Perhaps it was inevitable that a country with a textile tradition as rich as India would also boast of a myriad embroidery styles to adorn this never ending supply of canvas. Embroidery in India is done mostly by women. After a tough day of household chores, the women get together to create and adorn articles of daily use like quilts, cushion covers, bags, clothes for daily wear or special occasions.
The combination of embroidery styles and colours is a direct result of the warp and weft of the local textiles and is in tune with the local customs and traditions. Each tribe or community practises, guards and is identified by its own style of embroidery. Each style is a unique mix of stitches, colour schemes and other materials (like mica, beads, mirrors) used to create intricate patterns or tell elaborate stories.
Like all other ancient craft styles, embroideries too are done with a view to avoid waste and create wealth from waste. Many embroideries are recycling arts where old clothes or threads from discarded clothes or left-over pieces of cloth from tailors are used (at times in combinations with new cloth) to create beautiful new articles of use.
Today, many of these rural embroideries have found their way into urban markets where people have begun to appreciate the intricacies and art of these embroideries.
Some of the embroideries that Kala Tarang showcases in its exhibitions Kantha, Zardozi, and Kutchi embroideries.
Kantha is a classic example of an embroidery being a form of recycling. It probably dates back to the early 1800s and evolved as a result of a recycling art in Bengal, by which old clothes were converted to light quilts. A Kantha, which means 'rag' in Sanskrit, was made out of old clothes which were laid in layers and stitched together with variations of the simplest stitch in the language of embroidery- the running stitch. Though, patterns were created out of running stitch, the motifs ranged from being simple to very intricate e.g. gods, flowers, animals, geometrical patterns, etc. It became a means of self expression by both urban and rural women in Bengal.
Post-independence, the Kantha quilts were also created out of new fabric and the embroidery on them called 'Kantha embroidery' became highly coveted. Today the Kantha embroidery is sought internationally and craftswomen spend months creating intricate Kantha patterns on shawls, stoles, saris, bags, letter holders and other fashionable items.
At Kala Tarang exhibitions: Silk Scarves and Stoles.
Zardozi is an ancient Persian art of embroidery in gold threads (Zar in Persian means gold and Dozi means embroidery) which came to India with the Persian invaders but flourished during the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. Unlike a lot of popular embroideries in India, Zardozi was an embroidery for the elite. This art reached its zenith under patronage of the greatest Mughal emperor, Akbar, in the 17th century during whose reign Zardozi adorned the costumes of the court, wall hanging, scabbards, regal side walls of tents and the rich trappings of elephants and horses. Intricate patterns traced in gold and silver, studded with seed pearls and precious stones enhanced the shimmering beauty of silk, velvet and brocade.
Towards the end of the 17th Century the royal patronage given to various crafts including Zardozi, was stopped and the craft began to see a decline. With changing times and rulers in the 18th and 19th centuries, this craft continued to decline with most of the craftsmen turning to other occupations.
The revival of the Zardozi embroidery, along with many other traditional methods of embroidery started in the middle of the 20th century. The non availability of gold and its high prices proved to be a hurdle but that problem was overcome by combining copper wire with a golden sheen and gold coloured silk thread.
Zardozi can be described as a metallic-appliqué embroidery. First the design is traced out on the cloth (usually silk, satin velvet, etc.) which is then stretched over a wooden frame. The Zardozi craftsmen or Zardoze (pronounced Zar - doe - zay) as they are called, use both their hands to do the embroidery. The hand above the cloth works the needle that resembles a very small crochet hook and is used to run the metal threads up and down through the cloth, much like a sewing machine. The hand below the cloth ties each stitch - making the Zardozi embroidery not only beautiful but also durable. After days of painstaking labor, the result is an exquisite gold-veined work of art.
Today Zardozi embroidery is integrated with wood, handmade paper, etc on items like planters, telephone books, jewellery boxes, etc. thus turning these artefacts of daily use into exquisite pieces of art.
At Kala Tarang exhibitions: Trays, tables, jewellery boxes, planters etc.
The Kutch region of the western state of Gujarat probably has the highest density of embroidery styles in India. Kutch has a large number of nomadic tribes most of whom can be identified by their distinct style of embroidery. In fact even within the same community the style, motifs and colours used differ on the basis of marital status of the person or occasion where the embroidery is being used.
The embroideries were mostly done on locally made textiles using naturally dyed threads. With a view to commercialisation, new textiles are being used while being faithful to the embroidery style and other processes.
Some of the Kutchi embroideries that will be showcased in the exhibition are Ahir, Suf, Khareek, Garasia Jat and Rabari.
The Khareek embroidery done by the Sodha, Rajput and Megwar communities has a basic structure of geometric patterns with an outline of black squares. The spaces are then filled with bands of satin stitching that are worked along warp and weft from the front. The embroidery is first counted out in black double running stitch, and then filled in with satin stitch; the end result is of clusters of bar like shapes.
The Garasia Jat embroidery is predominantly the cross stitch with heavy use of small mirrors. The outline is usually done in white before being filled in. Designs for Jat embroidery are geometric, not representational and is done on loose weave fabrics. Traditionally, all of the fabric given is covered and the base fabric cannot be seen at all.
Aahir embroidery, done by the Ahir tribe in Gujarat, India, is a flowing, curvilinear style that uses motifs such as peacocks, parrots, scorpions, elephants, the milk maid and flowers. The outlines of the design are done in a chain stitch called 'sankali', filled in with a herringbone stitch called 'vana'. Mirrors, called 'abhla' are used frequently.
The Rabari embroidery is unique to the nomadic Rabaris in the Kutch region of Gujarat, India. This style of embroidery is usually very vigorous with bold shapes and designs are taken from mythology and the desert surroundings. Essential to Rabari embroidery is the use of mirrors in a variety of shapes like round, diamond, rectangular, square, triangular, beak shaped, etc. The stitches are square chain interlaced with buttonhole for mirror work, single chain, knot, Romanian, blanket interlaced with herringbone, running, and double running.
Suf is counted on the warp and weft of the cloth in a 'surface
satin stitch' worked from the back. Motifs are never drawn. Each
artisan imagines her design, then counts it out - in reverse! Skilled
work thus requires an understanding of geometry and keen eyesight.
A suf artisan displays virtuosity in detailing, filling symmetrical
patterns with tiny triangles and accent stitches.
At Kala Tarang exhibitions: Wall Hangings, Bags, Silk, Woollen and Cotton Stoles, mufflers etc. Also look out for an interesting local game (Bagh and Bakri) made using Kutchi Patchwork. This is similar to games played in Appalachian region (of North America) and Venezuela .