Tatarstan and Azerbaijan are two brotherly republics whose historical, political, economic and humanitarian ties have been lasting for decades, becoming stronger every year. And in this close interaction a special role is played by cultural acquaintance and interpenetration, which gives birth to something new and unusual.
Leather Mosaic and Itchigi
Thus, during the Connecting Thread of Creativity, Transferring Experience to Future Generations exhibition of Russian and Azerbaijani folk crafts, which was held within the framework of the Russia – Azerbaijan international conference, the event participants had a unique opportunity to get acquainted with the traditional attire of Tatar women, see carefully reconstructed izyu and khasite carefully and in every detail reconstructed by local craftsmen and immerse into the history of Tatar national costume. The guests of Kazan were especially fascinated by itchigi and leather slippers made using unique leather mosaic technique, which is peculiar only to the Tatar people.
If we refer to history, we will find out that the tradition of making patterned leather shoes is unique, inherent exclusively in Tatar culture and has long been famous throughout Russia. Well-known Tatar embroidered boots – itchigi – can be seen not only on stage, but also in everyday life. The fashion to wear leather products with national ornaments is becoming popular again. After all, this kind of shoes, in addition to their main purpose, can lift the spirit of those who are tired of gray monotony and routine of life, and inspire to study their rich and centuries-old history.
For centuries, itchigis have been made by hand in tandem with the warmth of a craftsman’s heart. Nothing has changed now, except for one thing – there are far fewer masters of this craft.
There is a supposition that the word ‘chitek’ (itchigi) is a shortened derivative of the word ‘chigelgәn itek’ (embroidered boots’). A modern Russian variant of ‘itchigi’ (itchetygi), derived from ‘echke ittek’ – boots on which the outer shoes are put on, also supports this view. Itchigi were especially appreciated by our grandfathers and grandmothers, who observed the rites of the Islamic religion. Such shoes were indispensable when visiting a mosque and praying, because under certain conditions they relieved of the need to wash their feet during the ritual ablutions before each prayer. This is permissible under the Shariah.
Ancestors of the Tatars, the Volga Bulgars, were acknowledged masters of artistic leather craftsmanship and manufacture of quality clothing and footwear made from soft types of leather, called yuft and saffian leather. Embroidered national itchigi and clogs were highly valued in the world market in the century before last. For instance, Tatar itchigi were awarded a big gold medal in Paris in 1883. And in 1920, in the French capital, ethnographic products from different countries were presented. French aesthetes admired green and red embroidered itchigi. The national footwear was awarded a prize.