The Embroidered Silk Fiesta
on the festive silk garments
One trend that remains stable in the choice of fabrics for the festive season is silk. Come what may, the allure of the soft silk fabric is never-ending. What adds to the beauty of the fabric is its excellent drapability and the expansive amount of work that can be done on it. The hand-woven silk is well known with its repertoire in mulberry, tussar, eri and muga. However, the mill made silk fabrics also add allure to a garment. Lightweight and with excellent fall, silk can be draped in innumerable ways. What stands out this season is its use in plains, printed and further embellished with embroidery, tassels and other detailings. The collections call it ‘prêt’, ‘mass’ or ‘couture’; it is rich with the use of metal embroidery. With India’s extensive tradition of gold embroidery, there is plenty of scope for experimentation. Walk into any exhibition catering to the festive season, almost every piece of apparel has the ubiquitous presence of metal embroidery. The colour of the metal may vary from gold, silver, copper to an aged bronze look, but the embellishment is omnipresent. The fabrics are sheer, with layering thrown in, and the material ranging from pure silk, chiffon and georgette to crushed crepes. Silk is available in plenty and procured from both India and China.
Walk down the lanes of anyny shopping market in Delhi–they are filled to thee brim with clothes, and topping the list is the glitter-worked apparel. Along with it are available a host of adornments which can be added to the clothes, ranging from small purses, pillows, cute ends, tassels, beads, little bits of metal and more. The colours are metallic, from pure gold to dull understated copper antique finishes.
What has emerged over the last few years is that very fine work is being done and craftsmen are getting a good price for their work. Several forms of metal embroidery which did not make it to the forefront are today much sought after. Words like ‘ marodi’ and ‘ mukke ka kaam’ which were a part of the vocabulary of a few is today oft repeated. What stands out is that zari embroidery can be seen throughout the country, from Kerala to Kashmir. The Mughal influence led to the incorporation of metal into embroidery across the country. It is done using an awl and needle, with a variety of small bits of gold in various shapes.
In the use of embellishments for the silk garments, one can see a display of nearly all kinds of hand embroidery from India, including zardozi, kalabattu doozi, tilla dori from Kashmir, mukke ka kaam, danke ka kaam, marodi, makkaish, etc. Zardozi is the commonest of the forms. It is heavier metal work which is done on heavy silks and velvets. It embraces in its fold a number of techniques which use metal in various forms and manners. This is only a minimal simplistic depiction of zardozi, done using the needle and awl. Zardozi includes many techniques and materials crafted out of pure gold or substitutes. A lot of semi-precious and paste stones are used in the embroidery today, which is teamed with tassels, purses, etc.
While zardozi is done on the heavier silk fabrics, it is kamdani which is done on lighter fabrics such as chiffon and georgette. In lightweight silk fabrics, kamdani creates a beautiful vision of glitter which is present, yet is very subtle and refined. It is not jarring, but sophisticated and understated. However, today craftsmen do heavy work on lightweight fabrics as well. The technique of kamdani using the badla metal wire or strip is very interesting. The badla wire is attached to a needle, which is plied onto the cloth to create minute stitches on the motif. This creates motifs which are worked on both sides of the fabric. The motifs are embroidered upon using the badla wire with a needle. The making of the badla wire is an interesting process. This is used aplenty on the garments. Zardozi in its realm encompasses several styles, one of them being Fardi ka kaam. This is also known as makkaish in Punjab and badla in Gujarat. Here the silver wires are worked into the fabric such that they create small dots across the fabric. A silk dupatta, shawl or sari done with this kind of work looks marvellous. The small bhuttis or tiny dots simply sprinkle on the fabric like a thousand stars, making it seem as if a host of stars have descended on the fabric.
Another languishing craft which has come into the limelight recently is danke ka kaam. It can be seen very commonly on Rajasthani fabrics. The embroidery uses flat metal pieces which are very finely integrated into the designs and motifs. It is a very beautiful craft practised by the Bohra Muslim community of Udaipur. The work was initially done using real gold bits. Now silver bits plated with gold are used. Thin sheets of gold are electroplated using gold in larger strips, which are cut into conical shapes and then affixed on to the patterned background. It is a very tedious and painstaking work and is known very little outside the area.
Mukke ka kaam, again a very little known craft, is practised in the Barmer region of Rajasthan by the Meghwal community. Very fine embroidery is done using the couching technique such that the base of the fabric is hardly visible. The mukka thread, which is silver or gold thread, is kept on the motif and couched into place using plain cotton thread. This lasts and gives the fabric a new look. Traditionally, this is done on thicker fabric.
Similar is the tilla dori or gold embroidery from Kashmir, which is done on almost everything, from pashmina shawls, stoles and kurtas to sari borders, woollen saris and pherans. It is again done using the couched technique. The work is extremely fine and delicate and
done with precision. Marodi embroidery from Gujarat is another speciality from the by-lanes of Ahmedabad, done with an awl. It is intricate gold work done using aari on gajji silk or satin cloth.
Several designers like Asif Shaikh have been experimenting with using real gems and real gold zari in their embroidery work. Asif Shaikh has got the special aath maasi zari recreated through hereditary pattern drawers in Benares. Pure zari or gold thread is used in weaving, but it does not find a place in the embroidery work. It took Asif Shaikh several meetings to be able to get a craftsman to make fine gold zari thread for embroidery. Shaikh was particular about the quality and size of the thread and worked relentlessly till he got the final result. He has also used real rubies and pearls in embroidery. The use of precious gems goes back to the Mughal period.
The festive season is replete with fine embellishments on silk ghaghras, cholis, dupattas, shararas, skirts, saris and more. The bridal wear, of course, celebrates these fine embellishments with some innovative colour combinations. The various types of gold work done in India are mind-boggling. The subtleness varies from community to community. From the royalty to the common man, gold embroidery does glitter in India. So it is not surprising to see it still in fashion and surviving well. It is the designers who have given this embroidery a contemporary twist. It is thanks to their intervention that some very fine work is being executed. Since there is a market for it and price realisation is possible, many of the craftsmen survive on it and well. And with the festive season at our heels, these silk embroideries are surely in demand and en vogue!
h S @ t t r s c . k m