The Indian Embroidery Handloom Sarees

by Shatika, April 28, 2017

The land of many cultures, customs and religions, India is a treasure-trove of talent which is showcased in various art forms like dance, music and paintings which with its sheer diversity and variety has put India on the pedestal to International fame. One such craft is the Indian embroidery sarees which again is a diverse yet distinct testimony of our rich cultural heritage.

Over the years, different states of India influenced by innumerable invasions and settlement showcases a unique artistry and expansive talent through embroidery forms that vary from region to region, be it the bold and loud handwork of Gujarat or the subtle and intricate work of Chikankari embroidery sarees in Uttar Pradesh, story narration through threads of Kantha sarees in West Bengal or simple and colorful flower motifs of Phulkari in Punjab. Each embroidery form stands out for its unique style of stitches, use of mirrors, sequins and beads and use of fabrics and colours. Nurtured by artisans from the remotest corners of the country over centuries, Indian embroideries have caught the attention of the world. While India boasts of over a thousand embroidery styles, we have handpicked some that have reined the world of handloom sarees in India for over centuries.

Chikankari Embroidery from Uttar Pradeshs:

Chikan, literally translated to mean embroidery is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow, India. While it is believed to have been introduced by Nur Jehan, the wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir, references have been cited to Indian chikan work as early as 3rd century BC. A delicate and artfully done hand embroidery on a variety of textile fabric like muslin, silk, chiffon, organza, net, etc, Chikankari is one of Lucknow’s best-known textile décors where white thread is embroidered on cool, pastel shades of light muslin and cotton garments. Nowadays chikan embroidery is experimented with coloured and silk threads to meet the fashion trends and keep chikankari up-to-date. Additional embellishments like Mukaish, Kamdani, Badla, Kamdani, sequin, bead and mirror work are adopted to not only give a rich and trendy look but to help keep up with current fashion trends. Chikan embroidery is mostly done on fabrics like cotton, semi-Georgette, pure Georgette, crepe, chiffon, silk and tussars. The process of chikankari which includes Designing, Engraving, Block printing, Embroidery, Washing and finishing, the patterns and effects created depend on the stitches and the thicknesses of the threads used. In all there are some 32 stitches some of them being tepchi, jaali and murri. Thus constant overhaul to cater to the ever changing fashion needs has made LucknowiChikankari most popular and world renowned.

Kantha Embroidery from West Bengal:

An indigenous household craft made by the rural women in West Bengal Kantha embroidery is a specialty of Bolpur-Santiniketan and remains the most creative of all embroidery styles in this part of India. The origin of Kantha embroidery traces its history to a period not less than a thousand years. Its images reaching back to even earlier sources, pre- and post- Vedic period, some symbols such as the tree of life, the swirling cosmos, and the sun are taken from the primitive art. The later influence of Hinduism in Kantha embroidery for religious ceremonies, pujas, weddings and births, gave the art its place as a vehicle of significant cultural meaning. Different types of Kantha embroidery include Sujani kantha, Durjani kantha, Lep kantha, Archilata kantha, Rumal kantha and Oaar kantha.

Gota from Gujarat:

A form of appliqué in gold thread, Gotapatti is used for adorning saree borders in Gujarat. Small pieces of zari ribbons that are styled by hand are sewn onto the saree borders to create elaborate patterns. Lengths of wider golden ribbons are stitched on the edges of the saree to create an effect of gold zari work. Khandela in Shekhawati is famous for its manufacture. The Muslim community uses Kinari or edging, a fringed border decoration. Gota-kinari is practiced mainly in neighboring Rajasthan utilizing fine shapes of bird, animals, human figures which are cut and sewn onto the material.

 Phulkari of Punjab:

Phulkari derived from Phul meaning flower and Kari meaning work, is the most famous embroidery form of Punjab and finds a mention in the famous folklore of Punjab, HeerRanjha by Waris Shah. It’s history backdates to 15th century in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign.The most distinctive property of phulkari is that the base is a dull hand-spun or khadi cloth, with bright coloured threads that cover it completely, leaving no gaps. It uses a darn stitch done from the wrong side of the fabric using darning needles, one thread at a time, leaving a long stitch below to form the basic pattern. Phulkari is practiced ardently in cities of Punjab like Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ambala, Ludhiana, Faridkot, and Kapurthala. The art form inspires neighbouring states to also practice this art form including Gurgaon, Karnal, Hissar, Rohtak in Haryana and Delhi. Bagh is considered an offshoot of phulkari and almost always follows a geometric pattern, with green as its basic colour.


Zari or Zardozi that comes from the two Persian words Zar meaning gold and Dozi meaning embroidery is the most ancient and opulent form of Indian embroidery. Known since the late 16th century brought in by the Mughals, this form of embroidery uses metallic threads like gold, silver or copper. Real gold and silver threads was used on silk brocade once upon a time where Metal ingots were melted and pressed through perforated steel sheets to convert into wires, which then were hammered to the required thinness. Plain wire is called “badla and when wound round a thread, it is called “kasav”. Smaller spangles are called “sitara” and tiny dots made of badla are called “mukais” or “mukesh”. Zardozi is either a synonym or a more elaborate version of zari where the gold or silver embroidery is embellished with pearls and precious stones, gota and kinari, making this art only affordable by rich people. Nowadays Zardosi thread has a plastic core and a golden-coloured outside. The thread consists of coiled metal wires placed on the right side of the fabric and couched with a thinner thread.

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