Many tourists visiting Uzbekistan often ask a question – what would be the best souvenir to take from this country. While there can’t be a universal answer to this question we won’t hesitate to give you recommendation to buy suzani which is a type of embroidered and decorative tribal textile made in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries. They vary in size, in price, in ornaments, in style, in hemstitch work, in place of origin, suzani school, etc… but one thing is for sure – this will be a unique handmade gift with bright decorative ornaments reminding you of the great distant country and hospitable people living there.
While they can be found pretty much everywhere in larger cities frequented by foreign tourists the best place in the country to buy suzani is bazaar in a small town of Urgut, 40 km from Samarkand. Prices are lower, wider options and the quality on par with anything sold in Samarkand and Bukhara. Besides visiting this huge market is an entertainment itself, so this adventure is highly recommended. They sell here not just suzane made in Urgut or in Samarkand region, but from all over the country. Somehow the town got the reputation of Uzbek suzani capital and the most experienced buyers come here for the bargains.
The fact is that the center of suzane is not even Urgut itself, but the giant kishlak Gus, adjoining it from the east. There are many masters of Suzane in Gus, and among them stands out Khamdamovs family, like the famous Narzullaevs potters from Gizhduvan. Mavlyuda Norimovna learnt the art of embroidery from her mother - Mizomova Narzi. It is a tradition here in Central Asia to pass the skill from father to son and from mother to daughter to keep the craft alive and business within a family. Mavluda has here own students now: her daughter, granddaughters and daughter-in-law.
Suzane (Suzani) is traditional oriental decorative hand embroidery. This kind of applied art is the oldest method of decorating fabrics. Apart from suzane they also used embroidery to decorate clothes, small household items, and some elements of horse's clothing. The Tajik word "suzan" translates as "needle" and formed the root of the word "Suzani" (sewed with a needle), and means in the broad sense "large decorative embroidery." These kind of wallpapers are usually hung on walls inside living quarters. Suzane are distinguished by bright and rich colors, various styles of patterns. In different regions, embroidery is distinguished by many stylistic actions: ornament, composition, color.
The material, i.e. the basis on which the patterns are embroidered, are cotton fabric, silk or colored fabric. For the very embroidery they use silk, woolen or factory mouline threads. Silk threads are still produced by some families in the village of Gus from the cultivated cocoons of the silkworm. Traditionally, cotton and silk embroidery threads were coloured mainly with vegetable dyes of local origin: isparak (isfarak - lynx, delphinium, spur), tuhmak (sophora japonica), pomegranate, walnut. But over time, the Asian markets were penetrated with artificial dyes as well. Aniline, indigo, cochineal were also used for dyeing, in the latter case, the dyeing was performed by dye specialists. Mavlyuda Norimovna demonstrated the process of coloring the threads with the help of dried green crusts of walnut and its leaves. The necessary amount of this plant material is wrapped in a gauze bandage. This mass is then immersed in pre-heated water for several minutes. Then a lump of threads is immersed in dyed water and kept there the required amount of time.
The process of creating a handmade work can be divided into two main stages: the actual embroidery and drawing of patterns. Surprisingly, drawing patterns is the key in the process of creating suzane as an art. Drawers need to remember the "history" of patterns, not only those that they remember and create at a given time, but also patterns on fabrics made for their own dowry. The fact is that traditionally suzane was made by young girls in the process of preparing for their upcoming wedding. It could take many years, and all the patterns that they embroidered on these suzane, were "inherited" and passed from mother to daughter. The role of suzane in the wedding ritual is great. According to the old tradition, suzane were first hung in the bride's house and after the first meeting of the bride and groom, hung in a separate room of the groom's house. They decorated this room usually for a long time, but over time some embroideries were packed into the chest, leaving only one or two suzane still hanging on the wall. In addition to weddings, suzane were also made for circumcision ceremonies.
The process of drawing a pattern on a light cloth in the old days was made with homemade inks made from soot. For dark fabrics, light clay (sometimes with the addition of treacle) was used. They painted with a reed pen or pointed wand. Now the craftsmen use pens and pencils. Unlike in European drawing tradition, Samarqand draftswomen of Suzane begin their drawing with small patterns, starting with minor details and then moving to a bigger picture. Each region and even each draftswoman has their unique manner and style of drawing.
Mavlyuda Norimovna shared the characteristic features of some patterns and types of suzane. For example, the top upper stripe on an extensive panel measuring 3.5 to 2.5 meters is called "zardevor", the vertical bands on sides have patterns called "Muslima". For the patterns they use flower and geometrical ornaments: samsa (rhombus), moon (crescent), pepper, teapot, pomegranate, yul (road - two parallel strips), etc. Among the items from suzane the most typical are: "zhoynomoz" (a rug for prayer with a size of 1.2x0.8 m), "Tokachush" (covers for matrasses and pillows - 0.8x0.8 m), "bolumpush" (cover for a large matrass - 1,5x1,5 m), "belbok" "(Belt for the girdle - 1,0х1,0 m)," Ruizhoy "(bed cover - 2,5х1,6 m)," chimildik "(the same cover, but used on the wedding night)," bugjomapush "( triangle package for the luggage, taken on a trip), "Beshikpush" (cover for the cradle - 1.5x1.2 m), "oynaholta" (curtain for the mirror - about 0.5x0.5 m). This "oynaholta" covers the mirror for 40 days starting from the wedding evening. A mistress of the needlework sometimes "writes down", or rather put in patterns special words, wishes and other messages. For example, in Stalin's times the messages were encrypted in suzane and then passed on to their husbands in the labour camps.
In general, the Urgut suzane is the same as in Samarkand, although it must be said that modern art of suzane differs from what it used to be long before, less prone to mixing cultures of the peoples of Central Asia in the 20th century, when the region's economic development brought new technologies and materials.
Samarkand embroidery was transformed under the influence of Islam, when the purely astral symbols - the round rosette and the guard ring around it gradually grew over with plant curls and acquired instead of cosmic a floral interpretation; closer trade relations with Russia in the late 19th century, that exported factory produced red calico and satin of bright red and yellow colors, which served as the basis for suzane, as well as aniline dyes of acid colors, especially bright pink and violet also affected the art of suzane. And about the same time, embroidery began to serve as an indicator of the owner's well-being, therefore, the patterns and embroidery itself grew more and more in size, the small details disappeared and the picture as a whole acquired such monumental significance.
Rare examples: Baysun suzane from the mountain villages of Surkhandarya region. The extreme south, the threshold of Afghanistan that is clearly evidential from the riotous colors.
In the old days suzane was an obligatory item of the dowry, and they were sewn both by the girl and her mother several years before the wedding, when the groom was still not known. Getting the threads and dyeing them in the broths of certain herbs and fruits was a serious matter in those days. Hamadanovs still use traditional dyes and real silk, but most embroideresses succumbed to the onslaught of globalization and dye threads with synthetics. The second stage of the work is drawing on the cloth:
And finally, the third stage – embroidery itself. Here, the production process is not as spectacular as with Narzullaev family potters. All the figures have long been thought out and endowed with a clear meaning, so suzane is a kind of spell, a talisman with special energy. For example, red pepper is a symbol of protection against evil spells, two stripes are a symbol of the road, a kuchkorak (mutton horns) is a symbol of the masculinity, and exclusively Urgut symbol is kumgany or kettle, something with a spout. The sewing phase remains unfinished - some minor detail is always left unfinished as a sign of "open end", the continuation of life and art: