Suzanis

The term “suzani” derives from the Farsi word for needle, “suzan”, and it has come to refer to the large embroideries that a young girl and her female family members traditionally made for her dowry. Suzanis were made by settled people, mostly Uzbek and Tadjik, and allowed the new bride to show off her sewing skills and bring something very personal and beautiful with her to the household of her husband. After the marriage ceremony, the suzani was laid over the marriage bed and later might be used to decorate the marriage chamber.

Pre-twentieth century suzanis were almost never signed or dated, and their origins were seldom documented. However each region developed its own style and preferred stitches (albeit with considerable overlap). The basic embroidery stitches used were couching (basma), chain stitch (yurma), and open chain stitch or ladder stitch (ilmok), with regional variations. They were embroidered with silk floss on either cotton or silk cloth, all of which could be obtained in the bazaars. Early suzanis were usually sewn on joined narrow lengths of handwoven, undyed cotton called “karbos”. Auspicious motifs such as pomegranites, small blue birds, and water vessels were often incorporated into the patterns.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, girls continued to make suzanis for their weddings, although seldom with the very fine and intricate embroidery characteristic of those from the nineteenth century. Factory-woven cloth in wider widths and bright colors was readily available and was often used instead of the traditional undyed cotton. However the embroidery thread continued to be silk floss. Girls began to sign and date their suzanis and sometimes embroidered sentimental words on them. Suzani tradition remained particularly strong in the southern regions of Uzbekistan. A suzani was not only an object of beauty, it held much of a young woman’s past and would accompany her on the rest of her life’s journey.

SUZANI (ATSNB-119)

Southern Uzbekistan, c.1970s

76” high x 62 wide”
Hand-embroidered with silk floss on cotton; unlined
Signed and dated: 19__
Excellent condition except for two small tears (see second photo)

The six beautiful floral medallions are all approximately the same size – the suzani appears foreshortened in my photograph.

The narrow black applied border has been elaborately machine-stitched. Borders like this became a popular finishing touch to suzanis from the Soviet era when sewing machines came into widespread use.

Price: $200.00
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SOVIET STAR SUZANI (ATSSC-116)

Uzbekistan, dated 1972

74” x 59”
Silk hand-embroidery on dark green cotton
Unlined, except for a 2” printed-cotton facing in a faux-ikat pattern
Intricately machine-embroidered border pattern
Excellent condition
Illustrated in SILK and COTTON, page 293

Soviet culture permeated Central Asian far more than that of Tsarist Russia. While the main objective of the Russians was to bring Central Asia under their control in order to thwart the English in the Great Game and thereby secure their position in the region, the Soviets set out to control the very lives of the “Peoples of the East”.

Soon Soviet five-pointed stars; hammer and sickles; political slogans; and portraits of Lenin and Stalin were being embroidered on suzanis and skullcaps. This suzani has a variation of the 5-pointed star and the date 1972 (12/24/72) embroidered on it along with Cyrillic letters that spell out – “CCCP (SSSR) 50 Years”. Underneath is the proper name, “BOZOROI”.

The archival photograph ( 2nd quarter 20th century) is by the renowned photographer, Max Penson. It shows artists in an Uzbek workshop painting large fabric panels with Soviet symbols.

Price: $150.00
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ZARDEVOR (ATSSC-113)

South Uzbekistan, dated 1981

26” x 125”
Silk couching stitch hand embroidery
Machine-embroidered black cotton trim
Unlined
Very good condition except for a few scattered stains on the ground cloth (see last two photos); embroidery all intact; no fading or color runs
Illustrated in SILK and COTTON pages 202-203

A “zardevor” was a long narrow embroidery that hung just below the ceiling of an important room and served as a sort of frieze along one or more walls.
Often it was embroidered with words of good wishes. The Uzbek words on this piece loosely translate as “Friendship is eternal – Gulnora Karomat – 1981 – May the friendship of our hearts stay as pure as a spring.”

Price: $275.00
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COSMIC SUZANI (ATSNB-100)

Southern Uzbekistan. c.1970s

52” x 70”
Hand-embroidered with silk floss on cotton; unlined
Excellent condition

This suzani with its swirling medallions and stars has a cosmic quality to it.
The narrow black applied border has been elaborately machine-stitched. Borders like this became a popular finishing touch to suzanis from the Soviet era when sewing machines came into widespread use.

Price: $300.00
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