Since ancient time Kyrgyz people have decorated leather articles. Animal skins were used to make a variety of household articles including leather clothing and footwear, kitchen containers (ko’okor, saba, konochok, konok, chyny kup), horse harnesses, tail-straps, saddle-girths, bridles, and saddle-clothes. All of these items were integral part of the everyday life of a nomad.
Special craftsmen were employed in the processing of leather and the production of leather goods. Simple things like dairy product containers were made by women, while difficult works were made by men. Thus, harnesses were made by special craftsmen called jugon usta.
Women were usually involved in cutting the leather out, sewing it, and decorating it with patterns. Leather craft was passed from generation to generation. Women who participated in leather craft were called oimochu, onorchy, chiymechi. Man decorated harnesses, small trunks and containers for pialas with metal plates and patterns.
Leather was manufactured and stamped through out the year, but summer was considered to be the best season. During the winter days they cut leather and laid a pattern on it, the whole family participated in the process.
There were no any special tools for cutting leather; so the kyrgyzes used any sharp knife to cut the leather and the tendon thread to sew containers for kitchen use.
Numerous names and purposes exist for leather containers. Leather vessels for Kymys called ko’okor, were thoroughly decorated with bright colors. The most difficult vessel to make was a konok, or leather basket with a spot used as a milk-pail. These were made from camel’s leather which is tough and strong, and thus, kept its required shape after it was processed. To make the konok, they cut shaped pieces of leather with a knife and then sewed the pieces together. Next, they closely fit the cut leather to wooden frame made in the shape of the konok. They cut a round hole slightly more than half way up the side of the vessel and inserted a curved spout. They sewed the spout to the vessel. When the sewing was complete, they wet the leather and decorated it with clay or earth. Finally the vessel was dried outdoors.
Chyny kup, the container for keeping and transporting pialas, was made from different materials including chiy, walnut, juniper, felt and leather. Chyny caps were made in cylindrical and semi-spherical shapes with flat and rounded covers. Semi-spherical chyny kups were made the following way: first, the cut four wedges from leather, then sewed them together to make a cover and smoked it in a smoking-shed for a while. Then they fit the cover to a frame made of wood or leather to fix the shape.
Leather trunks, jagdan, could be found in the yurts of the wealthy people. Jagdan was considered to be decorative. It stood on a wooden stand – takta, and was used to store blankets.
Saddles were also covered with leather fixed to a wooden frame with tiny nails arranged in the pattern of a sheep’s horn.
The horse harnesses, particularly terdik, was a special object for Kyrgyz people. Craftsmen took extreme care and used all the knowledge and skill to create the best possible terdiks.
Leather items were decorated using different technical tools. Stamping was the most frequently used method. Imprinting the pattern with stamping they could use either the tool with sharpen end or hot metal forms.
The patterns used on leather articles have many similarities with those used on felt carpets, embroidered and metal works. Pattern forms both borders and closed shapes, such us rosettes. Borders are comprised of a wave of scroll and horn-like patterns arranged in different ways. At times the border is arranged as line of almond-like shapes. Rosettes are sometimes made more sophisticated by having a cross-line shape with bifurcating ends that form double spirals and are branched with smaller scrolls, leaves and sprouts. Some of these shapes resemble vegetation.
Most patterns come from ancient times. They were carefully preserved by generations, as today’s craftsmen inherited them from their fathers and grandfathers.