Between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan lies Fergana Valley, one of the many culturally and historically charged stops along the Northern Silk Road. Uzbekistan is known as the third largest silk producer in the world annually producing an average of 30,000 tons of silkworm cocoons. Within the valley is the silk making town of Margilon where almost all Uzbek silk breeding occurs.
The process of silkworm cocoon breeding is mandated by the Uzbek government and the breeding is conducted on some of the same farms, with the same processes that date back as early as the 4th century. Towards the end of April the Uzbek government distributes silkworm eggs or larvae to the farmers. The worms are then placed in rooms containing large boxes, on average farmers receive about 20 grams of silk worms which are fed about 3 kilos of mulberry leaves daily.
By the first month this mass consumption of mulberry leaves causes the once microscopic silkworm larvae to grow over 50 times their size. Once the silkworms abruptly halt their leaf intake it’s the next phase in the silk making process, for the next week the worms wind around themselves a cocoon made of silk fiber that spans about 1 kilometer long. The cocoons are then placed in steam or boiling vats to release the silk filaments; this is not to be confused with a silk thread.
Threads of silk are created by placing 6 silk fibers (filaments) onto a loom to be twisted and spun into yarn. Once the fibers are twisted and spun they are bundled and are ready to be dyed. The silk fibers are then woven into many different patterns but most popularly the iconic ikat designs, the staple print of Uzbekistan.
The silks and fabrics created are sold at the bazaars, like Kumtepa or Old Juva. These huge bazaars lay along the Silk Road serving as the central Asian crossroad from where all roads meet. These markets showcase a spectrum of colors, the spices, veggies and fruits clearly serve as a creative muse blending into the vibrant handcrafted textiles.