Hand embroidery is an art of adorning fabric using thread, yarn, and needle. This art form started somewhere around the Iron Age and has been passed down from generation to generation. After the world became more industrialized, embroidery with machines became a quicker and cheaper option. However, in Pakistani bridal and formal fashion, the time-consuming craft of hand embroidery is still preferred. This year I have seen western designers such as Alexander McQueen and Oscar de la Renta use hand embroidery in their gowns and western formal wears, which is so exciting. I think the world is now learning about this ancient craft and making it applicable to modern fashion.
There is a myriad of different styles of hand embroidery used in Pakistani bridal and formal wear. Since hand embroidery is time-consuming and expensive, it is exclusively used for bridal and formal wear; embroidery on pret wear usually have machine work on them. Kashmiri work, phulkari embroidery, chikankari, crewel embroidery, zardozi, crochet are also some examples that are used in Pakistani clothes. Each type of embroidery needs careful concentration, skills and expertise, and hours of a worker’s time.
Designers are beginning to adopt embroidery art that has been handed down from different parts of the world instead of just the Sub-continent. Traditionally, embroidery was done with various threads, coils and yarns. I have even heard of actual gold and silver threads being used back in the day in India. Today embroidery has evolved and there are cheaper options for consumers. These days other materials such as crystals, stones, sequins, tinsel, metal strips, and coils are added to enhance the thread work previously done solely. Even though today’s designing process is a little more complicated and multi-dimensional with the introduction of modern cuts and silhouettes, traditional embroideries hold a steadfast hand in Pakistan. Elan, a Lahore-based designer is an excellent example of modern Pakistani fashion. The reason her clothes are applauded as distinct yet traditional at the same time is that they incorporate a lot of European, especially Parisian motifs, and embroideries. However, other designers such as my personal favorite Bunto Kazmi stick with tradition with zardozi and gota.
Types of Hand Embroideries In Pakistan
Through my research on the topic, I came across how Pakistan’s political roots played a part in influencing its fashion. Pre-partition Pakistan possessed many provincial embroideries within its borders from the start and also adapted some at the time of The Partition. Many craftsmen moved to Pakistan from the neighboring country of India with new skills. Not only this, but Pakistan also adapted some of the embroidery techniques from Afghanistan, Iran, and China so it must be said that most of today’s Pakistani embroidery techniques contain influences from these four countries. Thus due to its rich political history influencing its fashion, Pakistan now holds a position on a global platform.
For those interested in learning about the embroideries and for those who want ideas for their bridal and formal-wear, consider the following:
1. Aabla- Mirror work which has its roots in Rajasthan and Kutch.
2. Aari- Embroidery done on a cot. Also known as khatla work aari originated in Barabanki.
3. Badla- Flat metallic wire, silver or gilt wire embroidery.
4. Butas and Butis- Motifs composed of floral forms fitted into paisley shapes derived from the Mughal era.
5. Lari- Fine quality gold thread embroidery found in Bareilly, Benaras (Varanasi), Lucknow and Agra.
6. Phool Patti Work- Applique work from Aligarh where usually organdi or other fabric cutouts in floral and leaf motifs are affixed on to a plain fabric sometimes in tandem with silver tilla embroidery.
7. Chikan Work- Originating from Lucknow this involves a technique of finding separated warp and weft threads for a textural effect.
8. Taipchi- Darn stitch on muslin.
9. Khatwa- inverted satin stitch on muslin.
10. Murri or Phanda- Satin stitch knots.
11. Jaali- Network.
12. Phulkari- Flower motifs, geometric patterns, surface satin stitching using silk floss threads. Phulkari has its origin in Punjab.
13. Zardosi- Leaf-scroll work (it looks like spring work to me) mixed with thread on silk, satin, velvet and other rich fabrics. Also important to note that Zardozi and zari are synonyms and refer to any gold or metallic embroidery.
Types of zari embroideries are dabka, tilla, kora, ari, nakshi, etc. Dabka is the kind of embroidery that is made of thin gold wire coiled and stitched on fabric. It originated in Lucknow and most Pakistani bridals and formals have dabka work on them. Kora is a flat golden stitch, ari is a very fine flat golden chain stitch usually used to outline other embroideries, nakshi is a shiny, faceted type of stitch.
14. Mokaish/Kamdani- Silver dots strewn all over is Mokaish work.
15. Kashida- Mix of textile embroidery and printing.
16. Kantha Work- Originally from Bangladesh, it resembles the running stitch.
17. Ek taar- Single thread embroidery used in tandem with crystals.
19. Resham- Fine silk thread-work. Resham work is traditional thread (not metallic) embroidery. Things like satin stitches, french knots, chain stitches, lazy daisy, ribbon work, etc are resham embroidery.
20. Bead and Crystal Work- Resham work is teamed with beads, baggets, diamantes, rhinestones and Swarovski crystal.
21. Salma Sitara Work- Sequins are embroidered into the fabric.
22. Nalki– Thin long tubular beads.
So my readers, understand that you have endless options to incorporate into your wedding and formal attire. 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. If you do not know someone in Pakistan, then PKDL in the United States and other fashion suppliers in Europe carry designer brands and non-designer brands as well. Just do your research. In Karachi, I have shopped for hand embroidered outfits in shops on Tariq Road and Bahadrabad. Other places popular with locals are Clifton’s E-Street and Dolman Mall (for some ready-made outfit with hand embroidery). I have even heard Defence’s Zamzama Lane and Gizri market are good options for hand embroidery albeit more expensive than other markets in Karachi. Like I said, you need a local to help navigate these markets.
Like always, I will end with my easy, breezy phrase: Happy Shopping!