Ikat weaving patterns and techniques are closely guarded within family weaving workshops centered in Margilan, Uzbekistan. The long-standing Uzbek apprentice system, known as “Usta-Shogird Maktabi” (“Master-Apprentice school”), is preserving the traditional techniques of this famous textile art and passing the hard won secrets on to the next generation.
The first stage of the system is known as “Kuzi pishadi” (“The Eyes Grasp”), which begins around ages 12 or 13. During this stage, children just learn by watching, after school & during summer vacations. They spend 4-5 years watching the masters at work, occasionally trying a little bit at various steps. They receive no pay at this stage.
When a student develops skill at some process, the master begins to give him personal work. He is then paid per warp, while the master corrects his mistakes and continues to control quality.
The master “Gives the Blessing” (“Patakha berish”) when the student has learned all the secrets of the ikat production process. At this point, the master buys working tools for student. The apprentice must then “Get the Master’s Consent” (“Usta Rozi qilish”) by giving his master a full outfit (shoes, shirts, robe, traditional skullcap and so on). The apprentice can then stay with the master if he wishes and go on working together.
When the apprentice gets married, the master will help by paying for his wedding party. If an apprentice is very skillful and with good character, then his master tries to keep him by offering his daughter for marriage, or by working in partnership. This custom is part of how the masters try to keep the craft secrets within the family.
But, like everywhere in the world, it is difficult to find students who are suited to take on such a long-term commitment. As our Uzbek artisan leader Aziz said recently:
“But . . . nowadays it gets hard to find young people interested in learning crafts, as some want [to] study, but some others are lazy to learn or do something. And sometimes they start learning the skills of [the] craft after 21, when they need money for getting married and/or realize that they must have [some] skill in . . . life to survive.”
Fortunately for the current masters of Margilan, and the textile lovers elsewhere around the world, the traditional apprenticeship system is preserving this unique and intricate textile art for future generations.