The suzani

27/03/2014 12:29

Written by Sophie Ibbotson and Max Lovell-Hoare

Suzanis in Bukhara Uzbekistan by Sophie and Max Lovell-Hoare

© Sophie and Max Lovell-Hoare

The suzani is an Uzbek embroidery; the word is derived from the Persian for needle. Though suzanis can be sewn onto a single piece of fabric (usually cotton), it is not uncommon for several pieces to be stitched together into an elaborate patchwork. The three main stitches used in embroidering suzanis are chain, buttonhole and satin stitches. The most popular motifs are flowers, leaves and fruits, though the designs often also take on symbolic properties: monochrome designs may represent life and death, the individual and the world, and so on. Representations of living things such as fish and birds do sometimes appear, though they are less common due to the widely held belief amongst Muslims that they should not be depicted in art. The earliest suzanis seen today, either in shops or in museums, date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Then, as now, they were made by young women for inclusion in their wedding dowries. Suzanis for use as bedspreads, wall hangings and throws were therefore particularly common. The production of suzanis undoubtedly took place before this, however, as Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, the Castillan ambassador to the Timurid court, described the fine embroidery work he saw in the 15th century, and there are defi nite similarities between 18th-century suzanis and the embroideries produced in Mughal India two centuries beforehand. The Mughals, of course, were Timurids, their founder Babur a native of the Fergana Valley.

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