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
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
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
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
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
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
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
There are a variety of Phulkari styles used for different occasions and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.