Seven Sisters


  • The Ibu Foundation helped to pay their workshop rent and utilities for six months during the COVID pandemic.

  • During the pandemic, we sent emergency relief to be used as artisan salaries while their work was paused.

Farzana Sharshembieva from Kyrgyzstan is the oldest of seven sisters producing hand-felted silk scarves and apparel producing layered, mottled felt products in the tradition of "ala-kiyis,” a traditional Kyrgyz method that involves layering felts of different weights and colors. The process is extremely labor-intensive, requiring intricate cutting and stitching as well as multiple soakings, rollings, and rinsings. The result is a durable, distinctive textile.

For more than 15 years, the sisters have worked together, pressing vibrant felt into the rippling designs that tell stories of their culture. Today, the sisters’ work is able to support their large extended family. “Our love for this work was instilled by our grandmother, a famous skilled worker,” says Farzana. The sisters can remember, as children, watching their grandmother lay patterns down on the carpet, and listening as she explained the legends associated with each design.

In addition to the seven sisters, they also employed 13 women, providing a constant income. Since 2020, with the arrival of the pandemic, the volume of work has drastically reduced as the domestic market and tourism have been paralyzed, resulting in sales falling by 80%. They were forced to furlough some of the women and others were able to work at home, but could not pay the rent for the workshops. Many of the women were seriously ill and in despair, desperate to find means to support their business. The Foundation was able to provide Seven Sisters emergency relief during this difficult period. The women received orders for new products, and financial support through the Foundation, which allowed them to pay their workshop rent for six months and provide work to several women who were struggling to support themselves and their families.