Suzani embroidery is a unique traditional craft and art practiced by women living in Central Asia.
Under Soviet rule the traditional making of suzani was for a period suppressed. It is therefore a wondrous celebration that this unique craft has been brought to life again since the early 90's . The very root of suzani creations is believed to be in the Fergana Valley and spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the term "suzani" is derived from the Persian word for needle and needlework "suzanikari".
Suzani tells the enduring story of a mother's love for her daughter and the beautiful handcrafted dowry pieces that they laboriously created together for her wedding day to bring wellbeing into her married life ahead. When a little girl was old enough, she would be taught the art and secrets of embroidery and she would then set out to start creating her own dowry pieces and present them to her groom and his family on her wedding day. Their dreams for her life ahead was lovingly captured in these magical cloths together as she grew up. Various dowry pieces in silk or cotton formed part of the wedding ceremony as canopies and head dresses, before they became important adornments in the wedding chamber and after in the new home. Beautiful embroidery work was highly esteemed, and could earn women great respect in her new husband's family and in their community.
The important role of Suzanis through the ages was connected to the belief that magic forces were embroidered into their patterns. These motifs carried talismanic, protective and well wishing embroidered messages. Each motif used is there to bring joy, fertility, long life, prosperity, fruitfulness, good health, hospitality etc, or alternatively to keep the evil eye at bay and to ward off all evil from the home.
The work, energy, creativity and time that goes into creating Suzani Embroidery make them a truly "Living Art" . A "Herstory" of "History".
In the vast Central Asian arid desert heavenly gardens of eden was embroidered into suzani dowry pieces. Each suzani drawing came to represent the image of an ideal universe, where balance and harmony and the unity of magic and beauty in everlasting beautiful nature, were very important features. The magnificent floral designs are symbols and motifs from an Islamic paradise garden, from the ancient Persian concept of the Garden of Eden with its Tree of Life, as seen depicted in so many Persian silk carpets. The design elements seen in the garden of the great Taj Mahal is a perfect example and model for many suzanis.
In every authentic Suzani, you will find a small deliberate fault or unfinished area, as a reminder that man is not without mistakes, and also expresses the dream of the mother that her daughter will be then be inspired to “finish” the Suzani and continue in the art of suzani embroidery.
Traditionally grandmothers passed on her family's embroidery secrets and own designs to a younger woman in her family before she died. Alternatively it was believed she would share her magical talents in a dream if she died too suddenly.
Special rituals and festivals were regularly held in honor of past revered embroiderers.
Each region have their own local very distinctive design features, but many of these have become intermingled and merged between areas. This can often make it quite difficult to identify exactly where some suzanis originate from.
Often the meanings of the more ancient inherited symbols may have been lost and forgotten, but are still being used as decorative elements in contemporary suzani design. They can still carry a powerful message to those who understand them still.
Astral and solar symbols predominate in Tashkent and in Samarkand suzanis, and have their roots in the ancient way of life of the nomadic and settled cultures of this area. The artisans believed that using these astral patterns provided the heaven's protection, and are connected with Zoroastrianism, the Sun cult and the ancient Fertility cult.
Antique rural embroideries are related to the art of the nomads and carpet designs from the ancient steppe art.
As old cults and religions were replaced by new ones, astral symbols transformed into vegetative and floral symbols, as seen in Surkhandarya suzanis. Some of the designs in Bukhara, Nurata and Shahrisabz suzanis were influenced by the professional royal court carpet and mosaic tile designers of the Muslim rulers. They created intricate compositions with palmettes and meandering leaves, and blossoming branches of leaves and flowers with central moon or star motives.
This ancient craft very nearly became extinct with the advance of the Industrial Revolution and machine made textiles, and then during Soviet rule when suzanis were expected to reflect Soviet symbols instead of the centuries old ethnic patterns.
But since Uzbekistan's independence in the 90's, suzani is making a very proud comeback and young girls are being taught again to embroider as in days of old. But still there are huge threats to its survival because machine made synthetic copies of suzani are being produced and are sold at cheap prices to tourists. This makes the true hand embroidered pieces seem too "expensive" and maybe to be a rarity again soon. The ever rising cost of raw silk and cotton also has a huge impact on the survival of this noble craft.
Below is a photo of a Nurata suzani from my collection, it was made by one woman over a period of about two years recently. She has since moved to Russia with her family and will not be creating suzanis in Uzbekistan again.
My information above is a compilation taken from all the sources I have found on the internet and in available books on this topic.