The term suzani is used to describe the embroidered panels of Uzbekistan and Khojand Province of nor them Tajikistan. Traditionally the work of embroidery began at the birth of a daughter and continued, with the help of family and friends. Until the bride’s dowry was complete. The dowry of a bride from a well-off family in Nurata was expected to include ten suzani is of different sizes and functions. They were used as covers for the bridal bed and the brazier as dividers between living and sleeping quarters, as well as for prayer rugs and wrapping cloths. And although nomadic influences are sometimes apparent most suzanis were the products of a settled urban tradition.
Today great efforts are beingmade to renew these techniques and traditions which languished during Soviet times. Dr Ilhom Davletov is one of the pivotal figures leading the revival!. Born in Urganch in 1959, he studied medicine in Tashkent and worked at the Medical institute there for six years. Where he specialized in rheumatology but his life changed after independence. In 1991 all borders were opened and Ilhom traveled to Istanbul. Amazed at the number of Uzbeks selling suzanis and antique carpets, he wanted to join them. This ultimately led to a successful\ second career as a dealer in Central Asian carpets and textiles.
After a century of synthetic dyeing, moving back to natural dyes proved difficult. But determined to continue with this venture he sold five hundred of his antique carpets to raise enough capital to begin a 10caJ suzani revival without any state involvement.
The beginnings were difficult. While traveling through the country he repeatedly asked the women in the villages if they had any type of handwork remaining in their homes – old or new – but the response was always negative. With his wife Sulfiya a graduate of the Textile Institute, he decided to set up a workshop in the Museum ofApplied Arts in Tashkent and invited fifty women from villages in the Nurata region to learn the old techniques. with all expenses paid for two months. Only one, Emina Sharipova accepted. After perfecting the techniques she returned to her village and began to work soon becoming the envy of her neighbors. Little by little others came Emina now supervises six groups of fifty women each. Other workshops beganto open across the country and today Ilham employs almost three thousand women in areas of Urganch, Nmata,Samarkand, Andijan and Baisun.Their wages are higher than those of the state and bonuses are given for high quality.
The process begins in the Tashkent workshop where the ground material woven in the Fergana Valley is chosen; cotton and silk (adras). cotton and cotton (karboz), and silk and silk(shoyi). being the choices. In the antique examples the backing was invariably hand woven cotton but at the turn of the 20th century, imported Russian cotton. Colored silk and ikat were introduced. The cloth was sometimes given a bath of tea or onion skins before embroidery began.
In IIhom’s workshop between two and six strips of fabric are used for the backing each measuring between 35 and 50 cm (ı4″-20″) in width, depending on the desired size of suzani. They are loosely basted together and the patter is then drawn with a marker on the fabric; previously. They were drawn with a reed. Different women embroider the individual panels before they arereassembled on completion. This explains the irregularity of patterns at the seam line and color differences from section to section.
Although patterns motifs and color can of ten give c1ues to area of origin. It is increasingly difficult to establish provenance and give precise dates of creation. As dowry items, suzanis were often kept safely in chests as prized possessions. Produced only on special occasions, which accounts for their often pristine condition In addition the foundation doth, may have been woven years before it was actually embroidered.
Patterns thought to have derived from pre-Islamic times and to have been influenced by Zoroastrianism and cosmological signs and symbols may have evolved into the floral motifs that are prevalent today. Pattem names still speak of their early history. yi/duz pa/ak (starry sky) and oi pa/ak (lunar sky) to name a few. Birds, fishes, trees, fruits Herbs and knives all allude to the early symbolic content of purity, fertility, curative powers and protection from danger and evil spirits, although litde written documentation remains.
Ilhom uses the old suzani patterns of Bukhara, Shahrisyabz, Nurata, Khojand, and Baisun areas, employing mainly three stitches: yurma (chain-stitch) done with a needle or with a crochet hook. tambur. When used this stitch makes the colour appear particularly rich because of stitching adjacent rows in opposite directions. and is of ten used to outline a form but used excursively in many of the suzani is from Bukhara./roqi (cross-stitch) is used by itself and in combination; half cross-stitch is used as a filling stitch. Basma (satin stitch) is also used alone and combined with others.
Dyeing takes place in the Tashkent workshop. All colors are produced from natural dyes, including indigo, madder, skins and barberries (brown/ black), pomegranate skin and turmeric (yellows). sumac (maroon) and combinations of the above. Most colours are mordanted in alum for 2+ hours prior to dyeing; ferric oxide is sometimes used to fix red. And copper oxide to fix yellows; ammonium phosphate is used with indigo.
There are of course many other people who are also continuing this tradition. Dilbar Khalimova in Bukhara has been working with natural dyes in the production of suzanis since a visit to Indiaseveral years ago. Her workshop is in the Bukharan Artisans’ Development Centre, and is supported in part by the city of Bukhara. Sayfullah Majidov of Shafrikan heads an NGO called Centre for the Centre for the of Rural People that also works with village women producing suzanis, although i was unable to visit his workshops. This year another small workshop was set up in theMuseum of Applied Arts in Tashkent, where Sulfiya, Ilhom’s wife, teaches students who are anxious to learn the art of making suzanis. It is heartening to think that women in hundreds of communities throughout Uzbekistan are relearning an ancient craft.
One further thought: since this work is being produced for the commercial! Market, women in each area of the country are not able to concentrate on their own ancestral patterns but rather are asked to employ motifs from other areas as well. Will this serve to dilute their artistry yet further or will it lead to a true revival? Where once again mothers, daughters and neighbors will join forces to create the flowering gardens of the future?
From ‘HALI’ Issue 137