Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mystery Solved - An Embroidered Cloth from Uzbekistan

Before Julia was born, I used to go to do a lot of antiquing. It’s getting a little easier to do again, now that she is older. I try to introduce her to old things, stop her from touching too much, pray that she doesn’t break anything. The grim facts are – it’s more fun when I can poke around on my own at my own pace. One day...... then I’ll miss her.

I found this embroidered cloth at a NY Pier Antique Show about ten years ago. A man had it all rumpled up into a little ball stashed on his table. What got me was the colors – it was beautiful. I mostly am attracted to antiques for the colors they are - kind of a funny way to make a collection. I have ended up with lots of things that have no particular theme except for bright colors and pretty patterns.

I bought the cloth for what I thought was a good price not knowing what it was or where it came from. It is made out of red cotton fabric and hand-embroidered in hand-dyed silks with two stitches – a variation of outline (or stem) stitch and a little bit of chain stitch. It is huge – big enough to cover a bed. It has been well used. All over the cloth are little whip-stitched patches where the fabric has torn. Someone, somewhere stitched over them by hand in a sloppy fashion. There are even sections that are missing (last photo) where another hand-embroidered piece has been inserted. The cloth was definitely made in sections and then sewn togther by hand with the pieces not matching. I can’t imagine how long this would have taken someone to stitch.

In the new issue of Piecework (July/August 2006), I was so happy to see a similar cloth on the cover of the magazine and to find a very good article inside by Pamela D. Toler entitled Suzanis – The Flower Cloths of Uzbekistan. All of the cloths shown are on white ground fabric so I am still a little perplexed by mine. The author tried to do a lot of research on cloths she purchased in Turkey recently but there honestly wasn’t a lot published. I did learn that cloths such as mine were dowry pieces that would have been stitched by a young girl and then saved until her marriage. Most were considered heirlooms. Most of the embroideries shown have more symmetry than mine But they have similar, related looking motifs. Pick up the magazine if you are interested.

Suzanis are quite the thing in interior decorating right now. Many swanky magazines such as House and Garden and The World of Interiors recently have featured bed coverings of embroidered suzanis. I always wonder if these are the homeowner's textiles or if the magazine's stylist just brought them in for the shoot.

What I really enjoy about my cloth is the wild, joyful patterning of the leaves, vines and flowers. I love the exuberant red ground color which makes the motifs pop. I like that every place I look, there are different colors and different flowers. I like the patches and little hand-sewn tears. It all has a history I will never know about – just wonder.

I didn’t realize it, but one of the pillow kits I designed for JCA has a similar feel. Not a big surprise though. Quirky Crewel is stitched in wool on an orange linen fabric. The colors I used are more contemporary – lime green, purples, fuschia, turquoise, sunflower yellow. This design uses lots of stitches and is really fun to make. It is one of the most popular designs and a great piece to try if you are interested in learning a lot of different stitches.

One of my long-ranging goals is to stitch enough similar feeling linen fabric to have a wing chair covered in it. I’ve got a special chair in my kitchen which we call "the throne" or "Pop’s chair" (my dad used to sit in it when he came to visit). Every time I look at it, I think of it covered in exuberant crewel work. Now when will I ever get to that? I’ll need about six yards of fabric. I’d better start stitching soon.


somebunnysloveDOTcom said...

What a neat find! The colors look warm and comforting to me, like something I would expect to be displayed in a dining room.

Diane H K in Greenfield said...

Lovely textile!

Years ago, my parents bought a travel trunk that turned out to be stuffed full of interesting textiles. Some of them were identifiable, but others were mysteries. Not long ago, I finally took pictures of a group that have always intrigued the family and contacted the curators at The Textile Museum in Washington DC for their help. You can see the pieces here:

The curators were finally able to identify the pieces as handstitched during the Ottoman empire by illiterate embroiderers, probably in Yugoslavia or Turkey, or even Albania. The reason we know the stitchers were illiterate is that what looks like Arabic letters are really just faked writing and have no meaning!

We love the pieces--they're stitched with uncountable stitches using colored metallic threads--and they are now repaired, mounted and hanging in the large parlor of my mother's bed & breakfast in Shelburne. Since my ancestors were missionaries in Turkey at the turn of the previous century, it's kind of nice to have on display some old, possibly Turkish, textiles very like what my ancestors would have seen during their years in Turkey.

Six yards of handstitched fabric? Wow, that IS ambitious!

Kristin said...

Would love to see those textiles someday. I love stories like that - what a great find in an old trunk.


Kate said...

Goodness that is interesting about the illiterate embroiders - but I suppose it is similar to old illuminated manuscripts sometimes being illegible as it was just copied by illiterate monks.

I would have to second the notion that 6 yards of crewelled fabric is a remarkable amount of work - it would be an incredible achievement, but would your heart be able to cope with the upholstery process after an exertion like that?.

patty bolgiano said...

This morning (Thursday) in the home section are pillows from India by people who have AIDS selling for quite a bit. The patterns are very much like yours. Take a look. Have a good day.