Sunday, December 18, 2016

Suzani - Decorative Textiles

Painting with Suzani by Robert Falk, Savitzky Museum, Nukus

Suzani is a type of embroidered and decorative tribal textile made in  Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries. Suzan which means needle. Suzanis usually have a cotton (sometimes silk) fabric base, which is embroidered in silk or cotton thread. Chain, satin, and buttonhole stitches are the primary stitches used. There is also extensive use of couching, in which decorative thread laid on the fabric as a raised line is stitched in place with a second thread. Suzanis are often made in two or more pieces, that are then stitched together.  One of the things that make suzani fascinating is they are handmade and so no two are exactly alike. Every suzani has an intentional imperfection be it an unfinished corner, a distorted shape, or the “wrong” colour this is “because the world is not perfect, a suzani should not be perfect”.

Some patterns are abstracted and geometric, but most are legible: snakes, suns, knives to cut bad luck and hot peppers to ward it off, pomegranates for fertility, many forms of flowers Popular design motifs include sun and moon disks, flowers (especially tulips, carnations, and irises), leaves and vines, fruits and occasionally fish and birds.

The oldest surviving suzanis are from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but it seems likely that they were in use long before that. In the early 15th century, Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, the Castilian ambassador to the court of Timur (Tamerlane), left detailed descriptions of embroideries that were probably forerunners of the suzani. In the nineteenth century, Uzbek women produced fabulous embroidered hangings,  bed covers, wrapping cloths, table covers, and prayer mats for their households and their daughters' wedding trove. Brides Suzani's were traditionally as part of their dowry, and were presented to the groom on their wedding day.

Suzanis were traditionally as part of their dowry, and were presented to the groom on their wedding day. These hand-embroidered vintage suzanis are infused with the character that only comes from everyday use. The story of each suzani is as rich as their colors, as intricate as the designs that cover their surfaces.


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