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Traveller’s diary: What's in a handshake?


Traveller’s diary: What's in a handshake?

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She refused to shake my hand. We were in the Sheki silk factory in the shadow of the Caucasus. Spring had come and optimism was in the air. We were filming in a large upstairs room where the women were busy weaving the silk and woollen carpets. Handmade carpets ordered from around the world, handmade carpets of rich colour and a history stretching back centuries. A traditional craft handed down from generation to generation.

The optimism in the building was down not just to the weather but also because today was the end of eight months work by four of the women. From the end of last summer, as leaves fell from the trees and then winter snow capped the nearby mountains the weavers had daily worked the silk and wool.

Two centimetres of the coloured silk had been skilfully stitched into the pattern each day while a generous four centimetres of wool was used each day. It is one creative process which does not run on a timetable. Before the ceremonial lifting of the carpet off the huge frame on which it had been created Ibadova Olmaz arrived.

A squat lady who has worked here for over 35 years. We were introduced. She waved away her hand as myself and the cameraman went to shake it. She beckoned us downstairs to what looked like the workers’ kitchen. A table and a range of dirty cups many containing coloured liquid. A bottle of vinegar and some salt.

Ibadova was clearly the boss here and an expert in her field, a “chef” of high regard in her own territory. Her recipes travel worldwide for she is the one who creates and mixes all the colours which dye the silk threads for the carpets. The sources are from nature at her front door in the foothills of the Caucasus. In the corner hung several clumps of silk threads , all a deep and luxurious red. She held up her hand. It matched the colour of the silk. The dye was still damp and so she explained had not wanted to shake our hands.

Sometime in the future someone will walk on carpet costing thousands of euros. Will they be aware I wonder that the rich red threads in the pattern came from a red onion and the personal and unique recipe of Ibadova Olmaz?

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