Until the first quarter of the 20th century, Uzbekistan’s tailors, designers and embroiderers were part of a guild system. When the region came under Soviet rule, Uzbek ethnic identity was repressed along with strict modernization programs that were initiated, resulting in decreased output of handmade textiles that were replaced by factory made fabrics. It wasn’t until 1991 with the breakdown of the Soviet Union that there was a resurgence of the rich Uzbek textile tradition whose heritage is reflected in cross-cultural elements that traveled via the Silk Road.
Bibi Hanum, founded by artisan Muhayo Aliyeva, brings those textile traditions to the 21st century by creating clothing and accessories using handwoven ikat fabrics made by master craftsmen in the Fergana Valley.
In creating the garments, Aliyeva explains that she provides the designs and fabrics to the artisans within the region. “I create my designs in the computer first, because it helps me see the color combinations easily. I select the appropriate fabric and draw the patterns on paper if necessary. Most of the time, artisans in the regions can replicate my drawings and embroider according to the design. We also use traditional machine embroidery for our garments. It is usually faster and cost-effective as opposed to hand embroidery.”
For the ikat designs, Aliyeva combs through old books and photographs to recreate or come up with a variation. “The weavers can replicate the design and weave the fabric for us. I wanted to try suzani patterns on ikat. The fabric is still being woven and hopefully the results will be beautiful. After creating the designs of the garments and accessories, we create the samples.”
The company employs 15 women artisans who work in the workshop. When large orders come in, Aliyeva hires more women who work from home. “We order large quantities of ikat from Margilan which creates economic opportunities for many weavers. We also help women in Urgut village in Samarkand by ordering large amounts of hand-embroidered braids for our garments and accessories,” she explained
Last year, Bibi Hanum exhibited in Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market with a line of revived kaftans. “The income from the market helped us recreate more ikat designs and expand the assortment of products we produce. We were able to bring several more women to work with us since we got more orders after the market,” said Aliyeva.
This winter, Bibi Hanum will be attending Artisan Resource at NY NOW™ at Pier 94 from February 1-4 with intention to meet new contacts in the US retail market. The company will be displaying embroidered men’s ties, table runners, pillow covers, ikat purses and bags, decorative ikat jackets, embroidered tunics and robes.