Kasuti embroidery is an exquisite type of embroidery from northern Karnataka. It has become one of the most popular arts of this region and is exclusively associated with the villages in this part of the country. The embroidery artisans from this region are protected by a Geographical Indicator from the Government of India, which ensures that any profit made from the sale of this embroidery comes back to them.
Kasuti embroidery is one of the oldest forms of Indian embroidery. Its origins can be traced as far back as the 7th century A.D. There are many different origin stories surrounding its origins. Some people believe it was brought to Karnataka from Gujarat while others believe it originated in the golden period of art and architecture during the rule of the Chalukya dynasty.
Though initially, it was only done in the region of Dharwad, over time, it spread to other parts of Karnataka and is today used across south India. This work was initially only done by women and till today, women remain an integral part of the Kasuti embroidery cottage industry.
Kasuti embroidery patterns take a long time to make and often require more than one embroidery artist to ensure a proper maneuvering. The unique thing about this type of embroidery is that it requires counting of each thread on the cloth. This technique ensures that the finished designs have a very intricate and beautiful look. There are four types of stitches in Kasuti embroidery: the gavanti or double running stitch, the muragi or zig zag running stitch, the neygi or darning stitch and henthe or cross stitch.
The menthe is used to embroider the background designs. For those wondering how to do Kasuti embroidery, the answer lies not just in the types of stitches used, but also the style of execution. The embroidery artists ensure the stitches are created without any knots, which means you can use that both sides of the cloth.
A Kasuti embroidery design is also embroidered on a blank canvas rather than on a fabric with the designs pre-traced. The template of the design lies in the mind of the artist and this creates a very unique look for the embroidery. However, the recommended first step in any Kasuti embroidery tutorial will be to first draw out the patterns on a paper. This helps to maintain the symmetry of the finished designs as only the most skilled Kasuti embroidery artists can get the right design with no basic template.
Traditionally, this type of embroidery was done only on hand-woven cotton fabrics dyed in darker colors, using light colored cotton threads. The classic Kasuti embroidery sarees are the Ilkal sarees. Over time, however, this type of embroidery has undergone serious upheaval. Earlier, only women were permitted to do it while today some men have also joined the groove. The name Kasuti is derived from two separate words in Kannada, Kai meaning hand and Sui meaning cotton.
This is because initially, this form of embroidery was only done by hand using cotton materials. While the hand crafted aspect remains a must with this embroidery till today, other fabrics such as silk, georgette and even zari are also used today to create light and beautiful Kasuti embroidery designs. They are frequently used to decorate different kinds of expensive, high-end silk sarees from the south, such as the Kanjeevaram sarees, Mysore silk sarees etc.
Distinct Motifs & Patterns
Another key distinguishing characteristic of this embroidery style is the types of motifs used. Geometric patterns and temple inspired designs are the traditional patterns used by the artists. The aesthetic influence of the temples and architecture of the south can be seen in the kinds of Kasuti embroidery motifs that are frequently used. They usually go for intricate designs of conch shells, chariots, lotus flowers, palanquins, gopuras (temples), elephants and lamps.
The motifs may be light and scattered all over but that is quite unusual. More often than not, they are intricately connected in a very beautiful, three dimensional pattern that has an extremely exquisite and artistic look. Rural inspired designs are also quite popular amongst the woman embroidery artists, who love creating domestic scenes intertwined with stylized shapes for wedding sarees.
Trends and Styling
Kasuti embroidery is regarded as a very auspicious and important type of work in south India and is part of many traditional garments with immense cultural significance. It is frequently used to decorate all types of cotton as well as silk south Indian sarees. Wearing them for weddings has always been a part of Karnataka culture but today, it has become a trend even in other parts of India.
Kasuti embroidery has transcended beyond its nature as a ritualistic, domestic type of embroidery. Its exquisite and intricate look is best complemented with equally intricate gold or silver jewelry. Traditional south Indian gold jewelry sets are the best choice with the fancy silk sarees. You can wear colorful glass bangles and silver earrings with the less formal Ilkat sarees.