Thursday 16 May 2013

Fergana Valley

We have had a good time here. I think it is because they have a pool here with a restaurant and bar alongside and the evenings have been spent by the pool chatting and drinking the local wine which is not at all bad and costs eight US dollars a bottle!!!!! This is the first time the group has spent a few hours relaxing together.

Yesterday we visited a palace at Margilan full of the usual beautiful walls, doors and ceilings. It is 18th century and is only a fraction of what it was when built at 19 rooms left out of 130.

We also visited a silk factory where we saw everything from silkworms munching their way to a silk scarf to the final atlas fabric in colourful ikat. Atlas is part silk, part cotton. The cotton warp is tie dyed several times to get the pattern.

Four men were tying this warp up for the second time. It has been dyed a brilliant blue with acid dyes already. The warp is 250 metres long and we saw the warping wheel they used!

The dyeing vats are set into concrete and they have a fire of wood under one end. And then to the weaving shed. Oh my! Some of the looms had two shafts and wove tabby. They overset the warp at 50 epi whereas looking at it, I would set it at 30 epi for a balanced weave. The weft is fine silk in white or black. The result is a warp faced fabric. However a lot of the looms, at least half were on more shafts and were weaving a 2 and1 twill which, of course, gives a fabric which is brilliant on one side where it is warp faced and muted on the other which is weft faced. It is also thicker than the tabby fabric. Interestingly enough, every loom had a flying shuttle and the weavers (female) got up a good speed. Rather more than one throw over second.

A warp on the loom.

Method of keeping tension on a warp of 250 metres, stuff most of it in a pillow case!! Note the hefty weight for tension on the used portion.

And here is a loom. They had four or five metal looms but most were wooden.

We were there for a long time and I bought two pieces of fabric, both atlas, which is the twill cotton and silk. One piece is in Central Asian colours and is to bind books in. I could not resist the other piece which is very large red tulips. I do not see how I could ever cut it up. But at 14 USD per metre, how could I leave it there?

Then on to the market which was the finest fruit and veg market I have ever send anywhere. The stalls are grouped together. So there is a corner devoted to potatoes with every stall selling several varieties. And another section selling nothing but onions. And then the general veg stalls with not a nibbled leaf in sight And the fruit!! Fergana Valley is the fruit bowl of Azerbajian. Fresh strawberries, black cherries, delicious apricots which are very cheap. Noticeably oranges and bananas which are imported we very expensive. No bargaining in this market.

Did I mention the spices?

Later we visited some tombs and a ceramics place which was very good and then back to the hotel. By this time it was very hot.

In the countryside, all the village streets are lined with vines for eating grapes. It is a great export market. A great place. But now the next stage. We are on our way to China and need to cross the high mountains to get there. Tonight we sleep in a yurt. Not for fun but because there is nothing else!!!!!


Monday 13 May 2013

On the way to Fergana

We are going to Fergana next which is the centre of silk weaving in Uzbekistan. But we have to fly to Tashkent and then to Fergana so it takes all day. There will be nothing to report on so I thought I would write down a few thoughts.

Uzbekistan is in the rice zone. Sure bread appears at every meal but rice is what you have with the main meal. For example plov is the local version of pilau or pilaff. It has chickpeas in it and vegetable as well as meat or chicken. By meat I mean beef here but further west we were only offered lamb. Soup is g old and is a large bowl of a rather liquid stew. There was a splendid dish of rice, beef and apricots served at lunch time.

The roads may be terrible but there are a lot of new cars around mostly Toyotas. The local buses are frequent and much patronised. They do not pay much attention to numbers. Just pack in the customers until they are hanging on by the door handles - outside.

The drains and plumbing are distinctly dodgy.

The people are incredibly friendly and most of them want their photo taken with a gang of Europeans. They are not after money. The children get taught English from kindergarten!! And they love to practise. The mean mostly wear western dress, jeans, Tshirt. But the women wear long robes based on traditional dress. Mostly with bling. If it is not woven with lured or embroidered with gold, it is not worth having. This appLies to all ages.

The last comment is the local currency which is the som and rate is 2200 soms to the US dollar. The highest denomination is 1000 soms so if you change 50 dollars, you get 110 notes each of 1000 soms. Goodness only knows what you do if you want to buy a car. Take along a forklift truck I suppose.


This is what I came for - to stand in the middle of Registan Square in Samarkand. Beauty beyond imagination.
And the inside is worthy of the outside.

Another trellis window. I cannot tell you how many beautiful buildings there are in Samarkand. I have a huge number of pictures and I hope I shall be able to recall what was where. I am downloading my photos to the iPad every day, cropping etc and then uploading them to Picasa with captions. It does at least tell me where I was and when because the album title contains the date and place. We spent all today sightseeing. Hard work for someone who was poorly yesterday. I sat out the tour of the excavations and the cemetery

We visited a factory making mulberry paper but this was so interesting that I will finally set up a website when I get home and put in a section on visiting a silk factory as well. The only thing which I have to write down is that they showed four herbs for natural dyes, pomegranate husks, asparagus tops, madder and walnut shells and were adamant they used no mordant or chemicals. The textile experts amongst us were not convinced. The silk was for carpet weft so was not at all tightly spun.

We were invited to try our hands at marbling paper at the paper factory. The above is a stunning piece done by Barbara. It was done on water not carrageen. Water is the Japanese way.


Bukhara 11/05/13

We are now in Samarkand. Yesterday has disappeared because I had a tummy bug. It has wiped out all memory between 7pm on 11 th May and this morning at 0530 am when I finally resurfaced. I have just sorted through my photos for Bukhara and it was stunning. I don't think I can identify which building was which but the photos will give a flavour of the city.

Tiled decoration on a mosque

The walls of the Ark - Bukhara's fortress with a few blue tiled domes in the background.

Could you call this a fence?

A very complicated piece of tiling

A spice merchant and yes I bought some spices. He did a nice line in giving us all some spice tea. No tea in it, and he recited a list of the fourteen spices which it contained with what each was good for. It tasted good too. I also bought a spice mixture for use with cooked meat and was given strict instructions on how to use it.

We were taken to a Susani shop. For those of you who don't know, a Susani is a piece of cloth embroidered with flowers and fruit, all in chain stitch. They vary from cotton on cotton to silk on silk with prices to match. I bought some cushion covers as presents. I have to confess that I also bought a rug. I have to keep saying to myself, 'Pat, you can't take it with you and you now own a Bukhara silk rug of great beauty.' It is done at 350 knots per square inch if it isn't per square cm. Anyway, the best of Turkish silk rugs was done at 240.

It is being shipped back home along with Susanis bought by Debbie and me. The shop was not at all keen on shipping back Susanis presumably because the cost of postage was too high compared with the cost of the Susanis. But they were happy to ship back the rug and include the Susanis.

We arrived in Samarkand in late afternoon yesterday after another bone breaking journey. All I can say is that their motor vehicles cannot last long. Some of the group went off to Registan Square while the rest collapsed into bed. I am sorry to missed Registan square. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to see it today but I think we have full program today.


Saturday 11 May 2013


Khiva is small but beautiful. I took a raft of photos and even after selecting the best, I have a lot left. Khiva is famous for its carved wood. Even the smallest house has a beautifully carved wooden pillar.

An example of Khiva carving. And there are screens and doors too.

And I bought a folding wooden book rest. It has umpteen positions and I will take some photos when I get home.


And then there are the buildings - blue tiles everywhere. The town itself is surrounded by a city wall which is mostly intact.

With several ornate gates into it.

After breakfast, Zafar, our guide, took a group of us to the market. This was a fruit and veg market. And the town was shopping.

Ladies selling veg, the piles are grated carrots and beet root.

Pulses in the market. I bought some spices in the market. One is dried tomato powder!!! The other was called hot-hot by the seller. So that is going to be interesting. Then he took us to a high class souvenir shop when everyone went crazy. Puppets were bought (very high class. Paper mâché heads and beautifully made cloths), silk Ikat scarves, carved wood, Susani jackets of black silk velvet (Susiani means embroidered). The guide tells we can do better for Susanis in Bokhara. He had better be right.

After that it was into the bus and off to Bokhara. There is supposed to be a motorway between Khiva and Bokhara but about on third of it was functional. The rest was the usual bone breaker surface. So it was another long day. Everyone has had quite enough of desert. When we got near to Bokhara, there was water and lots of cultivation.

A donkey and cart taking home mulberry branches for the silkworms.

To finish off this is my bedroom in the Bokhara hotel and the curtain was Ikat cotton!!!!

Above Ikat cotton curtain. It does seem as though there has not been anything like enough on textiles. While there are clearly lots of Susanis in Bokhara. I don' t to spend my money and my luggage space on embroideries.

Off to breakfast and then a day's walking round Bokhara. Zafar has got it right about timing and he includes time for breaks. He organises everything for us and spending a lot of time counting heads in Uzbeki. He also has a nice line in jokes. 'Communing with nature' is a comfort stop. Mind you, in the desert, finding a suitable place is difficult. One group member described it as hunting for a branch with two leaves on it while trying to avoid everyone else hunting for branches with three leaves.


Friday 10 May 2013

Travel in the Desert

This was very tiring and bone shaking. We were off road for four hours yesterday, arrived at the Aral Sea just as the sun was setting and opted to paddle. Extremely muddy.

The Aral Sea and foreshore. Camped in a very windy place on very hard ground and so slept very little. Next day, we drove 3 hours off road to a place which used to be a fishing town. The Aral Sea has shrunk to a fraction of its former self leaving a collection of fishing boats to rot.

Fishing boats rotting in the desert.

Then another five hours on roads but bad roads back to Nukus where we changed to a bus and were driven another 2.5 hours to Khiva. Altogether too much driving and several people are feeling very unwell and tomorrow we have another long journey to Bokhara.

I have had too much of all this and intend to get up early and walk round the city walls. We are promised a tip to the local market if we are ready at 8am.

The sheep here are black and white, severally and together - like Jacobs. The flocks are large, at least 100, and usually with at least one shepherd and one boy looking after them. Flocks of camels grazing and south of Nukus small flocks of black and white goats.

On the textile front, the hotel is decorated with embroidered cloths which are very colourful. There were two or three ikats, even vulgarer than normal. I do not see me buying one of these, even as a present.

Postscript next morning. I got up early and walked round for an hour. Khiva is very beautiful. More photos will posted tonight. Now we are off to the fruit and veg market.


Wednesday 8 May 2013


Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, was clearly very wealthy off oil and gas revenues. We got into Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan, and that is even wealthier. The streets may not be paved with gold but they are lined with marble. We got in at 2330 and spent some time going through passport control and then were driven to our hotel. Very grand with excellent facilities - like hot water in the right taps!! So at 1230, I started proceedings by washing some clothes. They are nearly dry this morning. We have been allowed to sleep in this morning and are not being collected until 10. Our guide is probably wondering why we are all so friendly. He is a real charmer and has done all the right things. I don't think many of us would return to Azerbaijan willingly.

Modern buildings in Baku

Old city of Baku

Ashgabat is more or less completely modern. A severe (9) earthquake in1947 left 20,000 alive out of 200,000. And the present socialist Government and spent the oil/gas revenues on rebuilding. So Ashgabat has marble-clad bakeries and air-conditioned bus-stops. They need that - it was 35 degrees C yesterday. They also have a good museum where we were given an excellent guided tour. The moral of which is that everybody fought with everyone else and then married them.

After that it was off to lunch and then into four 4x4s and North into the desert where we camped in tents under a starry sky. One of the drivers got a fire going and cooked lamb kebabs for our supper. First rate.

Note the dirty shoes and the desert background. There was a gas crater nearby which has been burning for years. The spot of blue on the other side of the crater is Debbie.

The next day we were up early and drove further north to Urgench which is a UNESCO world heritage site. In the 11/12th century, this was the biggest city in Central Asia. Tamerlane wiped it out and took everyone left to Samarkand to build his new city there. The point is that from the ruins left you can see that the great architecture of Samarkand, Bukhara etc started here.

The dome of a mausoleum at Urgench

A pierced window in the same building.

The archway entrance to one of the caravanserai. The area covered is huge. We were driven between monuments.

And this is our vehicle plus driver.

Then to the border which took two hours to cross. Someone said we showed our passports seven times on the Turkmenistan side and four times on the Uzbekistan side. We are now in Nukus in the only hotel. The food last night was very different from anything we have been eating. Soup, beef stroganoff and a slice of Swiss Roll. Mashed potato with the meat. Today we are off to see a Museum and into 4by4s and to the Aral Sea.

The first thing everyone did on arrival as to wash themselves and their clothes. Mine are all dry. It is going to be 35 again today.


Sunday 5 May 2013

General comments

Today we are being bussed from Sheki to Baku. It will take six hours and apparently Baku is snarled up with an International marathon!! We have gone over mountains with snaking roads and steep inclines. And we have just paid eight US dollars each for a pIece of bread and three small tough pieces of meat. In other words , this is rip off country. The hotel was fairly awful. As an example, there was no hot water in the wash hand basin but scalding water out of the shower and no cold water. I have never slept in a place with so many cobwebs and someone had an enormous bracket fungus in their bathroom. Not to mention, the dirty toilets. And the guide was awful. The net result is that we cannot wait to leave this country.

Having said all that, the food at the hotel was good and served in little kiosks in a rather nice garden and dinner last night was a real pleasure.

It's the luck of the draw I suppose. A typical ripoff example is my purchase of an embroidered cap for eight maenats. They want to be paid in US dollars and she translated this as 15 dollars which it is rffnot. So. I handed her 11 dollars and told her that was correct. She did not complain, so probably the maenat price was inflated. But it is like that all the time - with every transaction.

The problem with the guide is that we now do note believe anything she says. She wanted to take us to see a mosque and I started asking questions. It turns out it burnt down some years ago and is being repaired so there is nothing to see. So the group is revolting. It was the last straw.

So the palace and the Albanian church were seeing but we saw a lot of nothing special. Baku, on the other hand, is an expensive Western city with branches of Prada, Armani, Porsche et cetera. The old city is very fine and I wish we had been turned loose to wonder. We are flying to Turkmenistan in 30 minutes and you won't hear from me for two days.


Sheki 4th May

Yesterday we were escorted round Sheki. Not entirely satisfactory. The museum was a joke and there was the hard sell like we have not met until now. I did buy three scarves and an embroidered cap because they were rather nice, not to say lovely. But I got tired of being rooked. They all want paying in US dollars and you get no change. When the cap she said it was 15 dollars. I gave her 12 and she did not complain.

There are two things worth seeing here, the palace and the Albanian church.

Facade of the palace

Sample of the interior which is delightful. Painted vases of flowers everywhere

The Albanian church. The first church is said to be 1st AD which seems very early. The church is up a very steep hill with fantastic views over the valley.

And just to show I am interested in textiles. Here are some Azerbajani sheep.



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About Me

I am weaver and - -. I dye my yarns with acid dyes, I paint my warps, put fabric collages and stencils on my weaving. I have three looms, a 12 inch wide, 12 shaft Meyer for demos and courses, a 30 inch Louet Kombo which is nominally portable but has a stand, two extra beams and a home-made device containing a fan reed. And last a 32 shaft Louet Megado which is computer controlled, has a sectional warp and a second warp beam and I am the proud owner of an AVL warping wheel which I love to bits and started by drilling holes in. I inserted a device for putting a cross in. I have just acquired an inkle loom and had a lesson from an expert so I can watch TV and weave at the same time. I am interested in weaving with silk mostly 60/2 although I do quite a bit with 90/2 silk. I also count myself as a bookbinder with a special interest in Coptic binding.