Embroidery is The craft in Shahrisabz and there are stalls selling embroidered pieces at all the main sights of the town. Whether they have set their goods up along the wall by the Ak Serai Palace, in the courtyard of the Kok Gumraz mosque or wherever they think a passing tourist will find them, the women selling are traders - not the women who did the work. They will compete for your attention and your purchases, and bargaining is definitely part of the deal
What to buy: With an embroidery factory in the town, a lot of what you see is machine -made. It's readily identifiable, most of it featuring an all over chain-stitched (urma) design worked in a very fine thread. The blue cap in the photo is machine-made in this way - it cost me $! and a dozen of them made the perfect take-home gifts for my bookclub the first time I was in Shahrisabz (we're a canny group - $2pp is the maximum we'll spend on each other). You'll find bags of all shapes and sizes, cushion covers, tablecloths, jackets - a whole range of things in this work - colourful, cheap and cheerful.
More expensive, hand-worked but still massed produced, is a range of goods worked in either the needlepoint stitch itoki that is unique to this area, or the various stiches used all over the country. The other cap in the photo is itoki, and I paid $5 for that. Again, you'll find a wide range of pieces for sale. Interestingly, some are worked in a palette of colours that is clearly aimed at appealing to Western tastes - tone on tone in rich russets and deep blues, not at all traditional but very effective. I bought a terrific big bag that I'm sure was cut out of an old suzani, the whole thing dyed black so it's the textures created by the dense stitching that become the focus rather than the colours and design. It's very stylish, well made, fully lined, and it cost me $15.
If you're lucky and prepared to really poke around, you may find a treasure like the little bag made from a piece of old embroidered silk velvet in the last photo. The work is wonderful quality, the colours faded to soft ochre and terracotta. It certainly dates from the early years of the 20th century - it cost me $5, and I didn't even think of bargaining.
What to pay: Prices have gone up - this year's bookclub gifts cost me $2 apiece - little pouches just the right size for carrying a few pieces of jewellery when travelling. Made of velvet and embroidered pieces and finished with tiny gold bells on the drawstring.,they were a big hit with the girls.
....buying a doll that was virtually a portrait of the girl in the shop? I'm not a doll collector but this one was irresistable. Handmade, with a papier-mache head and a wired poseable body, she comes from a long tradition of doll and puppet making that was suppressed, as were so many traditional crafts here in Uzbekistan, during the long decades of Soviet rule. Dressed in a silk ikat kuilak (long tunic) and lozim with a short embroidered jacket just like the ones her bigger sisters wear these days, she also has felt boots and a large head scarf over her long black plait.
I found her in the Koba medressah in one of the small specialist craft shops that occupy what once were student's cells. This is the place to come if you are looking for something different from the mostly mass-produced stuff you'll find on sale all over town in Shahrisabz as everywhere in Uzbekistan.
What to buy: It was still quite early and not all the shops were open when I visited the medressah but I still managed to find two treasures - the doll and a really lovely evening bag. Stitched in what I would call needlepoint or tapestry and here is called iroki which is only used here in Shahrisabz and the surrounding villages, it is silk on silk, with a lining of silk ikat, the work is of the highest quality - a real heirloom piece. The bhoti design compliments the traditional pomegrate shape of the bag. I love it!
What to pay: Prices are a lot higher here than out in the street, and they are set - there's no bargaining to be done - having said that, in reality what you 're paying for the quality of you're buying is very reasonable. My bag cost me $25, the doll was $10
Like other cities in Uzbekistan, Shakhrisabz has a colorful bazaar and here you can find everything you need. Closed on Sundays