Various rulers like the Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, and Dogras occupied Kashmir over the centuries. The rulers of all of these empires patronized Kashida embroidery to extensively adorn shawls for the royal family to wear as well as use as gifts among the royalties. These were heavily adorned and intricately embroidered. These shawls soon started getting famous among the locals and residents of Kashmir and varied versions of the shawls in the weight of the embroidery and the luxurious aspect of the shawls were introduced. For centuries, it has been widely used and worn by women and men not only in Kashmir but also all over the country and the world, bringing it a lot of fame and renounce. The uses have also blotted out to readymade garments and accessories like bags, belts etc. The craft has also spread onto home furnishings. The petit-point embroidery is used to adorn wall hangings and floor-coverings. Crewel-work on the other hand, is used chiefly for drapes.
"It is essentially a child of landscape and bountiful nature and is, therefore, as varied in it's richness, as superb in its beauty". The floral motifs with their inexhaustible display of colours, variegated birds, luscious fruits, majestic mountains, shimmering lakes - all find a place in Kashmir embroidery' ~ Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay
The Kashmiri embroidery is said to go through many skilled hands before completion. No single piece is ever done wholly by one person. The various threads and raw materials too are sourced from various places, and put together to form vibrant patterns. Yarns and/or plain shawls, which are dyed and treated are distributed for embroidering. The work is carried about privately in households or in groups at the Karkhanas / workshops. Training centres are another commonly seen feature, which have come up in large numbers owing to the growing demand for embroidered products.
An interesting and peculiar fact about Kashmiri craftsmen is that - almost all craftsmen embroider using their right hand. There are very few or no left-handed craftsmen. The craftsmen use a thimble called Nyatth, on the fourth finger of the right hand. This is used to push the needle into thick cloth. When the thimble is not used, the finger is dipped in mustard oil to enable the smooth movement of the stem.
'Zangvaitth' is the posture in which the embroiderers sit while working. They sit with their knees up, with their back against a wall. A thick hard cushion or a wooden plank at an angle, act as backrests. Men are said to be mostly working on Kashmiri embroidery while women prepare the yarn.
Sozni work on Pashmina - by men
Less fine sozni - by women
Rezkar, Petit-point - by both men and women
Papier mache embroidery - by men mainly
Watchikan - by women
Myths & Legends
Zain-ul-Abadin (1400-1470) was believed to have introduced fine weaving to the valley. Embroiderers are said to have copied the patterns on these shawls. A local legend claims that the idea for embroidering came from a raffoogar or darner called Ali-Baba, who lived in the time of the Afghan ruler Azad Khan.
Ali-baba noticed the imprint of a fowl's feet on a plain white sheet. He then went ahead and embroidered the outline with coloured thread, which gave a beautiful effect. An Armenian trader called Yusuf Khan came from Constantinople to Kashmir in 1803, to purchase woven shawls. He found that these were very expensive.
The taxation and sale prices on them, made these shawls less sought after in the foreign markets. It is believed that this was when he came up with the idea of copying the patterns on the shawls using thread and needle. Thereby came about the ingenious plan since embroidered shawls were exempted from taxes and were attractive. The Govt. duty levied on the loom shawl in 1823 amounted to 26 per cent of the value. Khwaja Yusuf joined hands with Ali-baba for its execution. This led to the revival of the Kashmiri shawl industry, which was crumbling under stiff competition from cheaper versions, produced in Lyons and Paisley. This was popularly known as the Amli shawl.
In Kashmir, embroidery evolved under court patronage. This fact sets it apart from the other kinds of embroidery found in India. Kashida-kari, the local name, was not sewn for trousseaus or functional uses. Nor was it a medium for carrying forward folk traditions.
Another characteristic is the fact, unlike other areas, most of the craftspeople are men. This is believed to be due to the influence of the Sayyids, who strove to propagate the Muslim way of life - which included separate spaces for men and women. The Kashmiri embroidery was the product of Persian influence. It's name 'Kashida' is derived from Persian for free-flowing cursive writing.
In 1803 there were only a few raffoogars available with the necessary skill for the work. Twenty years later, there were estimated to be five thousand - many of them having been drawn from the ranks of former landholders, dispossessed of their property by Ranjit Singh in 1819, when Kashmir was invaded and annexed to the Sikh kingdom. There is, however, no evidence to trace the exact time of origin since textiles are perishable. Very few pre-17th century pieces have survived. In the absence of actual pieces, paintings have proven to be ample evidence. 11th Century wall paintings found in the Alchi monastery of Ladakh show exquisite embroidered garments worn by the figures.
Kani shawls, patterned using the intricate technique of interlocking twill tapestry, were highly sought after during the Mughal period (1586-1752). Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, embroidery had become fairly advances. There were court workshops set up by the Mughals in Delhi. There is a mention of the shawls in the Ain-i-Akbari. In Kashmir, therefore, the embroidery took a backseat with the Kani technique. The Mughal empire declined and in 1752 the Afghan ruler Ahmed Shah Durrani conquered the valley. His rule was tyrannous and the people faced many hardships. The Afghans utilized the shawl industry to derive maximum revenue, but overlooked the conditions of the craftsmen. The Mughals, like Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, created initiatives to develop the shawl further. They implemented policies that assessed the quality of the material; the colors used to dye the fabric, sought efficiencies on the production line, and enhanced the overall versatility of the final piece. Each subsequent Mughal ruler reassessed techniques and methods of creating shawls, honing them into finer, luxury products. This created high demand and growth in the industry. The Afghans subsequently ruled after the Mughals, greatly modifying the traditional shawl and introducing the square or moon shawls, with distinct colors and patterns that differed vastly from the Mughal era.
Meanwhile, the Sikhs slowly gained power and were acquiring their foothold in the valley. The coming of Sikhs introduced bold colours in the embroideries, as well as human figures. The earlier strong Islamic tradition forbade the use of figurative decorations. Shawls called Shikargah came into being with embroidered depictions of Shikar / hunting scenes on silk. The Sikhs followed the Afghans and played a role in how shawls and wraps were used, by understanding the versatility and durability of these pieces. They used them not only for wearing, but for ornamental purposes as well as shrouds. By the end of the 17th century, the shawls were not only well recognized in Kashmir and the Asian subcontinent but also in Europe and Far East Asia.
Finally the Dogras ruled after the Sikhs of Kashmir and contributed heavily in the embroidering aspect of the shawl. They improved techniques, designs, and colors. It was during their era that the do-rukha shawls came to exist, where the embroidery is visible and wearable on either side of the shawl. The French trading companies later introduced two styles for export, which were popular in Europe. One was where the entire surface of the cloth was covered with intricate threadwork consisting of florals and human figures. The other one was the standard square shawl pattern with a medallion in the centre and quarter medallions in the four corners. By the end of the 19th century, there was a decline in demand for the embroidered shawls. This led to the craftsmen taking up carpet weaving. The rest resorted to making cheaper versions. Since embroidery was not a domestic craft, it was concentrated in the workshops. Master craftsmen spearheaded these. After a slump, these had slowly developed into small manufacturing units. The units had the weavers, pattern makers, dyers and embroiderers all under one roof. The products came to be marketed in outlets in the city. In order to aid the process, they started to give embroidery work to small groups who could work at home. It was done parallel to farming, in the winter months when the fields could not be worked.
The Kashmiri embroidery is known to draw inspiration from the gentle colours of its landscape. The elaborate designs from the days of the Kani Shawls are still seen. A single sided embroidery pattern is called Aksi, meaning reflection in a mirror. The thread is split into half by a fine needle. Then only that portion of weft thread is picked up which is visible on one side. When the same technique is done on both sides, it is called Dorukha.
- Sozni or Sozankar - Fine and delicate embroidery, mostly done on Pashmina shawls.
- Chikandozi - Medium fine needlework
- Rezkar - Embroidery in multi-coloured threads and broad stitches
- Watchikan - Raised flower and floral designs in golden thread on Raffal shawls
- Jalakdozi - Hookwork embroidery done in staple yarn
- Jamwara Patterns - the pattern, which covers the entire shawl.
- Jalidar designs - Arabesques or net-like designs.
- Khatraash - Lines, either diagonal or vertical
- Dordar Khurd - Broad border of embroidery on 2 ends of the shawl, with a minimum width of 3 inches.
- Bootidar - shawls with small motifs or bootees
- Chaarbadam - four paisley forms
The craftsmen have modified the traditional motifs of Islamic and Persian influence to something with a distinct Kashmiri characteristic. The most popular of those are the Gulab pattern and the Badam or almond pattern. It is also known as Shawl-tarah. Another commonly seen motif is that of the Sarav or Cypress. This is similar to the Badam shape but is long and tapering. Stylised versions of the Sarav are also created which has floral, intertwining and curvilinear additions. The craftsmen also use motifs of the Chinar leaf. This is the five-pointed leaf of the Chinar tree which has come to be the symbol of growth in Kashmir. Calligraphic forms are also used in the embroideries. Some of the other motifs which are commonly used are :
- Pamposh or lotus
- Sosan or Iris
- Dachh or vine
- Sumbal / Yambarzal or hyacinth and narcissus
- Dainposh or pomegranate
Abstracted forms of birds and animals are also seen in the recent designs. Lions, rabbits, wild cats, deers, horses, bulbuls, partridges, herons, ducks etc are most represented. Human figures appear in the patterns whenever requested by the clients and when there is an increasing demand. Especially in themes like the Shikargah (hunting ground) or the Jangal-tarah (jungle scenes). The Pherans traditionally have embroidery around the neck, front opening, hem and at the end of the sleeves.
The stitches used were simple, the chief being satin stitch, stem stitch and chain stitch. Occasionally, the darning and herringbone are used. Crewel embroidery is done with the use of hook. Kashida is general term for Kashmir embroidery, which includes other stitches as Zalakdo (chain stitch), Vatachik (Buttonhole stitch), Talibar (work of gold). One outstanding feature of the embroidery is the fact that it is made with a single thread giving a flat, formalized appearance to the design. The satin stitch has been adopted to cover larger surface without pulling the cloth. It has become the variation of long and short stitch. Chain is used only in inferior places and never on expensive piece of work. The Indian customer sets a great store by embroidery which displays the same fineness on both sides so as to make the wrong side distinguishable from right and Kashmiri workman has made himself adapt at this art.
a. SOZANI: The Sozani stitch can be a simple continuous line as an outline or a diamond shaped outline used for petals and flowers. It can also be used in filling up of a motif with small stitches. It al- ways has a reinforcing stitch over it. The stitches are so fine that there is very little embroidery visible on the re- Integrated Design & Technical Development, May 2011
verse side of the fabric. The graceful outlining of each petal and flower accurately is also another reference to assess skill and fine craftsmanship. Sozani embroidery is minute work and highly skill and time intensive. There- fore it is also expensive. Good Sozani work is exclusively used to add value to products for high end market segments. There are many qualities of Sozani embroi- dery beingpracticed today. The same pattern can be rendered in many ways depending on the price that the client is willing to pay.
1. The very fine Sozani work uses the Sozani stitch for outlining of the motif with a darker shade of thread while the filling up is done with the same fine Sozani stitches but in a different colour. There is no visible gap between the outline and the filling. The motifs are also outlined several times in shades of colour. The empty spaces outside the motif are also rendered with fine stitches of a different colour. It appears very compact and is also most expensive and therefore used on high value prod- ucts like silks, pure Pashmina wool and crepes
2. The less intricate work uses a combination of fine So- zani stitches for the outlining of the motif and larger stitches like satin stitch for filling up of the motif even sometimes using Vatachikan stitches for thicker fillings. Larger button hole stitch or herring bone stitch is used to fill up empty curved or straight background spaces in between different motifs.
3. The inferior quality of Sozani embroidery uses mostly large satin and Vatachikan stitches to delineate the motif with no outlining at all. The creeper and leaves are also rendered in large sized stem stitches and rarely employs any reinforcing stitch. These are not as long lasting as the original Sozani embroidery and is usually done on products for mass market. The demand of the Sozini embroidery has, in recent times, expanded to a range of applications like saris, dress materials, accessories and home furnishings. Like wise, the range of fabrics that Sozani embroidery is being done on has also expanded to various fabric types like cotton, silk, chiffon, silk crepes and spun polyester.
b.CREWEL EMBROIDERY: Chain stitch embroidery is done with a hook called 'Aari'. It uses silk thread, cotton and wool. The chain stitch embroidery is done on a hand woven cloth or canvas base that covers the entire surface of the fabric. The motifs related to this embroidery range from flowery pat- terns to animals. This embroidery is done in two or three ply yarns. The crewel embroidery of Kashmir is basically chain stitch, done with a hook. It is done with thin wool thread on cotton fabric or linen. It involves an assortment of stitches that includes French knot, long, short, chain, vine and satin stitch. The usual application is on upholstery and drapery items. The designs include mostly creepers and stylized flowers. The embroidery usually does not cover the whole surface. The most conventional design in crewel embroidery features a style that is recognized as â€œJacobean styleâ€.
The motifs are available in a variety of colors, ranging from a sole color to multi- hued embroidery. The crewel embroidery fabric is available in bolts and is sold according to the length. It is 54 inches in width and 25- 29 meters in length, and the price is decided according to the extent of embroidery done on it. The various crewel items available in the market are cushion covers, bed sheets, curtains, bags, shams, throws and table covers, among others. These items make for domestic furnishing and can be both machine and hand washed. This embroidery is a very popular embellished art form, which came into existence around the 13th century. Al- though the origin of this art is still not confirmed, it is believed to have come from France, Rome and Egypt.
Most Kashmiri craftsmen are farmers and they work on the embroidery when farming is done. They are equally dependent on both occupations. The embroidery is very fine and detailed, and thereby more time consuming. The income usually does not last them through the making of the pieces, despite the income from farming. This has led to the emergence of 'easier' methods of embroidery and lower quality of the shawls.