Entering the small room in Shakhartepa was one of the most powerful moments in my trip to Uzbekistan. In 2019, I planned my route, left my home in Maryland, USA, flew across the continents, and landed in Tashkent. 

I was in search of ideas and material for my next children’s book about Central Asia, which will focus on embroidery and textiles. I was not disappointed as I met master artisans in Tashkent, Gijduvan, Bukhara, Samarkand and Urgut and learned about a wide range of crafts.  From textiles and embroidery to ceramics, puppetry, baking, paper pressing, or jewelry, these artists devote their lives to their work, often practicing two or three forms of crafts in one family over generations.

I decided to visit Margilan – the capital of silk-making, to learn each stage of ikat production. Shukhrat, an energetic and friendly host, brought me to an impressive silk making facility and explained all the details of production with patience and care. But I was looking for something else. 

“Could you take me to a weaver’s home? A woman?” I cautiously asked Shukhrat, who was surprised by my request. I explained, “I want to observe how they live and work at home. My character’s mother is a weaver so it is really important for me to feel the space and meet the person.”

The next day we drove about fifteen minutes outside of Margilan to the kishlak (village) of Shakhartepa, where I met Malika – a young woman who has been weaving ikat since she was fourteen. She did not speak Russian, I did not speak Uzbek, but we managed to converse thanks to my elementary Kazakh. Her traditionally built courtyard house included her workshop with two looms. 

My heart fluttered with excitement as soon as I entered the room. “This is it! This will be one of the illustrations in the book! This is what I came for!”  The room held details I would never have thought of myself.  The way Malika both worked and cared for her infant child, the humble but intense focus on to her work – were magic to me. 

I can’t wait to ship the printed book to Malika and give some of that magic back.