Embroidery is an ancient variety of decorative needlework in which designs and pictures are created by stitching strands of some material on to a layer of another material. Most embroidery uses thread or wool stitched onto a woven fabric, but the stitches could be executed in, for example, wire or leather strands, and embroidery can be worked onto many materials. Non-woven traditional materials include leather and felt, but modern textile artists embroider on many non-traditional materials such as plastic sheeting. Often, specific embroidery stitches are used.
Hand embroidery is embroidery done without the help of a sewing machine or similar electric tool. Hand embroidery is used by traditional artists who are skilled in their craftmanship and have inherated the art embroidery from their ancestors.
Nowadays, machine embroidery has replaced hand embroidery as machine embroidery saves a lot of time and hard work. Machine embroidery has become a vast subject on its own. It is both used for creative work on individual pieces and for mass-produced clothing products.
Embroidery has traditionally been used to decorate clothing and household furnishings including table linens, tray cloths, towels and bedding, but one can literally embroider anything as long as it is made out of an evenly woven fabric and can be held firmly in the hand or in a special embroidery hoop or tapestry frame. The art of hand embroidery is a painstaking and laborious process, but today garments are often decorated with machine embroidery instead.
Embroidery has also been used as a form of art and for decoration, through the creation of embroidered or cross-stitch samplers, tapestries, wall-hangings and other works of textile art. Some types of patchwork also incorporate embroidery as a form of extra decoration.
Traditional Indian Embroidery
Folk embroidery has always been a form of self-expression for the women. It mirrors their lives, reflect their hidden desires and aspirations, and expresses the cultural traditions and religious beliefs of the society to which they belong.
India had attracted migrations from prehistoric times and people came with their cultural traditions, which were absorbed and formed the rich cultural traditions of the people. Embroidery, which is essentially meant to strengthen the fabric and to decorate it, was an important part of the household tradition. Pastoralists, who need to strengthen their objects of everyday use, and their dresses, as well as to decorate their tent dwellings, create rich embroidery. Gujarat, which had an open land route connecting it to Central Asia, had a large number of settlers from Central Asia. They settled in Kutch and Saurashtra and retained their traditions of embroidery that can be found in these areas.
The women embroiders prepared clothes for their personal use, for their children and even special items for the use of their men. The animals decorations with embroidery are also part of the pastoral tradition. They prepared decorations for the horns of the bull, for their forehead and also decorative covers. Horse and camel decorations were also embroidered with great attention to detail and some of the finest embroidered camel decorations are prepared by the Rabaris of Kutch.
The bagh and phulkari embroidery of Punjab is a labour of love. At the birth of a male child, the dadi, paternal grandmother begins to embroider vari da bagh for his wedding, dreaming of the day when she will wrap the boys bride in it, before she enters her new home.
Another variety produced here is the chope. This carries stylized motifs worked richly over the surface on the holbien stitch or a double running stitch.
Applique work of Orissa, which is prepared in Pipli, a village near Puri, comprises special canopies, fans and umbrellas for use in the famous Ratha festival of Puri. These are also used at other ritual celebrations.
In Chikanayakapeta, Tamil Nadu, applique work on cloth is specially prepared for decorating the carved ratha, in which the statues of gods are taken in a procession. They make tubular forms, which is very similar to pillars, or long banners, carrying Ganesha, the lingam, etc. for giving a rich effect the designs are appliqued with thick felt and rich contrasting colors.
The kasuti embroidery of Karnataka is a stylized form with stitches based on the texture of the fabric. The three different stitches are the negi, the gavanti and the menthi. Negi is a long running stitch imitating the weaving technique; gavanti is a double running stitch, which creates a pattern on both sides; and menthi, deriving its name from the seed of methi, fenugreek, is the cross-stitch, which is rarely used. The patterns are geometrical and show the influence of local beliefs. Stylized rathas, Lord Hanuman, lotus flowers and flowing patterns of the shankh, conch-shell, mingle with flowering bushes, birds and animals.
Another important embroidery is that prepared by the Toda women, who live in the nilgiris. They wear a toga like garment, which is embroidered with exquisite patterns. Many people trace their origins to Greece.
Popular Indian styles of Embroidery
[ Phulkari Embroidery | Kantha Embroidery | Kathi Embroidery | Rabari Embroidery | Kashmiri Embroidery | Chikankari Embroidery | Zardozi Embroidery | Mirror Embroidery ]
The traditional Punjabi embroidery art is phulkari. The pulkari word means growing flowers. This embroidery form, true to its name includes only floral motifs in bright colors. There is sanctity to the art form as the canopy over Guru Granth Sahib; the religious book of the Sikhs is of phulkari.
The phulkari with very intricate floral patterns is called Bagh that means garden. It is primarily used on the odhanis and dupattas. It is considered auspicious for the bride and for the new born. It is worn on ceremonies. Phulkari for some time now is being used in home furnishings specially wall hangings, sofa throws and other soft furnishings.
History of Phulkari
The origin of Phulkari can not exactly be traced. Reference of Punjabi embroidery though goes back to 2000 years back to the Vedic ages. The poet Waris Shah has mentioned Phulkari in the famous tale of Heer-Ranjha. Its present form and popularity goes back to 15th century, during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Phulkari was not meant for sale at that time. The ladies used to make these for personal use. It was included in the bridal trousseau. It was considered auspicious. There is a different Phulkari for every occasion. The art was learnt by the daughter from her mother just as she learnt other chores.
Phulkari is traditionally done on a handspun khadi cloth with simple darning stitches using the un-spun silk floss yarn called pat. Single strand threads are used for the purpose. The simple stitches in the adept hands make it one of the most sought after embroidery craft. The use of horizontal, vertical or diagonal stitches apart shading and variation to the design.
There are a variety of Phulkari styles used for different occasions and purposes.
The Chope, a red colored cloth with embroidered borders, is presented to the bride by her grandmother during a ceremony before the wedding.
Vari-da-bagh (bagh of the trousseau) is also on a red cloth with golden yellow embroidery symbolizing happiness and fertility. The entire cloth is covered with patterns of smaller flowers within the border and is intricately worked in different colors.
Ghunghat bagh or sari-pallau (covering for the head) has a small border on all four sides. In the center of each side, which covers the head, a large triangular motif is embroidered.
Bawan bagh (fifty-two in Punjabi) has as many geometrical patterns.
Darshan dwar (the gate offering a view of the deity) is usually for presentation in temples or to adorn the walls of the home when the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book of the Sikhs) is brought to a house. The theme is a decorative gate.
Suber is a phulkari worn by a bride during marriage rites. It comprises of five motifs, one in the center and one in each of the four corners.
Chamba is a hybrid Phulkari having a series of wavy creepers, stylized leaves and flowers.
Besides this, designs inspired by various day to day items, fauna and flora like sunflowers, peacock, red chilies, ace of diamonds and so on are also used.
Kantha Embroidery involves a simple running stitch. It is the way the embroidery has been used that makes it extra ordinary. The cloth is given layers that were kept together by the stitches. The cloth had multiple uses. It could be used to sleep on or as a light blanket. Kantha for the Bengali folk means embroidered quilt. Kantha is said to be dorukha meaning turning the worn out and old textiles and fabrics to things of beauty.
History of Kantha
Kantha evolved out of necessity to drape or protect against cold. Kontha on Sanskrit means rags. It can rightly be called the recycling art. The precious silks and muslins when became worn-out, women instead of throwing them away, piled them in layers and stitched. Another legend relates kantha origin to lord Buddha and his disciples. It is said that they used to cover themselves with the thrown away rags patched and stitched together.
The oldest reference to Kantha is in Sri Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita" by Krishnadas Kaviraj, which was written some 500 years back. Kantha was said to be a ladys self-expression. The real kantha narrates a story, the emotions and the life of the artist.
Process and Stitches of Kantha
The process involves laying the worn clothes in layers and stitching them together. Though the stitch used is variations of running stitch, the motifs can range from being simple to very intricate. It is a typical example of how a simple stitch can create elaborate motifs. Usually the motifs are gods and goddesses, flowers, animals or geometric patterns that means it can be anything the worker can relate to. There are seven different types of kantha based on how it is made and the end use.
Archilata kantha are small, covers for mirrors or toilet accessories with wide, colorful borders.
Baiton kantha are square wraps used for covering books and other valuables. They have elaborate borders.
Durjani/thalia these are quilted wallets made out of rectangular kantha pieces.
Lep kantha are rectangular wraps heavily padded to make warm quilts. The whole piece is stitched in a wavy pattern. Simple embroidery is done on the finished quilt.
Oaar kantha are pillow covers in simple designs. A decorative border is sewn afterwards.
Sujani kantha are decorative quilted kantha used as blankets or spreads during religious rituals or other occasions. This started in 18th century in Bihar.
Rumal kantha is used as absorbent wipes or plates coverings. They also feature a central lotus with ornamented borders.
The various patterns are called jaal, jhod, jhinga phool, dhan chori, golak dhaga and many others all created by different placements of the running stitch.
Kathi Embroidery is a little different from the other forms of embroidery in Gujarat. The patterns include animal motifs, flowers and peacocks adopted from kathi art. The intervening spaces are filled with leaves and buds. The mirror work is used to make the center of flowers, eyes of the birds or flower representations.
The base cloth is preferred to be silk or satin and the thread is cotton or silk floss. The base in black, embroidery is done in crimson, violet golden yellow and white with greens and blues sparingly used. The main stitch is herringbone as it is faster to fill other stitches used are an elongated darn and chain-cum-interlacing.
Rabari embroidery is a pictographic representation of their mythology, beliefs, culture and life. Women embroider their clothes, cradle cloth and other linen of the house. Embroidery is a vital, living and evolving expression of the craft and textile traditions of the Rabaris. They use glass mirrors in various shapes: round, rhomboid, rectangular, square, triangular, and beak shaped.
Rabaris are nomadic people who came to Gujarat via Sindh, Rajasthan and Baluchistan. While the origins of this embroidery form are not exactly known, the style is quite similar to ancient Baluch embroidery. The importance given to camel also points to the connection. The embroidered chaklas and kothalos mark the relation with Rajasthan. Rabari women embroider textiles as an expression of creativity, aesthetics and identity forever.
Patterns and Stitches
As per the belief the mirrors on the cradle clothe protect their children from evil spirits. Rabaris embroider camel trappings, long adan jackets, chorani pants ludi (veil), the grooms kediyan and so many other ceremonial and daily utility things. Rabari embroidery is like a language of expression for women. The compositions created comprise specific motifs, each of which has a name and meaning. Many of these symbols represent elements intrinsic to Rabari everyday life and throw light upon how the community sees their world. Others have historical meaning and help to perpetuate the Rabari knowledge of their heritage.
There is intensive use of shaped mirrors. The stitches are square chain interlaced with buttonhole for mirror work, single chain, knot, Romanian, blanket interlaced with herringbone, running, and double running. Temple motifs, women balancing pots on their heads (paniyari), mango leaves, coconuts, scorpions, camels, parrots, elephants and the tree of life are some of the beloved and auspicious motifs of Rabari embroidery
This embroidery style is not static. The stitches, scales, color; everything changes with the imagination and spontaneity of the artist. The style is constantly evolving. Its the creativity of Rabari women, a manifestation of their extraordinary capacity for adaptation that keeps this traditional vital.
The beauty of Kashmir is captured in the Kashmiri embroidery or kashida. Embroiders often draw inspiration from the beautiful nature around. The colors, the motifs of flowers, creepers and chinar leaves, mango etc. are the most common ones. The whole pattern is created using one or two embroidery stitch styles.
Process and Stitches
The base cloth whether wool or cotton, is generally white or crθme or other similar shades. Pastel colors are also often used. The craftsmen use the color shades often blending with the background. The colors of the threads are inspired from the flowers of the Kashmir valley. Very few stitches are used on one fabric. At times the whole fabric is done in a single stitch type. These stitches are often called Kashmiri stitch.
Kashmiri embroidery is known for the skilled execution of a single stitch. Chain stitch, satin stitch, the slanted darn stitch, stem, herringbone and sometimes the doori or knot stitches are used but not more than one or two at a time.
Sozni embroidery or dorukha is often done so skillfully that the motif appears on both sides of the shawl each side having a different color. There is no wrong side. The same design is produced in different colors on both sides.
Another type of needle embroidery is popularly known as papier-mache embroidery because flowers and leaves are worked in satin stitch in bright colors such as those of papier-mache and each motif is then outlined in black. This is done either in broad panels on either side of the breadth of a shawl, or covering the entire surface of a stole.
A third type of embroidery is ari or hook embroidery; motifs here are the well-known flower design finely worked in concentric rings of chain stitch. This is same as colored Zari or ari embroidery.
Chikankari was nurtured in Uttar Pradesh primarily in Lucknow. Chikan work is done on very fine muslin and now on georgette and chiffon and other fine fabrics. It is more suited for the outerwear but these days there are certain exclusive creations using Chikan work in Cushion covers, pillow covers and table linen.
History of Chikankari
Traditionally Chikankari is the white thread embroidery done on the white muslin or mulmul. The word chikan comes from the Persian word Chakeen meaning making delicate patterns on the fabric.
Noorjahan the beautiful queen of Emperor Jahangir introduced the art of Chikankari. She is said to be an expert in embroidery and was inspired by the Turkish embroidery. According to Megasthenes, the chikan originated in East Bengal. He mentions chikan, the florals on fine muslins, in 3rd century BC. The craftsmen believe that the origin goes back to the time of Prophet. It is believed that while he was passing through a village in Uttar Pradesh, he requested a villager for water. On being offered that, he gave the art of Chikankari to the poor villager as an art that will never let him go hungry.
Process and Stitches of Chikankari
Whatever be the origin, the intricacy and the patterns remind you of the fine marble carvings and jalis. Today apart from the white muslin, light tinted fabrics are used. The thread is preferred to be white. The most commendable part of chikankari is the open work on the ground. An effect of drawn thread work is achieved without drawing out any.
The most common motif used is that of creepers. Floral motifs may enrich the entire garment or just one corner. Among the floral motifs embroidered, the jasmine, rose, flowering stems, lotus and the paisley motif are the most popular.
There is simply no match for the shadow work involved in the chikan. In this the herringbone stitch or Bakhiya as called locally is worked on the wrong side of the cloth. Looking on the right side the effect is that of the shadows between the double running stitch. Cutting the patterns in the same fabric as the base material and stitching it on the wrong side creates another variation of shadow work.
There are other stitches to give different stitches. The tiny raised flowers are made with stitches resembling French knots. The raised effect is evened off using the simple stem stitch called Rahet. Various effects can be created using a variety of stitches and combinations. Mainly buttonhole stitch (Hool), running stitch, and chain stitch (Zanzeer) are used to give the fillers and yet not give it a cluttered appearance. The jali or the lattice created by the thread tension on the cloth is most remarkable.
Zardozi, the imperial metal embroidery, adorned the costumes of the royalty, wall hanging, scabbards, walls of the regal tents and the rich trappings of elephants and horses. Intricate patterns in gold and silver, studded with pearls and precious stones enhanced the beauty of rich and glowing silk, velvet and brocade.
Zardozi is an ancient Persian embroidery form (Zar in Persian means gold and Dozi is embroidery) that has been passed down for generations. It reached its peak under the patronage of Mughal Emperor Akbar. It saw a decline during the reign of Aurangzeb as the royal patronage and favor stopped and the art was too expensive and the precious metals too rare to carry on.
Zari and Zardozi work was revived after independence in Hydrabad and Lucknow. The rarity of precious metal lead to the use of copper with gold or silver polish or the silk thread. Now the embroidery style is back in bloom. It is a must for any Indian wedding trousseau.
Process, Stitches and Styles
Zari embroidery is done with a crochet hook using the metallic thread and appears like chain stitch. Zardozi is an extension of the same. Zari elements like coiled wire, dabka, tilla, beads, sequins etc. are used to create the motifs. Zardozi can alternatively be called metallic applique embroidery.
The process involves tracing out the design on the cloth preferably rich fabrics like silk, satin velvet etc. The fabric is stretched over the wooden frame and the embroidery work begins. Each zardozi element is picked up by the needle and incorporated appropriately into the pattern by pushing the needle in the fabric.
The process of creating zari threads and zardozi elements was rather complicated earlier. It needed a lot of patience and precision. Today the modern means may have made the task a little easier but still the adeptness and delicate handling remains the same.
Zardozi and zari garments have become very popular and make elegant evening and ceremonial ware. The art is now being used for soft furnishing products also.
One of the most attractive things in Indian specifically Gujarati embroidery is incorporating the shisha or the mirror. The art is supposed to have its origin in Persia somewhere around the 13th century. The mirror work is used along with the other stitches to enhance the general effect of the pattern.
It is used by the Jats of Banni. They cut the glass into different shapes and embroider it in the fabric. Incredibly miniscule mirror embroidery was done on heavily encrusted yoke with white thread, mingled with red, orange, blue and green, by the Garari Jat community. In Kathi embroidery, the mirrors are used for eyes of birds and center of flowers.
Often combination of cross-stitch, satin stitch and buttonhole stitch, along with mirrors is used in Gujarat. The mirror work is also preferred in Rajasthan with the same passion. It is also used to accentuate the appearance of Orissa applique.
It is said that earlier mica was used instead of mirror. Later ornamental mirror shapes were cut out of an urn, blown out by a mouth pipe. Now mirror sheets are produced.