Fabric Shopping in Uzbekistan: Gorgeous ikat and vibrant colours
Fabric Shopping in Uzbekistan is brilliant.
I mean, definitely if you are into traditional ikat pattern or very glitzy colourful material. I am not going to say visit Uzbekistan for fabrics alone, but if you plan to visit and if you are into sewing or home decor and ikat style is your thing, Uzbekistan has a wealth of wonderful quality fabrics. It is one of the world’s top producers of silk and cotton. So… go fabric shopping in Uzbekistan in addition to your touristic visit!
This is primarily a travel blog, but after getting some good resonance to posts on fabric shopping Nuremberg, Tallinn and Helsinki (well, cut-price Marimekko), I am going to add to the fabric shopping by writing this. There have been more posts in the drafts – if you want to know good places in Berlin, Milan, Paris or London. And last not least Bursa… fee free to give me a shout if you would like any tips.
Table of Contents
How to shop and what to expect
Always, consider taking cash with you. Uzbek Som are best, prices for higher-priced items are usually quoted in US Dollars which you can use for payment. Few shops accept credit cards.
Fabric Uzbekistan is most known for are silk and cotton, usually made in traditional ikat weaving technique. This means traditional ikat fabric is usually 40-60cm wide, making it a bit of a challenge for any larger or complicated garments. A lot of styles of ikat fabric are available these days, and the shops in the Fergana Valley have a huge choice, from a cheap cotton for 2 US-Dollars per metre to silk velvet for 10-20 times the price.
Ikat-printed quality cotton fabric does exist but is a bit harder to find.
Not so much in modern stores but definitely in bazaars, you find vintage Soviet silk printed in ikat-like patterns by machine. It is very bright, very shiny, but a great quality thick silk. If you like the style and brightness, it retails for about 10-12 US-Dollars a metre, usually it is 1,20 to 1,40m wide, can be hand washed in cold water and very versatile.
As much as I love silk, there is sadly no large-scale producer offering peace silk where the yarn is spooled off the cocoon without boiling the silkworm. I am divided on this, as the lifespan of a silk moth once hatched is 5-10 days, but there is no whitewashing that the silkworms are killed on the process. On the other hand, Silk is one of the most sustainable traditional fabrics and has great qualities. So if you want silk, Uzbekistan might be a good place to buy a piece of high quality silk and enjoy it for many years.
The choice is bewildering, and I could not tell you which place is best. I went through my old photos and notebooks and came up with a small guide, sorted by city and my recommendation for the best fabric shops.
Fabric Uzbekistan is known for
Uzbekistan is the home (or one of the homes) of the ikat fabric – yarn-dyed narrow cloth from cotton or silk or a mixture of both. Traditional ikat fabric is hand-woven, but given the size of the Uzbek textile industry, most of what is for sale in markets, is machine-made but somehow they stuck to the narrow width – quite a challenge for middling sewists like me.
Here are some styles of fabric you will come across:
Paxta (cotton), called хлопок (kchloo-pok) in Russian
Ipak (silk), called (schoo-lk) in Russian.
Adras – traditionally 50:50 cotton-silk mix. Note that the typical ikat narrow fabric is sometimes adras as well.
Viscose, polyester and the like are quite international and similar in those languages.
Other fabrics that are worth looking out for are ikat-inspired prints on cotton, often of a high quality, and vintage machine-loomed silk from Soviet production that still looks brand new. And then, there is the colourful cotton and polycotton of everyday dresses, and new and vintage suzani, embroidered cotton or silk cloth. You are bound to come across all of them on a trip to Uzbekistan, but where are good places to buy them?
The one-stop destination for Fabric Shopping in Uzbekistan
After some deliberation, I would say that’s Bukhara. Firmly on pretty much every “Silk Road” tourist itinerary, Bukhara has some pretty neat textile shops selling material tucked away it its trading domes and caranvansarais. But there, shopping comes at a price, too. So, without further ado, let me tell you which fabric shops I recommend.
Feruza’s Ikat Store
This shop is well known, not least for its knowledgeable and cheerful owner, Feruza Ahrarova. It is conveniently located between Lyabi Hauz and the Toqi Sarrafon. It does get consistently good write-ups on the internet, and you may have heard of it if you are a sewist but its not marked on any maps online. Don’t be disheartened, it really is quite easy to find and well signposted. And the great reviews are justified!
Definitely enter the shop, as just some of the cheaper ikat are displayed outside. The cotton ikat was nice to look at but felt a bit coarse. I would not be surprised if some man made fibre made its way in there. The adras (cotton+silk mix) and silk, on the other hand, were great quality.
I met Feruza in her shop on my visit in 2019 and after having a short chat and scoping out the wares she let me peruse the shelves full of the most beautiful fabrics in various qualities. The ones on display outside the store are the cheaper cotton ikat fabrics. They felt quite rough, so don’t be discouraged and walk into the store and ask to see different qualities. Feruza herself would help you find what you are looking for. She speaks good English and welcomed visitors heartily, even those just browsing. And of course, soon enough, with a few sewists gathering in the shop, small talk about what fabric works best for what ensued, and most people walked out with a piece of beautiful fabric.
I bought some “adras” narrow fabric from Feruza, as well as some vintage silk. The adras is the typical 40cm narrow strip, destined to become scarves and small accessories. Quality is excellent. There was a bit of wiggle room price wise as I bought a few pieces of fabric, but in general, unlike in the bazaar, prices were fairly fixed.
Another great shop for textiles is Minzifa in the “middle” Trading Dome, Toqi Telpak Furushon. The shop is bigger than Feruza and offers a somewhat wider range of different qualities, from ikat to larger pieces of cotton fabric, and also suzani and carpets. In comparison to Feruza, I thought the choice of cotton ikat was a bit better, as they had some 60cm wide ikat as well – easier for sewing Western style garments.
The shopkeeper was just as friendly and helpful. Note that Minzifa is the name of many businesses – there are at least a hotel, a restaurant and a travel agency named Minfiza. I stayed in the hotel and ate at the restaurant, both are good.
I bought this printed cotton here – about 6 US-dollars per metre if I remember right. None of the (mostly cotton) fabrics were more than 9 US-Dollars for a metre.
The tourist-friendly recommendation for fabric shopping in Uzbekistan
Hot on the heels of Bukhara comes, in terms of fabric happiness, Khiva. I found Khiva, within its ancient walls, it first and foremost a tourist enclave, and there are souvenirs at every step, and not always the best quality. Also, I saw many ready-made garments of questionable quality.
However… if Xiva is your only option for fabric shopping, head to the Allakuli Khan Caravansarai. Freshly renovated, it is a huge tourist shop, but has some really lovely ikat fabrics in cotton and silk, including some wider Soviet vintage ikat style silk. I also found that the readymade garment were of higher quality than what was sold in the streets.
All images are from the same shop, who does a really good job of a wide selection of ikat, silk and some really nice quilted jackets who were nicer than anything I had seen outside in the street stalls. I bought some cotton ikat, which was ridiculously cheap (3 US Dollars, I think) but has a really nice feel to it.
And here is some vintage Soviet silk. The Soviet Uzbekistan produced a lot of this and many fabric traders have some deadstock lying around, and asking for “Soviet ipek” normally yields a nice selection. Possibly, some man made fibres may have snuck in these fabrics, too, I cannot be entirely sure, but they are super vibrant and can be hand washed.
However… I looked at plenty vintage clothing in quasi “museums” at Yodgorlik Factory and in Rishton, where som evintage garments were displayed and they felt pretty similar. It is a lovely drapey yet quite thick fabric
So, the jury is often out on what’s silk and that isn’t – take a lighter if you want to subject it to the flame test – most vendors will be happy for you to do so. I never really bothered, given the reasonable prices and good look and feel of the fabric. Or go to a well – stocked shop like Gold Silk where all fabrics are neatly arranged by fabric and quality.
Urgut and Samarkand-the best place for Suzani
Without a doubt, if you like vintage Suzani, go to Urgut Market on a Sunday. It’s a fun trip out of Samarkand, with a chance to see some more realness than in the prettified Silk Road cities. It can be hot and uncomfortable and it will be most certainly very full, and finding the suzani sellers might require some trial and error. Take cash, and be prepared for sensory overload when you do find them, about 300m from the main mall complex in a slightly quieter area.
I saw some shops for fabric in Urgut, but 80% was shiny, colourful man made fibres and very little traditional ikat silk and cotton.
Shops in Samarkand, including the souvenir stalls set up at Registan madrassahs, will also sell suzani, and some of them might be vintage, but they are usually newer and much more expensive.
You can also try Haydar’s Antique Shop & Flea Market in the Old Jewish Quarter for some vintage suzani as well as silk fabric but to be fair, one trip to Urgut and I was done with fabrics for the day.
Speaking of Samarkand, I didn’t find much in the way of traditional ikat fabric there, although these shops do exist. If it’s cheap material you are after, one or two shops in the Siyob Bazaar near the intersection of Shahzinda and Tashkent Roads, has a small selection of traditional print cotton at extremely cheap prices. There are housewares and crockery at the front of the shops, with fabric displayed in the back.
Fergana Valley – fabric destination par excellence
Last not least, the destination where I learned most about fabric weaving in Uzbekistan and that no textile lover should miss, is Marghilon in the Fergana Valley. I saw tons of material both in shops and in nearby Kumtepe Bazaar. But not just silk and cotton weaving is a big business in the Fergana Valley but other traditional crafts flourish there too, like ceramics in nearby Rishton.
It may be a bit of a long haul from Tashkent, too. Only recommended for the dedicated traveller, the silk aficionado and those who like to take it a bit easy and can do without alcohol and good choices of restaurants for a few days. Generally, Fergana, being an old Russian settlement, is slightly more easy than Marghilon, with a nice centre surrounded by parks and some restaurants, but Marghilon is Uzbekistan’s Centre of silk production.
If you like comfort and regular restaurants your base might be better in Fergana. It is very easy to go into Marghilon by public bus and taxi.
In Marghilon, the Yodgorlik Silk Factory is a great place to start and learn about silk production, With a guided tour or without, entrance is usually free unless you arrange a tour which in my opinion isn’t absolutely necessary. The factory is right in the middle of town, about 200m from the main bazaar and very easily accessible. There are many other production facilities but they are not usually open to casual visitors.
I did spot ikat shops in town here and there, but a major one is Gold Silk. It is relatively new and in walking distance to Marghilon’s train station. Housed in an old caravansarai, they are setting up an atelier to teach about ikat weaving, but in October 2022, their showroom was fully running and had the widest choice of cotton and silk ikat fabric in a stationary shop – with good prices, too.
Note that there is a Silk Festival every autumn – unfortunately, it is quite poorly publicised outside Uzbekistan.
For a full dose of Uzbek mega market life and to shop for fabric, try to be in Marghilon on a Thursday when the huge Kumtepe Bazaar takes place.
And what about Tashkent?
Honestly: Buy your Turkish-import (but lovely) camel hair socks and nuts in Tashkent, but look elsewhere for fabric and traditional clothing.
If you are desperate, then Chorsu Bazaar has a nice-looking section of ready to wear clothing between the Chorsu Central Bazaar (the huge blue domes market hall) and Kukeldash Madrassah, near the flower market. Another nice looking shop, though completely aimed at tourists, is Human House, near Rustaveli Boulevard. Since it’s a bit of a trek out there, the Mirobod Bazaar not only is ina nice, fairly central area with restaurants and hotels, but has simple clothing and great dried fruit and nuts without the tourist price tags of Chorsu.
As for fabric – slim pickings here.
The Small Print
This post on fabric shopping in Uzbekistan was written after two separate trips as a solo traveller – with loads of fabric shopping time. I visited Samarkand and Bukhara in March 2019 and all other cities ( and Samarkand again) in October 2022 on a self-organised solo trip. All information is correct at the time of publication.
Right now I struggle with the appropriate spelling of place names a bit, so while I try to use their Uzbek names, the English and sometimes even German spelling comes through. I understand that “international” spelling may bring this post up in searches better, so for now, I will keep using some anglicised spelling like “Uzbekistan” rather than the Uzbek ” Oʻzbekiston”. Names and spellings may change over time ( see: “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti“) and I do my best to keep track but it is not always possible, and last not least this remains an English-speaking blog so English it is in most cases.
I am very grateful for any comment of feedback, especially if you sew or love fabric and have visited these places.
I was not paid for these recommendations.
This post contains some affiliate links to Booking.com, meaning I may receive a small commission if you decide to book through any of these links. Thank you.
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