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Stitched ⋮ Suzani

Stitched ⋮ Suzani

A suzani is a large, hand-embroidered textile panel; the word comes from the Persian word suzan, which means needle.

Traditionally motifs include the sun and moon, flowers and creepers of the Asian steppes, leaves and vines, fruits (especially pomegranates), and occasionally fish and birds. These motifs were believed to imbue the suzanis with spiritual powers, offering protection or strength to their owners.

Suzanis had a symbolic significance, too. They were traditionally made by brides and their mothers as part of a dowry, and presented to the groom on his wedding day. They represented the binding together of two families, and were adorned with symbols of luck, health, long life and fertility.

The primary use of a suzani was within the yurt (a Central Asian nomadic tent), as a protective wrapping panel for textiles and belongings. They were also used as prayer mats, as bed sheets and for seating — pieces of furniture are seldom found in yurts, because they are cumbersome to move.

Suzanis are made from cotton, sometimes silk. The pattern is first drawn onto the cotton, before being embroidered on narrow portable looms. They are usually produced in two or more pieces, meaning that they can be worked on by more than one person, before being stitched together.

The rigours of a nomadic lifestyle — daily use in a yurt and exposure to the elements during migration — were not conducive to the preservation of textiles. This means it is rather unusual to find ‘old’ suzanis, and the oldest surviving examples are from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In recent years, there has been a remarkable revival of this old traditional art form. Now gorgeous contemporary embroideries decorate not only Uzbek homes, but are also part of the interior design of western homes in Europe and Australia - as bedcovers, throws, curtains, and framed on a wall as a stunning pieces of art. Fortunately, we now have access to beautiful contemporary textiles that are a natural outgrowth of the old traditions.

As with any textile art, a range of quality appears in the new suzanis currently on the market. The pieces are produced under widely varying circumstances - both in cities and villages, both in workshops and in homes.

The best new pieces are truly lovely, with inspired designing, excellent materials, and fine craftsmanship.

Christie’s: A Guide to Suzani Textiles

Textile Book

A Kaleidoscope of Textile Tales