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The art of embroidery of Sheky

Detail of a Mutaki case,
XIX century.







A table cover (general view and detail). A sacramental family gift passed several times to a newer generation. Kept by the 5th generation









The art of embroidery began to spread in Azerbaijan since very ancient times. The simplest ornamental elements similar to those used in embroidery - straight and broken lines, zigzags, dots, circles, triangles and lozenges - are found on pottery of the early Bronze Age (dated in Azerbaijan as 3,000 B.C.).

Embroideries always were made on locally produced canaus, darai or velvet. The art prospered in Shamakhi, Baskal, Ganja, Shaki, Shusha and other Azerbaijan towns. Silk and woolen threads and also stamped plaques were used and all were locally produced. The threads always were dyed with colours of plant origin, thus the embroideries could preserve their visual appearance for centuries.

Detail of a Zimpush (coparison)

The more popular and widespread types of embroidery in Azerbaijan were gold stitch "gulabatyn", satin-stitch, chain-stitch, "bird's eye" technique (embroidery in white or colour silk), the use of spangles, glass beads and stamped plaques, quilting, applique, spiral and fillet work. As to embroidery in colour silk threads, the chain-stitch technique was especially popular. The town of Shaki traditionally is famous as the main producer of chain-stitch embroideries.

The base of chain stitch was locally manufactured or imported fine velvet or broadcloth of red, black and dark blue colours. An intricate design was picked out in bright silk threads over a dark ground. Chain-stitching was not an exclusively woman's occupation. Many men demonstrated an extraordinary skill in this type of needlework. First of all, the embroider brought out the contours of the design on a piece of cloth stretched on a tambour and then proceeded to fill the inner space. The needle for chain-stitching was called garmach.

Chain-stitch embellished female garments, large pillow cases, mutaki, bath rugs and counterpanes. Satin-stitch was also in favour. For this technique silk or woolen threads of soft pastel shades were commonly used, often in combination with gold threads. There were two types of satin-stitch - bilateral and unilateral. Satin-stitch embellished garments, wall trappings, rubyands (face covers), curtains, etc.
Quilting decorated arakhchyn (skull-cap), shabkulakh (night cap), prayer rugs and woolen garments. A thin layer of wool or cotton was placed between the top and the lining and quilting was done in plain or herringbone stitches. The embroideries were distinguished for the richness and diversity of decorative motifs.

Among the favorite floral motifs were roses, daffodils, carnations, poppies, lilies, the blossoms of fruit trees - pomegranate, quince and wild plum, as well as spikes and leaves of various shapes.

Time spent to create such complicated designs was a kind of a spiritual deposite - an attempt to participate in lives of future generations

Geometrical ornament consisted of straight and broken lines, zigzags, triangles, rectangles, hexagonal and octagonal rosettes, lozenges, stars and figures symbolizing the sun. Birds were among the favorite motifs of Azerbaijan embroiders - nightingales, peacocks, doves, parrots, hoopoes, sparrows, pheasants, quails, partridges and others. The frequently occurring presentation of pairs of birds is the oldest and most favored motif in applied decorative art. Birds are usually shown either loving each other or angry with each other. These two motifs, people say, symbolize love and parting. As to other representatives of the animal kingdom, fallow-deer, turtle, dragon-snake and horses are most common.
One may frequently come across embroidered household articles like rose water bottles, comb cases, cosmetic vials, jugs, etc.
The old art of embroidery lives on in Shaki. The works of Shaki embroiderers are very popular as
original art-work souvenirs from Azerbaijan.