Kazakh embroidery

So I was finally able to connect with my affiliate organization here, Mary and Martha Mongolia, and spent some quality time powwowing with the company’s founder Bill Manley. Mary and Martha are a Fair Trade company that work with a number of artisan co-ops and families throughout Mongolia who make everything from felt, to paper products, knitwear, silk-painting and embroidered goods. Bill has graciously agreed to put me in touch with his artisans for my research, and has been arranging visits with them for the next few weeks. Unrelated to my project here, (but rather my work with my nonprofit Daughters Rising), it was also really inspiring to meet with someone who has made such a successful business working with local artisans. I hope to soak up as much knowledge and business-sense from him as possible during my time here!

So yesterday, Bill took me out to meet one of his Kazakh embroidery producers, in a small town 40 minutes outside the city. Kazakhs are a Muslim minority here in Mongolia who have distinctively different cultural traditions and lifestyle than the Mongol ethnic majority (Kalkhs). They speak Kazakh at home and actually learn Monoglian as a second language, which can create problems navigating mainstream Mongolian society, as i’m sure you can imagine. One of the Kazakh traditions that they continue is their hand embroidery, which consists of gorgeously elaborate swirling patterns of chain stitches that they use to adorn, well, almost everything. (you’ll see what I mean in the pictures below).

Yesterday’s powwow was more of a preliminary meeting (not so much sitting and actually embroidering yet) but I hope to go back and hang with some of the ladies i met as soon as possible! Here are a few pics from the trip:

This is the workshop where the embroidered pieces are assembled into various bags and other products:

They showed me how they use templates to create the patterns for the embroiderers to follow- first they create the designs on the computer, print them out, then use wax paper to poke holes along the lines of the pattern:

they then make a paste of flour, milk and salt which they rub through the wax paper pattern onto the fabric:

and voila!

They also had beautiful felted/ embroidered rugs… which I hope to learn to make also!

After the workshop, we went to meet some of the individual embroiderers who work out of their homes. This is one of the woman’s gers- as you’ll see from the inside, she and I have a lot in common as far as our taste in interior decorating:

I got a little overexcited when I saw the embroidered pillows in the pic above and I think they thought i was a bit of a weirdo… though I’m hoping they’ll chalk it up to cultural differences and assume that all artists from New York squeal and flap their arms at the sight of embroidered pillows.

here’s a quick video… the speed of her handiwork is pretty damn impressive:

and on to another woman’s house where she showed us her work:

including a different style of embroidery that she used to make this piece when she first got married:

I should also mention that at the workshop owner’s house we were fed copious amounts of  homemade bread (amazing!) and milk tea, and fruit, and nuts, and halva! then mutton..and french fries, and rice… and more tea… quite the gluttonous afternoon.

All in all a fantastic day. Can’t wait to go back!

2 thoughts on “Kazakh embroidery

  1. Hannah…I think you found a kindred spirit!!!!! The inside of the Ger looked like your bedroom on 9th street!!!!!! I can’t wait to buy one of the beautiful bags!!!

  2. Hi Han, The embroidery is amazing!!! I loved your pics, especially of the little old lady!!! It sounds like you are having such a great trip. I miss you a lot!!! Love, Aunt Teri

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