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Discovery Central Asia

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Art. Suzanni

Central Asian embroidery
By Carolyn Wettstone and
Zainab Allamurodova

For every ethnic group of Central Asia, embroidery is a significant decorative and cultural art. From skull caps to the cuffs of women's traditional pants, from cradle covers to pillows, tablecloth and curtains, embroidery is the ultimate expression of Central Asia, its customs and traditions. Best known and appreciated by foreign visitors are the large Suzanni wall hangings, intricately stitched complex masterpieces, a collaboration of several woman from one family or tribe

The suzanas of today are the legacy of a noble woman from the golden era of the Great Silk Road. Young girls of today may still learn the tale of Feruiza Bonu as their slender fingers guide needle and thread through ancient patterns. Feruiza was the queen of the famous Central Asian ruler and astronomer, Mirza Ulug Bek Muhammad Taraghay (1394?-1449), grandson of the famous Tamerlane (Amir Temur). According to legend, Feruiza, along with her forty maidens, embroidered a picture in Ulug Bek's honor while he was away at war. For five and a half centuries now, grandmothers have described the milky white moon upon a silken field of stars over Asia to their pupils. Feruiza is considered the first of the Uzbek embroiderers by the elder embroiderers of Shahrisabz.

Embroidery speaks of patience in every culture. In former times, the menfolk were gone for many months or years, on war campaigns or to trade their wares far away from home. Patience in waiting and in work continues to be associated with Uzbek embroidery; it takes months to produce the large suzannis with their many patterns and 2 or 3 women busily working cooperatively on an iroq suzanni may make well over 600,000 stitches in that time.

The elegant Iroq Suzanni are entirely hand-embroidered with silk thread, both the background color and the patterns and are only produced in a few villages in the vicinity of Shahrisabsz and Kitab. A single cubic centimeter of fine iroq embroidery counts up to 35-40 stitches.

The patterns in Uzbek embroidery are symbolic. Circles represent the sun and moon. Coils and curves resemble flowing water. Strength is symbolized by the pomegranate. The chilly pepper pattern is said to protect against the "evil eye" of greed. The almond symbolizes God's provision. Birds are a token of friendship. The snake, an ancient symbol of blessing and cure. Leaves and flowers represent the beauty of nature. The scorpion and spider, creatures of the Asian steppe, also find their way onto suzanni

Notice the subtle irregularities in every design. On close scrutiny every flower but one may have an orange center; Likewise, every pepper may have a violet hue except one, which is soft blue. The overall pattern may also be slightly asymmetrical, with an extra coil or flower added somewhere because there cannot be such a thing as the perfect suzanni, only the
almighty could accomplish such a feat.

Suzannis range in size from about 1 x 1 meters to around 2 x 3 meters. Each one is distinct and represents a unique Asian masterpiece of design and color. There are four different types of suzanas according to the type of embroidery used: bosma, popirlik, yoorma and iroq. The two most common are the bosma and the popirlik. The bosma suzanni has long strands of cotton or silk floss whipped down to the canvas at regular intervals to fill colorful patterns. These suzannis typically are very large and have spacious unembroidered areas revealing the single color cotton or silk material used for the canvas. They are often hung on the courtyard walls to decorate for weddings and are very common within the home.

For further information, you are welcome to contact the Shahrisabz Iroq Embroidery Group at the Amir Temur museum in Shahrisabz, or email the authors:

Asians love color and Uzbek embroiderers have very lively discussions about which color to sew in each area of a design. Colors are not only used for their aesthetic effect, but for what they symbolize. Red is the color of love. White is the color of kings and speaks of purity and happiness. Black is the color of mystery. Nature's color is green, signifying health and rest; blue is the color of the sky; yellow represents the warmth of the sun; and violet the color of spring and the Uzbek New Year.

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