Dressing The Stans

Embroidered bridal veil from Uzbekistan, late 20th century. Embroidered bridal veil from Uzbekistan, late 20th century. TRC 2005.0262.

8. Decorative needlework

A wide range of decorative needlework styles, techniques, patterns and end uses exist in Central Asia. These range from very small beaded watch pockets to large, embroidered wall hangings called suzanis. Some of these pieces are used to decorate the body, while others are used in palaces, houses and tents.


One of the most popular forms of decorative needlework in Central Asia is embroidery. There are many different forms, including counted thread and free-style work. The counted thread forms include 

2008.0297 3Pashtun boy's embroidered, woollen jacket. Afghanistan, late 20th century. TRC 2008.0297. For more information, click on illustration.

the famous white work of Kandahar (Afghanistan), known as khamak, which uses satin stitch and pulled thread work, and also the cross stitch embroideries of the Uzbeks. These are used to decorate everything, from bags, caps to V-shaped bands used to hold folded up bedding in place in a tent (yurt) or household cupboard. Other forms of embroidery include the gold and silver thread work that is associated with urban centres in Uzbekistan, especially Bokhara and Samarkand. This form includes the use of a metal strip (plate), or working a thread over a card template, as well as a mixture of embroidery and applied metal forms (bracteates).

Gold work is especially popular for men and women’s headgear. It shows the wealth, patience and creativity of the wearer. Sometimes they are worked with silk (rayon) threads in various colours to help bring out the designs.

2016.1821Embroidered bag for inside an Uzbek yurt. Mid-20th century. TRC 2016.1821. For more information, click on the illustration.A wide range of designs are used for embroidery in Central Asia. Often the same or a comparable design may be used by two different groups, such as a stylised goat that is found in both Turkmen and Uzbek designs. Many embroidery patterns have symbolic meanings, such as the stylised goats, or more in particular the ram’s horns, that represent good luck and fertility. Sometimes a design seems the same at first glance, but in the case of the Uzbek embroidered caps, for example, the design of a cockerel looks very similar to the buteh or paisley motif.


Beading is used mainly in Afghanistan and Turkmenistan for the decoration of garments and household objects. White glass beads are especially popular, as these are seen as having amuletic properties. The beads were originally locally made, but by the 19th century more and more Italian (especially Venetian) beads were being used. By the mid-20th century, however, cheaper Indian beads were introduced, and by the end of the 20th century Czech and Chinese glass beads, which are more even in size, were widespread. Various beading techniques are associated with Central Asia, including weaving bands on a small loom, hand sewing them onto canvas, or creating a trellis work in the hand by threading beads together.

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