Библиотека нематериального культурного наследия Республики Башкортостан
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Bashkir shawl is a precious gift. It could have appeared only here, in Bashkortostan, but its fame spread far beyond the borders of the republic. A fluffy warm shawl made of the finest goat down has earned the right to be called the brand of the Bashkortostan.
In written sources the Bashkir shawl has been mentioned since the XVIII century. In those centuries the shawl was not yet a detail of an exclusively female costume – researchers of the region wrote about wide knitted down shawls, which were usually worn with winter clothes.

The woven or knitted middle of the fabric along the edges was complemented by a patterned ornament. The Bashkir shawl has preserved these features to this day.
Historians note that knitting from wool and down in our region has almost a thousand-year tradition. In the Sarmatian burial mounds of the V–IV centuries BC together with the «Golden deer» of Eurasia archaeologists have discovered the remains of a coarse weave fabric, as scientists believe, wool. In addition, clay spinning wheels were found in women's burials − special weights that pull the thread when spinning.

In many mounds of the Bronze Age stone and bone spinning wheels are found, in the central hole of which wooden spindles were inserted. In the Bashkir villages of Abzelilovsky, Baimaksky districts to this day knitters use stone spinning wheels during down spinning that allow the spindles to rotate faster.
«Many Russian ethnographers have written that Bashkir women have always mastered the art of making shawls. The nature of the Southern Urals itself contributes to the appearance of this down and products made from it. Our shawl gave the basis to the Orenburg down shawl and, of course, the Bashkir shawl is a brand. I would build a monument to the Bashkir goat and the women, who knit these soft down shawls! I am unequivocally convinced of this and I will never get tired of repeating these words».

Sarvar Surina
journalist, writer, playwright
Having noticed the peculiarities of the local shawl back in the XVIII century, the famous researcher of the region Pyotr Ivanovich Rychkov was the first to try to technologize the traditional Bashkir craft and make a down shawl a brand. In 1766 he published a study «Opyt o koz'yei shersti» («Experience about goat hair»), where he reported on the experience of working with goat down and the prospects for the development of the craft.
The widespread use of down products among Bashkirs is evidenced by the Russian archaeologist, anthropologist Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko, who collected rich information about the life of Bashkirs during expeditions to the Southern Urals in the late XIX – early XX century. In the results of the expeditions he noted that the Bashkirs were widely engaged in this profitable trade.
«…and we have seen Paris»
The Cossacks, who arrived in this region 250 years ago, adopted the technology of working with down. On the basis of rough, dense knitting the Cossacks created downy lace – in this way at the junction of Bashkir and Russian culture ornamental motifs of the modern Orenburg lacy shawl were formed.

In the village of Isyangulovo of the Zianchurinsky district of the Republic of Bashkortostan people retell the story of the arrival of Empress Catherine II in the Cossack village of Redut. The Empress stayed there for a very short time, she drove on. But by the time of the visit the locals had prepared a precious gift for her – the thinnest lacy down shawl, which was put through a golden ring in front of her eyes.

In 1867 the Bashkir shawl among the Orenburg down shawls was first presented at the World exhibition in Paris. Under this brand Bashkir shawl participated in other international exhibitions of the XIX century.
The down shawl created by the hands of the masters, knitted in the long evenings by the light of a splinter has become an integral part of clothing.

But clothing is not only a reflection of the life of the people, their relationship with nature, but also the attitude of their soul, their centuries-old culture.

Knitting Bashkir shawls like other crafts – weaving, embroidery – has rich traditions.

A shawl is not just a piece of clothing. It is an inimitable, unlike anything else work of art.
Bashkir shawl
TV movie «Bashkirskaya shal'» («Bashkir shawl»), author – A. Valeyeva, 1992
Unique goat down is a feature of the Southern Urals
The special qualities of the Bashkir down shawl – warmth and lightness – are given by down combed from goats of local breeds. Until now in the villages of the south of Bashkortostan the daughter-in-law often brings a goat from her parents' farm to the house along with her dowry – this is how the skill of knitting shawls is appreciated.

The down of goats of the Southern Urals is unique – soft, 1.5 to 2–3 millimeters thick, 4–6 millimeters long. No other samples have such qualities. The high quality of the down of the Bashkir shawl is due to both the local breed of goats and the nature of the region: the climate and the Bashkir steppe motley grass play a role.

The key role of natural factors became known at the end of the XIX century, when a batch of local goats was transported to France. To the disappointment of the new owners after a year or two the combed down did not have the same fluffiness and thinness. This observation was also confirmed in the Soviet years, when goats were transported to other regions of the country.
Since the beginning of winter goats are being prepared for combing out the down: they are fed hay, grain, watered with clean water.

The owner makes sure that the goats do not get cold, but also do not stay in excessive heat. It is necessary that during the day goats must be in the sun – in the pen.

These rules of keeping a downy goat are carefully observed, otherwise there will be no good down.

The down is combed out in mid-February, when the frosts are getting stronger, but winter is already smoothly turns into spring – at this time the down is the fluffiest and thickest. And before combing out the goat is kept warm for a day or two so that the down separates easily and does not full.
Zianchurinsky down shawl
TV movie «Zianchurinskiy pukhovyi platok» («Zianchurinsky down shawl»), author – R. Yuldashbayev, 2015
Valuable properties of goat down
  • Goat down is able to absorb up to 35 % of moisture in relation to its weight.
  • Goat down has a low thermal conductivity. Therefore when wearing all the heat generated by the human body is not dissipated in the surrounding space, but is preserved.
  • Goat down is soft and plastic. It has high extensibility and elasticity.
  • It is said that when a hand touches goat down there is a feeling that it is dipped in butter.


First the goats are combed with a large-toothed comb, and after that – with a fine-toothed one. Housewives take care of their goats and comb out the down slowly and smoothly in order not to damage the skin of animals. Up to three hundred grams of the warmest raw materials are obtained from each goat.

The obtained down is cleaned from dirt, dust, separated from the wool. Then the down is sorted by color, length and thickness. Each stage of working with the down requires patience and perseverance – it is necessary to manually sort through all the material.

After sorting the down is washed and degreased. The last stage of working with down is another combing – «shapalau», after which the down becomes soft, silky and is ready to become yarn.

«I've been knitting a shawl»
First the basis of the shawl is calculated, then the square middle of the shawl is knitted – the main «padded jacket». Knitting is usually done with knitting needles, but the art of making shawls on wooden looms has also revived in the republic.

The edges of the shawl are knitted separately for each of the four sides. In the arsenal of each craftswoman there are three or four different ornaments. Some craftswomen also knit patterns in the middle of the fabric. Only a few knitters know the art of solid knitting of the traditional Bashkir shawl.

At the end the edges of the shawls are knitted, which hold the whole composition together.
The finished shawl is soaked in cool water and dried, stretching it over its entire width, in a well-ventilated room. Special attention is paid to ensuring that the shawl retains its square shape.

The traditions of the multi-complex process of working with raw materials and the finished shawl allow to preserve the features of goat down, according to the definition of the craftswomen themselves, «the same as the one of goat itself».

The property of goat down to react to cold is also used to fluff a newly knitted shawl. On a frosty day it is put and trampled into fresh snow that has just fallen, and after that, shaking off the snow, it is hung out to dry. This is called «obyorsyoge shel' tapau». This procedure allows to achieve a special fluffiness thanks to folk «cryotechnologies».
Revival of the Bashkir shawl
During the Soviet years shawl knitting artels operated in the south of the republic. The folk art workshop «Azatlyk» also worked in the village of Isyangulovo. From the down collected in Bashkortostan the middle of the shawl was made, and the edges were knitted by housewives at home. So Bashkir artisans have contributed to the glory of the famous Orenburg down shawls.

The traditions of ancient art are maintained today at the regional level. The initiators of the creation of Bashkir shawl knitting clubs were activists of the Republican Center of Folk Art and the «Ural» gallery.

Now there are three centers for knitting Bashkir shawls in the republic:
«Vazyamskie shali» – «Vazyam shawls» (village of Maloarslangulovo of the Khaibullinsky district),
«Sterlibashevskie uzory» – «Sterlibashevo patterns» (village of Sterlibashevo of the Sterlibashevsky district),
«Doroga Kanify» – «Kanifa's road» (village of Yuldybayevo of the Zilairsky district).
The eternal softness of the Bashkir shawl
TV movie «Vechnaya nezhnost' bashkirskoi shali» («The eternal softness of the Bashkir shawl»), author – S. Surina, 2008
Types of Bashkir shawls
Large, or «Forest» shawl

With a size of 1.5 by 1.6 meters this densely knitted shawl is also called a «rural» or «forest» shawl. It can be wrapped around the whole body, and often such a shawl is worn under winter outerwear in severe frosts.

Shawl of fine knitting – «wal'»

A fine knitted shawl is called «wal'», and although it is not inferior in size to a «forest» shawl, it looks more elegant, the knitted wide edges are abundantly decorated with ornaments. This is the most popular type of Bashkir shawl – it is most in demand on the market and it is this type of shawl, thrown over one's shoulders, that we see during the performance of folk dances with a shawl.


Small in size, it is used by housewives as an everyday headdress in the winter months. Newborn babies and the children after the bathhouse are wrapped in it.

Homespun shawl

There is a separate name for a shawl made on a rural loom: in the Abzelilovsky district it is called «yiyar shel'» – «a combined shawl». The middle of the shawl is woven on a loom and therefore has a special density.
Shawl pattern – handwriting of a craftswoman
In the arsenal of each craftswoman there are three or four ornaments. The pattern can be called both the handwriting of the craftswoman and her personal guarantee for the quality of the shawl. Some craftswomen knit patterns in the middle of the fabric. The dense middle and ornamental edges are knitted separately. Only a few people know the art of solid knitting of the traditional Bashkir shawl.

The names of the patterns are mainly related to household items and the environment.
Popular patterns are «taubizek» (a pattern similar to a mountain), «yaprak» («leaf»), «seske» («flower»), «sylbyr» («chain»), «yamgyr» («rain»), «halma» («rhombuses»), «kosh tele» («bird's tongue»), «beseitaban» («cat's paws»), «kekersek» («curve»), «satrash» («chess»).

The ornamental patterns of the edges of the down shawl have their own «homeland».
Basically the names of the patterns came from villages in the south of Bashkortostan, where this craft has long been developed. For example, in the village of Sazaly a pattern similar to a chain was called «sylbyr» («chain)», and in the village of Sirgul – «yamgyr» («rain»), and in the village of Ibrai – «Zagira bizege» («Zagira's pattern»), in honor of young daughter-in-law named Zagira, who taught women to knit this pattern.

«It takes a month or two for each shawl. The main thing is that it should be beautiful and warm, so that the shawl pleases and warms the owner. The secret of my shawls is that each loop is in its place. The down is also important – I go to villages for it and choose the best raw materials. I knit not so much for sale, but for the soul, for the heart».

Zulfiya Bikbulatova
three-time winner of the Grand Prix of the republican festival «Bashkirskaya shal'» («Bashkir shawl»)
The history of a folk song
The famous dance song «Shel' beilenem» («I've been knitting a shawl») was recorded by the collector of folklore Sultan Gabyashi at the beginning of the last century and published in the collection «Bashkort khalyk yirzary» («Bashkir folk songs») in 1935.

Among the performers of this song are T. Kh. Uzyanbayeva, the Choral Chapel of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Magfira Galeyeva, Alsu Safina.

Arrangements were made by Zagir Ismagilov for voice and piano, by Khusain Akhmetov, Andrei Kushnirenko, Rafik Sal'manov and Andrei Tikhomirov for a cappella choir.

The melody of the song is used in the opera «Aikhylu» by M. M. Valeyev and N. I. Peiko.

Shawl is one of the brands of Bashkortostan. A solo Bashkir dance tells the story of a girl knitting a shawl late at night.

Skilled hands process the yarn, pull out the threads, and meanwhile the girl's thoughts are about her beloved. The dance movements convey every stage of shawl making. Kyska kyuy (quick short song) performed by Flyura Chalykosh.
Solo Bashkir dance «Shel' beilenem» («I've been knitting a shawl») performed by Alexandra Solov'eva

I've been knitting a shawl, I've been knitting a shawl,
I've been knitting a shawl, I've been knitting a shawl,
My shawl is not round,
My shawl is not round.

Enne-ghizer, enne-ghizer gheneyem de,
Enne-ghizer, enne-ghizer gheneyem.
(Untranslatable Bashkir interjections)

So that, having arrived (to you), we can talk,
So that, having arrived (to you), we can talk,
My soul is not a butterfly,
My soul is not a butterfly.


Skin of black lamb,
Skin of black lamb,
It will become an otter, you say, or what,
It will become an otter, you say, or what?


From the fact that I will jump up and start to dance,
From the fact that I will jump up and start to dance,
It will be a sin, you say, or what,
It will be a sin, you say, or what?


How to choose a shawl?
The first thing you should pay attention to when choosing a shawl is its fluffiness. If the shawl on the market is already fluffed, then you can not see the flaws in the shawl net. A high-quality shawl will fluff only with time, in the cold. In addition, the fluffiness induced by the comb breaks the finest fibers of down.

Can shawl yarn be without threads? Yes, it can. But for greater practicality the yarn base is now being made with thread also for the Bashkir shawl. The traditional Bashkir shawl is knitted from paired down threads, which allows to dispense with a thread base.

The original color of the Bashkir shawl is either rich gray or cream, rarely is white. These are the colors of natural goat down. Dyed or discolored shawls have weak fibers that have already lost their properties.
Shawl to one's liking
The main criterion for choosing a shawl is your feelings!
You need to try on a shawl, touch it, throw it on your shoulders and feel – is it your shawl, do you feel good in it.
How much is it?
After you have decided on the choice of shawl that you like you can bargain. If you buy on the market, then the price varies from three to seven thousand rubles. Individual craftswomen have prices 1.5–2 times higher, depending on the subtlety of the work.
On the market

You can also buy a high-quality shawl on the market, since the competitive environment weeds out most unscrupulous sellers.

But it is better to choose on the market with a person, who understands down shawls, otherwise there is a risk that in a month the shawl will begin to lose its down, and the net will disintegrate.
At the exhibition

The second option is to come for a shawl at specialized exhibitions, which held annually in Ufa and major cities of the republic.

There is less chance of purchasing low-quality goods and there is an opportunity to get advice. In addition, a wide range of products is presented.
From the manufacturer

The third way is to apply to shawl knitting clubs and artels, to firms specializing in this type of product.

A professional approach of manufacturers of Bashkir shawls to the formation of their name on the market allows them to keep up with the times and compete with other Russian manufacturers.


  1. Abdulgazina T. Ya. (2006). K istorii pukhovyazal'nogo iskusstva Bashkir [On the history of the Bashkir art of knitting from goat down hair]. In: F. G. Khisamitdinova, R. M. Yusupov (eds.). Problemy etnogeneza i etnicheskoi istorii bashkirskogo naroda. Materialy Vserossiyskoi nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii, posvyashchennoi 70-letiyu S. N. Shitovoi [Problems of ethnogenesis and ethnic history of the Bashkir people. Materials of the All-Russian scientific and practical conference dedicated to the 70th anniversary of S. N. Shitova]. Ufa: Gilem, pp. 55–59 (in Russian).
  2. Akhmerov R. B. (1996). Ob istokakh dekorativno-prikladnogo iskusstva bashkirskogo naroda [About the origins of arts and crafts of the Bashkir people]. Ufa: Kitap, 60 p. (in Russian).
  3. Kul'sarina G. G. (2016). Kontsept «shal'» v tekstakh fol'klora yuzhnykh rayonov Respubliki Bashkortostan [The concept of «shawl» in the folklore texts of the southern districts of the Republic of Bashkortostan]. Filologicheskie nauki. Voprosy teorii i praktiki, no. 12, pt. 2, pp. 120–123 (in Russian).
  4. Lyrics of the song «Shel' beilenem» [«I've been knitting a shawl»], Bashkort khalyk yirzary [Bashkir folk songs]. Available at: http://yir.atspace.com/shal.htm (accessed 26 November 2021) (in Bashkir and Russian).
  5. Rudenko S. I. (1955). Bashkiry. Istoriko-etnograficheskie ocherki [The Bashkirs. Historical and ethnographic essays]. Moscow; Leningrad: Izdatel'stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 394 p. (in Russian).
  6. Rychkov P. I. (1766). Opyt o koz'yei shersti [Experience about goat hair]. In: A. A. Nartov, I. I. Taubert (eds.). Trudy Vol'nogo ekonomicheskogo obshchestva k pooshchreniyu v Rossii zemledeliya i domostroitel'stva [The works of the Free Economic Society for the encouragement of agriculture and housekeeping in Russia]. Saint Petersburg: Tipografiya Imperatorskoi Akademii nauk, pt. 2, pp. 63–68 (in Russian).
  7. Shakurov R. Z. (ed.) (1996). Bashkortostan: kratkaya entsiklopediya [Bashkortostan: a short encyclopedia]. Ufa: Bashkirskaya entsiklopediya, 672 p. (in Russian).
  8. Shitova S. N. (1995). Bashkirskaya narodnaya odezhda [Bashkir folk clothing]. Ufa: Kitap, 240 p. (in Russian).

Photos: «Bashinform» news agency; «Bashkirskaya shal'» project.

Author (compiler): G. Ya. Yusupova, 2021

Translation: D. Yusupova, 2021