Kashmiri Hand Embroidery

The Kashmiri embroidery is known as Kashida, a Persian word which, among others, means embroidery as well as drawing.

The Kashmiri hand embroidery work uses simple stitches such as the satin, stem, chain and long and short stitches and makes occasional use of the herringbone, button hole and darning stitches. The jail, open work, is used to produce a lace like effect The work is done on silk with single silk thread.

Hand Embroidery in Kashmir flourished when the ruler, Zain-ul-Abedin Shah invited artists from Iran to train the local people into a wide range of crafts. Successive rulers continued to give encouragement to the workers and the Mughals, who were enchanted with the area and spent the summers there, extended their informal patronage to the valley and turned all its crafts into arts. This patronage, combined with the natural artistic aptitude of the people, gave a firm basis to the crafts which, through the centuries have flourished as a cottage industry producing objects of unmatched delicacy and elegance.

The refinement of Kashmiri hand embroidery surpasses that done anywhere else in India. Not only does the Kashmiri embroiderer produce surface designs of great intricacy and fineness but he excels in the dorukha,the double-sided work in which both sides are the same so that there is no right or wrong side and the article can be used from both sides. A further refinement of this is when the colors on both sides are different This is done especially on shawls which are the great pride of Kashmir. The woven Jamawar shawls, the ultimate product of the loom, show innumerable refinements such as delicate shadings on flower and bud, details of the plumage of birds and the same dorukha effect in which even the ground colour on both sides is different. But the ambli, the embroidered Jamawar, achieves extra richness by using delicate filling in stitches in threads of different colors to enhance the effect of the woven material.

The valley of Kashmir is one of the most beautiful natural areas in the world. Surrounded by mountains the valley reflects them in innumerable placid lakes and paddy fields. Poplars, chenars and cypresses dominate the scene along with other trees like the walnut, almond, plum, apple and cherry. The climate is temperate and the flora reflects it The iris, the tulip, the lily, plum, almond and apple blossoms flourish along with the lotus, the pomegranate, of course, the lovely saffron flower, a field of which seen in bloom is said to be so beautiful that it makes the observer burst out laughing. The colors are there but they lack the exuberance of the flora of tropical regions.

All these shapes and colors are, naturally, reflected in the crafts of the area. Surrounded by so much of nature’s bounty the craftsman does not have to look elsewhere for his designs. The chenar leaf and the tall, tapering cypress dominate Kashmir designs. Among the birds the kingfisher is a great favourite followed by the magpie, the parrot, the woodpecker and the canary. Human figures are used only in the shikargah,hunting scenes which were a favourite pattern for shawls.

The designs are always evenly balanced and even though the pattern may show numerous flowers, leaves, fine stems and curving stalks, a sense of restraint is always evident keeping the decoration well under control and never allowing it to overflow the boundaries of good taste. Shades of red, pink, blue, yellow, mauve, green and white are used but these reflect the natural colors of the objects depicted and are always subtly blended to avoid garishness. The whole effect is flat and formalized.

This type of hand embroidery is done on articles of personal wear such as shawls, blouses, sarees, and on table linen. The really fine work requires years of training. A visit to a Kashmir craft centre shows how the system works. In a row on the floor of course, sit the workers, all men. The youngest, usually a boy of about eight years old, sits at one end and the oldest, a man sometimes well over 60 years old sits at the other end. In between sit others graded according to age. The boy does the most elementary work on the piece being worked upon. He then passes on the work to the next man who does the slightly more complicated work. The work is thus handled by different people according to their degrees of expertise until it rea