Recently published books have examined the interiors of some of the world’s most enviable stylemakers. And many of the featured projects include an antique suzani quilt thrown over a bed, ottoman or side table, or a suzani-patterned pillow tossed on a sofa. Is the suzani a secret ingredient for stylish, free-spirited design?
Suzanis are the Central Asian equivalent of the American quilt. They date to the 18th century and were typically created by women as part of their dowry. Suzanis were hand-stitched and hand-embroidered with a small tool like a crochet hook (suzan means “needle” in Persian) and were used to cover beds, tables, windows and even horses.
With solid neutral cotton or silk backgrounds, the defining characteristic of suzanis is their intricately embroidered or appliqued patterns — vines, leaves, flowers (especially tulips and carnations) and fruits such as pomegranates — all reminiscent of ancient Greek or Ottoman Empire designs and applied in rich colors using natural dyes made from indigo, pomegranates, walnuts and other organic sources. What makes vintage suzanis so appealing in that offbeat, bohemian way are their imperfections. Because they were handmade, the patterns often don’t line up, and the stitching is not always uniform.
Perhaps no one has been a greater champion of suzanis in the United States than Marian McEvoy, former editor in chief of Elle Decor magazine, whose Hudson Valley home is featured in Miguel Flores-Vianna’s book “Haute Bohemians.”
Suzanis are “upbeat, folkloric, exotic and hard to ignore,” McEvoy said. She considers suzanis as much a decorative staple as toile and has thrown them over beds and on the backs of sofas, hung framed suzani fragments on her walls, and applied them to chair backs, stools or pillows.
Although McEvoy used to be able to buy vintage pieces for a few hundred dollars, today most 18th- and 19th-century suzanis cost thousands.
Plenty of suzani examples can be found on eBay, but many are new. A telltale sign of newness is bright synthetic colors — lime greens, purples and pinks — that are not found in vintage pieces.
As for high-end, suzani-inspired fabric and carpet designs, there are plenty available; designers such as Madeline Weinrib have peppered their collections with the motifs.
If you are looking for affordable suzani-inspired fabrics, check online sources such as housefabric.com and onlinefabricstore.net. Target and Pier 1 sell ready-made, suzani-inspired curtain panels and kitchen items, including plates and mugs. Garnet Hill and Serena & Lily have recently introduced new suzani quilt designs, and Pottery Barn and Safavieh have rugs that echo traditional patterns.