Traditional Felting in Kyrgyzstan

I'm pouring through piles of remnants, samples, scraps . . . treasure hunting. I pull out a long strip of something I have never seen before - felted squares on gauzy silk and pull it around me like a robe. It's dramatic and sweeping and glamorous . . . it is instant love. This is what I didn't know I was coming for, and found.  

I'm in the studio of Aidai Asangulova and her sister Nurzhamal just outside of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Aidai explains through translation that this piece is inspired by the termé, or weavings that threaded around the ceiling of a yurt, offering symbols of protection and blessing for those within those felted homes.

Aidai is passionate about preserving and documenting the traditional ways of the nomadic tribal Kyrgyz and their dress. A woman in the elechek head wrap greeted us, later demonstrated how to wrap these snowy crowns, and showed us the hook embroidery of her people . . . all before we could move to the studio where new innovations are pouring forth.  

Like this one that is around my shoulders. Could we try this in other colors? I ask. I keep seeing the biting chartreuse and subtle gray of our spring 19 collection we are planning back at Ibu and think the combo would be beautiful in this design. Within an hour, the woman in the photo, above, right, accomplishes a sample of my idea and brings it down from her workroom. I'm sold. Let's make something outrageous, I'm thinking. A dress, with hand-sewn pieces of felted silk gauze, breezy for spring, warm for chilly evenings, to wear over leggings or over our handy cotton slip, over a tee or not. Months later, which is now, the results came in, so tangy and fresh, I can taste the zest in it. 

Meanwhile, back at the Kyrgyz ranch, women are rolling and pounding and felting the way they have always done, but with new horizons. They look to the past, dive deeply to embrace their cultural traditions - and all so that they can carry with fine integrity the soul of their people. And then, from that honest platform, they create something new. In this happy instance, they've cubed it, cut it, fashioned it into one of our World Dresses; they've made of the symbols of blessing and protection a wrap for the body as well as the house. They've done that in a studio that supports women to dare see things newly. To see things possible. To see things never before conceived. Like a yurt skirt. Or a life of freedom and creativity.  

If they can dare make it, I say to myself (and to you), dare I wear this much stunningness?  

Leaning into Yes ~
Susan Hull Walker