Cultural “Reflections” in Shisha Taanka Work


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Hi Guys and a happy Tuesday to you all! I hope you are enjoying my week-long coverage of Sub-Continent embroidery and incorporating different embroideries in your wardrobe. Hand-done embroidery is what I love about the Sub-Continent fashion, although there are tons of examples of its presence in western couture as well. Hand-embroidery can truly show your status and style knowledge, but since more affordable embroideries like gota and shisha-taanka are available, almost all social classes can get their hands on coveted hand-work. Today, I would like to finish Sub-Continent Embroidery Week with shisha-tanka, which holds a place as one of the deeply-rooted cultural embroideries in our rich history.


Shisha-tanka involves the application of small mirrors (and other shiny objects) to fabric using decorative and creative stitching. Honestly speaking, it is not so much about the use of mirrors, but the stitching around the mirrors. That’s why this work is also available without the use of actual mirror in bazaars in Pakistan.

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The term shisha means glass in Persian, from where the word transferred to Urdu/Hindi. The use of decorative mirror or shisha was introduced from Muslim lands during the Mughal Empire (although Mughal royalty did not use it on their garments); however, shisha embroidery was already found on traditional folk clothes of South Asia and Central Asia. You can get both mass-produced/machine-done shisha work or hand-done shisha-tanka with or without actual mirrors in Pakistan.

This form of embroidery work is now most common on the Sub-continent, especially in parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Baluchistan, Punjab region and Sindh. This type of embroidery lends a sparkling appearance to the brightly-colored cultural clothes worn in certain regions (in Pakistan) and is also used with shells. It is also very popular for use on tapestries.


Originally, pieces of mica (a silicate mineral) were used as the mirrors, but later, thin blown-glass pieces were broken and used. Today, small mirrors are commercially available for shisha embroidery.  To make the work really affordable (and yes, compromise on its look) one can use large sequins. They’re extremely lightweight, not sharp at all, and readily available in many colors.

How to Modernize It:

I know many women today probably look askance to this type of impactful work, but honestly, like I always say, if you get creative, you can totally pull this look off even in the modern era. Instead of wearing shisha-work vests or have the work done around the neckline, which is kinda dated, how about making a colorful shalwar with this work on it. Depending on how daring you want to get, you can use it on the shalwar’s hem or have it all over. Keep the kameez plain white or to make it more formal by incorporating some white-on-white ralli into the mix.

Pure or synthetic chiffon sari with shisha-taanka blouses look stunning. Just check out the work of Manish Malhotra and Ritu Kumar.

Ladies, the point is to play DOWN the uber cultural look of shisha-taanka and make it more appealing to women with modern aesthetics. Look for lighter shades, use bright colors sparingly, accessorize with some khussas, you know the sky is the limit. Happy Shopping!!!

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