Embroidery is the art of decorating a surface with needle and thread work. This ancient art has been practiced around the world for many centuries but has its origins in the Indian subcontinent. From here, it travelled across the world and took on the many western forms we see today; but it is in Indian fashion that we can find a truly dazzling variety of traditional and modern embroidery work.
Embroidery designs are typically created on strong fabrics as an ornament to the fabric, which is more often than not used to make a clothing item or accessory. Embroidery works are crafted carefully by threading a needle and using it to pierce the cloth, allowing the thread to be attached to the cloth in numerous types of embroidery patterns. They can also utilize other substances like pearls, beads, sequins and shells along with threads, though these are typically termed embellishments rather than embroidery. Today, an embroidery pattern can be made by a machine as well. These mass produced patterns are cheaper to produce and have a very ‘perfect’ look, in the sense that they are perfectly aligned and stitched. However, it is the hand embroidered patterns that are truly considered authentic and exclusive to this day; their artistic, human touch cannot be matched by any machine and many experts prize the imperfections of hand work as the marker of true and authentic embroidery designs. In fact, these so called imperfections are actually part of the beauty and appeal of a hand embroidery pattern.
Embroidery work designs can be distinguished on the basis of a number of factors. Every region of India produces unique and beautiful varieties of embroideries and there are many modern variations as well. One of the major factors which affect the look of embroidery designs, patterns and motifs is the type of thread used. One of the most popular types of embroidery in India is Resham work which is done using fine silk threads, woven in a certain way to have a very smooth, shining appearance. Resham work is known for its fine, delicate yet vibrant look and is often used to create very intricate designs. One of India’s most beautiful embroidery designs is zari work, which is created using fine gold or silver fibers. This is a Mughal art that was earlier used to decorate the clothes of royals, which is why it is considered a very exclusive and opulent form of embroidery. Another gorgeous and distinctive type of embroidery in India is Kashmiri embroidery or Kashida work, which is created using thick, colorful threads of wool or silk-wool. This has become something of an international phenomenon and is highly in demand for its artistic and vibrant look.
Many of the different types of embroidery designs are differentiated, not on the basis of threads (a colorful cotton or silk thread is the most popular and commonly used across India) but on the basis of the types of stitches used. For instance, Aari work from Gujarat is distinguished by its use of cross stitches while the complex and delicate Chikankari work is known to use even stitches and knotted threads. Similarly, the motifs and designs can also differentiate these embroidery patterns. Cut work embroidery designs are created by cutting holes in the fabric and have a distinctive mesh like or jaali aesthetic. Phulkari work from Punjab is known for its brilliant, multi-hued appearance and frequently makes use of floral motifs. The most elaborate and dazzling type of embroidery is probably gota patti work which is created using shining mirrors, crystals and beads and has a detailed, rich and opulent look. There are many other fine and beautiful embroidery styles in India such as Kantha, Banjara and Appliqué work. Many of these have also been adapted to create new embroidery designs reflecting a more western aesthetic.
In ancient times, artisans created embroidery designs for sarees more than any other garment because of its popularity, especially with the upper classes. Today, it is used to decorate all types of garments, from Indian outfits like salwar kameez, lehenga cholis, dupattas and kurtis to western clothing such as tunics, scarves, vests and dresses.
Styling it Right The Embroidery Pattern
The intricate and delicate beauty of embroidery is such that it can never really go out of fashion. Clothes with a subtle but beautiful embroidery pattern are sure to make the wearer stand out in the crowd. Styling the different embroidery designs would depend upon the type of embroidery it is. For instance, brightly colored salwar kameez with resham work, intended for daily wear or work, can be paired up with colorful beaded jewelry which will emphasize the vibrancy of the designs. On the other hand, a georgette anarkali with the latest embroidery designs, studded with crystals and pearls, should be paired with elegant evening wear accessories like pearl necklaces and dangle earrings.