Margilan (Marg’ilon in Uzbek) is the centre of Uzbekistan’s silk production. It has been so since the 11th century, much in the same way as nearby Rishton has been for ceramics. You can follow along every step of the silk production process in the Yodgorlik factory or in one of the smaller workshops. Alternatively, just dive in straightaway and get overwhelmed by the choice of fabric on offer in the Kumtepa bazaar.
Thursday is ideal for a visit to Margilan, as you can visit the market and the workshops together in one day.
Silk and ikat in Margilan today
Abrband (‘bound clouds’) is the romantic Uzbek word for the resist-dye technique commonly known by its Indonesian name: ikat. Ikat differs from tie-dyeing in that the patterns are dyed onto the threads before the fabric is woven, whereas in tie-dyeing, the fabric is woven first and then the resist bindings are applied to the fabric which is later dyed.
Despite Soviet centralization and the introduction of labor-saving devices at one point or another in the process, these days in Margilan the basic pattern of production and the division of labor into many highly specialized tasks is probably quite similar to the 19th century.
Except at the Yodgorlik “factory” and a very few other production centers where much of the process happens in one compound, most textiles travel from specialist to specialist, each working in his or her own household on only one of the 30 or more specialized operations necessary to produce a finished ikat textile.
Each textile needs an overseer who initiates and finances its creation and oversees its progress from workshop to workshop. This might be a merchant or a prominent master weaver. Although ikat still dominates women’s fashion in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the trade is now international, with designers scanning the internet for trends and targeting their designs for specific domestic and international markets.
The terminology used can be confusing. Atlas is the word you most commonly hear. Although it can refer to a specific textile (experts: a satin-weave warp ikat), in the context of Margilan, just know that the word is interchangeable with ‘ikat’ or ‘abrband’.
Adras is a cotton-silk mix. The percentages used differ. Fashionable these days is adras with a lurex thread woven through to give it some extra bling, but you can also find the plainer cloth if you search for it. “Shoyi” is 100% silk. Just a feel should make that clear.
Yodgorlik silk factory
Despite being more expensive than their mechanised competitors, the Yodgorlik factory (Gmaps) has successfully managed the transition from a planned to a market economy. It did so, not by introducing more efficient technology, but instead by returning to traditional methods and a focus on craft and design.
On their inexpensive tour you can view the whole process from cocoons to finished silk cloth using only natural dyes. At the end, the factory has a shop where prices are higher than on the bazaar. Although the silk factory is definitely very accustomed to receiving tourists, no one pushes you to buy anything.
The tour goes Monday to Saturday, 10 to 17. For foreign languages other than English or visits on Sunday you should book in advance at 71/1131061, 73/2536761 or 91/3107059.
Said Ahmad Khoja madrasa
Another important ikat stop is the workshop of Rasuljon Mirzahmedov (Gmaps – similar working hours to Yodgorlik). A much smaller operation than Yodgorlik, and in a most picturesque setting, you can view the threads being bound, dyed and woven into cloth. The workshop also houses a woodblock printing workshop, where the son of master Salijon Ahmadaliev is happy to show you this process.
Having taken over from his illustrious father Turgunbay who designed many ikat patterns for Yodgorlik, Rasuljon worked with fashion designer Oscar de la Renta to reinvent the lost technique of alo bakhmal, a very expensive type of silk-velvet ikat which was last made in the early 20th century for the Bukharan court. Since de la Renta’s introduction of Ferghana ikat on the runway, many other international fashion designers followed.
While there are shops attached to the silk factory and the madrasa workshop, for the best bargains you have to throw yourself into the fray at the Kumtepa bazaar, 5 km west of the town centre (Gmaps). This huge market operates only on Thursdays and Sundays. Activity peters out mid-afternoon.
Merchants from other parts of Uzbekistan and neighboring countries come to the Margilan market to purchase atlas in a stunning array of patterns and colors that change from season to season – an indication of a thriving industry.
Head down to the very back of the market and you will be rewarded with two long double rows of booths that offer the greatest number and variety of hand-tied ikat textiles anywhere in Central Asia. Since local women generally make their own clothes or have them tailored, the majority is textile by the running meter, but you can also find finished goods.
Industrial silk factories
These are not set up for tourists, but if you want to have a look at how the industrial production of silk is set up, there are still several factories in operation, if at a reduced level from their peak productivity during Soviet times. Addresses you could try out: PO Atlas, Margilan Silk Factory, B.B. Kuybysheva Silk Factory, Ipakcho Silk Factory. There are also several cotton mills in town for those enjoying the experience: Tekstil Fergana, Tapshlak.
The Khonakha mosque (Gmaps) dates back to the 16th century. Its inner cupola is beautifully decorated with wood carving and a massive chandelier. The Toron mosque near the central food bazaar is also worth visiting. A bevy of newly built mosques are less of an attraction.
Noted by its absence these days, across the road from the local history museum (formerly the museum to local Soviet revolutionary Yuldosh Okhunboboev – Gmaps) once stood the statue of Uzbek actress Nurkhon Yuldasheva. Murdered by her brother in 1929 after she appeared in public unveiled, she became a Soviet martyr as part of the campaign against female oppression. Communist wokeness went unappreciated post-independence, and the statue disappeared.
If you are making your way across the valley by shared taxi, Fergana is the local transport hub; it’s a 20-minute (12000 som) taxi ride away.
A number of hotels have been built after the death of president Karimov in 2016 and the subsequent economic liberalisation. Post-covid, some have disappeared once again.
If you are looking for a cosy homestay vibe, Ikathouse is the place to be. Its rooms are not up to the standard some people might be looking for, but it makes up for that with a beautiful outdoor space and the warmth of a family-run business. It is owned by the Mirzahmedov family featured above, so you can be certain that all the ikat adorning the walls is of the highest quality.
If you just want a new, clean, modern room with all amenities, Diyor Hotel is for you. It’s near the train station.