Tag Archives: indigenous embroidery

Jewels of the Desert – Indigenous Embroidery Styles

A snapshot of four different embroidery styles from the  region comprising the barren, desert lands of Kutch and Saurashtra in Gujarat to western Rajasthan and the Thar Parkar district of Sind in Pakistan, which has been described as the world’s richest source of indigenous embroidery.  From the bold flamboyant style of the nomadic Rabaris, to the delicate geometric patterns of the Rajput, to the intricate embroidery of the Jats, to the figurative style of the Kanbi, each tribal group passes on its own style, colours, range of stitches and motifs from generation to generation yet each piece is unique.   Each piece was painstakingly embroidered by a prospective bride for her dowry or a mother or wife for her family or her home and each piece reflects not only tribal traditions but also the individual artistic interpretation and abilities of the embroiderer.

Detail-Rabari-dowry-sack

Detail from Nagina in the Maud collection, originally part of a Rabari saddle bag, Kutch, Gujarat

Exotic patterns from the nomadic Rabari camel breeders, cattle herders and shepherds.  Bold, vibrant, designs in pink, orange, blue and green thread featuring abstract motifs, like the stylised parrots in hot pink in the centre.

Detail-small-Rabari-bag

Detail from a Rajput chakla (a square wall hanging), Saurashtra, Gujarat

A subtle geometric style from the Rajputs a ruling cast of farmers and herders.  Their work is characterised by square and diamond patterns, open chain stitch and shisha or abla (pieces of mirrored glass).  I love the mix of colours in this piece which will be available in our store soon.

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Detail from the bodice of a Jat choli (traditional backless blouse), Kutch, Gujarat

Abstract florals and geometric patterns are characteristic of Jat embroidery, known for its intricacy and density.  The embroidery is set out in a grid like structure with rows of round or pear shaped shisha or abla (mirrored glass work) and the pattern will typically cover the fabric.

Ganesh-chakla-Kanbir

Detail from a Kanbi chakla (wall hanging), Saurashtra, Gujarat

Figurative embroidery from the Kanbi, a farming caste.  The Kanbi is known for its wall hangings depicting images of Ganesh, the elephant- headed God, the remover of obstacles to happiness.  This piece will be available in the Maud collection soon.

We would love to hear what you think about these different styles.

Jewels of the desert – the Maud collection

There is a story behind each of the products in our launch collection so today I thought I would talk about our vintage, hand embroidered cushions and wall hangings, aptly described as “Jewels of the desert” because of the striking contrast between the vivid colours and the arid, desert region they originate from.  I came across this vibrant, intricate, embroidery two years ago whilst travelling in India and as I adore textiles and am passionate about design and colour I fell in love with them and was compelled to return to India to find out more about them.

I travelled to the dusty, barren, Kutch desert bordering Pakistan, a region where for generations embroidery has been an integral part of daily life for indigenous women.  Women were responsible for embroidering clothing for both domestic and ceremonial use.  It was customary to produce richly embellished pieces as part of a young women’s dowry and items would include clothing for the bride and groom, wedding shawls, quilt covers, wall hangings, small bags for tobacco and other products and saddle bags and other trappings for the livestock.

Traditionally girls would start embroidering items for their dowries from as young as six years old using stitches, symbols and motifs handed down from mother to daughter over generations and incorporating them into their own unique designs.  When you look at the embroidery in detail and see the complexity of the stitches you can appreciate that some of the pieces have taken months and sometimes longer to produce.

 

Saloni, fragments of ceremonial costumes

 

 

 

I was amazed by the diversity of embroidery styles and the range of colour combinations and I will talk about this in a later blog but briefly this is due to the fact that each indigenous group has its own style of embroidery, ranging from the geometric pieces of the semi nomadic camel breeding Jats, to the flamboyant open chain stitch embroidery of the nomadic Rabaris.  The embroidery serves more than a domestic purpose; it is a visual expression of cultural identity.  It is possible to determine the tribe, religion and social status of an individual from the style of embroidery a person is wearing.

Included here are two different styles of  dowry embroidery, the one above  is my favourite wall hanging, Saloni, which comprises sections of intricately embroidered ceremonial clothing using gold and silver  thread combined with pinks and blues.  The piece below, is Naguni, a piece of Rabari embroidery which was originally half of a saddle bag.

Naguni, Rabari embroiderySadly these intricate hand embroidered pieces are becoming rare.  Progress brings change and improved transportation, migration to cities for work, access to modern media combined with the introduction of synthetic fabrics like polyester and cheap ready-to-wear clothing have all contributed to the decline in traditional indigenous embroidery.  Economic hardship has forced women to work on cheap, mass produced imitations for the tourist trade for subsistence wages and some tribes, like the Rabaris, have banned dowry embroidery because the quantity of items demanded and the expense and time to produce them became too onerous on families.  Fortunately there are several NGOs working in the region trying to preserve this unique art form.