Suzane: home adornment and protection
By Mr Rustam Mirzaev


        Finding himself in a traditional Uzbek house for the first time, a westerner will be involuntarily amazed. First of all, he will wonder at almost total lack of furniture. A patterned oriental tapis or a tufted carpet on the floor, blankets – kurpacha and pillows laid together in wall niches, a trunk decorated with engraving and a low little table khan-takhta make almost all the furniture of the room. Another important part of family life decoration is large big embroidered wall panels - suzane hanging out on the walls.



The arrangement of embroideries should make evident the merits of each of them and at the same time let them match harmoniously. On festive days the decorative embroideries play an important role in the decoration of a dwelling. They serve as coverlet, curtains and decoration of the walls. The room of a newly-married couple is decorated with a particular care.

        The decorative embroidery – takyapush is used to cover blankets and pillows in daytime kept in big wall niches. These deep niches from floor to ceiling are usually made on the front wall facing the doorway. Between the two big niches there is a narrow one with partitions for keeping linen. It is curtained with an embroidered choyshab. The tops of three walls are bordered with a long narrow needle-work – zardevor. To keep little things required in household there are embroidered cases dangling on the walls: for a comb – shona-khalta, for a man's belt scarf – chorsu, for a mirror – oyna-khalta.

        These true masterpieces of folk art accompany a person's life from childhood to old age, forming his taste and instilling in him love for beauty.

        Large decorative suzanes were created, as a rule, for the greatest events in the family. A particular great variety of embroideries were prepared for a wedding in a bride's family. These embroidered articles made an indispensable part of the dowry and represented the complete set necessary for the beginning of life in a young family.

        Embroideries took an important place in a wedding ceremony as well. Thus, the wedding bed sheet ruijo, patterned along the three edges, was laid on the newly-weds' bed; the embroidery bolinpush covered the pillows, and suzane was spread on the blanket. The ornament of embroidered articles for wedding was believed to have a magic force and was supposed to protect a newly-married couple from all evil spirits. By ancient tradition the embroideresses left a small part of a pattern unfinished to let «weddings never stop in the house and joy never leaves it, and the daughter is always well». Sometimes the embroideresses directly addressed the future owners of their suzanes with an embroidered inscription. For instance an unknown craftswoman from Urgut settlement decorated her work with an inscription representing the following wish: "Let this bolinpush please the eyes of those, whom it will belong to, and bring happiness to them".

        The love for beautiful patterned embroideries has been developing in the Uzbek people for many centuries. In the past it was mainly women who took up decorative needlework. The ancient patterns and the techniques of needlework were passed on from mother to daughter. Girls were taught the embroidery art since their childhood and were expected to become a good hand at it. Each family made its decorative embroideries for its own needs. It usually took nearly two years to make a suzane. Mother started to embroider a dowry for her daughter when she was a little child. And if a family could not complete all necessary embroideries by the wedding day, they asked their relatives and neighbors for help.
 

        Special artists elaborated embroidery patterns. They knew a lot of traditional ornaments, varied them and created new compositions. The art of these masters was always held in high respect. It was quite often handed down from mother to daughter, though in each block of a big city there was a professional artist.

        Colors play the dominant role in the Uzbek embroidery art. The majority of works impress the viewers with elaboration of intricate patterns on large and entirely embroidered ornamental figures. This elaboration is attained by colour, which enriches the ornamental forms rhythmically dividing the surface of the embroidery and making it a colourful decorative wholeness. You can find nearly fifteen tints in each single work, which makes it possible to create a great variety of color combinations and at the same time to retain the uniformity of overall colouring.

        In the colouration of embroideries on a white background there prevail red tints which create bright and cheerful color spectrum. Red is used to embroider flowers and rosettes. The foliage is embroidered with green threads. The stalks, branches and the fringes of the leaves are made in olive and light sand colours. In general such colouring agrees with the natural coloration of plants and at the same time is based on the eloquent contrast between red and green colors. The combinations of colours in the embroideries can also be based on the contrast between yellow and violet, orange and dark blue, red and dark blue, green and orange, black and white. At the same time in the embroideries you can meet various tints of one and the same colour close together: for example, combinations of light blue and cornflower-blue, light-yellow and golden, dark- and light-crimson.

        The basic ornamental pattern of the embroideries is a gorgeous blossoming garden. Even the images of animals and objects take the shape of a plant. From gardens flowers were transferred on decorative things, and being transfigured by artists' rich imagination they turned into cheerful popular patterns. The ornamental motives served as a wish of happiness and well-being and symbol of fertility.

        In some embroideries there was depicted a stylized woman's silver adornment with pendants – toomor (a special case containing a sheet of paper with a prayer and worn as a talisman). Both toomor itself and its image on the embroidery were considered to have a magic power. Often the design of the embroidery represents the images of bright motley birds among bushes, branches and flowers. These images are of particular interest, as birds are almost the only living creatures, which people kept in the art notwithstanding the interdictions of the Islam. The silhouettes of animals and people on some single needle-works are rather an exception than the rule. The embroideress never placed them on the foreground where they could draw attention, but preferred to locate them somewhere on the side or along the edge.

        Almost up to the end of the 19th century large decorative embroideries were primarily made on white or slightly reddish hand-made fabrics. The beginning of the last century saw wide application of local silk fabrics of violet, green and orange colours, as well as white and coloured factory-made cotton fabrics.

        The exclusive beauty of the embroideries of the 19th century in many respects can be explained by the fact, that silk threads dyed with natural dyestuff had deep and soft chatoyant tints.

        The local distinctive features in the embroidery art have been developing over centuries. We can distinguish the Nurata, Bukhara, and Samarkand, Urgut, Shakhrisabs, Tashkent and Fergana embroidery schools.
 

        The original type of embroideries has developed in Nurata. In the 19th century it was a big settlement – the center of the Nurata Province of the Bukhara emirate, which did business with nomadic and settled peoples. The Nurata embroideries have precise and strongly pronounced features distinguishing them from the other regions' products. The decoration design of these embroideries represents flower bouquets on a white background. The richness and variety of flower motives let Nurata embroideries take the leading place among the needleworks of Uzbekistan. Quite often the floriated patterns are brightened up with figures of birds and sometimes you can even meet greatly stylized images of animals and people.

        The most commonly encountered in Nurata school of embroidery is a closed composition with an octagonal star in the center and four large bouquets in the corners. Another type of ornament design is a diamond-shaped net formed by serrated leaves. The cells of the net are filled with design of flowered branches, rosettes and figures of birds and animals. Sometimes embroidery works contain checkerboard patterned flower motives on a fabric background. The combination of colours in some motives is remarkable for its great finesse: one flower has yellow and a golden petal, another one has blue, pink and cream petals; on branches with light-turquoise leaves there are blue flowers with pink centers. By the middle of the 20th century the art of Nurata embroidery had been practically lost and only at present time the skilled embroideress Mukarram Radzhabova has revived the traditions of her ancestors.

        The embroidery of Bukhara is one of the most beautiful in Central Asia. It was influenced by century-old art traditions of this city which numbers over two thousand years of historical development. The distinctive aspect of the Bukhara embroidery is a skillful use of a chain-stitch which is applied in the majority of fancy-works, and delicate colour combinations of blue, grey, lilac, pink and light yellow tints alongside with red, crimson and green colours. The compositions and patterns of Bukhara works are diverse. You can often see a closed composition with emphasized centre and corners, and a round rosette being the basic motive. The amazing variety in representing the details gives more and more new variants of the basic motive. But not only the Bukhara suzanes and bolinpushis have excellent artistic features, joynamazes – prayer-rugs and ruijos are also very impressive. The gentle and unconfined flower patterns of joynamaz create a fascinating impression. Ten years ago the Mazhidovs family in Bukhara started producing the embroideries on the basis of ancient ornaments. They use hand-made fabrics for suzanes and natural dyes for silk threads, same way as their ancestors did hundred years ago.

        Samarkand has been the biggest centre of crafts for many centuries. In its embroideries you can find the archaic features which make them akin to the art of ancient Sogdiana. Samarkand needleworks, unlike the Nurata and Bukhara ones, have larger and simpler patterns. Their basic motive is a round rosette of crimson tints surrounded by a ring of leaves. Decorative merits of Samarkand embroidery lie in ornamentalism and preciseness of simple large patterns of the design. The 19th century embroideries are characterised by round rosettes with multi-colored concentric and radial details and dark green rings of leaves brightened up with iridescent stripes or light green middle part with ruby veins. By the beginning of the 20th century the style of Samarkand embroideries had changed. While the works of the gone centuries impressed viewers with finesse and variety of its patterns as well as softness and nobility of its harmonious colouration, modern embroideries win your heart by intensity and laconism of simple expressive forms and contrasting colour combinations.

        The embroideries from the ancient city of Urgut (Samarkand Province) produce an unforgettable impression. The suzane embroidered with "bosma" stitch on a white cotton fabric, or sometimes on crimson or yellow silk, reproduce the ancient magic patterns. The followers of the well-known Urgut embroideress Sakhobat Rakhmatullaeva ornament with needlework huge panels where crimson circles symbolizing the sun are inserted into black edging and are filled with stylized dark blue and yellow stars, tulips and leaves. Sometimes natural keenness of observation and creative perception of the outward things let Urgut embrouderesses neatly stylize objects, thus following embroidery art traditions. For instance, in the ornaments of suzanes one can meet the motives of such common household things as teapots. The bulky thick embroidery of the Urgut suzanes almost entirely covers the surface of the product and little glimpses of white fabric serve as a background for the bright ornament.
 

        Shakhrisabs is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and Temur's homeland. In the 19th century it was the centre of a big province of Bukhara emirate, with highly developed trade and crafts. Here the art of embroidery has very old traditions. At the beginning of the 20th century for the emirate rulers Shakhrisabs women made embroideries with needlework covering almost entire surface of huge cloths – dastarhans, which were used as gifts to the Russian officials and the local nobility. The composition of such embroideries more closely resembled carpets than a needlework article. In the centre there was often placed a big locket, whereas the corners were decorated with quarters of the same locket. These cloths had contrasting colouration and their ornaments were mostly geometrical. For their own houses the embroideresses created various types of decorative needleworks still amazing the viewers by richness of intricate patterns and variety of colors. Of great expressiveness are the Shakhrisabs embroideries made with a chain-stitch on a coloured stuff. Each suzane is an original work of art full of charm and creative imagination of a skilled embroideress. Small needleworks, such as covers for bolster cushions – lyulya-bolish, purses and woman's belts, Shakhrisabs embroideresses made with the tiny creed stitch "iroky".

        The distinctive feature of Tashkent embroidery is its original style. There are two main types of large decorative embroideries. They are palyak and gulkurpa. The basic motive of palyaks (from the Arabic falyak – the sky) is the design made of big dark red circles densely covering the surface of the cloth. Gulkurpa (a flowered blanket) served as a coverlet on the blanket of newly-weds and was decorated with a floriated ornament. In the course of time the appearance of Tashkent palyaks has changed: the number of circles has decreased, whereas their size, on the opposite, has increased. In the palyaks of later period the needlework covers the entire surface of the cloth without even tiny spot of the background being visible. Such panels have a strict rhythm of solar motives and an austere colour treatment based on the contrast of dark red circles and dark green foliage edgings. The distinctive motives of a stylized sun, stars and branches with flowers are the mandatory attributes of the palyak's and gulkurpa's ornaments. At the beginning of the 20th century the so-called choyshab-palyaks came into fashion. These were embroidered sets, decorated with the same patterns, which were used as a wedding bed sheet and a pillow coverlet.

        From time immemorial in the cities and settlements of the Fergana valley there have lived and worked remarkable masters of fine needlework. Their works are usually made on dark green or violet silk or sateen and have plain graceful patterns freely located on an unembroidered surface of a background. They are mainly ruijoes, less often – big embroideries such as gulkurpas and suzanes. On ruijoes there is usually a repeating motive of a bush with flowers and scalloped leaves flowing down. The light silhouettes of ornamental motives on a dark background look very attractive. But the basic motive of the majority of big embroideries is a round rosette of concentric rings.

        All the artistic means of embroidery, such as design of an ornament and its decorative interpretation, colour treatment, a cloth texture and needlework techniques are inseparably linked with each other. They supplement and reinforce each other and help to create a harmonious decorative work of art.

        The Uzbek hand embroidery is a strong branch on the tree of folk arts. Ancient mythological symbols of suzane ornaments, pictured by the imagination of an embroideress, embody the succession of ancient traditions and a poetic spirit of the Uzbek people.