- Tour Eagle TV studio, an affiliate of CNN.
- Visit 11th Secondary School, a science and technology middle/high school where we were greeted by student and teacher performances of traditional Mongolian songs and dance.
Summary of School Visit
by Kim Harms
Today we visited a math and science specialty school in Ulaanbaatar. Our visit started with a remarkable presentation of the performing arts talents of both the staff and students, including a Mongolian throat singer. The students come from all parts of Mongolia and entrance to the school is very competitive. Seventy percent of the students are male and thirty percent are female. Graduates are admitted to colleges all over the world including many in the U.S. The 8th grade curriculum consists of 17 subjects including math, physics, biology, chemistry, art, physical training, Mongolian language, Mongolian script, literature, history, social science, design technology, geography, Russian language, English, computer science, civics. Extracurricular activities include basketball, volleyball, table tennis and soccer for boys and volleyball for girls. Music programs are also available. We were all impressed with the beautifully disciplined students.
- Walk through the historic Choijin Lama temple which is nestled between modern high rise buildings.
- Watch demonstration of traditional felt making at Made in Mongolia factory store.
Yaks, Yurts, Yarn
by Jennifer MagnoneMongolian Yak fiber is as soft as cashmere and warmer than merino wool. The life of a nomad revolves around the Yak; from the cheese, butter and meat, to the yak wool tents and using them as transportation. In current years, luxury label manufacturers realize the potential of opportunities in employment for the nomads and support the nomadic herders’ way of life.
Because the world doesn’t know much about the amazing qualities of yak wool, there isn’t a significant demand for it. In Mongolia, the intensive grazing of cashmere goats has degraded much of the pastures, threatening the long-term livelihoods of nomadic herders, as well as the landscape. Research published in Conservation Biology Journal has shown that the intensive grazing of cashmere goats has led to the consumption of up to 95 per cent of forage across the Tibetan plateau, Mongolia and northern India, leaving just five per cent for wild animals to graze.
Yak fiber is commonly referred to as the coat fiber. Yak fiber wool has been utilized by nomads for over a thousand years to make clothing, tents, ropes and blankets. Recently the fiber has also been used in the garment industry to produce premium-priced clothing and accessories. The coat of the yak is composed of three different types of fiber that vary greatly in appearance and characteristics. The quantity of fiber produced by one yak is dependent on factors such as sex, age and breed of the yak, and the proportions of the different layers vary throughout the different seasons. Yak wool has been proven to outperform sheep wool in a number of areas: warmth, softness, breathability, odor-resistant (contrary to popular belief, yaks do not have a strong odor – unless combined with the bacteria that live on the skin, sweat is odorless. The anti-microbial properties of yak fibers prevent bacteria from living on sweat thereby considerably reducing odor.)
–The coarse: Mostly used by nomads in tent making, this fiber forms the outer coat of long hair that characterizes the appearance of the yak.
–The mid-type: This fiber is naturally strong but not stronger than the outer layers to make ropes and tents and not as fine as the down fiber for the textile industry.
–The down fiber: This is the finest fiber and is generally shed by the animal during late spring/early summer period. Therefore, this fine layer needs to be harvested before it is shed in the summer season. Down fiber, and fewer sweat glands, are two examples of how yaks have adapted to survive extreme cold temperatures (sometimes as low as -50 °C, or -58 °F).
Felt making – a lost art
For thousands of years man has practiced his ingenious methods of turning the fleece of the sheep or yak into warm clothing. Historical specimens of felt (from the Bronze Age – about 1400-1200 BC) have survived in large numbers and give ample evidence of a degree of inventiveness, aesthetic feeling and refinement quite unlooked for in the production and use of this material. Archaeologists have found kurgans (burial mounds), buried deep under ice and snow, with saddle felt and saddle blankets – decorated with an eagle or elk – which demonstrates the finest craftsmanship. Also, the heads of the entombed were covered with thick felt and the women of high rank wore felt socks.
Felt making process for yurts (ger)
Prior to felting (the process of making felt), the wool is beaten with flexible wooden sticks. It is beaten along the line of the fiber and aids in the removal of dirt from between the fibers. The result is a courser wool than one gets from carding (cleansing, disentangle before spinning).
The mother felt is rolled out onto the field. This is an old felt used as a base for the new felt.
The beaten wool is now placed on the mother felt in such a way as to have the fibers relatively parallel. After the layers are laid out, warm water is spread out over the wool in small drops. A large poll is then placed across one end of the new felt and both the new wool and the mother felt are then rolled up tightly around the pole. Wet hides are wrapped around the felt and then a strong rope binds. Loops are attached to each end of the pole. Ropes are then attached to these loops and tied to horses or camels, which pull the roll across the steppe. After some hours have past, the new roll is opened and inspected – a layer of grease is applied to protect against the heaviest rain – the felt is now ready for use.
From the goat to top quality yarn
One of the rarest natural fibers in the world, cashmere is not a wool but a hair, which accounts for its unmistakable feel. The coarse outer fibers have been traditionally used to make ropes and tents. In earlier times, the coarse hair was mixed with down hair to make the weaving denser.
Most cashmere comes from goats in the Gobi Desert. Cashmere is collected during the spring molting season when the goats naturally shed their winter coat. Cashmere goats produce a double fleece that consists of a fine, soft undercoat or underdown of hair mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair called guard hair. For the fine underdown to be sold and processed further, it must be de-haired. De-hairing is a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from the fine hair. In some regions, the mixed mass of down and coarse hair is removed by hand with a coarse comb that pulls tufts of fiber from the animal as the comb is raked through the fleece. The collected fiber then has a higher yield of pure cashmere after the fiber has been washed and dehaired. The long, coarse guard hair is then typically clipped from the animal and is often used for brushes and other non-apparel uses. After
de-hairing, the resulting “cashmere” is ready to be dyed and converted into textile yarn, fabrics and garments.
Origin: Northern China, Mongolia, Afghanistan
Average weight: females, 88 lbs.; males, 132 lbs
–A garment made of two plies, meaning it was knitted from double strands of yarn, or more, will often be longer-lasting. The heavier the sweater, the warmer (and more expensive) it will be.
— Premium cashmere is made from the long hairs of goats—and it’s combed, never sheared. Shearing yields shorter fibers that are prone to pilling. Before you buy, rub the surface of a garment with the palm of your hand and see if fibers begin to roll up and/or shed. This is an indication that there’s excess short-fiber content.
— Durable cashmere is tightly woven. If the construction feels loose, the garment will lose its shape quickly. Gauge quality by holding a piece up to the light—if you can see through, it probably won’t be wearable for longer than a season.
— Heavily dyed fiber loses some of its softness. Chinese white from Inner Mongolia is regarded as the finest-quality cashmere because it’s not subjected to coloring or bleach. Outer Mongolia is developing a niche in natural cashmere in camel and brown hues.
— A garment labeled 70 percent cashmere/30 percent wool frequently contains no more than 5 percent cashmere. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission mandates only pure cashmere sweaters can be labeled “100 Percent Cashmere.” If that’s not indicated on the garment, move along.
–How to Wash Cashmere:
- Launder cashmere at home, always inside out. Washing adds moisture back to the fabric; dry cleaning stiffens it.
- Use the delicate cycle. Two teaspoons of The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo is enough.
- Put your garment in the dryer for five minutes on the coolest setting. Then spread it on a flat towel to air.
- Never hang anything made of cashmere. Hangers will stretch the fibers.
- Visit Mongolian National Art Gallery.Summary by Diane Dunning:One of three art museums located in the center of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian National Art Gallery exhibits the work of Mongolian artists dating from 1921. The collection, comprised of crafts, sculpture, prints and predominantly paintings in a variety of media and a wide range of styles, reflects the history and culture of the country. Many of us were intrigued with the detailed narrative style of traditional Mongolian story-telling works; others were captivated by large, beautifully rendered, mural paintings of horses, descriptive of the nomadic culture.
- Support Mongolian women entrepreneurs at their Pop-Up Shop in the Shangri-La Hotel.