Antique Suzani is a type of decorative embroidered tribal textile made in Central Asian countries prior to the early 20th century.
Background and Description
Suzani has been produced for hundreds of years, but the oldest surviving examples date from the late 18th-early 19th century. The name comes from the Persian word ‘sozan’ for needle. They are traditionally begun by a mother at the birth of a girl, and continued by the child with the aid of the family as she grows up to be part of her dowry, finished in time to be presented to the groom on the wedding day. The patterns signify the girl’s mood and dreams.
Their method and design varies slightly between country and region, each area boasting their own special patterns and favoured motifs. It used to be an identifying factor when people travelled from region to region, letting others know where they came from due to their particular design of Suzani. Bokhara Suzani is well known and popular with collectors. The most well-known examples generally come from Uzbekistan, though Suzani is also made in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Iran.
Suzani was initially brought to the West by travellers to Central Asia.
Suzani has a cotton or silk fabric base, onto which is embroidered patterns in silk or cotton thread in chain, satin, and buttonhole stitching. Couching is also used to stitch in larger yarn. Designs usually comprise sun and moon disks, flowers including tulips, carnations and irises, leaves and vines, fruits particularly pomegranates, fish and birds. They often incorporate Arabic words, religious or otherwise.
Antique Suzani comes in varying sizes. The range of textiles can include hangings, bedcovers, cloths, table covers, prayer mats and other items.
Collecting antique Suzani
No two antique Suzani textiles are the same. They are handmade and utterly personal works of art, not intended to sell but representing a legacy within a family.
Suzani becomes more valuable with age. Collectors must decide whether to focus purely on antique pieces or contemporary examples. However, it can be difficult to date a Suzani textile, especially as many contemporary pieces are made using traditional methods, including natural dyes.
A novice collector may require the help of an expert or collecting guide to ascertain whether a Suzani is an antique. Suzani is often copied, manufactured for the benefit of tourists and naive collectors, and of a lesser quality so care must be taken to ensure a textile is the real thing.
A traditional Suzani includes several panels of material stitched together rather than one solid sheet, and this can be an aid when determining if an antique Suzani is genuine. Modern examples are sometimes may using polyester, machine embroidery, synthetic dyes and low-cost materials.
Suzani generally sells on auction websites like eBay for price from just a few dollars for modern cheap or unauthentic examples, up to a several hundred dollars for the older, quality, genuine antique suzanis. Rarer and more important examples come to auction and sell for more. For example, several have sold at Christie’s for a few thousand, several have sold at Sotheby’s for $5,000-$30,000, and a large medallion Suzani, embroidered in the first half of the 19th century, sold for $32,200 at Christie’s in December 1997.