described as painting by needle, is an expression of
aesthetics, rendered with patient labour. It
introduces grace and elegance even into articles of
every day use. Indian embroidery takes its
inspiration from nature and the products of various
regions reflect the colours of the flora and fauna
of that area.
Designs in Indian embroidery are formed on the basis
of the texture and design of the fabric and the
stitch. The dot and the alternate dot, the circle,
the square, the triangle and various permutations
and combinations of these go to make up the designs.
Religious motifs such as gopurams, the tulsi plant,
the temple doorway, etc. are all equally popular.
Numerous media are utilised. Embroidery on leather,
velvet, net, cotton, hessian and silk, is done all
over the country and now even raffia and screwpine
articles are embroidered.
The idea of enriching fabrics with the use of
precious stones and metals is well known. Beads and
mica have also been used to embellish embroidered
fabrics. Apart from traditional embroidery materials
such as wool, cotton, silk, beads and gold or silver
thread, the Indian artist has used such exotic
materials as beetles' wings and various seeds to add
Thanks to trade, cultural and other contacts,
practically all the known embroidery stitches
employed in any part of the world are used in India.
Kashmiri work has a rich colour spectrum and
exquisite workmanship, with beautifully composed
designs depicting common local symbols like the
chinar leaf, the grape, the cherry, plum, apple
blossom, lily, the saffron flower and various birds
of the region.
'Phulkari' (flowered work) is the Punjab-Haryana
speciality, traditionally worked on coarse cotton in
orange, red or blue, using flossed silk. The
embroidered 'rumals' (kerchiefs/scarves) of Chamba
are usually of dark silk and depict scenes from
Krishna Leela and other religious subjects, using
the ordinary running stitch. Elaborate decoration,
often using bits of mica to add glitter, marks the
work in Kutch-Saurashtra. Embroidery is part of the
life of the agricultural and pastoral people here
and even cobblers are skilled in the craft.
Karnataka's Kasuti makes use of the back stitch, the
running stitch, the cross stitch and the zig-zag
running stitch to sketch mainly religious themes,
usually using red, purple, green and orange,
preferably in brighter shades on dark hand-woven
The famous Chikan work is done with while cotton on
a fine white muslin base. Using a variety of
stitches minutely worked, together with knotted
stitches which result in designs with raised
surfaces, the practice of this art is centred in
Lucknow (U P) and Gaya (Bihar). One specialty of
Chikan is the creation of a 'jali' or the net
effect. Chikan traces its origins to the royal
courts of Oudh.
Bengal's 'Kantha' embroidery makes imaginative use
of waste rags, which are sewn on a base with simple
running stitches to form motifs. Old Kantha pieces,
in which women recorded scenes from their daily
lives, are highly valued for their fine
Tribal embroidery: This is in a class by itself, so
vast a range does it have and so varied is it in
style and composition. Work of the Lambadi and
Banjara tribes are the best known for they are among
the most colourful. Toda embroidery of the Nilgiris
is also distinctive.
Zari : From Rig Vedic times, we hear of several
varieties of textiles, including the highly regarded
gold hiranya fabrics. According to legend, the gods
wore them as they rode in their stately chariots.
This hiranya cloth is believed to be the earliest
equivalent of present -day zari work and brocades.
India has long been known for its gold and silver
thread (zari kasab). This as well as other zari
materials like stars and spangles, etc are widely
used in embroidery. The products include embroidered
saris, evening-bags, foot-wear and belts and of
course the world-famous brocades, into which the
zari is woven.
Surat is the biggest zari thread-making centre in
the country, but Varanasi, which ranks second, is
known for its superior quality. Varanasi's brocades
Lace: South India produces excellent lace made
mainly at missionary centers, or by women trained by
them working from home. Narsapur in Andhra Pradesh
has the largest concentration of lace workers. Used
mainly as table or bed linen, the lace has found
high favour among discriminating buyers both for its
quality and aesthetic appeal.
An estimated three lakh persons are engaged in
embroidery. They are mostly women. In Kashmir alone,
it is traditionally a man's trade.