Sewing, Embroidery and Felt Making

In Kalmykia, sewing, embroidery and felt-making have been regarded as women's crafts. Traditionally, women sewed and decorated clothes, hats, bedding, bags and cushions for domestic use. Materials that were used varied, ranging from silk and textiles to skin, felt and furs. Aside from cotton, silk and woolen threads, Kalmyks also used threads made from various animal fibers, including tendon and intestines. End products that were intended to reflect the status and craftsmanship of the family and its female members such as festive dresses, hats, bags and cushions were decorated with ornaments painstakingly sewed using gold, silver and vividly coloured threads.

Products made of felt were particularly popular. Felt of various widths and refinement was widely used for all kinds of coverings and containers, including the outer cover of the nomadic tent, rugs, mats and bags. For example, the outer cover of the tent was made of thick and dense felt layers, whereas those used for clothes were finer and lighter. Often, felt products were decorated with traditional embroidery, zeg ornaments in particular. Felt-making is a long and labour-intensive process. Firstly, sheep wool has to be sorted according to colour, then combed, cleaned, and beaten with a long stick until it turns into a light, fluffy mass. Afterwards, it is sprinkled with warm water, rolled up, and pressed. The felt roll is lifted and dropped by several people more than a thousand times to give it the required density and durability.


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Now showing 1 - 16 of 16
  • ItemOpen Access
    Vitaliy Zaseev, About felt making
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Terbish, Baasanjav
  • ItemOpen Access
    Exhibition of handicrafts
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2015-04-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Tatyana Dordzhieva, About felt
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
    Tatyana talks about how to make felt. The ground for felt making is cleaned. A cloth is put on the ground. The sheep’s wool is spread on the cloth and moisturized with water. Then it is lashed with a long rod, rolled up, lifted and thrown to the ground. After unrolling, the felt is left to dry. Traditionally, felt was used to make matrasses and cushions. During a wedding, the bride kneels on a felt mattress in front of her in-laws.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Maria Beltsikova, About felt making
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-12-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
    Maria remembers how in her childhood Kalmyks lived in yurts and made felt. To make felt, girls sat in a circle, holding long sticks in their hands with which they lashed the sheep’s wool. After lashing, the wool was sprinkled with water, pressed with hands, and rolled up. The rolled felt was then again lashed with sticks, lifted and thrown to the ground. The felt was unrolled and left to dry. Whips and harnesses were produced by special craftsmen.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Zurgada Antonova, About Felt Making
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-08-04) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira
    Felt is made from autumn wool (mochr). It is made as follows. Clay is spread on the ground and a cow skin is put on it. Then wool is spread evenly on the skin. Four or five women sit around and beat the wool with long sticks. The longer you beat the wool, the better. It turns into soft material resembling down. In the past, people counted their beating movements. Afterwards, the wool is sprinkled with water, beaten again with sticks, and rolled on the ground.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Shitlg Boskhomzhieva, How to Make Felt
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2015-11-16) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Dovurkaev, Karu; Gedeeva, Darina; Ubushieva, Bamba
    Wool is first washed, beaten by several people with special sticks, sprinkled with water, wrapped and rolled on the ground. The longer one rolls, the better the felt becomes. The best quality felt is made from autumn wool (mochr). The final product is cut into several pieces and decorated with ornaments. White wool can be mixed with brown (camel’s) wool.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Natalia Ledzhanova, Valentina Basangova, Embroidery
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-04-08) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Kovaeva, Bair; Khabunova, Evdokia
    This is Natalia’s story: My name is Natalia. I am a teacher at the Tsagan-Aman gymnasium. I sew and teach sewing to children. People often ask me about the dress that I am wearing now. The embroidery on my chest is called zeg. This dress is for married women. Married women’s dress could be brown as well, but it should not be red or yellow, because these colours were designated for Buddhist monks. This dress is made according to traditional rules. The sleeves are wide and long. All Kalmyk coats, be it for men, women or lamas, had long sleeves. A woman’s dress is decorated with embroidery that protects her from jealous looks. In other words, it is like a protective amulet. The sleeves are also decorated with an embroidery for the same purpose: so that nothing bad gets inside the dress through its sleeves. The hat that I am wearing is called khalmg, which is for married women. The left side of my hat has embroidery that represents my husbands’ family. The left side is decorated with a gold thread that represents my natal house. The top of my hat has plenty of knitting. All Kalmyk hats have a red tassel on top. This is a cover for women’s tresses called shivrlg. The end of the shivrlg has so-called tokug (metal pendants). Old people say that anything bad or negative that a woman may have goes to the ground through the tip of these tokugs. In my youth, I did not pay much attention to many things. Since the 1990s when the Kalmyk Republic started to revive, I became interested (in Kalmyk traditions) and started to read books. The National Museum of Pal’mov in Elista displays dresses of married women. It does not have dresses of single women though. I took measurements from there and made myself a traditional dress and a hat. If one wants a full collection, this needs to include a tsegdg vest as well. This dress with embroidery was made by my students (Natalia shows it in the video). In old and new books there is a lot of information about traditional dresses. There is a very good album by Sychov that explains which colors to choose and how to sew. Our teacher Basangova Valentina Borisovna (who sits beside Natalia) also reads a lot about traditional dress. This embroidery is called zeg, it is made from a golden thread. This is a pillow called tuntg. Before making any embroidery, we draw first what we want to sew. The drawing is divided into 8 parts and it is clearly demarcated which embroidery goes where. Then we start to work on the actual embroidery so that everything is symmetrical. From these small embroideries (Natalia shows) it is possible to make a brooch or a pendant. About how to make embroidery. First you need to make the center of the embroidery, which should be dark or blue in terms of colour. Then you sew circles around it either with gold or silver threads. After that, you can add all other colors as shown in the book. Unfortunately, we do not know the meanings of these embroideries any more, but at least we know the order of making these embroideries. The black color symbolizes a shift from the night into the day. The circles symbolize eternal life. Embroideries can be decorated with tapes. This embroidery is called ungin turun (a colt’s hoof). The base of this embroidery has a gasket made from wool or cloth that gives the colt’s hoof a nice, protruded shape. The alternation of silver and gold threads symbolizes the eternal shift between the day and the night. Traditionally, this pillow is made by the groom’s side and then is handed over to the bride’s side during a wedding. When the embroidery is finished, it is cut with scissors and sewn to the side of a tuntg pillow. I use yellow or gold threads to attach it to the pillow. The edges of the pillow are decorated with twisted threads which are both beautiful and functional. Twisted threads can be used in all kinds of ornaments and embroideries (Natalia shows us how to produce twisted threads).
  • ItemOpen Access
    Maya Karueva, Ornaments
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2016-01-20) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira
    In the past, the Kalmyks sewed pillows called tuntg. Decorated on both sides with ornaments called turun zeg as Maya shows, the tuntg was used to keep clothes, be it old or those worn during celebrations. Maya also shows other ornaments, including one called beezhin khotn used on women’s dress, one with floral motives, and two that are attached to sleeves.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Ochirova, About Crafts
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2016-02-19) Terbish, Baasanjav; Babaev, Andrei; Kornyakova, Saglara; Saglara Kornyakova; Shipeeva, Danara
    Badma says that in the past the Kalmyks had blacksmiths. Also, the Kalmyks used wool widely in making ropes, whips, socks, felt boots etc. Of all wool varieties, the Kalmyks did not sell cow’s wool. In her childhood Badma recalls wearing felt boots and a down hat. Her grandmother and auntie could sew well. Her grandmother also sewed hats, dresses and embroidery on floor covers. Badma herself can sew embroidery and make felt.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Amulakova, Orndg
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-01-02) Terbish, Baasanjav; Kovaeva, Bair; Babaev, Andrei; Babaev, Andrei
    Badma talks about traditional bedding, including a bed, a blanket and pillow substitutes. She says that the Kalmyks used felt to cushion their beds. A bed consisted of 3 felt pieces, namely (1) ‘der bogts’ which was put at the upper part of the bed, (2) ‘kol bogts’ placed at the bottom, and (3) a piece put in between. These three pieces were covered with a layer, consisting of a rug or a long piece of felt. A blanket was made from either camel’s or sheep’s wool. Instead of pillows, the Kalmyks used a thing called tuntg, which was made from sheep’s wool. It was also used as a cushion on saddles.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Amulakova, Deesn: Traditional Ropes
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-01-02) Terbish, Baasanjav; Kovaeva, Bair; Babaev, Andrei; Babaev, Andrei
    Traditionally, ropes are made from sheep or camel wool. Sheep are shorn twice a year, in mid-spring and autumn. Autumn wool, called mochr, is short and suitable for making felt and felt products such as covers. Spring wool, by contrast, is long and suitable for making ropes and belts. Afterwards, Badma explains the traditional methods of making ropes. Thin ropes are made by twisting by hand. Thick ropes are made by adding horse’s tail or mane that gives extra strength. Beside domestic use, such ropes have a protective quality as well. Herders who happen to spend the night out in the countryside make a loop with this rope and sleep inside it, as the horse smell from the rope keeps spiders, snakes and other insects away. There are many beliefs connected with ropes. For example, pregnant women are not supposed to touch a rope due to a fear that their umbilical cord may get twisted. It is also possible to predict a girl’s future by looking at how she makes ropes or threads. If she makes a long rope, people say that she will be married to a man who lives far away.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Anna Sangadzhi-Goryaeva, Products Made From Wool
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2016-10-21) Terbish, Baasanjav; Kovaeva, Bair; Babaev, Andrei; Babaev, Andrei
    Anna recounts her mother’s story that before the exile in 1943 the Kalmyks made felt covers and felt boots. In Siberian exile her mother had neither the time nor opportunity to sew, although she began sewing not long before when the Kalmyks were allowed to return to Kalmykia. In the spring when herders sheared their livestock, her mother washed and dried the wool. Anna helped her mother make socks, mittens, and head scarfs. From sheep wool they made mattresses and pillows. For girls preparing for their wedding she made beautiful duvets. Anna’s mother did all this by hand, since she did not have a sewing machine. Anna talks in some detail about how her mother made duvets.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Galina Kotinova, Kalmyk Ornaments
    (2016-10-12) Churyumov, Anton; Churyumova, Elvira
    Galina shows a book titled The Kalmyk Traditional Ornaments by Grigoriy Vas’kin where all the pictures were drawn by Galina herself. She says that Kalmyk ornaments could be floral, geometric, zoomorphic, cultic, astral and alphabetic in form. Kalmyk men’s dress differs from that of women. Women’s dress has many geometric ornaments, the most popular beings the shape of the foal’s hooves. Men’s dress, in contrast, is abundant with floral ornaments. Ornaments are also used on wooden cups, tobacco pipes, and bortkha (a vessel to keep alcohol or milk products). Astral ornaments are used on leather goods, hats, tables and on goods made from felt. In terms of color, these ornaments are made from bright threads.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Alesya Kalmykova, Traditional Ornaments
    (2017-03-11) Churyumov, Anton; Terbish, Baasanjav
    Alesya says that Kalmyk ornaments could be of various shapes and styles, including geometrical, zoomorphic, floral, astral and alphabetic. Geometrical shapes are the oldest among them and are usually used in traditional dress. Zoomorphic ornaments are used on utensils and furniture. Alphabetic and astral ornaments – on belts. The oldest Kalmyk ornament is called zeg, which can be characterized as a geometrical ornament. It has various forms, including circular, half-circular, square, T-shaped, and pentahedral. Traditionally zeg is not used on men’s dress, but only on women’s or girl’s dresses. Zeg can be also used on pillows. Zeg ornaments are known among the Khakassians and Altaians who use the so-called lineal zeg. In contrast, Kalmyks zeg has more varieties and shapes. Women’s terlg (a long robe with wide sleeves narrowing towards the wrists) is decorated with golden embroidery that resembled Russian embroidery both in terms of technology and shapes. Kalmyk women’s hats consist of two parts: one part is decorated with zeg and the other with a golden embroidery. In this video Alesya shows a pouch with circular zeg ornaments and a terlg that belonged to a wealthy Kalmyk woman. The cords of the zeg in the terlg are made from silk of various colors. In the past less wealthy Kalmyks used woollen zeg that were less colorful.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Alesya Kalmykova, A Master Class in Sewing Zeg Ornaments
    (2017-03-13) Churyumov, Anton; Terbish, Baasanjav
    In the beginning Svetlana Batyreva, a Kalmyk scholar who studies art, gives a short talk and introduces Alesya Kalmykova. Svetlana says that Kalmyk dress is different from those of other peoples. The dress of Western Mongols does not have ornaments. Ornaments appeared on Kalmyk dress under the influence of Russian, Turkic and Caucasian cultures when the Kalmyks came and settled in Russia. After that Alesya, who teaches art in a kindergarten in Kaluga, shows how to sew a Kalmyk ornament called zeg which is made from thin woollen cords. Zeg ornaments are usually used in women’s dress. At her masterclass Alesya shows how to make a zeg ornament in the shape of the sun.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Alena Lidzhieva, About Felt Making and Felt Yurts
    (2015-06-12) Dovurkaev, Karu; Churyumov, Anton; Terbish, Baasanjav
    Alena talks about how felt was processed in the past. Women gathered together, spread out sheep’s wool on the floor and beat it continuously with sticks. Afterwards the wool was sprinkled with water and rolled up. The roll was left for several days and the whole process was repeated several times. When the felt was ready, it was decorated with ornaments. The yurt had a two-layered door. In the winter the door was covered with felt in order to keep the dwelling warm. The roof of the yurt was also covered with felt. In order to render it stable in the wind, the yurt was tied to sticks, which were nailed into the ground around the yurt. In the summer the felt on the wall was rolled up to allow the yurt to be ventilated. In the rain the yurt did not get wet.