Master felt designer and fabricator Zhanyl Baisheva lives and works in the small Kyrgyzstan town of Bokonbaevo. From childhood, she grew up watching her mother and grandmother work; they, along with untold generations before them, produced warm felted wool goods.
During and just after the Soviet era, however, Baisheva and other artisans experienced turbulent times both economically and socially, and synthetic goods threatened to erase centuries of handmade creativity. “That time was very difficult for me,” recalls Baisheva. “I knew that the future of my children was in my hands, so I started to talk to other women, and in 1994 we organized a group called Altyn Oimok.” This artist collective bloomed and began to provide economic opportunities for the women of Bokonbaevo and in nearby villages as well. Over twenty years later, Baisheva and her collective are recognized by UNESCO for the work they do.
Ever since Kyrgyz people domesticated sheep, they have used felt to cover yurts and to decorate the insides of their dwellings with wall hangings, and shyrdak and ala kiyiz—types of carpets—on the ground to keep their feet warm. Baisheva continues this tradition, and all her processes of felt-making are still done by hand solely relying on ancient methods. Wool is purchased from local farmers, then turned into felt, then dyed with organic pigments. Another group of masters cut the felt in the shape of various symbolic and floral patterns, before putting them together to form a finished product.