carpets in the world are produced here...”
With time, production of these elite silk carpets faded out and from the early 17th century, these treasures were not woven any more. AS a result, most of the technical knowledge was lost.
The manufacture of elite silk carpets was reinstituted recently, at the “Bukhara—Samarkand’ workshop founded by a well-known contemporary craftsman Muhammad Avaz. More than 400 skilled carpet-makers work here today manufacturing 30—40 hand-made carpets each month. In practice, it is not possible to follow weavers’ swift and skilled movements, as they complete each step in the twinkling of an eye. At least a hundred thousand knots and sometimes, more than a million knots per square meter, are tied and connected to the pattern of each carpet.
The color and texture of the carpets is also precious. Typically, the design of silk carpets combines dark and light colors so that when viewed from different angles, the overall color effect shimmers and changes from dark to light shades in the same manner as shot silk. In addition, to achieve the velvet finish, the carpet’s depth will not exceed two millimeters in height. Also, although light in weight, the carpets are durable and long-lasting. The colors do not fade over time and, as any Uzbek craftsman will testify, age will enhance the bright and noble color scheme.
A classical, oriental composition of Uzbek national ornaments is used in the carpet patterns In ancient times, the carpet yarn was dyed with vegetable extracts. Our ancestors knew which local plants to use; madder extract was used for red dyes; indigo plant for dark blue. Extracts from the oak and walnut trees and pomegranates were brewed and used to dye the yarn brown, black and yellow. These color recipes were sacred family knowledge and passed from generation to generation as knowledge of great value. Still today. this family know-how is in use at the Avaz carpet making workshop. Muhammad Avaz cultivates many of the required plants himself in the workshop yard. The specialized vegetable dyes used by his Samarkand carpet-makers, enhance the nobility and beauty of the carpets, adding to the color contrasts and the luster and velvet texture of each luxurious item. Over time, the silver or gold play of colors strengthens and adds markedly to the commercial and collectible value of the carpet. In fact, connoisseurs of rugs treasure these Samarkand creations.
In the main Samarkand square, the Registan, amidst the craft workshops and trade shops, city authorities have established a showroom for these hand-made carpets from the “Bukhara—Samarkand” workshop. The finest examples of carpets are on display and are for sale too — many tourists gather here to marvel at these products and support the local industry with a special purchase or two. Each purchase makes an important contribution to the maintenance of age-old Samarkand crafts, resurrected from near extinction, and now recognized internationally as invaluable treasures, created with love and skill from the Uzbek heart.