Traditional Indian Embroidery
Traditional Indian embroidery achieved its beauty and luminosity as much from the embroiderer’s skill as from the quality of the materials used. The natural color used for dyeing the threads distinguishes the work done in India from that done anywhere else. Indigo, madder and kermes (tiny insects which yield a crimson colorant) produced a range of blues, reds, violets, pinks and blacks which by mixing with other colors produced rich lasting hues that have retained their lustre through the centuries. The Traditional Indian embroiderer never uses too many colors in any one piece. Sometimes he uses a single color, producing an impression of several shades by skillfully using vertical, diagonal and horizontal stitches. The Embroidery work of India, thus, traditionally benefits fully from the play of light on the surface of the silk to achieve the maximum effect of richness through a minimum of decoration.
Although most of Traditional Indian embroidery involves needlework though some extremely fine chain stitch work is achieved with the ari, a small hooked awl which is a smaller adaptation of the cobbler’s awl. The small ari is pushed through the cloth, the thread held below the cloth being formed into a loop around the hooked tip of the awl and the loop is then pulled through the surface of the cloth to form a stitch. The stitches of Traditional Indian embroidery can be made in fine gold and silver or silk thread producing extremely aesthetic results. Work done in this way was no less highly prized than the work done by the needle.
The art of the Traditional Indian embroiderer lies in the choice of stitches and the deftness with which they are employed. The embroidery stitches are used to form the outline or to fill in the whole surface almost like mosaic. In still other pieces they give an impression of being used like brush work in painting. Over the centuries a number of stitches have been evolved to enable the embroiderer to achieve sophisticated results. Most of the stitches are common to the work done in different parts of the world. However, variations of the basic stitches allow distinctive regional characteristics to develop. These depend on the type of ground fabric used, the thickness, color and quality of the embroidery thread, the aesthetics of the embroiderer or his patron and the design favored, whether geometric or figurative motifs or a combination of both.
The Traditional embroidery stitches used in India link the work done here with that of other countries. The satin stitch used in Kashmir is a variation of that done in China where it originated. The darning stitch, which produces the sumptuous `bagh’ and `phulkari’ work of the Punjab, has affinities with the stitches used in Baluchistan and the Middle East and parts of Europe. The interlacing stitches of Kutch and Kathiawar have their counterparts in Spain, while the Kasuti of the Karnataka bears a close resemblance to the embroidery of Austria, Hungary and Spain. The white on white chikan work of Uttar Pradesh is similar to the washable linen embroidery of Europe. The silk embroidery done in Surat has a strong Chinese influence. There is no doubt that navigators and traders, like the Arabs, have been instrumental in disseminating culture and influencing crafts by making available designs and materials of one region to another.