Unique Appliqué Craft – Threadwork on Glass from Azerbaijan

Simuzer Memmedova with her youngest daughter

Simuzer with her youngest daughter
© John Gjertsen

Last November I travelled to the Caucasus in search of carpets, but also other handcrafted items that might enrich Arastan’s offering. What I found was a lot of skill, not just in carpet weaving, but also in metalwork, stone masonry and wood carving. But skill is not enough to turn creativity and manual dexterity into a viable business. The artisan also needs some market savvy, so as to understand what customers are willing to buy; and especially some innovation in order to achieve a modicum of differentiation and attract the buyer’s attention. In Azerbaijan I came across the work of one artisan who seems to have achieved this, entirely of her own accord.

Colourful threads waiting to be glued

Colourful threads waiting to be glued
© John Gjertsen

Simuzer, 36, lives in Qobu, a small town not to be confused with Quba, or with Qobustan, which is known for its petroglyphs and mud volcanoes. She comes from a family of carpet weavers, so she learned the craft of weaving from an early age. But she soon realized how difficult it is to make a living as a carpet weaver in today’s Azerbaijan—wages are very low, and access to the wider market is limited. So she decided to experiment with a new craft, drawing on her training as a textile worker, but also freely combining different media and materials. After several months of testing, she had managed to develop a technique and a product range all her own.

Ibrahim rolling threads together

Ibrahim rolling threads together
© John Gjertsen

Arastan is now stocking some of Simuzer’s creations, but we still struggle to give them a proper definition because they are so unusual and original. “Thread-on-glass appliqué” is the term we’ve settled on for the time being, even though Simuzer works not only on glass, but also other media; and even though the thread patterns she creates are more reminiscent of woven fabric than appliqué.

Simuzer starts by manufacturing her own glue using a home-made recipe that she keeps secret. The glue is applied to an object made of glass, metal or wood, such as a bottle, a teapot, a tray, a jar, or a wooden coaster. The sticky surface is then overlayed with a sparse web of plain thread, which will form the foundation of the appliqué work. After waiting a day or so, she applies a second layer of glue and begins to attach coloured thread to the surface. The thread is sourced locally in single colours, but many of her patterns require two-colour thread. Enter Ibrahim, her hearing-impaired 12-year-old son. He helps his mother by rolling together individual threads of different colours to form multi-coloured strands.

Bottles prepped with the first layer of glue and thread

Bottles prepped with a layer of glue and thread
© John Gjertsen

The finished product

The finished product
© John Gjertsen

The boteh

The boteh
© John Gjertsen

It takes great patience and a lot of time to apply hundreds of threads individually to each bottle or tray or teapot in the detailed, densely packed, almost carpet-like patterns that Simuzer likes to use. She loves to experiment with new designs, because, she says, she cannot bear to become bored with her products—otherwise the effort would become a dull labour of production rather than an art.

One motif that she uses repeatedly, however, is the buta or boteh. An ancient design found all over the world (paisley is derived from it), the boteh has special meaning for the people of Azerbaijan because it symbolizes the eternal flame of Zoroastrian worship. Azerbaijan has ancient Zoroastrian roots, and fire worshipping has alway had a place in Azeri culture.

Much of Simuzer’s time is taken up by care for her home and her three children, so her appliqué work is only a part-time occupation. She can produce only a dozen items each month and derives only a small income from this activity—if and when she can find a sales opportunity. I was able to purchase several of Simuzer’s products: trays, coasters, jars, and especially her eye-catching tea sets. So eye-catching, in fact, that when I photographed them for Nisha, she openly threatened me by SMS: “Don’t come back without some of those tea pots!”.

We are proud to showcase Simuzer’s work, because her activity represents exactly what we believe in—the use of traditional skills and designs to create appealing, innovative, market-worthy home decor.

Tea set

Tea set

Plate and jar

Plate and jar

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