As we reflect upon the current pandemic’s impact on the fashion industry, there is something important that most of us keep missing. While the fashion community around the world goes on resonating the thought that it is our artisans who are having it worst in the current times, here’s a question to ponder upon: when were they better off in the first place?
Accept it or deny it, but the truth remains that despite being the very basis on which our entire fashion industry stands, it is these artisans that keep lurking at the periphery when it comes to all the perks that the industry yields. The fact is that these people were working in dismal conditions before coronavirus came. And they are having it even worse right now. Then what are the hopes of it ever getting better for them even after all of this is over?
Well, here is another truth: the onus here lies on each one of us as much as it does on the flagbearers of the fashion industry! There’s also a need to educate ourselves because, despite the fact that our country fosters a hearty variety of handicrafts, we mostly remain unaware of their significance as well as the true beauty. For instance, did you know that the rich craft of zardozi did not really originate in India but was brought to the country from Persia during the Mughal era?
It is important to create an understanding of what we support here and to help you with the task, we have compiled a list of nine hand-embroideries that remain integral to all kinds of Indian clothes that we wear today. Read on:
Zardozi is a form of embroidery that came to India from Persia and became ours like few crafts have. Interestingly, there is a mention of the craft in our Vedic literature as well. The word Zardozi literally translates to gold embroidery and initially, in its more unadulterated form the craft was in fact practised with silk threads wrapped in real silver and gold wires. The craft saw its peak during the Mughal rule when it found a place in all things royal right from handcrafted silk gararas to even tent embellishments.
The craft as it is practiced today can be identified by the use of metallic threads and its 3-D appearance. Since the zardozi threads are wrapped instead of being flat, they can be easily identified the instant you look at them. The elaborate embroidery goes best on satins, silks, and velvet and is often accentuated with the use of sequins, pearls and crystals.
Primarily known as khatla work, Aari embroidery is said to have its origins in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh and retains its essence for its chain stitches that can be easily recognised once you develop an eye for it. Right from silks to chiffon, this delicate embroidery goes beautifully on all fabrics and is often spotted in the gossamer poshaks and sarees worn by Rajasthan’s royalty to date.
A distinctive embroidery that finds its origins in Rajasthan, gota patti too has enjoyed widespread popularity since the time of Mughals. The craft is practised by employing a mix of appliqué technique and sewing techniques. Intricate pieces of zari ribbons are first cut, sewed down to a piece of fabric, and then highlighted with metallic threads for this embroidery. Just like zardozi, the work was traditionally done with real gold and silver but it’s done using more economical substitutes today.
Pristine as it is, the chikankari embroidery is a rather divine craft that retains its beauty in the intricate thread work on a transparent fabric with threads popping out against white or faded pastel backdrops. It starts with a process similar to block printing where the base cloth is printed with the motifs that are to be followed by the embroidery.
It is after this stage that the real work begins and the artisans start working on the embroidery following one of 36 different techniques that the craft incorporates. Once the embroidery is done, the fabric requires several rounds of washing before it’s ready to be converted into a garment.
Initially started to enhance the chikankari work, mukaish work is said to have gained popularity around the same time when chikan rose to prominence in Lucknow. The craft was used to further refine the evening wear worn by the nawabs. However, the technique soon became popular and craftsmen started making all-mukaish pieces. The craft can be easily identified owing to its dotted accents that are done with gold and silver and mostly used to adorn lightweight fabrics.
Just like a plethora of other heady crafts, mirror work too is said to have been brought to India during the Mughal era. And while the work has its origins in Iran, it was in Rajasthan that it evolved in the form that we admire today. The craft is practised by affixing mirrors on the fabric with the use of a special cross-stitch embroidery, which provides the mirror with a case to stay fixed. There is no gluing or fixing of the mirror that takes place apart from the cross stitch.
With a history as vibrant as its silken weaves, kashidakari finds its origins in the resplendent valley of Kashmir. This embroidery too found its height in the country during the reign of Mughals. In its purest form, the embroidery is as vibrant as it gets and features nature-inspired motifs like flowers, birds and trees. It is the use of multi-coloured thread that gives this embroidery its true essence though gold and silver accents are also found in heavier and more elaborate garments.
Peculiar to Punjab, Phulkari literally translates to flower craft. The vibrant weave, this craft involves the use of a charkha thus adding to its quintessentially Indian touch. The prominent characteristics of this embroidery involve colourfull silken threads which are used for darn stitches on the wrong side of the fabric. Beautifully nestled in the folklore of Heer and Ranjha, the essence of phulkari comes out in dupattas and sarees that have risen to prominence over the years.
Having its roots in the present-day rural West Negal, Kantha work is as glorious as it is rooted. Practised by using old fabrics, the craft is a great lesson in sustainability. The heart of the Kantha embroidery revolves around running stitches that are used to fully cover the old fabric which is used as the base of this embroidery. While traditionally the embroidery was practised on quilts, dhotis, and sarees, it has beautifully evolved and can be found on all kinds of stylish garments today.
Lastly, it is integral to remember that as we talk about the popularity of these hand embroideries, it important to note the contribution of artisans for their contribution in the evolution of these crafts. Because we pay a hefty price to a designer brand to purchase a piece adorned with any of these. Perhaps educating ourselves about the beauty and significance of these crafts is also a way of changing our consumer practices and how we approach fashion on a day to day to basis. Now, that’s some food for thought, right?
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