"Ikat is my ancestor's work. It came to me by blood."
Meet Rosuljon, UNESCO-award winning Ikat Master Weaver.
He lives in Margilan, Uzbekistan, and leads the team behind the creation of our Uzbek Ikat Silk Scarves.
If you appreciate the skill and beauty of the ancient art of ikat weaving, then you will love the provincial city of Margilan. Located in a remote corner in the northeast of Uzbekistan, Margilan is squeezed between borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in a fertile, green region known as Ferghana Valley.
While ikat weaving is believed to have been practiced in Central Asia for centuries, the only physical evidence to have emerged of ikat weaving in the region is dated from the 19th century. At this time, several centers were engaged in ikat weaving, but as of today, Margilan has emerged as the main ikat weaving center in all of Central Asia.
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A visit to the bustling Sunday market, Kumtipa, will help you realise just how vital ikat is to the region; stall after stall fills one crowded corner of the market, meters of ikat yardage hanging from the walls and brides to be buying up big for all the ikat outfits they will need for their wedding events. While the binding and dying process is always carried out by hand, much of the fabric on offer here is woven by machine, which, for us at House of Wandering Silk at least, deducts greatly from its beauty.
Happily, there are still a handful of Master Weavers committed to reviving the art of ikat weaving by hand. One such Master Weaver is Rosuljon Mirzaakhmedov, awarded by UNESCO for his skill and promotion of the particularly complicated and luxurious velvet ikat.
Rosul is from a long line of ikat weavers; born in Margilan in 1973, he is a 9th generation weaver, taught the art by his father. After a five year jail sentence in the last decade of the tumultous Soviet era when crackdowns were common, his father was forced to move from Margilan to nearby Andijon to find work. As the USSR began to collapse and the Central Asian states declared independence, Rosul and his father returned to Margilan to establish their own ikat weaving business. This is the same business he continues today.
Rosul and his team work from a beautiful 19th century madrassa (Islamic school). Built by a local businessman as a philanthropic donation to the community, it was closed during the Soviet era. Inaugurated in 2007 for the 2000th year anniversary of the city of Margilan by the Uzbek president, the madrassa is a stunning piece of architecture; one of only two madrassas in Central Asia with a running water channel flowing through it. The individual madrasa cells, once taken up by students, are now given over to several local master craftsmen - a coppersmith creating stunning brass and copper work, a felt making unit of women and one cell for suzani embroidery. The rest of the cells are used by Rosul's team, and the winter mosque of the building, an enclosed area with high ceilings and intricately painted wooden beams, is the showroom for the stunning ikats they create.
HOWS. What is the difference between a master weaver and a weaver?
Rosul: A weaver must weave what the master tells him to. All the calculations, the drawings and the selection of the design is made by the master. There are two ways to become a master weaver. The first is to be an apprentice to a master, to learn from him. When the apprentice wants to leave, to work independently, the master must agree to it. The tradition is for the father of the apprentice to then bring gifts to the master, such as chapans (thick, Central Asian robes). The second way is to work with your father, and this way you continue to work together and learn the art until your father retires, when you take his position as Master Weaver.
HOWS. How many people work in your unit?
Rosul: There are a total of 52 people working in the ikat unit; my partner, Aziz, and I, who manage the entire operation; and the binders, dyers and weavers.
HOWS. What is the proudest moment of your career?
Rosul: Reviving the complicated technique of velvet ikat production.
HOWS. What does ikat mean to you?
Rosul: Ikat is my ancestor's work. It came to me by blood. There is an Uzbek saying, "if you continue your father's work, you will be more prosperous". I believe this.
HOWS. What is the most challenging element of ikat?
Rosul: Now there is no aspect of ikat production which is difficult for me. The hardest part, however, is choosing the designs which will be most popular.