Traditionally women’s and men’s robes of strict tailoring were made of the abre fabrics, as well as the silk and semi-silk pillowcases, fancy kurpacha, quilts and coverlets for furniture. Local designers in developing their collections also use mainly the silk fabric. Moreover, the world fashion centers turned their eyes on the fabric with the resonant name “ikat” – derived from Indonesian word “to tie, to reserve”, which is the main technical method of production of the handmade fabrics in Uzbekistan as well, where in relation to these fabrics the term “abre” is being used – from Persian “abre” meaning cloud. According to the craftsmen, the patterns on these fabrics resemble the clouds floating in the sky.
According to archaeological excavations, the first samples of silk fabrics have been brought to the southern regions of Uzbekistan in the middle of the second millennium BC (1), and their production refers to the first centuries of our era (2). Already in the VI – VII centuries AD on the territory of present-day Uzbekistan the production of silk and semi-silk fabrics reached its high level, indicating to formation of the independent school of the art of silk weaving here (3). During this period the trade along the Great Silk Road was flourishing, the key trading centers were Samarkand, Bukhara and Ferghana. The Silk Road connected the civilizations of East and West, while the silk has become one of the most valuable commodities. During the excavations of some of the ancient settlements on the territory of Uzbekistan, the Caucasus, and the Western Europe the samples of fabrics produced in the VII century in the silk weaving workshop that has been located in the village of Zandana near Bukhara were found. In the world literature these fabrics have been mentioned under the name of “zandanechi”. The clothes of the characters, depicted on the preserved wall paintings of Afrasiab and Varakhsha of VII – VIII centuries were made from this fabric precisely. The fabrics used to be exported from Sogd on the territory of Central Asia to Europe via the so-called Northern Silk Road, which was laid by the Sogdians and Turks through the Caucasus and the Black Sea region (4).
According to the written sources (Al-Tabari, Narshakhi, Bayhaqi), in IX – beginning of the XIII century, on the territory of Transoxiana (Maverranakhr) in the cities like Samarkand and Bukhara, different kinds of the richly ornamented silk, half-silk and cotton fabrics used to be produced, many of which were exported to the countries of the Middle East.
The travel notes of the Spanish Ambassador Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, made during his stay in the Palace of Tamerlane (Amir Temur), in particular, mention the production of silk fabrics in the XIV – XVI centuries. So, in his diary Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo describes the luxurious tents made of silk fabric, placed in the gardens and meadows. In his tents the Governor used to receive the foreign guests and ambassadors, who were given the squares of the patterned silk fabric. Textile art in the epoch of Timurids was distinguished by the variety of fabrics and their ornamentation. The gorgeous colorful bedspreads, gold embroidery fabric for horse rugs or robes were manufactured in Samarkand and other cities of the Central Asia. The world renowned brocade, silk and cotton fabric of high quality used to be produced there. In the patterns and technologies of production of fabrics and ceramics in this period, the influence of Chinese iconography can be noticed – there are images of dragons, phoenixes, vague motifs of clouds that gave name to the famous local silk fabrics – abre.
Major schools of the local Uzbek silk weaving have been formed in the end of the XVIII – early XIX century in Bukhara, Namangan, Margilan, Samarkand, Shahrisabz, Kitab, Karshi, Hodjent, Urgut, Khiva and others. Here the silk fabric, called by the local craftsmen “abrbandi” – the woven patterns in the form of a cloud, used to be produced. The abre fabrics are divided into two large types by their interweaving – a silk in which the base and the weft are of natural silk, and the adras, in which the base is made of natural silk and the weft is of cotton yarn.
The factory manufactured cotton, silk and brocade from Russia that flooded Turkestan in the second half of the XIX century fabrics have ousted the locally produced hand-made silk and semi-silk fabrics from the Uzbek markets, technology of Bakhmal fabric has been irrevocably lost. Only in the last decades, the local craftsmen have revived production of these unique fabrics, paying special attention to the revival of technologies of fabric dyeing with natural dyes. Today one of the most developed centers of the silk weaving in Uzbekistan is the city of Margilan. The dynasties of abrband weavers live there. The most famous among them is Mirzaakhmedov family. The chief craftsman in this dynasty was the abrband Turgunbay Mirzaakhmedov – the first craftsman, who received the UNESCO certificate for the contribution to preservation and development of traditional crafts. He manufactured various silk fabrics. Moreover, Turgunbay Mirzaakhmedov was a great draftsman. Now his son – Rasul Mirzaakhmedov continues the craftsmanship of abrband, using his father’s drawings. Rasul is the master in the ninth generation. In the early 2000s, on the basis of museum specimens, he restored the weaving of a unique type of silk fabric – Ala-Bakhmal, production of which had ceased a century ago. The abre fabrics of silk and semi-silk colored with natural dyes – worldwide known shoyi, atlas, adras, bekasab etc., – are produced in Margilan, in the Crafts Development Centre, which is headed by Rasul. The abrband, chismakoshi, gulavardor craftsmen, dyers and others work here.
The visibility and popularity of Uzbek silk fabrics are caused by the nature of the ornament and unusual color spectrum. The ornament of abre fabrics can be divided into several groups. The largest one is consisted of the motifs representing the household items, as well as vegetable and zoomorphic patterns. Quite varied are the geometric patterns – circles, diamonds, squares, straight line segments, zigzag lines, etc. The most wide spread patterns based on the images of the everyday objects are tarok – hair comb; kosa gul – flower decorating the bowl; ofotoba, kumgan – pitcher; zanjira – chain; tumorcha – the amulet, and others. The patterns of vegetative origin are quite limited among the motifs: darakht – tree, bodom – almond, anor – pomegranate, tovokda gul – flowers in a vase. Among the patterns of zoomorphic nature the most common motifs are kuchkorshohi – ram’s horns, chayon – scorpion, ilonizi – the trail of a serpent, yulbarsdumi – the tail of a tiger. Multicolor pattern, including all the colors of the solar spectrum, is called tirikamon – rainbow, bahor – spring, chaman – blooming, beshyurma – a five-color, kora atlas – black satin. The ornament reflects the ancient sacral-religious, magic beliefs that local craftsmen passed to next generations through the solar signs and zoomorphic motifs based on the principle of “one part representing the whole”. The plentiful world of poetic and folklore images are reflected in the variations of the motif of the tree of life, stylized and generalized patterns of flowers, fruits, climbing plants, etc.
The rich colors and the brightness of the palette of the Uzbek silk fabrics are associated with generous sunshine, nature, ethno-cultural traditions of the people, its rich folk poetry, full of amazing metaphors and parables. Depending on the social and age characteristics there was a symbolism of color. So, for wealthy young women the bright red, green, and Burgundy colors were intended, and for the clothing of older women and men the fabrics of more modest shades were used – light beige, yellow, light purple, etc.
The enduring interest in traditional silk fabrics, their historical and cultural role in the artistic heritage of Uzbekistan is defined by the fact that the most sacral traits of the national character, its aesthetic ideals, and cheerfulness of the worldview are expressed in this form of art, as well as in the epos, music, poetry and dance.