Tag Archives: Afghan Yurt

Open Fire Yurt II: Flames Within, Flames Without

 

Our open fire yurt, based on a yurt of the Firuzkhui from northern Afghanistan, finally went to its rightful/leftful keeper. So we moved it to let it go on…

The bottom picture shows the yurt in its new home and the one above it is a true yurt. *The word ‘yurt’ comes from a Turkic word which means the imprint left on the ground by a moved ‘yurt’ (the round tent with vertical trellis walls and conical roof), and extends to meaning  a person’s homeland.  In modern Turkish the word “yurt” is used for a homeland or a dormitory. It has become used in many other languages as the tent-like dwelling which we all know and love.

open fire yurt

 

 

 

open fire in a yurt

Canvas roof and felt walls

 

yurt felt

Just the under clothes

 

A little lizard living under the canvas

A little lizard living on the felt under the canvas

 

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Felt coming off

 

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afghan yurt frame

 

 

yurt frame

 

 

a yurt

 

 

fire in a yurt

 

Felt like Autumn: Yurt Felt Linings

yurt felt lining inside

inside with felt

There is a bit of a nip in the air,  the nights are drawing in and, as well as other things, we are sewing yurt felt linings: this time a big one for a 32′ yurt we made the canvas for earlier in the year.

Yurt felt lining calculations

Felt like calculations

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Felt like cutting the Roof

It is surprising how much difference a felt lining can make, both for coolness in the heat of summer and warmth in the freeze of winter. I only appreciated this when living in a yurt with a wool felt lining in a Hungarian winter where it got to -22 degrees C. There was still that moment of hesitancy before braving the distance between bed and stove, with the water frozen solid in the cup next to the bed. But yurts are easy to heat and once the stove was fired up, it was possible to sit naked for the morning cup of tea.

Firuzkhui yurt felt lining

Felt lining on the open fire yurt. (The hole is for the stove chimney.)

It’s kind of funny that the 100% wool felt we use comes from Europe, and we are currently living in a part of Wales where there are about 48 sheep to every human. Wool wool all around. The sheep are mainly farmed for meat and wool is a by-product. Anyway,  making enough felt for a yurt lining is a lot of work.

welsh sheep

Welsh sheep

Traditional yurts, of course, have thick felt outer covers as, in the Central Asian countries where the yurts are used, there are extremes of cold and hot, but not wet. The felt’s natural oils and thickness are enough to keep the moisture out, but when the yurt came to the West, an outer waterproof layer was needed. The American yurts went mainly into vinyl, the European went into cotton canvas.

yurt felt

Kyrgyz Yurt

Felt is believed to be one of the earliest textiles and the traditional process is a huge task, usually done by the women of the group. The Mongolian method involves beating the wool first to clean it, then laying it out with the fibres parallel before rubbing water into it. It is then wrapped around a large pole and fastened securely and this pole dragged behind a horse or camel to bind the fibres together. Only then, when the felt is complete with no holes, is it cut into the shapes for the yurt cover, then sewn together by hand.

So if you want a felt lining for a yurt, let us know, and we can start shearing the 100 or so sheep we will need and harnessing the camels, before threading our sewing needles.

Open Fire Yurt

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Open Fire Yurt with smoke cowl

This is our latest afghan yurt, or the open fire yurt as we call it, seen here with a smoke flap type wheel cover, to allow for the open fire whilst ensuring the rain does not enter.

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Opening the Door

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Yurt Fire Side

It has taken us a few years to research our theories about the double bend yurts of North Afghanistan. The conclusions are not conclusive enough, but it seems the high wheel profile is definitely the way to make  enough draw whilst allowing the wheel to be covered from the storms.

Due to the fact that our yurts are made from canvas, that can never “breath” as much as the felts of Asian yurts, there is still a lack of circulation like the type one gets from tipi linings.

But all in all it was fun sitting by the large fire sides, over the New Year, with the howling storms outside.

We later put our usual star cap cover on, and installed a wood burning stove so not to soot up the rafters and felt, so our open fire yurt is now called something else.

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Stove exiting the double curved Yurt

You can see the double curves of the rafters here too.

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The best looking Yurt in the West (and the East and the North……. and the South)

This is what it looks like now, out by the little stream.

The Double Bend Afghan Yurt

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The Firuzhui Yurt  (Northern Afghanistan)

We have been in love with this yurt type for a long time now. This particular style comes from the north of Afghanistan, and if you take a good look at the diagram (from Peter Alford Andrews nomad tent types of the middle east) you can see a few features that are obsolete almost anywhere else: the first is the two tiered trellis, the second is the small wheel with its extra high profile, but the best (in our view at least) is the double bend on the roof rafters.

My personal intrigue started as a result of a conversation I had with a friend in Oregon who lives in a tipi, where we were speaking about tipi life versus yurt life and he mentioned that, although his wife might have liked moving to a yurt, he would miss the open fire.

I thought that is funny, we have been making yurts for so long, but have only seen one or two yurts that have a attempted open fires. Strange, because traditionally most of them did have open fires.

So I started thinking about what an open fire yurt design would look like if one was made for western wetter climates

Before I went very far I paused and took a look at Peter’s book. Peter is our good friend and maybe the leading authority on the subject of nomadic architecture, so browsing through the different types in that amazing book (mentioned above) I came to this Yurt type and suddenly the coin dropped: A true wet weather, open fire Yurt will need to have a high pitch wheel to allow for the open fire, whilst still covering the hole from rain.
The turkmen wheels for example which expose a third of a very large diameter wheel to allow the smoke out would not do.
Also I reasoned the double bend can in fact have been designed to help the smoke out of a smaller opening.

We have made one of these next to test the theory.

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Afghan Style Yurt in Hungary

However, we did not really try the open fire because we pitched it on a deck, and also it had a white felt lining.

Speaking to Peter I mentioned my theory.

Truth is that I became somewhat obsessed at the time with it. There is this account by William of Rubruk speaking about the tents of the Mongols saying this funny thing, that they have a “neck like projection”. However  the Mongolian ger (Mongol name for yurt) that we know, does not have this feature, but the Timurid period yurt pictures do show yurts to have a convex bend, like the type above. Again, this feature has totally gone off the yurt map except for the one type in North Afghanistan, made by the Chayar Aymaq (“four tribes”) amongst which is the Firuzkhui.

My theory was that the Mongols encountered wetter climates, when on the move and had to develop a better suited yurt for the rain. William did mention that they put clay on their felts (covers) to help with the rain, another thing which I am not sure is done now with Mongolian yurts.

I explained it to myself that the Hazarra tribe, who have a similar tent style, in North Afghanistan claim to be descendants of the Mongol army warriors that were left behind and indeed they have more Mongol features than the neighbouring tribes.

Peter, who is the expert, was not having any of this, saying that this yurt is not even used for cooking these days and that the top features a felt “hat” which is sealed closed and can’t even be flipped back due to the high shape of the roof. The cooking, he says, happens in a smaller tent nearby.

But I was already obsessed with my theory, so I looked everywhere for a picture or anything to prove it.

In the end I stumbled upon this one:

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It is easy to recognise the double bend on these two yurts. This picture was drawn at the Pendeh Oasis, just north of the border of Afghanistan in Turkmenistan, where, if I am not mistaken the Great Game has ended with the Russians eastern conquest finally halted. This was the point where Britain told Russia that they would tolerate no more move ( toward their coveted India).

If you look at the picture well enough, you can see that there seems to be smoke coming from the rear yurt, and indeed the wheel covering seems to suggest that the felts were arranged to allow the smoke to escape, and although different from the current felt arrangement of the Firuzkhui the double bend is obvious. It proves that this double bend roof yurts did have open fires at least at one point in time.

It does not prove that they are the first western yurts, made by the Mongols who got wet on their way to conquering Europe, but I still like to romanticise about that.

Here are a few photos of the latest frame we made of the same yurt type.

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Double curved rafters

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Afghan yurt being pitched

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Firuzkhui coppiced yurt frame