Tag Archives: shakhrisabz

Stitches and Loops: Suzani Embroidery in Central Asia

Vintage Kazakh Suzani

It all started a long, long time ago. Sewing is the oldest of the textile arts, beginning in the Palaeolithic era. Before spinning yarn and weaving fabric were even imagined, Stone Age people across Europe and Asia sewed fur and skin clothing using bone, antler or ivory needles, and thread made of various animal body parts such as sinew, catgut, and veins.

Very inventive and resourceful! Here’s another example of sartorial ingenuity: in ancient Japan, traditional clothing was often sewn together with loose chain stitches that were removed so that the clothing could be taken apart and the assorted pieces laundered separately.

From being a necessity, sewing eventually evolved into an art form, in the shape of decorative embroidery for homes and garments. Over millennia, decorative embroidery came to be valued in various cultures worldwide. Stitching methods originating in different cultures are known throughout the world today. Some examples are …

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Beautiful Iroqi Embroidery and the Ak-Saray in Shakhrisabz

Uzbek Chapan (Winter Cape)

Shakhrisabz for us was not about the town but insights into rural life through highly skilled but humble artisans. Much like India. We drove from village to village, stopping at homes some impoverished and some not. The village women are all familiar with the distinctive Shakhrisabz style of embroidery called Iroqi. Originally used for casual clothing for soldiers during the reign of Amir Timur and thereafter including for the Emirs of Bukhara. The name has nothing to do with Iraq but comes from the marching of soldiers and signifies closeness/tightness. The work is quite stunning and unlike other suzanis that use basma (filling satin stitch), biggis (hook stitch) and yurma (chain stitch). The stitch itself is one long thread passed along the length that is couched back upwards to the start. There are two different design directions used often together: counting style which is traditional patterns spaced evenly, and painting style that …

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Fabulous Suzanis, Terrible Toilets and Buzkashi

Counting the Cost of Nisha's Negotiations

We drove from Termez into the hills heading to Shakhrisabz via the remote mountain district of Baysun. We were told there was a family we must meet as they keep tribal embroidery alive. When we arrived we were certainly not disappointed. The couple explained with actions how they had to behave as newly weds. The mother-in-law ties the belbog around the waist of the son-in-law when he arrives for the ceremony, signifying the need to stay strong. The gentleman has to cover his face with a belbog to show respect while the ladies had to wear a kurta with a duppi and white veil to cover the head and face for a year after the wedding in front of their in-laws. The family belong to the Kungrat tribe (also known as Onggirat or Qongirat, one of the main Mongol groups in the region) who have Alpamish as their warrior hero who, with …

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Day 9: Three Show Stoppers, ‘I am a Disco Dancer’ in Shakhrisabz, Rip-off in Bukhara

Lakai panel (red) - Nisha's favourite

The best thing about travel is that, every once in a while, you stumble upon a gem that was nowhere in your to-do list (in Nisha’s case, her to-buy list). We had a really good break when we literally bumped into a display of captivating ceremonial hangings from the Lakai tribe. As we looked at them we were quiet for a while (a rare feat for the both of us); they were so beautiful. The Lakai tribe has played a historic role as horsemen, fighters and brigands in Inner Asia for centuries. Women of the Uzebk Lakai tribes embroider hangings that are exceptional, bold and extremely hard to get. The Arastan collection now has three of these prized pieces (though Nisha says she is not parting with the red one).

Giddy after the day’s find, we decided to cancel our train tickets to Bukhara and take the road instead. We …

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Day 7: Mobbed in a Bazaar!

Old Suzani

Bazaars are big hubs in Uzbekistan that bring together people from the local town and sellers from places far and near. Every market has sections for fresh produce, dry fruits, spices, clothes, prayer caps, handicrafts, household items and more. They bustle with activity, colour, a variety of smells (good and bad), hectic negotiations and camaraderie.

On Sunday morning, Nisha and I traveled to Urgut, a town outside Samarkand known for its Sunday market. We wondered if anyone would show up given the weather but once we saw rush hour traffic outside the market entrance, we could feel our adrenaline rise.

The key highlight of this bazaar was its handicraft section with beautiful suzanis (famous textile rugs of Central Asia) brought by women from all over Uzbekistan. Suzana literally means needle or knitting. Painstakingly made using chain, satin and buttonhole stitches, these rugs are striking with their bright, vivid colours and …

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

    You can read about the reasons for closure.

    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

    Relive our travels and stories by browsing our articles and archives from the menus below.

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