From the Persian meaning ‘needle’,suzani are stunningly beautiful, decorative, tribal embroidered textiles originating in the 15th C, and typical of Central Asia, in particular Uzbekistan (also in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan)–an important trading post along the Silk Road connecting China to Europe.

Suzanis were made to furnish nomadic homes, and were therefore highly valued as floor and prayer rugs, wall hangings, bedcovers, tablecloths, cushions, tent covers, saddle bags, yurt bands, as convenient makeshift bundles to pack belongings away in, and for their rich cultural and aesthetically pleasing motifs.

These would have been influenced and elevated by the exposure to the intricate and complex metal works and textiles traded backwards and forwards along the silk roads, and might traditionally represent sun and moon disks, stylized flowers (tulips, carnations, irises), leaves, vines, fruits (pomegranates), fish and birds. They would be hand-embroidered in silk or cotton threads on cotton or silk ground fabrics, using vegetable dyes such as madder, cochineal, indigo, walnut, pomegranate and sumak, supplemented by local planting.

The foundation cloth (typically 4-5ft/122-152 cm in width) is made up of joined, hand woven narrow strips of twill with a silk warp and a cotton weft to produce a lovely, subtle lustre and a base heavy enough to take embroidery. A suzani destined for heavy work is likely to have an all-cotton weave.

The characteristic colours and sheen are created by silk embroidery in two traditional stitches: chain stitch and basma stitch. The latter, also called Bukhara couching, is] worked first by laying long strands across the fabric, which are stitched in place with short, diagonal couching stitches – an effective way of covering quite a lot of ground in a relatively short time. The laid threads are sometimes thicker, laid more closely together or further apart, a simple concept that develops into endless variations and appearances.

Chain stitch is often used to outline the pattern, and is typically worked with a fine tambour, a small needle sized crochet hook.

Young girls were traditionally taught suzani embroidery from an early age, in preparation for their dowry, though the whole community was involved in the design and making of a full piece. A design would be drawn onto a large piece of cloth, which would be unstitched and each narrow length embroidered by someone different–you can see their individual skills and styles on the finished cloth; where the pattern just does not quite match well enough, it’s re-stitched. Each cloth is unique and expresses the joy and vibrancy of these skilled artisans.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Suzani textiles were welcomed by Europeans and Americans who discovered and fell in love with the colours, the stitching and the whole ‘sense’ of Suzani; they fit perfectly into western homes. As antique stocks dried up and prices rose, talented and enterprising Uzbek women took up their needles again. Suzanis are now made in Tashkent, Nurata, Smarkhans, Bukhara and Shahrisabz areas, providing an important source of income.

This Donghia design has captured this time honoured art in an amazing woven textile while still staying true to the integrity of a Suzani blanket

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