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What is Suzani?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2016
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Suzani is a form of traditional embroidery which is native to Central Asia. Iran, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are all famous for their suzani, and suzanis are in high demand all over the world, thanks to an increasing interest in this traditional textile. Like many tribal crafts, suzani is often copied, with copies tending to be of a lesser quality than the real thing, and this is something for consumers to watch out for.

One of the key defining characteristics of traditional suzani is the way in which is done. It starts with panels of handwoven cotton/silk blend fabric which are basted together while a pattern is drawn on the panels, and then pulled apart. Each panel is worked separately, and then the piece is sewn back together, with connecting stitches if necessary to cover up small gaps in the embroidery. A traditional suzani, therefore, includes several panels of material, rather than being made from a solid sheet of material.

A variety of different stitches are used, with many pieces including an array of chain and couch stitching for visual and textural variations. Traditionally, the thread for the embroidery is made from silk, and dyed with native materials in vivid reds, blacks, and golds. Synthetic dyes may be used as well, with synthetics becoming more and more popular because they are colorfast and very bold, in contrast with more muted natural dyes.

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Suzanis can be used as hangings, tablecloths, prayer mats, and bedspreads, among many other things. They are designed to provide decoration while also adding a layer of insulation. Because many of the crafters are Muslim, suzanis rarely have depictions of people or animals, instead featuring ornate floral and geometric themes. This craft is practiced almost exclusively by women, and for some women, it can be a source of economic independence, which makes embroidery a valued skill in Central Asia.

People in the West with a Middle Eastern or Central Asian d├ęcor scheme often like to use suzani. Initially, these beautiful embroidered pieces were primarily brought back by travelers, and they were artifacts as well as decorative items. With increasing interest in suzani, many importers are also starting to carry embroidered pieces from Central Asia, including machine-embroidered suzani made with polyester and other low-cost materials. For people who are not skilled in identifying hand-worked embroidery and tribal textiles, it is a good idea to consult an expert before purchasing a costly suzani.

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Catapult
Post 6

Looking at Suzani textiles makes me wish I was more interested in embroidery. To me it seems pointless, but to some it is an impressive art form. Maybe people in the western world have just lost sight of these types of crafts.

starrynight
Post 5

@JessicaLynn - I'm not surprised you were so interested in the suzani. I saw some of these at an embroidery exhibition in a local museum awhile back. They are quite impressive.

One thing that I think is interesting is the fact that two layers of fabric are used as the base. I do a lot of crafting, and I've never heard of any other kind of embroidery that uses two layers. Most just use one!

JessicaLynn
Post 4

There is a Middle Eastern restaurant near my apartment that has a ton of suzani wall hangings. I always look at them every time we go to eat there and last time I was there I struck up a conversation with the owner about them.

I was surprised when he told me some of the women in his family made them! They looked so intricate I thought for sure they were machine made. Either way, they really add a lot to the atmosphere of the restaurant.

ddljohn
Post 3

Our house is full of suzani fabrics, mainly pillow cases, wall decorations and some suzani bags to keep things like tea and rice fresh. A lot of them were made by my grandmother when she was young and got passed down to my mom.

My mom says that suzani is a very important part of our culture (we are from Tajikistan). She said she will pass on the suzani fabrics to me in the future because it is like our identity.

Apparently, back in Tajikistan, each region has their own special suzani designs that mothers teach their daughters and the daughters teach their daughters and so forth. In the old days, when people traveled, they knew who was

from where by looking at the suzani designs. It's a tradition for people to continue the same designs that were taught by the previous generations.

I think this is a really nice art style, some of the designs are so intricate, it's almost as if my grandmother was telling a story through her work.

turquoise
Post 2

@simrin-- Yea, I saw a suzani chair featured in a home decor magazine the other day. I think suzanis are slowly finding their way into the fashion and style world. I won't be surprised if top designers start using them in their creations pretty soon.

The best part about suzanis is how multi-purpose they can be. You can adapt it into so many different uses and forms.

SteamLouis
Post 1

A friend of mine is originally from Uzbekistan and she opened a craft and decoration store recently in the mall. Many of the items she has have a Central Asian theme to it and I think it's going to do really well.

I saw suzani fabrics and items for the first time in her store. She is having them imported from a small town in Uzbekistan and she is also helping the locals there by buying from them.

These fabrics are absolutely gorgeous, some of the designs and the vibrant colors are breathtaking. I bought a suzani bed cover with red, blue and yellow floral designs and it looks beautiful and matched my bedroom perfectly. I was surprised to know that there are even suzani shoes, bags and even chairs!

My friend is going to have some more things delivered and I want to pick up some more suzani fabrics for home when they come in.

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