Oa­sis dwellers’ knack for spin­ning yarn

Mak­ers of tra­di­tional Uygur silk have no in­ten­tion of al­low­ing their an­cient craft to die in the desert

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG - By CUI JIA in Hotan cui­jia@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

WANG ZHUANG FEI / CHINA DAILY

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.

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