This is a wall hanging from Tajikistan, purchased in Iran (ignore the innocent bystander caught in the photo). Tajikistan is next to China and Afghanistan. This suzani is also in Dr. Shirazi’s embroidery collection (many, many more left to go!). Suzani literally means “needlework” in Persian.
You can tell which direction is up from the shape outlined in orange and white in the center. This notch represents the mihrab, the niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca, so that Muslims know which direction to face while praying.
Below are close-up photos of some of the motifs.
I wrote more about the stitching and motifs in suzanis in a previous post, Suzanis from Uzbekistan.
Now I’d like to show you the back of the suzani.
This is a spectacular demonstration of dyes fading in the sunlight. The original owner of the suzani left it hanging in bright light. The back of the suzani was protected from fading. The vast majority of dyes are not lightfast (i.e. they will fade when exposed to light). So when you look at historical tapestries and embroideries, keep in mind that many of the colors may have faded away – the dominant colors may be in areas where lightfast dyes were used, and not the original impression intended at all. Here is one last comparison photo of the front and back:
This is one of a special series of posts based on the embroidery collection of Dr. Faegheh Shirazi, from The University of Texas at Austin. Her research is on “textiles, dress, gender identity discourse, and material culture in the Middle East; the meanings of veiling; rituals and rites of passage as they relate to material culture.” Over the years she has collected a number of examples of embroidery from around the world, and has very kindly allowed me to photograph them for my blog.