Suzani: A vibrant crucible of the creative alteration of Uzbekistan

April 26, 2017

An 8-year-old girl, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed looks expectantly at her grandma who is carefully unwinding a lustrous silk thread from the spool. Her eyes beam with eager anticipation of what will unravel next. The little girl ambles around her grandma, putting up an adorable charade of indifference while the latter threads the needle. But the occasional stealing of covert glances gives away the impatient expectancy bubbling in her little head. Who is this little girl and why is she so fixated with her grandma’s sewing project?

Well, this little girl is representative of every young Uzbek girl who models herself on her mother/grandma so that one day she too is able to furnish household articles with beautiful details. The said details are achieved through steady, hand-guided movements and confident usage of bold colors. This traditional textile craft, which is unique to Uzbekistan and neighboring countries like Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan, is known as ‘Suzani’. Its history is a rich palimpsest of cultures and ethnicities that influenced, transformed, and shaped it for it to become an enduring emblem of ancestral art.

                                                                Image source: Pinterest

The word ‘Suzani’ is of Persian provenance that can be translated as ‘needlework’. Bold florals, sinuous vines, dainty vegetal motifs, complex grid patterns, etc. are some of Suzani’s many design strands.


                                                                 Image source: Pinterest

                                      Oi Palak, the enigmatic moon design

                                                               Image source: Pinterest

                Bold and densely worked floral motifs of Shakhrisabz Suzani

                                                               Image source: Pinterest

            Bokhara Suzani featuring floral medallions nestled in foliate lattice

Suzani’s journey hasn’t been an easy ride. It wasn’t until the resuscitation of sericulture in the late 17th century that the art of Suzani began flourishing in the true sense of its practice and scope. However, this textile opulence was short-lived and began petering out with the Soviet rule’s belligerent interference in the native production system and insistence on developing factory-based and standardized one. But with the fall of Soviet Union, the Uzbeks were re-introduced to their design vernacular, which by then, was altered to an extent because of the cultural upheaval it had to pull through. Nonetheless, with the newly won independence and renewed vigor, it didn’t take long for this beloved art to re-establish itself to its former prosperity.



                               Appliqued Suzani chair at our Delhi store

The commonest items where the vibrant interaction of motifs and colors can be seen are wall hangings, canopies, headdresses, bed covers, curtains, furniture throws, table cloths, and many other home furnishing items.

Wall hangings, which make an essential part of bridal trousseau are crafted painstakingly and meticulously by the female members of the household and the bride herself. These beautiful pieces are emblematic of protection, fertility, longevity, well-being, and hospitality. The designs made on these hangings are symbolic of a prosperous universe that is lovingly architected with love, magic, well-wishes, and nature.

                                                                  Image source: Pinterest

Traditionally, an expert in Suzani designs known as ‘chizmachi’ would be called to draw motifs on a white cotton cloth that would be hand-woven by family members on narrow width looms. For a wall hanging made of a wide-width cloth, a number of narrow width panels (around 3 to 6 or even more) would be stitched together. Each of these panels would then be doled out to the members of the family to decorate the fabric with dramatic Suzani motifs. The fact that each of the panels gained details through different hands meant that they led to charming flaws and pretty imperfections that cohered to become an heirloom piece of talismanic significance.


                                                               Image source: Pinterest

While the primary choice for Suzani is silk, nowadays, embroidery yarns such as cotton and wool are also widely used. Traditionally, silk was either produced locally by means of sericulture or imported from China or India. Silk procured from abroad would be dyed in natural materials such as cochineal, madder, indigo, pomegranate, etc. which would yield deep, lustrous, and rich colors.

                                                              Image source: Pinterest

The stitch repository of Suzani comprises 3 basic types of stitchery techniques – basma, kanda khayol, and tambur. Basma and kanda khayol are essentially couching stitches, the only difference between the two is that the latter uses diagonal couching to secure the laid stitches. Both the stitches are primarily used to flesh out substantial areas of large motifs. Tambur, which is a chain stitch, is done either by tambour (akin to fine crochet hook) or needle to fill out motifs and delineate shapes. Together these stitches result in the rich interplay of linear and 3-dimensional textures, culminating in a vibrant outpouring of colors and designs.

                                                               Image source: Pinterest

So what do you think is the little girl doing right now? We think she must have already got initiated into the mystical world of Suzani. Her grandma’s instruction and words of wisdom will form a bridge that she will walk across to embark on a new beginning that’s as prosperous and plentiful as the enduring art.

Do you want to bring a splash of these resplendent patterns in your home? Our karigars have got this craft down to a fine art and can create customized Suzani motifs for home furnishing of your choice. Give us a call on 7875555413 and our design ninja will take it from there.




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