Traditional embroidery of the republics of Central Asia

Embroidered wall hanging, Shakrisyabz, Uzbekistan, 19th century. Cotton, with chain-stitch embroidery in silk and red wool, trimmed with djiyak braid. Design Museum, Helsinki 

Embroidery is an important cultural tradition in Central Asia. Literally everything is decorated with embroidery  - wall hangings, curtains, cushions-covers, bed-covers, bags, animal trappings, women's headdresses and tunics, trousers and boots. A guest may be offered a piece of embroidery as a token of friendship or as a good luck talisman for the journey.
All types of thread are used for embroidery: metal, wool, cotton, silk. The most common stitches are couching, buttonhole and chain stitch, herringbone. Usually one type of stitch dominates the embroidery of a particular ethnic group. For example, a lacing stitch is much used by the Turkmen tribes, satin stitch characterizes the Kohistan embroidery, and Uzbek and Hazara embroiderers use various types of cross stitch.

Embroidered bread covering cloth, Uzbekistan

Embroidered mirror bag, 1950. Museum of Arts, Tashkent

Saddle cloth, Lakai Uzbek, late 19th century. Silk embroidery on napped wool cloth. Photo source

Embroidery is exclusively the craft of women, except the metal-thread embroidery, zardosi. There was a superstition that women blackened the metal thread and so the zardosi embroidery was the prerogative of men. The metal thread was couched on to background fabric of fine wool, cotton, silk or velvet in elaborate designs. Bukhara used to be practically the only place in Central Asia which produced embroideries in gold and silver thread in a number of private workshops and those appointed to the emir's court. The right to wear gold-embroidered clothes belonged only to the members of the royal family, to the highest court officials and to the cream of the Bukhara aristocracy.

Ceremonial horse cloth, Bukhara, Uzbekistan, mid-19th century. Velvet, with embroidery in gold and silver thread. The Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Zardosi embroidered skull cap, Bukhara, 1940. Museum of Arts, Tashkent

The most common embroidery motifs in Central Asia are flowers, plants, sun-wheels, stars, lozenges. The ram's horn is a common and very ancient motif reflecting the vital role that flocks of sheep and goats played in the region.
Some traditional embroidered articles are unique to a specific group or region. The mountain Tajik of the area around Dushanbe made a ritual wedding veil, ruband, which was worn by brides who were supposed to cover their face during the wedding feast and also while moving to their husband's house. It was embroidered in silk in a variety of reds usually on a white background, with motifs of flowers and peacocks. The red colour was believed to give protection from evil, while birds were regarded as symbols of fertility. Rubands fell out of use in early 20th century and are to be found only in rich Tajik families where they are passed on as family relics from mothers to daughters.

Ruband veil, Darvaz, Tajikistan. Second half of the 19th century (before the 1870s). Cotton, with satin-stitch embroidery in silk. The Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Kazakh coat (shapan), 1870s. Suede, with chain-stitch embroidery in silk. The velvet trimmings are decorated with the embroidered islimi motif - the wave-like stem of a twining plant. The Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Kazakh coat, the back. It is adorned with a large multicoloured floral rosette with a polychrome many-petalled flower in the middle. This motif originated from ancient symbols of the firmament-those of the sun, the moon and stars.

Turkmen coat (choga), mid-19th century or earlier, wool with silk embroidery. The decoration of the exterior consists of geometric and abstract floral motifs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Suzani (also called Bukhara embroidery) is an embroidered piece of cloth that is used for decorative purposes in Central Asian households, particularly in Uzbekistan. During wedding ceremonies they are used to decorate interiors, drape the wedding chamber, and divide spaces reserved for guests. Suzanis were an integral element of a dowry and were prepared by the bride and her relatives long before the wedding. A mother who had a daughter would begin making suzanis shortly after the birth of a little girl. It was important that each bride brought to the marriage her own set of embroidered pieces because they reflected her family's wealth and her embroidering skills. The dowry of the daughter of a well-to-do family included about ten embroidered pieces, while children of the less wealthy might only bring four to five embroideries.

Suzani hanging, early 19th century present-day Uzbekistan, Nurata. Silk embroidery on cotton; couching, chain, satin, and buttonhole stitches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Suzani, Bukhara, Uzbekistan, second half of the 19th century (before the 1870s). Cotton with chain-stitch embroidery in silk. The Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Suzani, Kokand, Uzbekistan, second half of the 19th century. The Rippon-Boswell gallery


Wall hanging, Village of Daraut-Kurgan, Gulcha District, Kirghizia. 1925. Felt, with embroidery in woollen thread. The Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

In Kyrgyzia the embroidered wall hanging called tushkiyiz was an indispensable part of the bride's dowry and was placed on the wall to the left of the entrance, in the corner of the yurta usually assigned to the newly-married couple. Traditional Kirghiz tushkiyiz was embroidered only along the broad velvet, silk or cotton border decorating the top and the sides of the wall-hanging. The central field was made of vividly coloured monochrome or patterned silk, velvet or brocade. In earlier days such wall-hangings were often reinforced on the reverse side with a thick felt lining. Nowadays an embroidered felt tushkiyiz is quite a rarity.

Embroidered boots for youth or woman, Bukhara, the 19th century. Gold, silver and silk embroidery on velvet. Photo source

Embroidered cotton dress, southern  Tajikistan, 1950s.  Eastern-Kazakhstan Regional Architecture and Ethnographic Museum

Skull cap, Shakrisyabz, Uzbekistan. 19th century. Cotton, with chain-stitch embroidery in silk and red wool, trimmed with djiyak braid. The Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Skull cup worn in many regions of Central Asia by men, women and children is a very popular object of embroidery. The cut-out panels which forms the cup-shapes are stitched together and embroidered to cover every part of the surface. By the type of the embroidery and pattern the wearer's ethnic group, place of origin, social status and religion may be identified.

Related posts
Traditional costume of the republics of Central Asia
Ethnic jewelry of the republics of Central Asia

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  1. Every single piece is gorgeous. I want my entire house covered in it!

  2. I adore these! the boots are just wonderful. x

  3. Such wonderful colours and patterns - rich and beautiful and so skilfully done. The suede coat is amazing. xxx

  4. Oh my goodness, the work that went into these pieces!!! I cna see why a mother would start at birth to make such a thing, it would take forever. These are wonderful pieces every one. And such interesting history too. Oh to be guest and get something like those from the host. It would make my fruit basket gift look so sad :) Thanks so much for your sweet words on my blog, dear! They mean quite a bit to me :) xoxo

    All Things Bright and Lovely

  5. This is such a lovely post showing the rich heritage of India <3

    Nilu Yuleena
    BIG hair LOUD mouth

  6. I do embroidery myself and despite or perhaps just because of that I'm truly fascinated by it. The amount of work that goes into embroidery makes it so special...and it is wonderful to see how many cultures and people have their own unique embroidery styles.

    Thank you for sharing!

  7. That's really a marvelous post. This post contains useful information which helps us a lot. I have never seen such a great post. Your wonderful post can inspire a lot and helps us. I visit your website often and share with my friend.suzani embroidery