Age old rural tradition of hand embroidery: Phulkari

Phulkari | IIM A | Crafting Luxury

Phulkari is an age old rural tradition of hand embroidery. Phul translates into flower and kari translates into craft. So, Phulkari simply means flower craft. It originated as a creative activity in the households, wherein women would stitch beautiful flower embroideries on dupattas, shawls and scarves. This was not done with a commercial purpose but to just brighten up the regularly used items. The widely loved Phulkari work is the red phulkari as it is considered auspicious and commonly used during festivities and celebrations.

Even though this art is being imitated by the textile industry, nothing can beat the hand embroidered phulkari work. Earlier the techniques and patterns that were used to make these motifs were unique to each Punjabi family and that is how they would identify each other. The embroidery work is done mainly on cotton fabric and its quality can be evaluated by knowing the regularity of the surface.

Hand Embroidery | IIMA | Crafting Luxury


Embroidery work was invariably made on a plain cotton fabric (khaddar) whose thread was manually spinned, loomed and dyed with natural pigments. Its quality was evaluated according to the fineness and regularity of its surface. Khaddar could be of four colours, white being given to mature women or widows while red was associated with youth and was by far the most widespread tone. It is noteworthy that the most ancient fragments of red dyed (using madder) cotton fabric were found in Punjab and would date back to Harappa Civilization (Age of Bronze). Black and blue colours were kept for everyday worn shawls as they prevented from revealing stains and dirt. The complete khaddar was always made of two or three stripes which were approximately 50cm wide. Depending on the region, these stripes were sewed before or after the embroidery work. It seems that, in West Punjab (Pakistan), the joining was done afterwards. This explains the slightly distorted designs that can be found at times on some pieces of this origin. It is important to note that Punjab, known for its cotton cultivations, was a very appropriate area for a local production of khaddar.

Nowadays designers have started incorporating phulkari embroidery on contemporary silhouettes as well. One can also find sarees, suits, dupattas and ethnic jackets accented with this embroidery. This vibrant and beautiful craft will always remain a part of the Indian culture and tradition.

Source : Indian Roots


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