*The post was improved in January 2nd, 2019.
Hand embroidery is an art of adorning fabric using thread, yarn, & needle. This art form started during the Iron Age and has been passed down from generation to generation. Each type of embroidery needs careful concentration, skills and expertise, and hours of a worker’s time. After the world became more industrialized, embroidery with machines became a quicker and cheaper option. Now that we are in the “digital age” machine- embroidery can be called 3D embroidery as designs for the embroidery is made digitally and sent to the machines threading fabrics.
However, in Pakistani bridal and formal fashion, the time-consuming craft of hand embroidery is still preferred because many see these outfits as heirlooms to pass down to children. In 2017 & 2018, I have seen western designers such as Alexander McQueen and Oscar de la Renta use hand embroidery in their formal gowns, which is so exciting to behold. I think the world is now learning about this ancient craft and making it applicable to modern fashion.
Traditionally, embroidery was done with various threads and yarns. I have heard of actual gold and silver threads being used back in the day by Mughals and Uber rich Nawabs aka landlords. Today, embroidery has evolved and there are fusion, newer, and cheaper options available to Pakistani consumers. These days textured materials such as crystals, stones, sequins, tinsel, metal strips, and metal coils are added to enhance threadwork.
Today’s designing process seems more global, complicated; and multi-dimensional with the introduction of fusion cuts and silhouettes, however, traditional Muslim embroideries hold a steadfast hand in Pakistan still. Truly during the Persian Mughal era, which is the source of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s culture today, creativity in embroidery was exceptionally preferred, pure fabrics were preferred next, and silhouettes were the least important, which seems appalling to many Muslims, but then how would the terms Shahi-Mughal/Gangna-Jamni/Nawabi be important?
Types of Hand Embroideries In Pakistan Today
Through my research on the topic, I came across how Pakistan’s political roots played a part in influencing its embroideries. Pre-Partition India (not Hindustan) possessed many provincial embroideries within its borders from the start (& also adapted some after The Partition). Pakistan inherited embroidery techniques from Afghanistan, Iran, France, and China (for example, the French Knots) so it must be said that most of the embroidery techniques contain influences from these four countries. Lately, I have seen “English Lace” (there is no such thing as French Lace) and “English crochet” brought in as well so Pakistan is only growing. Thus due to its rich political history influencing the fashion, Pakistan now holds a position on a global platform.
For those interested in learning more, check out the names of Pakistani embroideries and techniques listed HERE:
- Aabla- Mirror work
- Aari/Marori/Khatla/Murri/Phanda- Satin stitch knots or French Knots done on a cot.
- Badla- Flat metallic wire, silver or gilt wire embroidery.
- Butas/Butis/Botis- Closely stitched motifs composed of floral & paisley forms fitted into shapes derived from the Mughal era.
- Lari- Fine quality gold thread embroidery.
- Gota Patti/Phool Patti- Metallic ribbon sewed on fabric in floral and leaf motifs.
- Ralli/Rilli– Similar to Gota Patti or Phool Patti, Ralli/Rilli consists of sewing plain ribbons of fabric onto a different colored fabric. Hand-embroidered ralli/rilli can be hand-stitched or machine-stitched onto thicker fabrics.
- Chikan/Chikankari- Threadwork on muslin fabric only for a textural effect.
- Khatwa- inverted satin stitch on muslin only.
- Jaali/English Lace/English Crochet- Netting.
- Zardosi/Zari/Fareesha/Dabka- Leaf-scroll work (it looks like spring work to me) mixed with threadwork. Synonyms and referential to any gold or metallic embroidery.
- Nakshi- Nakshi is a shiny, faceted type of stitch.
- Mokaish/Mukaish/Kamdani- Metallic silver patti sewn in fabric in circle and triangle shapes. The design house Bunto Kazmi is a pioneer in creating circular and triangle kamdani work in the 1980s.
- Kashmiri Embroidery– Traditionally used only for shawls. But, now found on stoles and outfits.
- Kantha or Taipchi Work- Originally from Bangladesh, it resembles the running stitch.
- Crewel embroidery– Stitch used on Kashmiri shawls.
- Phulkari- Flower motifs, geometric patterns, surface satin stitching using silk threads.
- Ek Taar- Single thread embroidery used in tandem with crystals.
- Resham (silk)- Fine silk thread-work. Resham work is traditional thread (not metallic) embroidery. Things like satin stitches, french knots, chain stitches (see Kora), lazy daisy, ribbon work, etc are resham embroidery. The design house Bunto Kazmi is a pioneer in creating Pakistan’s famous resham rosettes.
- Bead & Crystal Work- Resham work is teamed with beads, baggets, diamantes, rhinestones, and Swarovski crystal.
- Salma Sitara- Sequins are embroidered into the fabric.
- Nalki– Thin long tubular beads.
- Tilla– a technique where wires are stitched into the fabric and then beaten flat.
- Kashida- Technique mixing of textile embroidery and printing.
- Kora- Kora is a fine flat golden chain stitch usually used to outline other embroideries.
One word of advice I would give you if you do not want to pay high prices for designer-wear is to know someone local in Pakistan who can take you to markets (or bazaars) where workers do this for a fraction of the price that designers charge customers. In Karachi, I have shopped for hand-embroidered outfits in shops on Tariq Road, Gizri, and Bahadrabad. Other places popular with Karachi locals are Clifton’s E-Street and Dolman Mall. Like I said, you would need a local to help navigate these markets.