Suzani Textiles

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Textiles are some of the most important art forms in many cultures. In this lesson, we'll talk about suzani textiles and explore their history and significance.

Suzani Textiles

Nothing is without history. You see a desk, but really it's a physical embodiment of combined cultural and economic paradigms reflecting the values of education, interior design, and mass-production. There's a history there. You see ice cream, but you're really enjoying a century of technological changes in dairy processing and refrigeration. You see a fancy rug, but really it's something much, much more. Textiles, which are basically cloths and fabrics, are some of the oldest art forms in the world, and in many cultures were amongst the most important things they produced. A great example of these are Suzani, a form of embroidered textile native to Central Asia. Is it fancy? Yes. Is it a rug? Basically. Is it more than that? You bet.

Suzani textile

The Suzani Style

Suzani textiles are pretty distinctive, with intricate embroidered patterns and rich colors. The cloth is generally made and embroidered with cotton, although sometimes silk may be used if it is available. For those who are particularly interested in the technical aspects of embroidery, the so-called chain, satin, and buttonhole stitches are those mainly used to create the varied and complex patterns. These patterns are not arbitrary, but reflect common motifs that would have had significance to the owners, generally including flowers like carnations, tulips, and irises, as well as animals, vines, and fruits. Pomegranates are actually a very common motif in suzani textiles. We'll get more into why that is in a minute.

Suzanis are characterized by intricate patterns


So, that's a suzani textile in a nutshell. However, we can't really appreciate these works of art unless we understand their history. So, where are they from? Suzani textiles are made by an Uzbek ethnic and cultural group primarily living in Uzbekistan_, but who are also found in Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries. Historically, these cultures were highly nomadic pastoralists and moved around constantly, generally following their herds. This meant that their artwork had to be light, portable, and functional, since nomadic cultures generally don't waste energy carrying around things they don't use. As such, textiles were amongst the most important forms of art in many nomadic Uzbek cultures. Their tents, their clothes, their rugs, their sheets-- everything was carefully and expertly embroidered.

So, what use did the suzanis have? You may have noticed that these textiles are pretty complex, which indicates their importance. In fact, suzanis were part of a bride's dowry, generally made by her mother and presented to the groom at the wedding. It was a symbol of the family's status, as the wealthier families could put more time and effort into making their suzanis. So, it was important to make really great suzanis, as your family would be judged by them. The suzani itself was used as the coverlet for the bridal bed on the wedding night, and later as decoration. Remember how we talked about pomegranates being an important motif in suzani textiles? The pomegranate is a traditional symbol of fertility.

Pomegranates are a common motif, representing fertility

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