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Uzbek suzani. Decorative waii-hanging. Nurata. Late 19th century
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Decorative embroidery is one of the most popular types of folk art in Uzbekistan. It has long been known for its beautiful designs, wonderful combinations of bright and soft colours, and its delicate craftsmanship.

For many centuries decorative embroidery has adorned interiors, national dress, and various household items. It was created mainly by women, who maintained and developed the age-old tradition of this astonishing craft.

For a wedding, the bride's dowry always included embroidered items, many of which were believed to possess magic powers to ward off the evil eye and other evil spirits. Protected under an embroidered veil (bolinpush), the bride was brought to the groom's home, where panels (choishab or oipaliak) and friezes decorated the walls of the newlyweds' room, while their bed was adorned with embroidered sheets, pillow-cases, and bedspreads. Large works of embroidery used for various purposes were commonly called suzani, literally meaning something done with a needle.

In Uzbekistan there are six types of suzani which had developed in keeping with local art traditions. Items from Nurata, Samarkand, Bukhara, Shahrisyabz, Tashkent, and Fergana all differ with respect to pattern, composition, colour range, and the predominant type of stitch used.

Suzani were generally made for one's own use. Yet, embroidered works were occasionally made to order in towns and large settlements Ч ancient agricultural centres inhabited by Uzbeks and Tadzhiks. The embroideries of both these peoples are characterized by common methods and styles. Most of the known suzani date back to the second half of the nineteenth century; earlier examples are extremely rare.

Until the 1880s decorative panels were embroidered on white home-made cotton fabric. Later, people used violet, red, and green hand-woven silk, as well as white and coloured cotton produced at Russian textile factories. Embroidery was done in silk coloured with different vegetable dyes. The use of chemical dyes since the end of the nineteenth century affected the colour range, giving it greater sharpness and contrast.

Out of many well-known stitches, most regions used the so-called bosma-stitch (couched satin-stitch) or one of its variations. In Bukhara and Shahrisyabz chain-stitches were common, made with a hook using a circular stretcher frame. In the early twentieth century suzani in Shahrisyabz and Kitaba were done with an iroki-stitch, similar in technique to a cross-stitch. Because of their densely stitched backgrounds, these embroideries were often referred to as carpets. A woman who was skilled at drawing would trace the design by hand onto the material. Such experts were highly admired. A suzani was composed of a basic panel and a border, the proportions of both varying from item to item. Patterns consisted predominantly of plant motifs, while amulets, birds, and animals were depicted less often, and human figures were seldom portrayed. Occasionally the pattern would include inscriptions of well-wishing. The artistry of each unknown embroideress is marked by infinite splendour and diversity.

The tradition of hand embroidery still exists today. However, the mass production of large decorative panels is now done by machine. Machine-made embroideries first appeared in the 1890s, and were done by men. Since then the manufacture of embroideries has become a major branch of the art industry in Uzbekistan.

The suzani reproduced in this set are housed in the Ethnographical Museum of the Peoples of the USSR in Leningrad, which possesses a unique collection of these embroideries.

M. Perlina
Photos: V. Shlakan
Aurora Art Publishers. Leningrad

Uzbek Suzani

Uzbek Suzani. Ethnographical museum of the peoples of the USSR.
Bedspread for newlyweds. Fergana
Bedspread for newlyweds. Bukhara
Bedspread for newlyweds. Shahrisyabz
Bedspread for newlyweds. Bukhara region
Cover for the head of the newlyweds' bed. Tashkent
Cover for a table put over a brazier. Dzhizak
Curtain for a niche in an end wall. Tashkent
S. Rakhmattulayeva. Decorative embroidery. Urgut
Decorative embroidery covering a side niche with bedding
Decorative wall-hanging. Samarkand
Decorative wall-hanging. Samarkand region
Decorative wall-hanging. Bukhara
Decorative wall-hanging. Shahrisyabz
Decorative wall-hanging. Shahrisyabz
Decorative wall-hanging. Bukhara
Decorative wall-hanging. Tashkent
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