Uzbek textiles are taking the fashion world by storm

From Fergana Valley in the 12th century to Ralph Lauren’s spring collection in 2022 – Uzbek textiles had a significant impact on the fashion world.

The timeless beauty and unique vibe of ikat fabrics and silk ikat textiles keep capturing the attention of the fashion world over, and over again. Mesmerizing patterns and intense colors co-create the future’s authentic and bold fashion statements. Whether a genderless line of clothing or a classic one – ikat is there to add a little spark and light up the entire collection.

Types of Uzbek textiles

One of the most popular Uzbek textiles is Khan-atlas. It is a piece of hand-embroidered cloth, and it is woven using a complex technique called Ikat.

Khan-atlas – the most famous Uzbek textile

Khan-atlas is one of the most famous fabrics in Uzbekistan. Made from dense silk and natural dyes, the fabric is extremely pleasing to the eye. In ancient times, textiles were used by royalty, but today every girl can afford to wear it. In addition, some families have preserved the art of weaving and dyeing the fabric, preserving the secrets of this national fabric for generations to come.

Creating the Uzbek khan atlas fabric is a laborious process that is very intricate and unique. It involves separating silk filaments from a silkworm cocoon and dyeing them. In the past, only vegetable ingredients were used to stain the fabric. The blue color was obtained through indigo, while red and yellow colors were obtained with madder and isparak.

The traditional attire of Uzbek women and men is characterized by colorful patterns and stripes. They are often adorned with sequins and other decorative elements. Men wear buttonless robes that reach the knees and are tied with a triangular embroidered girdle. Women typically wear long patterned skirts without girdles.

The khan-atlas has many legends related to it. An ancient story relates the fate of the khan-atlas’ creator: a rich ruler of Margilan fell in love with the daughter of a poor weaver. The old khan wanted to make this young woman his fifth wife. The father pleaded with the khan to let his daughter alone, but the khan refused.

Islimi – a type of relief carving

Uzbek textile is traditionally embroidered with a cross pattern called islimi. This pattern, which is a form of relief carving, creates the impression of a thin lace covering the product. Islimi is a very old technique and has been used for centuries in Uzbekistan.

In the late nineteenth century, Bukhara became the center of Uzbek gold sewing. The process started with a thin strip of gilded metal wrapped around silk or paper thread. Eventually, craftsmen began using gimp thread. Some wall paintings in the city of Bukhara show gold embroidery as far back as the early Middle Ages.

Organza – a transparent, thin, slightly harsh fabric

Organza is a beautiful, transparent textile woven by twisting the fibers together. It was originally made in East Asia and brought to Europe in the 18th century as one of the luxuries of the new world. Although its origins are obscure, many sources attribute it to the American company Logranza (founded in 1820), while others attribute it to the ancient Uzbek city of Urgench, which was engaged in natural silk production.

Ikat – a distinctive weaving technique

To get a better understanding of the powerful position ikat design, we’ll pay a visit to Central Asia a couple of centuries ago.

More precisely, we’ll travel to the Silk Road, a magical place at the heart of Uzbekistan, where mountains and the steppe face the mystique desert. The turbulent history of wars makes this area a unique melting pot of cultures.

It was right here that merchants, pilgrims, and envoys exchanged ideas and creativity, not only through trade but also in technology and arts.

The secret behind ikat weaving

This method requires a warp made of a combination of silk and cotton threads. The warps are woven in various styles to create a texture that is both tactile and visually appealing. Silk and cotton plain weave failles, satins, and velvets are also used to enhance the visual appeal of ikat. The fabrics are used in decorative purposes and to reflect wealth.

The warp ikat process is simpler than that of the weft ikat fabric. First, the yarns are wound onto a tying frame. They are then separated into bundles. This binding process is time-consuming and requires precision in order to create the patterns. The thread bundles are then folded like paper dolls and bound with a basic ikat motif, which is repeated each time the threads are unfolded for weaving. The weaving process is followed by hand-dying each thread, and in some cases, this can also be done using a natural dye.

The process of making ikat involves 37 steps and the use of many artisan hands. It can take up to two months to create one ikat fabric. The process is environmentally friendly and contributes to a cleaner atmosphere. The process requires meticulous care and diligence. The end result is a unique fabric that is worth a look.

The colorful backstory of ikat design

Central Asian ikat fabric was commercially manufactured for both urban and rural consumption and made into utilitarian objects such as hangings and robes. It was precious and prestigious due to the high cost of silk and a sophisticated production sequence that required a large and highly skilled workforce of designers, binders, dyers, and weavers.

Fergana Valley is the place where abrbandi magic was born. In this place, generations of people used their passion and mastery to develop and refine patterns and techniques of weaving.

Uzbek technique, abrbandi, meaning “bound cloud”, is one of the most awe-inspiring weaving techniques and it is based on a resist dye process. The process consists of the bounding of the warp yarns (vertical threads), which are later on dyed by hand before being woven with the weft yarns (horizontal threads).

Wearing an ikat robe in the 12th century was equal to wearing a medal around the neck. In fact, for centuries, royal commendation was traditionally wearing this exquisite robe as a replacement for a medal. This tradition was well established in Central Asian courts, and it lasted until the Soviet regime brought an end to this custom.

Ikat design evolution

lkat fabric derives its name from the technique used to decorate it. In this method, before weaving commences, parts of the warp or weft yarns are bound off to resist dye penetration, resulting in complex patterns of brilliant colors.

Ikat was a dyer’s art as it was relying on his mastery and creativity, as well as the clear and unhindered communication with the designer. Dye had to be tried and tested, so it could penetrate the yarn evenly and be colorfast.

The earliest surviving ikat textiles belong to craftspeople from Bukhara, a beautiful city placed in one of the fertile Central Asia oases. From 1785 to 1920, Bukhara thrived as a cultural and political center of the region.

An especially interesting time for ikat textiles was the 19th century. 

The ikat designers in the earlier years went for intricate but speckled patterns. By the end of the century, bold graphic designs became fashionable. These designs, spanning one hundred years, embodied the line, form, and color focus of abstract art and expressionist paintings.

Ikat design carries a spirit of nature with it. The inspiration for patterns typically comes from birds, scorpions, flowers, and trees.

Weaving ikat into the modern fashion world

Fashion designers have now started incorporating Uzbek designs into international fashion shows. This is because Uzbeks excel at weaving fine fabrics using natural fibers. Moreover, the government has promoted the textile industry to help the economy and improve the living standards of its citizens.

It has also promoted locally made garments over those from China so that its factories can make enough money to last through the winter months. Naturally, this has led to an increase in local designs that are now being incorporated into international fashion trends.

What makes Uzbek textiles so special?

Typically white with beautiful geometric patterns, Uzbek outfits show off the country’s beautiful natural resources. The colors used in these designs range from light to dark green, blue, yellow, red, and violet. To complement these hues, different natural materials – including sheep’s wool, mohair, and camel’s wool – are also used in these outfits.

Silk fabric from China still dominates fashion shows because it is harder to obtain locally-made fabrics in large quantities. However, with increasing trade between China and Uzbekistan, more local designs are gaining popularity among fashionistas worldwide.

Given their fine textiles, beautiful natural resources, and famous culture, Uzbek outfits are perfect for local or international fashion shows. They showcase the nation’s traditions as well as its unique beauty- which inspires other creative minds to create new designs based on these assets. Additionally, incorporating local designs into internationally popular cultural trends makes for an exciting future for Central Asian fashion!

From New York to London – ikat takes over

One of the major inspirations for world-famous couturiers, fashion houses, designers, and artists are ikat fabrics and silk ikat textiles. Two significant ikat-inspired textile exhibitions were held at the Freer Gallery of Art and the Textile Museum at George Washington University in 2018.

A number of visitors, especially those from the fashion industry, admired the beautiful pattern of the ikat fabric and noted that it can be used to create elegant as well as irresistible modern designs.

Most compelling ikat-inspired collections worldwide

For many years, the use of ikat or prints from it in the clothing and furniture industry has been an element of modern design in the United States.

Ralph Lauren, the world-renowned American fashion house, has introduced their new spring collection for 2022, inspired and created from ikat with the Uzbek national pattern.

Taking its inspiration directly from the archival image, this collection retains its eclectic, laid-back spirit while amplifying colors and shapes for the modern woman. Chinos or jeans with artfully embroidered details are worn with Ikat tailcoats and blazers. This season’s ikat leather dress is laser cut into strips for an almost origami effect, typifying its artisanal approach.

On the other hand, the London Fashion Week collection titled “Margilan”, deeply translates the spirit of ikat history. This collection features a traditional Uzbekistani way of dye-weaving fabric and threads.

At its base, the collection will have a black color with trimmings made of multi-color utlas fabric sourced from the Fergana Region in eastern Uzbekistan. Also, according to the designer, the dresses will be featured in full and knee length.

The exclusive fabric was sourced by designer Omar Mansoor during a visit to Uzbekistan in August. His idea was to give Uzbek fabrics the recognition it deserves on a global platform. Famous for his occasion wear, Omar has also created fashion pieces for international royalty and celebrities.

The future of ikat design

As we are becoming more eco-oriented on a global scale, natural fabrics such as ikat and silk ikat textiles will become more and more relevant. Focus on sustainability and quality will allow the old ways of doing things to meet the new values down the road. It feels like the fashion future will focus on blending the best of both worlds.

On the other hand, the massive potential for creative exploration that Uzbek textile offers is going nowhere.

Fashion designers and artists across the world will get to incorporate mystical patterns and rich colors into new collections without fear of repeating themselves. Ikat made it through centuries due to its versatility. Somehow each designer, dyer, and weaver managed to breathe in something new and different. Uniqueness and adaptability are some of the greatest qualities ikat design offers, which is why we are looking forward to more incredible ikat-inspired fashion pieces in the future.