How to decorate with antique Asian suzanis

Old, ornate and colourful embroidered textiles of central Asia are go-to decoration for summer 

The glistening russet and gold of embroidered Asian textiles has inspired western interiors for half a century, particularly the suzani. Interior designers and home owners alike have fallen for the charm of these exquisite and ancient tribal works of art, leading to a mass design resurgence. Not only do they have a fascinating history, but the antique suzani is becoming more collectable. Plus, their distinctive style is often recreated by contemporary designers of prints and weaves. 

What is a suzani?

Suzanis are exquisitely embroidered cloths hailing from Uzbekistan. The word suzani is Persian and translates as needle - and this is needlework of the highest order. From designs of dramatic black and red sun disks to flower heads, stars, trailing plants, sinuous vines, fruit, and perhaps a bird or water carrier, each is stitched in a palette of colours that is bold yet gloriously harmonious. 'It was the colour that struck me when I first saw an antique suzani,' says dealer Susan Deliss, 'but it was also the romance they carry from the women who work them by hand in Uzbekistan. It is still such a remote and mysterious country.' 

It's not difficult to carry this far-off romance into your own home either. With these six easy ways to combine suzanis with your existing decor, you'll find yourself amid a wealth of historic colour and pattern.

1. Napkins in modern suzani fabric make for a fresh look and stylish contrast to older, antique pieces

Victorian cranberry glass jug, £350; cranberry port glass, £500 for 10; red vintage napkins, £250 for 10, all Guinevere. Uzbek suzani (used as tablecloth), c1900, £2,990, Joss Graham. Wicker place mats, £5 each, Orford Crafts. 'Grand Chalet' dinner plate, £70, Designers Guild. Vintage fork, £36 for six; vintage knives, £36 for six, all RE. Vintage gold vase, £15, Sunbury Antiques Market. Lexington wine glass, £52 for four; Lexington rope and metal napkin ring, £9.90, both Amara. Napkin in 'Sinan', £55 per m, Osborne & Little 


2. Use a vintage suzani as a lavish tablecloth or a wall hanging. Set it against a cool blue-grey background to really make the coloured embroidery sing

Vintage suzani (on wall), £145, Retro Ritzy. 1950s glazed terracotta plant pots, £10-£12; French rush seat chair, £40, all Pimpernel & Partners. Vintage industrial console table, £375, The Old Cinema

On console table: Carl Auböck fruit bowl, £700, Sigmar. Victorian port glasses, £500 for 10; William IV green decanter, £380, all Guinevere. 'Marta vase in 'Gold Ruby', £135, William Yeoward. Tea tin, £7.50, The OK Corral. 'Lakai' toleware lamp base, £155, Oka. Grey lampshade, £60, Pooky. 1940s green stripe flatware rug, £1,800; red Windsor chair, £365, both Howe. Silk and cotton cushion, £160, Susan Deliss. Tapered steel-leg dining table, £1,400, The French House 

On table: Suzani (used as tablecloth), c1900, £2,990, Joss Graham. Wicker place mats, as before. 'Grand Chalet' side plate, £55; 'Grand Chalet' dinner plate, £70, both Designers Guild. Napkins and vintage knife, as before. Vintage wine glasses, £3 each, all Sunbury Antiques Market. Wall in 'Celestial Blue' absolute mat emulsion paint, £37 per 2.5l, Little Greene 

3. A mismatched collection of chairs upholstered in suzani fabric creates a warm, colourful and vibrant look 

19th century Partiere suzani (on wall), £4,500, Joss Graham

Chairs, from left: 'Pluto Poompuhar' chair, £995, Andrew Martin. Suzani cushion, £38, Jazmin. Silk suzani panel with Ottoman motifs (on chair), £550, Susan Deliss. Edwardian chair upholstered in vintage suzani fabric , £125, Swanky Seats. Suzani armchair, £450, Graham & Green. 1950s Parket Knoll wingback armchair upholstered in vintage suzani fabric, £625, Swanky Seats. 'Krakow Square' cushion, £105, Niki Jones. 1940s red flat-weave rug, £1,400, Howe. 'Shirting' paint on wall, as before

4. The rich russets and bold ornate graphics of these suzanis make stunning display artworks when paired against a simple background 

Fabric clockwise, from top left: 19th-century suzani wall hanging, £9750; Ruidscho marriage bed hanging, c1900, East Turkestan, £3,600, both Joss Graham. Vintage cream/gold suzani, £1,440, Guinevere. Vintage suzani with red background, £100; vintage Samarkand suzani, £100, both Fatlama's Vintage. Red rug, as before

5. Introduce a focal point in any room with a vibrant collage of suzani fabrics. Cover canvas boards of differing sizes for an ever-changing colourful display

Vintage suzani (top), £85, Fatlama's Vintage. Blut Ottoman carnation runner in silk hand embroidery on silk and cotton backing (far right), £580; bright silk hand-embroidered panel (far left), £390, both Susan Deliss. 'Carnation Flowerhead' needlepoint picture (top), £20; 'Suzani Blossom 3' needlepoint picture, £20, both Suzani Stitchlings. Blue vintage vase, £3, Sunbury Antiques Market. Set of 12 vintage buttons, £12, Pimpernel & Partners, Walls in 'Pink Slip' absolute matt emulsion paint, £37 per 2.5l, Little Greene

6. Use a vintage suzani as a bold curtain or bedspread. Smaller pieces can be used to make a pretty curtain pelmet

'Tuvalu' king-size bed and mattress, £2,590, Oka. Bone inlay side table, £545, The Old Cinema

On table: Turquoise planter vase, £20, Designers Guild. Carafe with glass, £79, William Yeoward. Vintage book, £10 Pimpernel & Partners. Similar vintage chandelier, from £500, The Vintage Chandelier Company. 'Harvest' rug in fuchsia, £1,350, Stepevi. Vintage Thai children's hat, £135, Guinevere. Pelmet in Ottoman motif silk hand-embroidered cotton fabric, £440, Susan Deliss. Suzani (as curtain), c1880, from Nurata, central Asia, £9,750; suzani (as bed cover), c1900, from Uzbekistan, £1,200, both Joss Graham

Shelf, from left: Red painted Louis Philippe mirror, £115; Dahlia painting, £195, both Pimpernel & Partners. 'Carnation Flowerhead' needlepoint, as before. Set of four vintage buttons, £4; set of 12 vintage buttons, £12, both Pimpernel & Partners. Vintage bulb glass, £8, The OK Corral. Tulips watercolour painting, £99, Pimpernel & Partners. Silk hand-embroidered panel, £390, Susan Deliss

Cushions, from left: Blue/red suzani cushion, £160, Guinevere. Pale embroidered suzani cushion, £120, Joss Graham. Pink/blue suzani cushion, £38, Graham & Green. Red patterned suzani cushion, £200, Guinevere

Bedding: 'Classic White' Ozford pillowcases, £37.50 each; 'Classic White' king-size duvet cover, £15; 'Classic White king-size flat sheet, £140, all The Linen Works. Walls in 'Pink Slip' absolute matt emulsion paint, as before

The full feature on decorating with suzani fabrics appeared in the June 2015 issue of Homes & Antiques. Back issues are still available. To purchase a copy click here

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