Chinese silk hand embroidery art from Suzhou

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Bringing Grace & Elegance with a Needle 

Embroidery, aptly 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 richness.

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 cloth.

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 craftsmanship.

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 are legendary.

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. 


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