The art of embroidery is an expression of the maker, especially women, depicting their emotions in a fabric. In this week’s blog, we feature one such ethnic embroidery which was both symbolic and traditional, conveying the metaphors of a community.
Phulkari, the geometric, colourful and traditional embroidery of Punjab is a handicraft practised exclusively by women. Translated as Phul (flower) and Kari work), the age-old craft was passed on as an heirloom textile to a Punjabi bride. It was handcrafted by the maternal women of the house and was given to her as a part of her bridal trousseau. In this process, the bride was also trained in this decorative embroidery.
"Kadh Kasida Pehreh Choli,
Ta Tum Janoh Nari”
“Only then you will be considered an accomplished lady when you will embroider yourself your own blouse”
This art of embroidery was given great importance in Punjab and is quoted by Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1538 A.D), the founder of the Sikh religion, in the holy book Guru Granth Sahib.
The Phulkari shawl, measuring approximately 8 feet by 5 feet was worn as a wrapper on the shoulder and over the head as an Odhni. The base of this spectacular embroidery was done on a rough cotton khadi cloth, called khaddar. This base cloth was dyed in rich earthy tones to set off the intense colours of the handiwork. The colourful embroidery was done by pat, the glossy untwisted silk thread from Kashmir, Afghanistan, Bengal and China.
The chief characteristic trait of the Phulkari embroidery is the darn stitch made using a coloured silken thread. The length and density of a single strand of stitch could cover the entire background cloth. For outlining the borders, other types of embroidery such as stem, chain and herringbone are used.
Types of Phulkari embroidery
This work was invariably embroidered in yellow pat, untwisted floss silk, on a red khaddar base, a handwoven cloth. It is presented to the bride by her grandmother during one of the pre-marriage ceremonies.
The finest decorative work is done in this Phulkari pattern called Bagh, and the predominant geometrical designs covered the entire surface of the background cloth. This intricate work was done for special occasions using shiny floss silk thread.
Whether figurative or geometric, Phulkari embroidery is rich in symbolism, and an integral part of the rich cultural heritage of Punjabis, both in India and Pakistan. From a mere domestic art form, it has found its place on couture collections of international designers!