“Wow! the socks are gorgeous” Z

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“the socks look cool! is it loose at the ancle? want to buy one!” JY

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“P.S. die Socken sind spitze!” H

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“Muß Dir bzw. Euch ein Kompliment machen. Die Socken allesamt sehen mit ihren farbenfrohen Mustern wunderschön aus und würden bei uns hier ganz gewiß Käufer finden. Die Frage nach der Langlebigkeit des Garns besteht noch. Ich hab mir letztes Jahr handgestrickte, warme, weiche Strümpfe mit Großteil Alpakawolle gekauft. Nach dem ersten Tragen hat sich die Wolle leider schon an der Ferse abgeschabt. Woher bezieht ihr die Wolle, ist es eine Garnmischung (haltbarer) oder wird die Wolle dort vor Ort gesponnen? Bei reiner Wolle würden Stulpen (vielleicht mit passendem Schal) bestimmt längere Zeit Freude bereiten.” U

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“Wow your socks are so cute!!” S

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“woooooooooooooow,…… die sind ja unglaublich hübsch hübsch hübsch…. diese weiss gelb schwarzen…” J


Spending the whole day with local artisans cooperating with De Pamiri is an attempt to tell their story and shed light on their daily routine. Knowing that we are always being perceived as guests, we still believe this is a good method to get an idea of what it means to run a Pamiri household next to being an active artisan. This is therefore a single story rather than a representation of all Pamiri households.

Suchanoro was born in 1972. She lives with her husband, mother in law, daughter and two sons in in Dashtak, around 20 minutes from Chorog. Suhanoro started working with De Pamiri in 2004 when the NGO contacted a group of talented Dashtak artisans in search for possible collaboration. During her teenage years she was taught by her mother and in school how to crochet the typical Pamiri socks. After Suhanoro had convinced De Pamiri co-founder Arnaud Baubil of her talent, she and the other Dashtak women received further trainings in felting techniques. Meanwhile, Suchanoro produces mainly bags, pakols (Pamiri hats) and felted toys to sell it in the De Pamiri shop. She neglects crocheting socks because it takes much more time than knitting other products. Nowadays, she crochets socks almost exclusively for family members or as wedding gifts. For Suchanoro, it is sometimes complicated to find time to do handicrafts. Especially from May to October, women are very busy with working on the fields and running their households.

On September 24th 2010, I spent a whole day in Suchanoro’s house to see what kind of work she has to do. Her day started at 6 o’clock when she had to warm up water for the morning bath. After praying she went milking the cow so that she can prepare shirchoi (Pamiri tea with milk and salt) for her mother in law, her children and herself; then she began to clean the house like Pamiri people use to do every morning.

It took about one hour to sweep the house, the garden and even the street. After this, she did the dishes, picked up apples, brought food to the animals and finally found some time to work on a sock we had ordered one and a half weeks earlier. In the meantime, her husband came back from work and had some time to cut the grass giving Suchanoro time to continue her crochet. At one o’clock, we were invited to eat at a friend’s house and stayed there for two hours.

Back at Suchanoro’s house, she had to prepare shirchoi for her family before she could continue on knitting. Although her fingers were aching after a while, she kept on crocheting socks. After finishing the socks, there is an order of five pakols waiting for her. At five o’clock, she finally decided to stop working. It was also time for me to as public transport is hard to find in the evenings. After I left, Suhanoro still had to milk the cow, look after the animals and prepare dinner for her family.

AAAAAAAAAAARGHHHH!!!!!!!

During our three months stay in Khorog, we had the possibility to meet a lot of different people working in Chorog and GBAO – locals as well as people from abroad. Due to the central location in the City Park and the proximity to PECTA (Pamir Eco Cultural Tourism Association), we also met a lot of tourists. This gave us the chance to collect different opinions about Pamir socks but also to learn about other projects concerning similar objectives. We noticed that a lot of people showed interest in Pamir socks. Dora, for example, came from the United States to Chorog specifically to learn about the way Pamir people crochet socks. The shortage of wool made it impossible for Dora to simply order a pair of socks from the artisans and she therefore proposed to send wool from the United States to Chorog in order to produce what she needs. Will this be a solution? Liba, also from the United States, is working on a four years project to support people to breed angora goats in Ishkashim district. The woman’s organization is planning to export the high quality wool from these goats to the US where it can be sold for a high price. This project also aims at reviving the traditional Pamir crochet technique and patterns in new products suitable for export. As the patterns are not patented this will be fairly easy. Russian fashion designer Lolita, living in Chorog, is also interested in saving old patterns and other Pamir products through marketing. She has designed a range of products that nicely show the diversity of Pamir traditions. For financial reasons Lolita decided to use only synthetic wool. When we were talking to tourists, almost all of them showed interest in the traditional Pamir socks and were sad not to be able to wait until the exemplars were finished. Some of them would have been happy to buy these special socks before leaving the country.

Besides preserving and reviving a traditional Pamir product, all this interest in the Pamir socks gives De Pamiri the chance to be the first on the market. Using natural wool as well as natural dyes will further strengthen De Pamiri’s competitive advantage and place them in a leading position. If De Pamiri does not act soon, however, there will be people from abroad using the patterns and technique for their own products and mainly for export. We would like to support De Pamiri to get artisans interested in producing traditional Pamir socks from naturally dyed wool. Unfortunately, pricing, lack of personnel and especially shortage of woollen yarn has made it close to impossible to continue work. If the situation does not improve soon, it will be impossible for us to find a solution in our remaining two weeks in Chorog…

When De Pamiri started its work, the founders defined some goals that should go along with the project. The most important of these principles are:

• revive tradtional folk handicraft

• preserve and develop the specific culture of Pamiri people

• improve the life condition of its partners

• promote livelihood opportunities using available local resources that are sustainable and responsive to market demand

• foster the exchange of the knowledge and skills of the handicraft producers

Although De Pamiri is doing great work, it is not easy to completely follow these principles all the time. Nowadays in the De Pamiri shop, you also can find products that are not related to Pamiri culture at all, but which are the result of trying to copy western designs. We understand very well that the artisans are happy to sell their products through the De Pamiri shops and that this is the aim of this project. But in the meantime, some artisans bring products that are made from oddments or synthetic yarn.

These products are not marketable at all, neither for tourists nor for the local market. We believe that De Pamiri should stop accepting products which are not in accordance with the project’s aims. This brings us to the next problem: in the staff of De Pamiri there is nobody who could afford to reject unsuitable or low quality products. The De Pamiri depends on the artisans’ willingness to produce (traditional) handicrafts and fears that rejecting products may result in the loss of cooperating artisans. We therefore suggest that De Pamiri should rethink their goals and maybe employ one person from outside who could work together with artisans to improve product quality.

Another problem – one we have already mentioned several times – is how to deal with money and the selling prices. Some artisans were discontent when they compared their earning with the final sales price in the De Pamiri shop. They complained about the price difference and wondered why they gain less money than the sales price.

“The artisans don’t care about culture, they are only interested in money. If you want them to produce something, you should think about the prices. It’s all about money!” (De Pamiri about artisans)

Maybe for some artisans, it is difficult to understand the necessity of De Pamiri’s work and why the project need the surplus of money. Since 2010, De Pamiri does not get any money from previous donors and is financially self-sustainable.

YIPPIEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

After we had to send back the first model Gulsifad because it was incomplete and had wrong measures we finally received the improved model today. The result is really great.

“Foster local design” is the second of our three principles. Instead of ordering socks according to exact drawings and instructions we therefore decided to organize a seminar that would engage the creativity of the artisans themselves. The aim was to sensibilize the artisans for new colours and colour combinations, to motivate them to try out new patterns as well as revive ancient patterns and to find out the best fitting shape of socks according to more modern standards. Please meet our participants:

At the beginning of our workshop we asked the artisans to compare traditional Pamir socks with the socks that are sold in the De Pamiri shop at the moment. Each artisan chose their favourite pair and started to explain why they favoured them – be it the shape, pattern, colour or quality to keep warm. Then we poured out our bag of dyed woollen yarn and asked the participants to sort out the naturally dyed wool from the chemically dyed wool. Both methods proved to be successful in engaging the participants, supporting the communication among the artisans and therefore spreading the existing knowledge.

For our first session we then scratched together all the wool we could get and played a small game about colours. We had prepared cards showing different words, such as love, home, children, nature, Pamirs and each participant chose one card. The task was then to choose four to five colours, which in their mind expressed the feeling they had when thinking about the word they had chosen. Here are some examples:

“I chose these similar greens for friendship, because I believe friends have a lot in common.”

“I chose white for belief, because it is something enlightening. I also chose black, because sometimes believing means simply trusting – even in the dark. These bright colours represent the reward you receive when you believe.”

The second session dealt with patterns. From the De Pamiri booklet Falling Star, a collection of patterns from throughout the Pamirs, and from photographs of traditional Pamir socks, the artisans then chose their favourite patterns and started drawing up instructions on how to crochet these. They combined their chosen colour combinations with these patterns and started making a plan on how their pair of socks would look like. While some chose to copy pattern and colours exactly from a sample picture, others were rather experimental.

Because of lack of woollen yarn, we then had to select five participants who would receive the order to produce a pair of socks according to the colour combinations and patterns they had chosen. With the help of all participants we sorted the wool in order to find enough for the four pairs of long socks and one pair of leggings according to the artisans’ wishes. We then discussed the shape, length and sizes of the socks and finished the contracts stating the appearance of the ordered socks, the payment and terms of delivery. Finally, at the end of the seminar, we had placed five orders. Here is what we were expecting:

Our number one project killer at the moment is the shortage of woollen yarn. One pair of traditional Pamir socks takes around 450g of yarn, we were aiming at 20 pairs, meaning 9kg of wool. For our seminar we were left with around 1,4kg. The shortage of wool and the simultaneously rising demand for woollen Pamir socks has already forced De Pamiri to accept socks from synthetic yarn again – even if this is against their philosophy.

De Pamiri is rightly proud of the fact that their support of woollen products has notably raised the price for raw wool and has led artisans to start producing their own yarn again. So how come that woollen yarn is now so difficult to find?

The better part of Pamiri artisans knows how to spin yarn themselves, but they do so in very small amounts and mainly from wool they get of their own sheep. Most artisans then use this wool to further produce hats or socks; they hardly ever deal with woollen yarn as a product. In contrast to synthetic yarns woollen yarn can therefore not be found on bazaars. In addition, the process of washing, carding and spinning raw wool is extremely time-consuming. Especially in summer during harvest, there is not enough time for spinning. Early fall therefore turned out to be the worst time to start looking for woollen yarn, as all stock from the previous year is running short whereas new yarn has not been spun yet. Finally, spinning yarn has proven to be unprofitable. An agile artisan can manage to produce 1kg of wool in 40 hours. With a price of 45 Somoni per kilogram of woollen yarn, this results in a monthly income of around 160 Somoni, whereas De Pamiri is trying to ensure a monthly income of around 400 Somoni for their artisans. Dealing with wool is therefore only profitable if artisans process it to ready products with higher value. Besides the shortage of woollen yarn, another problem is the fluctuating quality. The thickness is greatly varying and some yarns are not properly twisted or tear easily. In most cases the wool has not been properly washed before spinning which means that pieces of plants and earth can still be found spun into the yarn.

De Pamiri has already identified these problems and started some interventions in order to improve the situation.

The NGO buys woollen yarn from artisans and resells it profit-free in order to distribute the material and to offer woollen yarn to artisans who do not have sheep of their own. De Pamiri has also purchased around 500kg of raw wool, and only recently established a spinning workshop equipped with electrical spinning machines and a hand -carding machine in order to produce their own yarn. This workshop is meant to insure not only a constant supply of woollen yarn, but also a constant quality, as well as to detect the actual time spent on spinning one kilogram of yarn. Unfortunately, the workshop has presented some specific project killers of its own. While De Pamiri calculated to offer only 30 Somoni per kilogram of yarn instead of 45, due to expenses for machines and electricity, employees argue that they could work even faster from home with their hand machines and that on some days their travel expenses exceed their earnings. This and the general shortage of qualified workers have made it very difficult for De Pamiri to find suitable personnel.

So should De Pamiri act as a producer or networker?

The NGO shows little confidence in their artisans when it comes to ordering material or lending machines to artisans so that they could work from home. A certain control of the work is seen to be necessary. “They are always ill or need to take care of their children. They just don’t deliver in time.” On the other hand, however, a well-established network could be just the right tool for handicrafts, which is, by nature, widely distributed rather than centralized. So maybe, rather than trying to make a centralized workshop function properly, De Pamiri could concentrate on methods, such as contracts or regular visits, to ensure constant quality and constant supply of woollen yarn in a widely distributed system.

There are some external reasons complicating the general working situation in the Pamirs.

The road to Dushanbe can be very dangerous. During our two month stay, we have already heard about several car accidents. Although Tajik and Chinese road builders are working a lot, it is very difficult to establish a long-lasting and safe road crossing the big rocks of the Pamir Mountains. Especially during the wintertime, GBAO is usually cut off, because roads to the Tajik Pamirs are closed. So during this time, it is difficult to send something to Dushanbe or other destinations.

Political problems between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – especially because of the water dispute – make transports from or to Russia more delicate. Yet, Russia is still one of the most important trade partners for Tajik economy. Russian products line the shelves in shops and especially high quality products are typically fabricated in Russia. The political situation in Kyrgyzstan and the conflicts in April and June 2010 also showed some impact on Tajikistan and the transition ways for economic goods.

There are very few institutions dedicated to design, art or other creative fields in Tajikistan and the political leadership does not support small projects like De Pamiri handicraft. Although unemployment is one big problem in the whole country, De Pamiri can hardly find suitable personnel for its newly established yarning and dyeing workshop.

Despite all these difficulties, De Pamiri has managed to revive traditional handicrafts and nowadays there are more than 100 artisans from GBAO involved in the project. The Aga Khan Foundation has made some investments in the Tajik Pamirs and also supported De Pamiri in its work. Some other organizations such as Christensen fund, Aid to Artisans or CACSA (Central Asian Craft Supports Association) can also be found among De Pamiri supporters.

Besides these general difficulties, we have also encountered our own personal project killers.

Since the Chinese border was opened, poor quality products have been flooding the Tajik market. People rather buy cheap synthetic wool instead of producing wool from their own sheep. The few artisans yarning their own wool do so mainly in winter times when there is less work to do with the harvest. Yarned wool is therefore hardly available for us and we are working with minimal material amounts. Additionally, many artisans prefer synthetic over natural colors. Their handling is easier and faster, but they also heavily damage the environment.

There are different opinions about prices and profit. Most artisans prefer knitting other products than socks because these are easier to produce and bring more profit. However, if De Pamiri starts charging more for one pair of socks, the price would exceed the market price. This means a greater risk in re-introducing the “new old” Pamir socks as the highly-priced product might banish local customers

ASA projects are planned for three months which is an extremely short period for finding a good way of working together, getting used to different cultural aspects and following and documenting the project progress. There are many steps between having an idea and seeing the results!

De Pamiri owns some pairs of traditional Pamir socks, which are not for sale. Repeatedly, however, customers have shown interest in these. The great variety of patterns and colour shades seems to be very popular. Our aim is therefore to revive old patterns and shapes and start reintroducing the traditional Pamir socks.

“We have to find the secret in how the socks were being made.” (Saidsho, De Pamiri accountant)

Traditionally the long and colourful Pamir socks were worn mainly by men inside their long leather boots. The socks were rolled up from the top and squeezed into the shaft of the boots, which is why the shape is usually rather baggy. The traditional Pamir sock had some features that are lost today. There was no separated heel and front, but a reinforced sole. Some socks show a tassel on the top that may have been used to keep the sock from sliding into the boot. Additionally, a feature still present today is the border of the sock introducing all colours used in the sock.

The socks were originally made from around four or five different colours: A background colour (usually neutral or dark shade), two main colours (strong colours, defining the outlook of the sock), and one or two effect colour (very bright colour used in small amounts). The main colours can change throughout the sock, at the foot of the sock one colour is typically replaced by white.

Traditional patterns have their origin mainly in the nature, such as crop, animal tracks, the sky or fire as well as early tools like the reaping hook or bow. One pair of socks would show up one to three patterns – large and elaborate patterns in the leg and smaller simpler patterns in the foot of the socks.

The modern version of Pamir socks, which are currently being sold in the De Pamiri shop shows up only around three or four different patterns, while many of the traditional patterns have been lost. Artisans we met kept a booklet in which they collect templates on how to crochet the patterns they use the most. Some artisans know how to copy patterns from other products or even design their own patterns.

Still today the crochet hook is typically fashioned from an old spoon-handle.

We would like to introduce a modern version of the traditional Pamir sock: long socks with traditional patterns, more variety in colours and a modern shape especially in heel and tip.