Oasis dwellers’ knack for spinning yarn
Makers of traditional Uygur silk have no intention of allowing their ancient craft to die in the desert
Every morning Ausman Tarim, 72, walks to a tiny factory near his home to put his wrinkled hands to work. There he does what he has been doing for the past 58 years: weaving etles, traditional Uygur silk that in a bygone age was among the most popular items on the Silk Road and which has become a symbol of the Uygur people.
Tarim and countless other villagers in Jiya, Hotan prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, have been making etles for more than 2,000 years and are determined to ensure that their fine skills will still exist in another 2,000 years.
“Little has changed,” Ausman says, sitting at the end of a wooden loom six and a half meters’ long. “We still use the same techniques and natural dyes, so what you see now is exactly what would have been sold on the ancient Silk Road.”
Yarns consisting of tie-dyed black and white silk (the tie-dyed refers to the process in which fabric is bound before it is dyed, resulting in a variegated pattern) is woven on the machine longitudinally, and Ausman’s job is to use lateral silk yarns to produce a piece of cloth.
Ausman says his craftsmanship is something his father passed on to him.
“It’s a family tradition and a very delicate job that deserves full concentration. My father said the smart ones can master weaving etles in less than two years, but with the dumbies it may take more than three years.”
He adds, laughing: “I’mthe dumb one.”
Etles is a Uygur word that means tie-died. In the wardrobes of Uygur women, dresses made of etles with unique patterns and bold color combinations are a must. When people years.
“More and more people are willing to pay a higher price for handmade ones because they see them as works of art.”
All of her family make etles, she says.
“It’s a family tradition, and it’s as though we are born to do it.”
The small factory in which Ausman works belongs to Jiya Beauty Company, the biggest etlescompany in Hotan, whose annual turnover is about 5 million yuan ($780,000), says RozmemetMetudi, the manager.
“More than 90 percent of what we make is sold outside Xinjiang, and some is exported overseas. It’s most popular in Uzbekistan, our neighbor.”
On Aug 24, the company says, it received 500,000 yuan in government funding to be used to give the traditional designs a modern twist so etles can be promoted on the world stage and bring more income to the villagers, who will also receive training so they canbecomecreative designers too.
Some Chinese fashion designers have incorporated etles elements into their works that they have shown around the world. Etles patterns have also been printed on mugs, cushions and even running shoes.
Amar Ali, 61, an etles master in Jiya, has just returned from Shanghai after promoting the craft there.
“People in Shanghai people loved it,” says Amar, who has been in the trade for 45 years.
“They were fascinated about how the etles is made. I really wish I had been able to take my wooden loom with me. Etles is very old, but with modern designs it can be made to appeal to the young and be very popular with modern designs.
“We Jiyans plan to keep it alive forever by sticking to tradition but also exploring the new.”
Plans are afoot to open an online etles shop, he says, and he has suggested that it include a video showing the operations of an etles factory.
“I’mconfident that with our beautiful etles no one will be able to resist.”
MaoWeihua and YangWanli contributed to the story.
Ausman Tarim, 72, starts his routine work every morning in a factory near his home in Hotan, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. He has been weaving traditional Uygur silk for 58 years.