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The sunny craft

Gold embroiderers

Gold embroidery was quite a common craft in the world. It was known in the countries of Hellinistic Asia and Western Europe, in Caucasus, in Turkey and Afghanistan. In Tashkent province archeologists discovered fragments of gold embroidery dating back to the beginning of the Common Era. According to legends, gold embroidery had been practiced in Sogd even before silk was brought here. The Arabs, who conquered Central Asia in the 8th century, were impressed by an abundance of gold embroideries on the clothes of Sogdian aristocracy. There is historical evidence that in later period gold embroidery flourished in Samarkand and Herat. The historian Melichos wrote that in Samarkand there was even a whole residential quarter of gold embroiderers.

Then the center of this sun-reflecting craft moved to Bukhara, which in the 16th century became the capital of Sheibanid state, and gold embroidery was made an official craft of the court. From the 17th century came to our notice the name of famous gold embroiderer, artist and poet Fitrat-Zardur. It can be said with confidence that by that time gold embroidery had become an industry.

But especially widespread this craft became in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. The unlimited thirst of the rulers for luxury, flamboyant court ceremonies, and emirs’ habit to give out presents to their subordinates and to receive presents from them, large-quantity government orders – all this provided for the development of gold-embroidery craft.

Gold-embroidered clothes

“The needle dresses everyone but remains naked”, the saying goes. Most craftsmen who created the luxuries for Asian courts led quite modest lives. In Bukhara only the best of them were sometimes granted lower court ranks, as were jewelers and tailors. Only the dress of Bukhara’s aristocracy and, first of all, the emir, glittered with gold embroidery. The emir and his retinue used to be dressed in gold literally from top to toe. Gold embroideries were on their kuloh scull caps, turbans, sleeveless jackets, caftans, trousers, belts, kaushi and mahsi boots, and even foot wraps. Sometimes the emir would put on two or three thick gold caftans. Gold embroidery would decorate the horsecloths of royal steeds.

Ordinary men were not permitted to wear gold-embroidered dress. And they never attempted to claim this privilege. Everyone knew too well his position in the feudal hierarchy: some were allowed to wear only plain caftans, some could decorate their dress with narrow gold borders, and only a few could be dressed in garments totally covered with gold-embroidery. Women, on the contrary, irrespective of their social rank, were allowed to wear gold-embroidered clothes – they needed only enough money to buy them. Rich women wore gold-embroidered dresses and robes, hats, head bands, shoes. Boys below the age of ten could wear garments decorated with gold embroidery only on special occasions.

Traditionally gold embroidery is considered to have been men’s craft. It is not quite so. It is known that some craftsmen taught the craft to their wives and daughters, who mastered it and worked at home. When there was a lot of work in the workshops, part of it was done at home by the master’s wives and women relatives. But their contribution was always nameless, and no one cared about it.

Gold-embroidered robe

Gold embroiderers, called zarduz, were organized in guilds. Only those who had been through a long and hard apprenticeship and had been given permission to work on their own could become members of the guild. The craftsmen usually started to apprentice their sons or their close relatives’ sons at the age of 8 – 10, and thus the craft was traditionally hereditary. The term of apprenticeship was not fixed; as a rule, it lasted not longer than ten years. At the end of this period, the master would utter a ‘permission’ prayer for the apprentice to work on his own.

Just like any other feudal organization, the guild of gold embroiderers had a religious ideology. The first master and patron saint of the guild was Saint Yusuf (Saint Joseph). Each member of a guild had a risolya book containing the legendary story about the origin of the craft, code of conduct and prayers to be uttered before every round of work.

On completion of apprenticeship a new craftsman could stay with his master as a wage labourer, or set up his own business, or get employed at one of the court workshops. The court workshops belonged to the emir and were the most prestigious in the labour market. Located in Bukhara’s citadel Ark and in the houses of the high-ranking officials, they were financed from the treasury and supervised by the state’s first minister kushbegi.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were three court workshops in Bukhara. Each of them employed up to 40 men, depending on the quantity of orders. In charge of each workshop there was an experienced master craftsman ustokor, whom the masters themselves elected from among the most skilful staff, and who was approved by kushbegi. The position of ustokor was mainly occupied by experts in designing gold embroidery patterns: this part of the craft was considered to be the most complicated and crucial. But, of course, ustokor was responsible for all the works to be performed in the workshop.

Gold-embroidered robe

In addition to court gold embroidery workshops there also existed private ones. By the end of the 19th century there were about 25 private gold embroidery workshops in Bukhara. At different times their product assortment underwent certain changes. Under Muzafar-khan they were allowed to produce the same embroideries that the court shops did. But under his successor Abdulkhad-Khan the product of private shops was restricted to solely unofficial embroidered articles that are the ones not worn at court.

Thus private workshops had no right to take the orders for making gold –embroidered men’s garments, with scull-caps being the only exception. Such kinds of garments were intended for the emir’s court and could be manufactured by court workshops. The assortment of these garments included outer caftan jomai mardona, on which the quantity of gold embroideries depended on the rank of its owner; the uniform of high-ranking military officers kalyuchi; the trousers chalvor, which were to be worn over boots; the frock coat paltu worn only be the emir; the velvet boots muza; the pointed cap kulokh; the turban salai zarduzi; the belt kamarband.

Women wore the loose-flap caftan kaltacha, the outer blouse kurtai zarduzi, the pants poichai zarduzi with gold embroideries below the knee, the low-back shoes kaush, the shoes popush with pointed toes, the yashmak paranja. Children’s garments resembled the design of those made for grown-ups.

Besides garments, gold embroideries covered various domestic goods, such as bolster lula-bolish, the pillow-case takyacha, the wedding bedspread joipush, the niche curtain takhmonpush, the prayer rug joinamoz, the partition curtain chimillik.

Gold-embroidered skullcap

Gold embroideries were usually made on velvet or, less common, on silk or suede. The craftsmen used only high-quality fine velvet – preferably deep green, red, violet and blue. These deep colors served a perfect background for gold threads. They also embroidered on muslin used for making turbans for clerics, high-ranking officials and the emir. The most exclusive embroideries were made on brocade, gold on gold, and were adorned with jewels.

The masters used various types of gold and silver threads. The most ancient of them is so called ‘sim’ thread. This flat thread was manufactured in Bukhara or was imported from India and Persia. It was made by winding a metal wire round a silk or cotton thread. Late in the 19th century Bukhara’s embroiderers began using the thin gold or silver thread ‘likak’. During the whole 19th century factory-made gold and silver threads were also imported from Russia. Famous gold and silver Bukhara caftans, horsecloths and prayer rugs were exported to many countries, including European ones.

Sumptuous gold-embroidered articles were decorated with precious and semi-precious stones: diamonds, emeralds, pearls, topazes, rubies, sapphires. Gold, silver and gilded plaques of various forms were also quite commonly used. Rather popular were little silver dome-shaped plates kuba gilded and covered with spangles pulyakchi.

Gold embroidery, especially in the court workshops, was always a painstaking and laborious craft. Each article that was to be embroidered was initially to undergo a special preparation. First the fabric chosen for embroidery was given to royal cutter, who cut it out as per pattern prescribed for each type of the article. The cutter garment, together with the design to be used for embroidery, was submitted to the emir for approval. Only after that it was sent to the workshop for being embroidered.

Bukhara masters distinguish several styles of gold embroidery depending on the techniques used. The main techniques are zarduzi-zaminduzi, when the whole background was covered with embroidery, and zarduzi-gulduzi distinguished for flower patterns of embroidery. Sometimes both techniques were applied creating a combined style zarduzi-gulduzi-zaminduzi. Besides, there were widely used such styles as zarduzi-berishimduzi in which patterns embroidered in silk alternated those made in gold, and zarduzi-pulyakchaduzi – gold embroideries decorated with spangles.

As for the composition of gold embroideries, by the 19th century there had been developed three distinctive types: daukur, butador, and darkham. Daukur composition had an ornamented gold-embroidered border trimming the edges of the article. For example it was used in garments flaps and tail. The rest surface of the garment was left embroidery-free. But in any case an indispensable element of the pattern was a large round embroidered medallion on the back. Butador composition was distinctive for small embroidered patterns in the form of a bush placed at a certain distance from each other and covering the whole surface of an article. In darkham composition the ornament decorating the surface represented an uninterrupted pattern.

Gold embroidery

Most patterns of gold embroideries were basically floriated, rarely geometric. They were of various floral and vegetable motifs: rosettes, shrubs, branches, vases of flowers. Among the embroidered images of fruit and vegetables the most popular were those of almond, wild orange, pomegranate, sweet cherry, grapes. As for images of birds and animals, they were not applied at all in Bukhara gold embroidery up to the 20th century due to religious restrictions. Instead, the masters used the technique of “representing the whole by a part of it” in order to avoid open violation of religious canons. For example, they embroidered only an eye of a nightingale (chashmi bulbul) or a tongue of a sparrow (zaboni gunjeshok).

Zoomorphic motifs appeared in Bukhara’s gold embroidery only in the 1920s, at first only on women’s articles of clothing, in particular in decoration of women’s scull-caps, imaging a peacock or ducks walking in file.

In the mid-20th century the character and content of Bukhara’s gold embroidery design changed drastically. Together with rich and noble customer there passed into history the traditional types of court gold embroidery. In Bukhara there was set up a factory that produced embroidered scull-caps, women’s vests nimcha, shoes popush, gold and silver handbags. Among the most common orders of the Soviet times were festive grand tapestries for various significant dates and theatre curtains. New forms and solutions had to be found in gold embroidery in order to meet the requirements of the new customer and at the same time to preserve the centuries-long traditions. Fortunately, the factory employed the experienced embroiderers Rakhmat Mirzaev, Nurmat Sultanov, Gulyam Mukhammedov, whose skills and artistic styles had developed in the emir’s workshops. Thanks to them and their apprentices Bukhara’s gold embroidery has not lost its originality and managed to preserve ancient techniques and patterns.

During the past decades gold embroidery became very popular again. In Uzbekistan it is already a custom to present as a gift a gold-embroidered caftan on celebration of a jubilee or any other special occasion. During circumcision celebrations sunnat-tuyi baby boy to be circumcised is usually dressed in gold-embroidered caftan. Girls take a pleasure in wearing Bukhara’s gold-embroidered scull-caps and vests. A bride standing beside her groom dressed in gold caftan and turban feels as if she is a bride of an oriental prince. Fashionable women choose bright velvet handbags with gold patterns as accessories. The walls of Uzbek homes are decorated with splendid gold tapestries. A gold-embroidered souvenir from Uzbekistan is always one of the best choices.

Today the famous craft of their fathers is practiced by the craftsmen of Bukhara’s company “Zarduz” and “Khanramand” association. The names of masters Mavlon Buronov and Robiya Yunusiva are well known in Uzbekistan and far beyond its bounds. These masters show high mastery in handling the needle with gold thread and designing patterns on the basis of traditional elements gishti, zaminduzi, chapaduzi, kokuli.

While Bukhara’s gold embroiderers managed to keep their craft preserved despite of all the cataclysms, Samarkand school of gold embroidery had almost degenerated by the mid-20th century. Only at present day Samarkand’s craftswomen Shakhlo Inoyatova and Khamida Inoyatova have revived the ancient craft of gulduzlik gold embroidery.

Gold embroidery

Some families of hereditary gold embroiderers have recently moved to Tashkent. And today real Bukhara gold-embroidered articles can be bought from one of the largest Tashkent markets “Eski Juva”. In Bukhara and Samarkand gold embroideries always occupy prominent places at the local markets where not only caftans, but also scull caps and vests, prayer rugs, various containers, elegant purses and handbags, and traditional fans- elpigich are on sale.

Gold embroidery patterns of Bukhara’s masters are exhibited in museums in Uzbekistan, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, Sri Lanka and other countries. Bukhara’s gold embroiderers-zarduzes invariably take part in various international exhibitions. Their works are admired in the UK, USA, India, Japan, Belgium, Syria, Sri Lanka, Germany, France, because splendid gold embroideries on the background of cherry or deep blue velvet point out the incredible richness of Uzbek arts and crafts traditions which are being cherished up to the present day.

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