Example of suzani, Uzbekistan, mid-20th century. Example of suzani, Uzbekistan, mid-20th century. TRC collection.

Suzani is the general term for a type of large, embroidered textile from mainly Uzbek communities in Central Asia, and found in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The term derives from the Persian word suzan or ‘needle’ and suzanduzi for 'needlework'. The oldest surviving suzanis date from the late eighteenth century, but it is likely that their production and use date back to much earlier times.

At the end of the nineteenth century, suzanis were used for a range of household items such as bed covers, hangings, prayer mats, table covers and wrapping cloths. Many were made by members of a household. In addition, many suzanis were also made by a girl and her family as part of her dowry. The textiles were presented to the groom on their wedding day.

Until the latter half of the twentieth century, most suzanis were made out of a heavy cotton or occasionally a silk/cotton blend (silk warp, cotton weft). Strips of cloth were used of between 35 and 50 cm in width. The strips were first loosely sewn together and the pattern drawn onto the ground material. Then they were separated and given to two or more family members to work. Later the panels were rejoined. Often the patterns did not match and extra stitches were added to help balance the main motifs and to strengthen the seams. By the end of the twentieth century, a much wider range of materials and widths of cloth was used, such as a satin weave cloth (with silk being used for both the warp and weft threads). Often the cloth was lightly dyed to produce a soft beige colour, locally described as a ‘tea wash’.

Both the cotton and silk forms are embroidered with silk or cotton thread. The main stitches and techniques used are couching (basma; Bokhara couching) and less often chain stitch (yurma; tambour embroidery) and very occasionally buttonhole stitch. The chain stitch is normally carried out using a fine tambour hook, which looks like a fine crochet hook. It was often used for outlining couched areas or for producing details.

Some of the most popular designs used on suzanis are sun and moon discs, flowers (notably carnations, irises and Ottoman tulips), leaves and vines, palmettes, rosettes and fruit (such as pomegranates), and sometimes birds and fish. These are worked in various bright colours, notably reds.

See also the suzani hanging from Uzbekistan, now housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Source: PAIVA, Roland, and Bernard DUPAIGNE (1993). Afghan Embroidery, Lahore/Rawalpindi/Karachi: Ferozsons.


Last modified on Thursday, 05 January 2017 13:41