Tag Archives: suzanis

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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Spotlight: Central Asia – Arastan returns to Mumbai

Tibetan Carpet

After the great welcome we received in Mumbai earlier this year, we are back with a new treasure chest of handpicked décor items from Central Asia. We will be exhibiting at ARTISANS’, Kala Ghoda from 20th to 22nd September between 11 am and 7 pm. Highlights include vintage carpets from East Turkestan (now the Xinjiang Uyghur Region of China) and Tibet, thangkas and jewellery from Nepal, miniatures and ikat from Uzbekistan and limited edition furniture incorporating striking Central Asian fabrics created especially for us by designer Pragati Toshniwal.

Rugs from the oasis city of Khotan (now Hotan) are particular favourites of Nishas. Khotan lies on a branch of the Silk Route that headed south from Kashgar to skirt the Taklamakan Desert. This remote region of western China, ringed by mountains and desert, vaunts a millennial tradition of tribal carpet weaving. Wool-on-cotton Khotan rugs are characterised by a blend of Persian and Chinese motifs, a testament to …

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The Enduring Suzani

Suzani from Tashkent

No single artefact can represent the silk roads, their legacy and the Arastan journey, better than a Suzani. Arastan seeks out beautiful products with stories that often began on the fabled Silk Route. The suzani is one such perfect story of an enduring craft that has forever bound into every stitch and motif the hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears of its makers who lived in what was perhaps the harshest landscape in the world. See Arastan’s selection of vintage and new suzanis, or read on to discover more about the  culture and traditions behind this wonderful craft.

Suzani is a common term for embroidered dowry pieces (coverlets for the bridal bed, but also for made to decorate horses, tables, walls) produced for hundreds of years by the nomadic and settled women of Central Asia. Its roots are believed to be in the Fergana Valley that spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan …

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No Zaakpay, Burma or Rogues – but some Contemporary Rugs

We recently wrote about some exciting enhancements to our website payment gateway. Well after a week of development and test payments we were ready to go live, when back came HDFC Bank to reject our application. Apparently most of our products fall into their “Non Target Profile”. This from the same bank that have provided all our business banking since we started, all our personal banking, our credit card facilities, and offered us an overdraft for financing. This despite us being an existing e-commerce operation with a history of sales that are going through one of HDFC’s competitors currently, and for which we wanted to give them the business! Unfortunately Zaakpay weren’t able to provide us a contact at HDFC to discuss this with, so short of escalating it to HDFC senior management ourselves it seems this will be destined for yet another chapter in Nisha’s planned book on the …

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Mobbed in Urgut and Stunned by Samarkand

Nisha on the hunt

It keeps getting better and better. Today was all about mad buying, incessant rain, a delightful spell of snow, a clean toilet (!), stunning mountains views and a godforsaken village outside Urgut.

After two nights in Shahkrisabz with intermittent electricity and NO HEATING (read: no hot water!), we were ready to leave for Urgut. The regular route via a mountain pass was closed, undone by a harsh winter. We headed out by another road in heavy rain. All of a happy sudden, snow began to fall. It was beautiful to see rolling meadows of green get powdered with a delicate white… the donkey’s saddle bags and the shepherd’s shoulder collecting their final load of snow before spring sends the winter packing.

As luck would have it, when we reached Urgut’s famous Sunday ‘Bozaar’, the snow had let up. But the ground was terribly slushy and the market packed. Trolleys overflowing …

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Day 2: Shopping in Istanbul

Tree of Life

I had arranged to meet someone who was to introduce me to several vendors and we started at 9:00am little realising we would be on our feet till 9:00pm! A long but very fruitful day.

We started by meeting a master craftsman who is famous for making Sikke hats and has made the ones for the tomb of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (‘c’ pronounced as ‘j’ in Turkey) in Konya. I discovered that feltmaking is actually quite difficult as it involves opening up the wool, laying it out with the end object in mind, applying just a touch of soapy water and then rolling it in reed mats. The end products are very impressive and I now have my eye on both Turkish and Kyrgyz felt for the Arastan collection.

We also met several carpet vendors. Turkey has always been a trading point between the East and the West and the …

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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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    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.

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