Artist Profiles

Artist:

Gulzat Chytyrbaeva

Region:

South and Central Asia

Country:

Kyrgyzstan

Media/General:

Textiles

Medium of Work:

Felted wool embroidered slippers

Year(s) Attended:

Santa Fe: 2018

About:

One of eight children, Kyrgyzstani artisan Gulzat Chytyrbaeva grew up under Soviet occupation, and experienced financial insecurity as a child and teenager. Chytyrbaeva was taught traditional Kyrgyzstani embroidery techniques by her grandmother, and she recalls learning to sew under a beloved apricot tree.

Following the collapse of the USSR, Chytyrbaeva took up embroidery to earn a living; she couldn’t have known that today, her felted, colorful slippers would have an international following. The initial reason Chytyrbaeva began creating footwear was born of practicality, for in Kyrgyzstan, everyone slips into softer shoes at home. In the eloquent words of Chytyrbaeva, “Each seam is made with love and I believe that our slippers warm not only the feet but also the heart.”

For over ten years, Chytyrbaeva and her growing team of artisans have improved the design and construction of these remarkably unique slippers. Each pair is made from merino wool, which is soft and pleasant to the touch. Moreover, the material’s fine fibers are water-resistant and air-permeable, not to mention odor-resistant, antimicrobial, and hypoallergenic. From design inception to the final stitch, all of Chytyrbaeva’s slippers are handmade. The process begins in Spring, when wool is sheared from regional sheep. It is then washed, dried, colored, and pressed into wool sheets. One artist makes embroidery, another woman sews the slippers. Offered in a range of vivid rainbow hues, from fuchsia to cerulean, each pair features elaborate, allover embroidery in traditional motifs.

For Gulyat Chytyrbaeva, the creative process presents not only financial security for herself and her artisans, but also speaks to her on a poetic, soul-enriching level. “Embroidery is like music,” says Chytyrbaeva, “Like the wind and the noise of trees and the sounds of the murmur of the river…. Through embroidery I can convey my dreams.”