Embroidery is an art. It is the expression of a woman's deepest urge to create. In India, embroidery has reached high levels of sophistication. The stitches and motifs used are challenging even to the most skilled needlepoint expert. However, the women who stitch the beautiful designs you see on garments, home decor, wall hangings, and other such Indian items, have made it a part of their daily lives. The gorgeous embroidery is the natural expression of their creativity, with beautiful results.
Embroidery in India is centuries old. In the olden days, wearing beautifully embroidered clothes was the privilege of the maharajas and emperors. Gold, pearls and precious stones used in the embroidery was a sign of wealth and prestige. When these expensive materials were substituted by glass beads, wires, and mirrors, the common person also got access to the wondrous effects of embroidered clothes. Even today, we find these common materials- beads, wires, mirrors- used in imaginative ways throughout Indian embroidery with spectacular effects.
Because India is so large and diverse, embroidery has a distinct look and technique in every region. Each region uses different motifs, different materials and different stitches. However, in all needlework in India, the needle is pulled away from the worker.
Each Region has its own style of Embroidery
In Bengal, the kantha stitch is a close darning stitch done in white thread. It depicts life on the move: folk stories, dancers, temples, deities, and animals. Because it originated in Bengal which is a coastal state in eastern India, the fish and the lotus are popular motifs in this style of embroidery. No two designs are ever alike for each embroidery artist fiercely tries to create her own unique pattern and not imitate others. Kantha saris, quilts, handkerchiefs, and pillow covers are popular. Check out the kantha stitch on these wall hangings and cushion covers.
The Banjara tribes of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have their own style of embroidery as well. They use a lot of glass or mica or mirrors, which are thought to frighten away evil spirits who are afraid of their own images. Bright colors and beautiful stitches around the mirrors are characteristic of this style of embroidery. Beads and shells are also commonly used. Stitching mirrors, beads and shells into place requires complicated needle work, which the tribal women are skilled at doing. Purses, wall hangings and clothes are commonly embroidered in this way
The embroidery of Gujarat and Rajasthan is the richest in design, stitch, and bright color combinations. The women of these dry areas make up for the lack of color and vegetation around them by embroidering a garden of colors and designs! Legend goes that, in Gujarat, the god Krishna freed thousands of women by killing an evil demon. These women hailed from different parts of the country and brought with them different kinds of needlecraft. This is why this region has the widest variety of embroidery styles.
Kutch embroidery especially flourished under the patronage of the princely state. Here, embroidered items were traditionally given as dowry for a girl's wedding. The techniques of embroidery are handed down from mother to daughter. A massive earthquake in 2000 destroyed the Kutch region. Embroidery from this part of India is now very difficult to find. Indian brings you embroidery from Kutch, such as exclusive wall hangings embroidered with care and talent.
Embroidery and applique are often used together as well. In the craft of applique, bits of material are joined together to produce stunning effects. Indian craftspeople use remnants of colourful saris and spare cloth for their applique. Torans or door hanging fringes are some of the most elaborate embroidered and applique items available in India. They are hung in every Indian home for a warm welcome.
In Karnataka, kasuti embroidery draws inspiration from the surrounding architecture. The designs are like the domes of the temples, called "gopura". Animals are also popular motifs, including peacocks and, of course, the Indian elephant.
The Kashmir valley, now a war torn region, used to be a natural paradise. Full of flowers and maple trees, this northern region of India has some of the most exquisite craft work. Check out the floral embroidery from Kashmir on these bed sheets. Shawls are the most popular embroidered item in cool Kashmir. Some are embroidered with such skill that the pattern appears perfectly on both sides of the shawl. These are called "dorakkhas".
Punjab is famous for its phulkari work in floral patterns. This is a rich and colourful craft associated with the Jat tribe of Punjab. The phulkari veil is the prised possession of the village girl who wore it as a part of her wedding trousseau. It would traditionally be made by her mother, with love and affection. Bed covers, robes, stoles and wall hangings are embroidered in this style, especially in red, maroon and navy blue.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Chikan embroidery is said to have been introduced by Noor Jahan, the Mughal queen. Some of the patterns are believed to actually be her own! It is a dignified, subtle and feminine style of embroidery, difficult to do and attractive to wear. The grace and sophistication of chikan is unmatched in any other style of embroidery. It is best done on fine muslin cloth. Scrolling leaf and vine patterns are popular, as are paisley designs