The term “suzani” derives from the Farsi word for needle, “suzan”, and it has come to refer to the large embroideries that a young girl and her female family members traditionally made for her dowry. Suzanis were made by settled people, mostly Uzbek and Tadjik, and allowed the new bride to show off her sewing skills and bring something very personal and beautiful with her to the household of her husband. After the marriage ceremony, the suzani was laid over the marriage bed and later might be used to decorate the marriage chamber.
Pre-twentieth century suzanis were almost never signed or dated, and their origins were seldom documented. However each region developed its own style and preferred stitches (albeit with considerable overlap). The basic embroidery stitches used were couching (basma), chain stitch (yurma), and open chain stitch or ladder stitch (ilmok), with regional variations. They were embroidered with silk floss on either cotton or silk cloth, all of which could be obtained in the bazaars. Early suzanis were usually sewn on joined narrow lengths of handwoven, undyed cotton called “karbos”. Auspicious motifs such as pomegranites, small blue birds, and water vessels were often incorporated into the patterns.
Throughout most of the twentieth century, girls continued to make suzanis for their weddings, although seldom with the very fine and intricate embroidery characteristic of those from the nineteenth century. Factory-woven cloth in wider widths and bright colors was readily available and was often used instead of the traditional undyed cotton. However the embroidery thread continued to be silk floss. Girls began to sign and date their suzanis and sometimes embroidered sentimental words on them. Suzani tradition remained particularly strong in the southern regions of Uzbekistan. A suzani was not only an object of beauty, it held much of a young woman’s past and would accompany her on the rest of her life’s journey.