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2024  N3-4(229-230)
Bright studio lights are on, dutar music sounds loud through powerful speakers, and girls in the outfits of folk stylistics appear on the catwalk of the Ashgabad Fashion House. Rhythmic music seems to be woven into the ringing of silver jewelry, which are invariable accessories of a national costume of silk fabric called “Keteni”. The collections made of “Keteni” have always been loved by all generations of fashion models, because when you put on natural silk fabric that comes with massive silver jewelry, go out onto the podium, proudly carrying the national image, the audience invariably burst into applause when they see this image that is so colorful and expressive.
The history of Keteni fabric production goes back more than one hundred years. This method has been preserved since ancient times, and it remains a fashion trend today. Giving tribute to traditions, Turkmen fashion designers create stunning silk collections of wedding and evening outfits, where ethnic motifs sound in a new way, but invariably solemnly and nobly.
At all times, people admired any products made of silk fabric. A silk thread has a triangular section and, like a prism, reflects the light, causing exquisite color play and shine. Such a fabric was extremely expensive, and only very wealthy people could afford it. Silk was considered the equivalent of gold and equated to international currency. And to this day, this “transparent as ice” and “light as a cloud” luxurious material is considered an integral symbol of excellent taste and wealth. Silk fiber is so diverse that it makes it possible to produce a wide range of fabrics – from the finest chiffon and organza to heavy dupont, taffeta and brocade.
Turkmenistan is believed to be the birthplace of the homespun silk fabric “Keteni”. From ancient times, both men and women wore clothes made of this fabric. However, the clothes of men from “Keteni” were limited only to robes called “don”, while women had a “silk wardrobe” with many scarves, crochets and dresses. Typically, the edges of “Keteni” fabric are framed with the golden stripes, which, when sewing, remain on the front side of the product, emphasizing the structural lines of the dress. In the old days, “Keteni” were made mainly of two colors – green and red. Now the color scheme of traditional fabric includes the entire range of shades. Red “Keteni” is considered the most luxurious. Festive and wedding clothes were made of it. It is still customary that a bride should have 2–3 dresses of such a fabric in the dowry. Today, as in previous times, “Keteni” is produced manually. And like any manual labor, this work is extremely painstaking, requires patience, certain skills and respectful relations.
To this day, the “Keteni” production technology has not undergone fundamental changes compared to ancient times. Like hundreds of years ago, women would sit in a loom called “Tara”. Its width is about 40 cm, which always determined the width of the canvas and, accordingly, the cut of the dress. This is not a slip of tongue, a craftswoman sits inside the machine, which looks like a small boat. The only difference is that instead of sails on its “masts” there are multi-colored silk threads that turn into a solid fabric, radiating shine in the skillful hands of the “shipmaster”.
The primary basis for the fabric is a multi-meter silk fiber of ivory color, each thread of which craftswomen divide into 6 more thin threads. Then, they cook this yarn in a hot soap solution to soften it. Imagine how much patience is required to untwine all threads later, dye them and wind them up?! Moreover, staining of threads is carried out mainly by natural dyes, as in the time of our ancestors. So, to achieve red color, which is most popular among the Turkmens, the “madder” plant is used, to achieve shades of blue they use natural dye imported from Iran, warm brown and yellow tones are achieved with pomegranate crusts, leaves and shells of walnut, onion husks, onion peels, tea leaves. They use alum to fix the color and ash from stone coal to whiten the fiber. Of course, chemical dyes are also used now, but customers still prefer fabric dyed with natural materials.
When the long process of preparing the fiber is over, long silk threads are pulled onto the machine, the base is attached, and the magic of transformation begins. The dexterous hands of craftswomen quickly move the shuttle with a thread from side to side, tightly fixing it on the basis. And just as a beautiful butterfly flies out of a nondescript cocoon, an artwork is born before our eyes, which is distinguished by the original technology, a delicate taste and time-tested traditional techniques. But this is not the finale. The finished fabric, which sometimes has tens of meters, is removed from the roller and turned into salable condition. It is starched, giving “Keteni” a special gloss and relative rigidity. It may even seem that the silk cut rings when one touches it. Now, one can make a business suit for a businesswoman, a wedding dress for a bride, and a charming evening dress with “Keteni”.
“Keteni” is very popular not only among local residents. Numerous guests of Turkmenistan take all kinds of scarves, cloaks, bags, cuts of fabric with them as souvenirs, thus expressing an invariable interest in the decorative and applied art and culture of the Turkmen people. In the age of technological progress, national traditions continue to live in the Turkmen people. Just like many years ago, the elegant skill of carpets, embroidery, jewelry making is transferred from father to son, from mother to daughter, forming professional dynasties. And the demand for ancient folk traditions in our time is a reflection of the continuous connection of the past with the present and future.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005