The Suzani - A Mosaic of Stories of Belonging and Well-Wishes
Written by Megan Hudson - 4th October 2022
HONOURING AN AGE OLD CRAFT
The Suzani textile has a richness of herstory, meaning and craft that spans many centuries and communities. The depth of skill and meaning in these textile pieces of art has made this ancestral craft be cherished across the world. Drawing on stories of cyclical wisdom, we want to honour and celebrate the magic and beauty of the Suzani. Highlighting its story - from the herstory of its creation, the feminine force and beauty, to the richness of earth symbolism contained in each unique Suzani. An ode to this woven story of cloth and stitches.
A HERSTORY OF SUZANI - 'NEEDLE'
Suzani comes from the Persian word Suzan, meaning 'Needle'. It is an art form which spans across centuries of tradition and story-telling. A craft found in homes across Central Asia, safeguarded in countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Using mostly a cotton base, the female masters of this craft use either silk or cotton to thread together mesmerising works of art, their richness of meaning and earth symbolism interwoven with each intentional stitch.
This craft is the tale of cyclical wisdom, being passed down from mother to daughter. Each region and household carrying their own rich symbolism, it was the role of the grandmother to pass on the symbols of her lineage. Daughters would learn from an early age to stitch this art, the blessings and prayers for the daughter enshrined in each stitch. Promises locked into every knot. This Suzani would become part of the dowry of the daughter when she wed, the chosen motifs and symbols a talisman for the household and life that they wished for her.
The Suzani is traditionally deeply interwoven with the wedding ceremony, the bride entering her new household enveloped in the protection of her gifted Suzani. It would adorn the walls of homes as blessings, or only be brought out for special occasions and then carefully folded away once more. The mastery of the Suzani craft was highly sought after in brides, being a cherished tradition within every family. Suzanis were safeguarded and provided protection when needed by selling them onwards in times of need. Today Suzanis still carry the tales of their ancestors, some symbols so old their meaning has been lost to time. Still carrying significant importance in the marriage ceremony, culture and lives of women. A gift of Suzani from mother to daughter can be passed down through many generations, each mother stitching new blessings into the empty spaces, continuing the craft of her ancestors.
MESSAGES OF LOVE AND WELL-WISHES - THE STORY OF THE CREATOR
Rich in symbolism of the earth, we would like to take you through the journey of the intentions stitched into each Suzani as a message of love and joy. Styles and messages may vary from region to region and are deeply embedded with the lands and communities of the creator. The needlework telling the tale of the woman who created it. Some symbols and meanings of the regions have become intermingled since the craft has been practised, telling the story of history and exchange of the communities. Culture and identity become woven with each colourful thread to create a mosaic of stories of belonging and well-wishes. A beautiful reminder to us, that cloth is woven from the social fabric which births it.
Each Suzani is a reflection of the ideal, beauty in balance and universal harmony. The game of balancing the colours from chaos to flow plays an important role. Referring to the richness of the natural world and the garden paradise, the tapestry is much like nature itself - always keeping balance and harmony in its design and intention. Reflecting the worship and honouring of land, fertility and abundance - birthed of cyclical wisdom and crafted by the hands of women.
READING THE STORIES OF SUZANIS
Paisley: A symbol of anything from wealth, nobility to fertility
Tree of Life: The Tree of Life - reaching from the roots of the earth to the heavens
Pomegranate: Adorned with symbols of fertility in abundance - the many seeds of the pomegranate plant hopes for many births and children
Bouquets of flowers: Symbol of the importance of nature and the gifts of the earth - a celebration of the importance of flora and fauna and the garden paradise
Astrological symbols - e.g. sun and the moon circles + A star heavenly body: Symbol of the importance of nature and the gifts of the earth - a celebration of the importance of flora and fauna and the garden paradise
Chilli pepper: Protection from evil eye and dashing charms
Philosophy of communities of the Penjakent Valley: The black and white Suzani represents the philosophy of the region - life and death walking hand in hand, with the red flowers dancing in between representing moments of joy
Imperfections and unfinished details: Reminder of the imperfect beauty of humans and nature in the universal constellation & a wish from a mother to her daughter to continue the craft of Suzani, that she might one day finished the embroidery and pass on the tradition
STORIES OF CONTINUING THE CRAFT
Since the very beginning of Zazi, our iconic Suzani Coat has been part of our journey - becoming an emblem of our colourful Zazi world and global sisterhood. Having recently re-imagined the classic Zazi Suzani Coat in a co-creation process bridging the ends of our value chain, we hold so much gratitude to work with this woven story of cloth and stitches. The stories of this tale are endless - From the stories of our muses wearing their staple Suzani Coats, to the up-cycling process, to the love and resilience of our Afghan artisan families creating the final coats. It remains deeply embedded in the heart of the Zazi World.
Safeguarding this ancestral craft are our partner family Ozara, which means ‘fire’ in Persian. Located in Khujand in the Northern region of Tajikistan, they are a women-led social enterprise focusing on preserving the embroidery of the region and empowering women through income generation. They are protecting the passage of cyclical wisdom from one generation to the next, regenerating the woven and embroidered stories of their traditions, lands and ancestors. Embodying their fire to give rise to the feminine through their craft.
"If we don’t have women that personify fire, a community or society would be and remain ‘unbaked’ and the bread wouldn’t be ready to eat. The way women take care of a community is what makes society ‘rise’. I feel like this is what the organisation I set up aims to do."
⁓ Tahmina - Founder of Ozara
Zazi lined wrap coat #279 | S
Zazi long suzani coat #282 | S
Zazi long suzani coat #289 | S
Zazi lined wrap coat #274 | S/M
Davis, F. (2019, April 7). What symbols are hidden in Suzani? Designer Upholstery Fabrics. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.alesouk.com/what-symbols-are-hidden-in-suzani/
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Gyul, E. (2020, June 30). Suzanis – the world of magic and beauty. JOZAN. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.jozan.net/suzanis-the-world-of-magic-and-beauty/
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Kroon, J. de. (2021, February 3). Lessons in sustainability: The traditional craft of Suzani in Tajikistan - Eco-Age. Eco. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://eco-age.com/resources/sustainability-traditional-craft-suzani-in-ozara-tajikistan/
Ozara. Zazi vintage. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://zazi-vintage.com/pages/partner-family-ozara-tajikistan
Price, P. (n.d.). Symbols in stitches: Uzbek suzanis. Symbols in Stitches: Uzbek Suzanis. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from http://www.uzbekjourneys.com/2011/12/symbols-in-stitches-uzbek-suzanis.html