Influenced by the various cultures that India has imbibed through innumerable invasions and settlements, embroidery from every region has a flavour of its own. So much so that you can name the state an embroidery is from just by looking at it. Be it the robust hand work of Gujarat or the subtle and intricate weaves of UP’s Chikankari, each embroidery stands out for its unique style of stitches and use of fabrics and colours. Nurtured in the hinterlands of India by humble craftsmen, Indian embroideries, today, have the world fawning over them. While India boasts of a zillion embroidery styles, we have handpicked some that have been inspiring generations of designers from across the world.
1. Chikan / Chikankari
Origin: Rumoured to having been introduced by Noor Jahan, wife of Jahangir, Chikankari originated from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It began with white embroidery on a white cloth, but today, it is available in all colours imaginable.
Creation: Requiring patience and skill, this embroidery is done by stitching on patterns traced on a variety of cloth materials like muslin, silk, chiffon, net, cotton, etc. Initially, white thread was used to depict motifs of nature (flora and fauna), but now coloured threads are used as well.
Style: From sarees to suits, lehengas to palazzos, chikan embroidery is chosen by women to showcase elegance which comes guaranteed with the intricacies of the stitches and patterns. Suitable for both daily wear and special occasions, you can make a distinguished style statement whenever you wear chikankari.
2. Zari / Zardosi
Origin: Introduced by the Mughals in the 16th century, Zari is the very form
of opulence. The word Zardosi comes from Persian words for gold (zari) and embroidery (dosi).
Creation: Metallic threads were used on silk and velvet. Originally, Zardosi embroidered clothes used gold or silver threads with precious stones and pearls making them luxury items, exclusively worn by the rich.
Style: While previously this embroidery was a mark of the rich, nowadays gold-coloured plastic threads are used, making this form of art more affordable. Available on sarees, suits, blouses, and lehengas, Zardosi gives you the rich look which brings with it confidence and glamour.
Origin: Mentioned in the folklore of Heer Ranjha, Phulkari comes from a rural embroidery tradition in Punjab. Its present form can be traced back to Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign in the 15th century.
Creation: The base cloth is dull, often handspunkhadi, which is then completely covered with bright coloured embroidered design leaving no gaps. Each motif follows a geometric pattern with motifs of nature (chiefly flowers) using darn stitch for easy vertical, horizontal, and diagonal threadwork.
Style: Previously chosen khaddar is being rapidly replaced by fabrics such as georgette, chiffon, and cotton and along with hand-embroidered clothes, machine-made clothes have made this style more accessible. With a phulkari suit, mixing and matching is a bet you can’t lose. With oxidized silver jewelry, you can easily achieve the right ethnic look. Phulkari Kurtis can be paired with jeans for a contemporary look while lightly embroidered suits can be used for daily wear. Traditionally a bridal outfit, Phulkari can also be chosen for a cheerful festive look in a wide range of colours.
4. Shisha / Mirrorwork
Origin: Brought into India by Iranian travellers during the 17th century, Mirrorwork was originally done with Mica. Patronized by Rajasthan, Haryana, and Gujarat, Mirrorwork varies in use and style according to region and taste.
Creation: Using a special cross stitch, mirrors (of various sizes and shapes) are affixed to apparel, and the fabric is then decorated with similar stitches to enrich the overall appeal of the cloth.
Style: From apparel to accessories, mirrorwork is largely used and widely loved. With plenty of options available, clothes with Mirrorwork can be worn as daily wear or on special occasions. Despite the constantly changing fashion trends, Mirrorwork stays in vogue because of its incomparable approach to embroidery.
Origin: Called ‘pohor’ (flower) in the Toda language, Toda embroidery comes from the Toda tribe which belongs to the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. It is practiced exclusively by Toda women.
Creation: Traditionally using black and red woolen threads on a coarse white cloth, Toda embroidery depicts motifs of nature and/or celestial bodies in a geometrical pattern. A single stitch darning needle is used for a reverse stitch method which then makes a pattern that seems to come out of the cloth, giving the piece a rich look.
Style: The Toda men and women wear cloaks and shawls of this embroidery on celebratory occasions or funerals. Today, this embroidery isn’t restricted to bedsheets or cushion covers. Apart from cloaks and shawls, Toda embroidery has made its way to sarees that are perfect for an ethnic look with an edge that is unique to the Toda embroidered clothes.
Origin: This embroidery borrows its name from its place of birth, Kashmir. Also known as Kashida embroidery, the cloth for this embroidery was woven and embroidered by the members of the same, often extended, family.
Creation: Dark-colored woollen clothes for winter, light (and bright) coloured cotton clothes for summer are chosen upon which base patterns are created. A single stitch is used for a single design and the entire pattern is completed in a few stitches. The often chosen motif is everything related to flora, from flowers to intertwining vines, from leaves on branches to blossoming flowers.
Style: Kashmiri embroidery is a popular choice among women, especially in winter. No one needs any introduction to Pashmina shawls and the Kashmiri suits are widely picked for their vibrance and warmth, providing a distinctive look. Styled with likewise embroidered juttis and oxidized silver jewelry, you cannot go wrong with Kashmiri embroidery.
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