Isting: the wool felt rugs of Ingushetiya

Preserving heritage wool crafts is about more than just saving a way to ornament our homes. 

While there are fiber crafts that live more in the realm of the decorative than the practical, creating clothing, curtains, rugs, and other household items has an impact on how much fuel we need, and the amount of work required to acquire that fuel. They can affect how well we sleep. It can alter the noise levels in our homes. The colors and patterns brought into our homes and that cloth our bodies can impact our moods and spark imaginative thought or encourage rest. 

Not only that, but the act of creation itself benefits the creator. Contributing beautiful or functional items builds a sense of place and confidence for someone as a member of a larger community. Using methods passed to us by our family members or mentors ties us to them and roots us in time. 

National Geographic has an article in their November 2022 edition about the efforts underway to preserve the skills required to make isting, the wool felt rugs from Ingushetiya, a republic of Russia.

The rugs are vibrantly colored with large “ornaments” or patterns worked into their surface that had religious and cultural symbolism, as well as natural images. They were traditionally made by women and essential for maintaining a warm home in this mountain region. 

The story covers the reasons behind the decline, linked to larger political machinations in the USSR World War Two when Stalin ordered the deportation of the local people, as well as what is being done to revive the skills, and the impact that it’s preservation is having on the women of the community.

It’s a fascinating read, the rugs are exceptional, and the photos that accompany the article are beautiful. Find the story in your copy of the November issue of National Geographic, if you are a subscriber, or click here to read an online version. (You will need to enter your email address to read the entire article, but it is otherwise free.)