Category Archives: Craft Heritage

Various handicrafts encountered on our travels

Rustam Usmanov (Master Ceramist from Rishtan)

Rustam Usmanov

Rustam Usmanov’s art amply reflects the culture of the Fergana valley and the rich ceramic making heritage of Rishtan town, the oldest centre of ceramic art in Central Asia.

The Usmanov family migrated from Russia to Rishtan to add to Rishtan’s rich tradition of pottery. With Rishtan being situated on the Silk Road, the ancient major East-West trade route, it is thought that Rishtan potters may originally have tried to copy Chinese porcelain, despite the necessary kaolin clay not being locally available. This led them to the discovery of the local Rishtan clay, which more than made up for the absence of the kaolin clay. The Rishtan ceramists say their clay is so good that it does not require preliminary processing and exposure time. Adding to the beauty of the Rishtan ceramics is the ishkor glaze which gives Rishtan pottery its brilliant blue-green glaze, bringing alive the colors of the earth and …

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The Enduring Suzani

Suzani from Tashkent

No single artefact can represent the silk roads, their legacy and the Arastan journey, better than a Suzani. Arastan seeks out beautiful products with stories that often began on the fabled Silk Route. The suzani is one such perfect story of an enduring craft that has forever bound into every stitch and motif the hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears of its makers who lived in what was perhaps the harshest landscape in the world. See Arastan’s selection of vintage and new suzanis, or read on to discover more about the  culture and traditions behind this wonderful craft.

Suzani is a common term for embroidered dowry pieces (coverlets for the bridal bed, but also for made to decorate horses, tables, walls) produced for hundreds of years by the nomadic and settled women of Central Asia. Its roots are believed to be in the Fergana Valley that spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan …

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Caring for Silver Jewellery

Coinciding with the launch of the Malakeh Collection, here is some information about caring for your silver jewellery, put together for us by Puja Bhargava Kamath of Lai.

Wear your jewellery as often as possible: jewellery tarnishes less when it is worn. The key to having silver jewellery look good for the longest time is not to wet it. If it does get wet, wipe with a soft dry cloth as soon as you can. Do not scrub or use detergent. Exposure to chemicals including perfumes is harmful, so best to spray perfume prior to putting on your jewellery. Chlorine and bromine in pools and hot tubs are particularly damaging to stones and metal so avoid wearing jewellery in the pool, tub or sauna. Store silver jewellery in re-sealable plastic pouches, zip-lock bags or soft cloth pouches. Each piece should be kept in an individual pouch to avoid scratches and …

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Carpet Motifs: A Beginner’s Guide

Scarab in a Qashqai rug

Nisha’s instruction was clear and simple: go and look for Caucasian rugs. My search led me to the warehouse of Memet Bozbay, an affable Kurdish carpet trader, whom I had led to believe that I was a professional buyer. He pulled out heaps of Armenian, Kurdish and Kazak rugs, many characterised by bold colours, high piles, and unusual motifs. Gesturing to one of them he commented, “And here, again, you can see the typical Caucasian dragon motif.”

I scanned the carpet’s field expecting to find a flamboyant dragon spewing fire, but I couldn’t make out anything at all resembling a dragon or a serpent. In the centre of the carpet there was, however, an interesting form that appeared somewhat insect-like. “You mean this thing in the middle that looks like a cockroach?” I asked innocently. The dealer gave me a puzzled look and hesitated to respond—he must have been struggling to …

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Tribal Carpets

"Wild Story" Gabbeh

Tribal carpets are almost the opposite of what one may visualize when they think of a carpet. They are abstract. They are spontaneous. They are naïve. They break rules. And most of all, they are personal expressions of the weavers, straight from the heart! Those from nomadic groups in particular are a fantastic potpourri of many diverse ethnicities, tribal lifestyles and indigenous customs.

There is no defined picture that the weaver is copying from… the picture is in the weaver’s heart, which slowly emerges and takes shape on warps strung around a makeshift loom, wefted and knotted in a colourful collage, one single row at a time! A small six by four foot carpet may have tens of thousands of knots and may take months (and sometimes years) to create. Patience and tenacity are two critical virtues each weaver had to be able to create such fantastic art! The end …

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The Carpets of Konya

Kilim Runner from Van, Turkey

Come, Come, Whoever you Are Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times Come, yet again, come, come.

Mevlana Rumi, Sufi Mystic and Poet whose tomb lies in Konya

And they did come … at the turn of the last millennium, travellers, traders, nomads, empires, swept into Iran and Anatolia from Central Asia and beyond.

Konya is one place they met and traded and settled right from the 11th century through to the 16th century.  The Seljuk Empire that dominated a huge swath of Eurasia during those centuries created a cultural melting pot that extended from Turkey to China. It was out of that melting pot, fuelled by continual exchange of commodities and ideas along the Silk Roads, that Konya, Bergama and other well known cities came into prominence and …

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Jewellery That Speaks

Niello Cross Pendant

The Berbers wear only silver. It has something to do with silver being the preferred metal of the prophet. Archival pictures show Berber women completely laden with the most unbelievable silver adornment. Today of course, these images are fewer thanks to the skyrocketing price of silver, but still, jewellery continues to be important, not just for its decorative value. It has protective symbolism, it is the family’s bank, to be melted and traded in lean times, bought and remade in good. The jewellery a woman wears is a symbol of her family’s status and wealth. So, interestingly, the woman and not the man is the family financier plus showpiece and bearer of its reputation.

Design of Berber jewellery is strongly influenced by the ancient Berber script, Tifinagh, based on which Berber languages are written. The characters in Tifinagh reflect a simple geometry of corners, circles, triangles and dots. This abstract …

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Bukhara Brass Platters

Bukhara Brass Platter

These superb brass platters were made by a master craftsman in Bukhara and are now available for sale by Arastan. They are carved multiple times to traditional patterns, with each platter being a one off piece created from the craftsman’s imagination and never repeated.

The heavier, more intricately patterned, platter weighs 1.046kg and is 2mm thick and the other is 0.916kg and 1.5mm thick. They are made of brass with a purity of approximately 80% copper and 20% zinc: the copper is mixed with zinc to become yellow copper, or brass.

How they are made (translated from description given by the craftsman himself):

There is no stencil used for the design: it is made manually using a hammer and chisel. The overall design is divided into eight parts in order to make the complete pattern as consistent as possible. At first the design is done on one of the eight parts and then …

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

    You can read about the reasons for closure.

    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

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