Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Suzani, a wall decorative embroidery from the Hisar region © Dilshod Rahimov

Tajik Embroidery

Embroidery is an ancient decorative and applied art of the Tajiks that is used for decorating dresses and homes. In the Tajik language, embroidery is gulduzi, which is understood as the process of using colorful threads to sew ornaments, flower images, and symbolic drawings on cotton or silk fabrics. Tajik embroidery practitioners are women. Embroidery art masters sew women’s shirts, men’s and women’s national caps, pillows, bedspreads, headscarves, towels, curtains, cradle coverlets, and wall decorations, known locally as suzani.

Although, gulduzi is used for home decoration and dresses, since ancient times, embroidered products have also served a defense function as well. Some special ornaments, such thorns, amulet, and owl eyes, have been used for protection against charms and evil eyes.

Thread colors in embroidery also have special meanings. White is considered a symbol of cleanness, innocence, and peace; green is for growth and prosperity; red expresses fortune, happiness, and health; black symbolizes power, steadiness, and patience. In addition to décor, people use embroidered products in weddings and other social events. Thus, masters pay attention to each color and ornament use, but they also use mixed colors and motifs.

The embroidery process starts with drawing ornaments on fabrics. In each community, practiced painters called qalamkash paint the ordered ornaments for needlepoint. In some cases, women and girls draw the decorations and do needlepoint. However, each master qalamkash has her own style and vision.

Toqi, national embroidered cap © Dilshod Rahimov

In the past, the threads were prepared from cotton and silk fibers and colored with natural paints prepared from roots, logs, leaves, fruits of plants and trees, animal products (like eggs and milk), and minerals. Now embroidery masters use factory threads for needlework.

Embroidery styles include zindaduzi (literally, alive sewing), parokanda-khayol (spread ornaments), yurma (tambour bound), khomduzi (sewn with or lisle silk), ilma (eyelet seam), iroqi (cross-stich embroidering), and basma (seam texture formed by arranging stitches diagonally).

A variety of motifs and ornaments depend not only on the disposition and talent of a master but also on the influence of the surrounding nature and cultural values. Each motif among the entire decoration of an artifact has its place, cultural and social meaning, and function. For example, the sun is symbol of happy life; bloomed flowers are symbols of pleasure and prosperity; buds are signs of hope and wishes; chains and lines are symbols of connection of youth and stability of families; and leaves and branches symbolize growth and development.

Generally, in Tajik embroideries the islimi style (ornaments of plants and trees and their details) has a special place. In some embroidered artifacts are motifs of birds (doves, partridges, nightingales, peacocks, parrots, and cocks) and other animals like fish or deer. There are also geometrical motifs: round, rhomb, triangle, square, and some others.

Qalamkash, traditional painter, painting ornaments © Dilshod Rahimov

In Tajik society, gulduzi is first family work. Knowledge and skills related to embroidery art until today have been transmitted in two traditional ways. The first way is the vertical method, which takes place in the frame of a family. In the family, the young generation learn embroidery from mothers, grandmothers, and elder sisters. Girls start their apprenticeship around eight or nine years old, sitting close to their mothers or sisters to observe. The second way of transmission happens in groups, which take place in horizontal method, also called ustod-shogird (master-student). In the group work, old and skilled master women teach girls between the ages of sixteen and twenty the fineness of embroidery, color and ornament selection, and manners of sewing.

In the women groups, which consist of neighbor women, a practiced leader will manage and control the group. The leader is responsible for controlling the participation of group members, taking orders for gulduzi products, finding raw materials, managing production, and selling prepared products.

The embroidery art has developed during the independence period of the Republic of Tajikistan due to people’s requirements. The embroidered articles are used to decorate halls, restaurants, workplaces, and rooms. Many organized festivals and competitions related to embroidery art take place in Tajikistan, and Mr. Emomali Rahmon, President of the Republic of Tajikistan, declared 2018 the “Year of Tourism Development and Folk Crafts,” which contributed to the development of embroidery art in the country.