Notes on Uzbek silk production
Uzbekistan is one of the world’s top three producers of silk cocoons with the harvest close to 26,000 tons in 2015 (Uzbek-german Forum for Human Rights). Silk cocoon cultivation has been a part of life for Uzbek countryside even before the beginning of the 20th century.
Now it exports most of the raw silk and silk cocoons to countries like India, Iran, China, Turkey, and Russia. Some raw material stays locally for commercial fabric production. "The government maintains total control over these sectors, establishing production targets, imposing quotas and prices on producers" (Umida Niyazova) which results in very little entrepreneurial activity in the region.
However, there are still textile mills focused on manual traditional methods. Such businesses fall into less center-regulated segment of the economy. They produce small batches of cotton and silk and make traditional 'ikat' fabrics. We see this work as an invaluable part of poverty reduction strategies for the rural areas of Uzbekistan. The workshops teach young women the craft of weaving, stitching, embroidery, and hire their students, therefore improving female employment rate.
One of our partners in the city of Margilan is a small manufacturer of hand-spun and hand-woven textiles. We have visited the facility in July to see how traditional operation can benefit the industry.
For commercial producer, it is not possible to process damaged or low quality silk cocoons. Mass production is set for consistency, discarding great deal of odd materials as waste. Margilan shop, on the other hand, works with such "waste cocoons". They are sorted manually, then, using natural starch, a master is spinning a loose yarn into threads by hand. The texture is thicker and doesn’t feel like commercial silk thread at all. Then it goes on a handloom to be woven into artisanal silks pieces with raw bumpy texture, which is unreproducible by machines.
A skilled master can complete up to 4 meters of silk and 7 meters of cotton on a hand loom per day. This may seem as rather laborious process, however it sustains the vanishing methods and limits the labor market deterioration for the region.