9 Stunning Embroideries of India

Embellishment and ornamentation have been distinguishing features of textiles in India. Embroidery, with its beautiful patterns, motifs and designs enhances materials and gives them a completely new makeover. Embroidery in India has also been influenced heavily by the region it originated in and embodies the culture and traditions of that area. Persian and Mughal influences are also quietly commonly visible on the Indian embellishments, as many of these travelled to India with the numerous foreign invasions and empires. Today, there are several different styles and techniques of embroidery that are practised in India – some newer techniques developed over the years, many evolved from the ancient arts. The craftsmanship displayed by the use of simple materials - thread, needle and yarn – is simply mesmerising.

1. Zardozi/ Zardosi

The hand embroidery of the royals, a combination of two words, ”zar” meaning gold and “dosi” meaning embroidery, Zardozi/ Zardosi/ Zardoshi is painstakingly laborious, but exquisitely beautiful. It is gorgeous and unmatched in its appeal, because in it thinnest metal threads are used to create intricate, tightly embroidered motifs. It was generally done on fabrics made from precious yarns or lush weaves like velvets. Zardosi is a heavy work, as it uses metallic threads along with beads and pearls – and hence, needs a solid fabric base. Even today, there’s a sense of royalty that is associated with zardozi work – and it is still seen as one of the most important hand embroideries of India.

History: Though, known to be present in India since the age of Rig Veda, the Persian form of embroidery Zardosi became famous in our country, due to the patronage of the Mughal king Akbar. It was originally done in yarn made from precious metals of gold and silver, so it was the treasures limited to the royalty. It dwindled when the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb ceased to extend his support towards this art form due to its high costs and rare raw materials. Zardozi yet again lost its sheen in the pre-industrialization and post industrialization years, only to gain prominence again post Indian independence.

Method: Zardosi is a form of hand embroidery, where craftsmen draw out the design on the base fabric, stretch the fabric over a wooden frame for support and then use needles for embroidering, using yarns. In ancient times, pure gold and silver yarns were used for this embellishment – along with pearls and precious stones. Copper wires with gold/silver/ bronze polish have replaced the pure ones, and beads, sequins and semi-precious stones are used now. Silk thread is also used, alongside metallic yarn.

2. Aari

One of the most painstaking and laborious embroidery techniques, albeit the one that gives brilliant, unrivalled results, the ancient hand embellishment of Aari uses a unique hook and looping method. A sharp-edged, long needle with a hook at the end is used with thread and sequins/ beads to create chain stitch loops in this fine, delicate art.

History: Aari gets its name from the same hooked, sharp needle that is used to create the embellishment, by making thread loops in which a variety of beads/sequins are inserted. The art originated in the Mughal era, and today places like Rajasthan and Lucknow are best known for this work. Slightly different forms are also practised in parts of Kashmir and Kutch. Variations like Aari-Tari, popular form of Aari done with metallic wires and sequins/kundan/gota are practised too.

Method: The fabric is stretched over a wooden frame, and is often roughly stitched on it from the four sides to ensure it doesn’t slip. Cotton, silk or zari yarns can be used. It is very time consuming, and thus, many traditional practices are either being done away with or are improvised upon/ mixed with to reduce the effort.

The hooked pointed needle is first used to create a stitch – then, the thread is fed from the under-side with hand, and is pulled out on the right side – to create a loop in which the bead is inserted, and then a chain stitch is done. The meticulous workers of this art can embroider in a manner that looks effortless (picking the embellishments with the needle’s hook) – but it’s all quite difficult.

3. Kantha

Popular in West Bengal and Orissa, this kind of embroidery is a symbol of the craftsmanship that is displayed by rural women. Originally, it was a kind of weave used for quilts or dhotis, but it has found its way into mainstream garments, and women frequently adorn Kantha Sarees.

History: It dates long back and was traditionally used for stitching together old clothes and make something new. Traditionally, women used old sarees and stacked them up and sewed them together to make blankets.

Method: Simple running stitches are used to create beautiful and striking designs. A slightly wrinkled effect on the cloth is obtained, and everyday themes like birds, flowers and shapes form the core of Kantha embroidery.

Trivia: This art form was revived by Shamlu Dudeja, who put in great efforts to revolutionise and make this form of art popular. Her main efforts were behind empowering rural women, and even in today’s age, many rural women do Kantha embroidery as a way of life.

4. Lucknawi

Chikankari, with its intrinsic designs and delicate work, are synonymous with the city of Lucknow. Derived from the Persian word “chikaan” meaning drapery, this kind of embroidery is famous as shadow work and is a symbol of grace and elegance.

History: It originated in the courts of the Nawabs, where the women of the harem would make white embroidered caps to gain attention and favours from the Nawabs. In earlier times very fragile garments were used.

Method: The design which will be embroidered is first printed on the fabric using blocks. Then needles and a fine thread is sewed for the embroidery. Traditionally, chikankari work referred to white embroidery on white cloth but that has evolved over time, and now coloured threads, as well as different materials like silk, crepe and others are used. Architectural themes and other motifs like flowers, creepers and birds find a place in the designs of chikankari.

5. Phulkari

A kind of embroidery famous in Punjab, it translates to “flower work.”

History: Worn over the generations as shawls and headscarves, the tradition has been passed down through the generations. The ones for everyday use were known as phulkaris while the fully embroidered fabric worn on special occasions were called Bagh. These were part of the girl’s wedding trousseau in earlier times.

Method: Floss silk thread is used for the embroidery and the material used is generally hand woven coarse fabric. In baghs, the cloth is not visible at all due to the heavy embroidery. In recent times, this kind of embroidery has been adopted and promote by fashion designers to incorporate the artwork in mainstream fashion.

6. Embroideries from Gujarat/ Kutch

Kutch embroidery, banni, kathi and rabari are the different kinds of embroideries from that region. The most famous amongst these would be Kutch embroidery.

History: Brought to India by migrants; it dates back to the 16th or 17th century.

Method: There are different types, and varieties of Kutch and each has a different technique. Cross stitch, herringbone stitch and chain stitch are some of the common weaving techniques used. Small mirrors are added later for the sparkle.

7. Gota Patti

Originally from Rajasthan, gold and silver ribbons and lace are used for this kind of embroidery. With its elaborate patterns, they are commonly used for wedding apparel.

History: Prevalent during the Mughal era, this kind of embroidery adorned everything from apparel to house decor items. It was popular as a form of embellishment.

Method: A lengthy process, it involves tracing of the design, cutting, folding, hemming and back stitching. Motifs from nature are incorporated, and gota work is characterised by rich and heavy looks but is very light to wear.

8. Mirror-work

Shisha or mirror embroidery uses small mirrors to reflect the metal to the fabric.

History: It originated in the 17th century, and silver coins, mica and other substances were used for this kind of embroidery. The use of decorative mirrors became popular during the age of the Mughals.

Method: The mirrors are generally machine made and can be purchased in craft stores. Then they are sewn with other small motifs on the fabric.

9. Kasuti

A form of folk embroidery from Karnataka, intricate designs are a part of kasuti. In recent times, protection of this form of embroidery has found significance in the state.

History: Originally hailing from the Chalukyan period, it was practised by the woman courtiers in Mysore. Fold designs with a lot of inspiration from rangolis formed the patterns of the embroidery.

Method: Palanquins, chariots and elaborate motifs are embroidered by hand, which is a very tedious process. Counting of each thread and stitching using knots form a part of kasuti embroidery in India.

Conclusion

Hand embroidery customs passed down over generations, have kept a dying form of art alive. Embroidery is not only very laborious but also needs a great deal of craftsmanship and patience. The huge number of techniques and patterns bear testimony to how talented these craftsmen are. Culture and heritage of the area is preserved through these forms of embroidery and its adoption into mainstream fashion, and everyday wear has helped generate popularity and also provide a means of living for the workers. Each kind of embroidery boasts of motifs that find historical significance. Hand embroideries need to be promoted and safeguarded for the preservation of the rich and diverse culture and the huge pool of talent that India possesses.

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