Sew Spe­cial

Prof Anne Mor­rell is a tex­tile artist, author, and former lec­turer at The Manch­ester Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity, UK. Born in Chen­nai, Mor­rell is an ex­pert in the field of em­broi­dery, his­toric and eth­nic tex­tiles, par­tic­u­larly of the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent. Bri

Apparel - - Contents - Prof Anne Mor­rell

Ex­plor­ing the wealth of In­dian em­broi­dery in a con­ver­sa­tion with Prof. Anne Mor­rell


Trav­el­ling across In­dia and meet­ing tex­tile ar­ti­sans from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, one comes across a won­der­ful spec­trum of tra­di­tional In­dian tex­tile tech­niques. Th­ese are worked into dif­fer­ent fab­rics, in a va­ri­ety of ex­pres­sions. In re­cent years, In­dian em­broi­dery has been en­joy­ing greater pa­tron­age, and is be­ing sported by men, women and chil­dren on daily as well as fes­tive wear, on In­dian, West­ern and Indo-West­ern gar­ments and on at­tires of dif­fer­ent sea­sons. This in­di­cates the im­mense po­ten­tial of tra­di­tional In­dian em­broi­dery tech­niques, which are be­ing ex­plored by ar­ti­sans and de­sign­ers who prac­tise it on a range of dif­fer­ent ap­parel. THREAD­ING GROUNDS Tra­di­tion­ally, most em­broi­deries in In­dia (with some ex­cep­tions like pash­mina em­broi­dery from Kash­mir, ari from Gu­jarat and zar­dozi from Ut­tar Pradesh) have been cre­ated by women for non-com­mer­cial pur­poses. This is be­cause th­ese women ex­per­i­mented with stitch­ing dur­ing their leisure hours, and ex­changed tech­niques with other fe­male fam­ily mem­bers and friends, cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful styles of tex­tile adorn­ment.

Yet, in the past decades, with the in­creas­ing de­mand for em­broi­dery to add em­bel­lish­ments on gar­ments, more men have taken up em­broi­dery. From be­ing lim­ited to homes, em­broi­deries have now en­tered the realm of work­shops and stu­dios of tex­tile and fash­ion de­sign­ers. Af­ter a large de­mand, ma­chine em­broi­dery soon made an en­try into the mar­ket, and quickly spread in pop­u­lar­ity due to its rel­a­tive af­ford­abil­ity and faster speed com­pared to hand­made em­broi­dery.


“Em­broi­dery is the em­bel­lish­ment of fab­ric, en­rich­ing it with a nee­dle and thread. Stitches are pro­duced by nee­dle and the thread be­ing in­serted and brought out of the fab­ric at spe­cific in­ter­vals. This ac­tion, the rep­e­ti­tion of ac­tions, and group­ing of threads, can pro­duce an end­less va­ri­ety of sur­faces and com­bi­na­tions of ef­fects. This makes em­broi­dery a re­source that can be used by ar­ti­sans and de­sign­ers to cre­ate var­ied ef­fects on ap­parel,” says Prof Anne Mor­rell, a tex­tile artist, author, and former lec­turer at The Manch­ester Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity, UK, who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on In­dian em­broi­deries for the Cal­ico Mu­seum of Tex­tiles, Ahmed­abad.

“Em­broi­dery can be used for dec­o­ra­tive or sym­bolic mean­ing, for a prac­ti­cal pur­pose such as strength­en­ing a fab­ric, or be used as a mark or sur­face in fine art work. Apart from the main sur­face dec­o­ra­tion, em­broi­dery stitches can be used on edges, seams, to join fab­rics to­gether when fab­ric is in­serted or in patch­work, to ap­ply fab­rics as in ap­pliqué, to hold lay­ers to­gether as seen in quilt­ing which in­cludes at­tire such as jack­ets, to pull the fab­ric into gath­ers and thus to re­duce the sur­face area as seen in smock­ing that is gen­er­ally worked on front pan­els in women’s and girl’s dresses, and to cre­ate eye­lets in the fab­ric by pulling warp and weft to­gether.” In this way, by study­ing stitches, its im­mense po­ten­tial can be ex­plored.


The sheer va­ri­ety of stitches that one comes across in In­dia makes em­broi­dery a valu­able re­source for em­bel­lish­ing fab­rics. Among the more prom­i­nent stitches are the run­ning stitch, as seen on kan­tha em­broi­dery; chain stitch as seen on Kutch and pash­mina em­broi­dery; her­ring­bone stitch on the main face of the fab­ric as well as on the re­verse as is in­ge­niously worked (from the re­verse) to cast a shadow on the main face of the fab­ric in chikan work; and darn­ing stitch as worked from the re­verse of the fab­ric on phulka­ris and baghs.

“In­dian em­broi­der­ers use stitch, thread and fab­ric in in­ven­tive ways to cre­ate dif­fer­ent ef­fects. By chang­ing any one of th­ese three el­e­ments, the work also changes its look, and this at­tribute is used by ar­ti­sans to cre­ate in­ter­est­ing em­broi­dered fab­rics. For in­stance, the stem stitch can be taken around a wo­ven mo­tif, and be used to re­in­force the weave, to make trail­ing lines, lines to join shapes and to com­plete a de­sign. The but­ton­hole stitch can be worked in lines on a fab­ric or on the edge of fab­ric, with var­i­ous spac­ings of the stitch. It is also used in lit­tle groups of three to make a small spot. The her­ring­bone stitch is a very ver­sa­tile stitch. The stitches only have to be worked closer to­gether, an­other row worked on top, or the row in­ter­laced and the ef­fect changes.”

Prof Mor­rell adds that not only are the stitches used in In­dian em­broi­dery recog­nised for their diver­sity, they are also val­ued for the var­ied shapes made by us­ing them cre­atively, by the neg­a­tive shapes achieved in the un­worked ar­eas of the fab­ric, by the size and spac­ing of the stitches, by the types of fab­rics and threads used to cre­ate dif­fer­ent ef­fects, and by the com­bi­na­tion of stitches used to­gether in a par­tic­u­lar piece.


By vary­ing threads, nee­dles and/or fab­ric, dif­fer­ent looks can be cre­ated. For in­stance, by work­ing white em­broi­dery on white fab­ric, an ethe­real look

ideal for sum­mer gar­ments is cre­ated. By work­ing metal­lic thread on a fab­ric, a dec­o­ra­tive look is cre­ated that is suited for for­mal and/or fes­tive gar­ments. By us­ing ‘richer’ fab­rics such as vel­vet or silk, the fes­tive look is made re­gal. This is fur­ther en­hanced by metal thread em­broi­dery in many cases. By us­ing an ari (a long nee­dle with hook at one end), a very fine chain stitch can be worked to cre­ate prac­ti­cally any mo­tif.

Mor­rell ex­pounds, “Sur­face dec­o­ra­tion of evenly wo­ven net­ted fab­rics can be worked with dif­fer­ent stitches. Evenly wo­ven fab­rics lend them­selves to counted thread work as seen in phulkari and

soof em­broi­dery. Sim­i­larly, net­ted fab­rics can be em­bel­lished by counted thread work or net em­broi­dery. Sur­face dec­o­ra­tion of other fab­rics can be done by the ad­di­tion of stitches by hand or ma­chine stitches as well as through ari work. It can also be done by the ad­di­tion of fab­ric such as ap­pliqué, by the ad­di­tion of metal threads, by the ad­di­tion of beads, and by the ad­di­tion of padding, which cre­ates a raised sur­face, use­ful for em­broi­dery or ap­pliqué.”


Em­broi­dery, in terms of the choice of stitch and fab­ric it is worked on, can be de­signed/cre­ated for par­tic­u­lar sea­sons as well as spe­cific looks such as ca­sual, ca­sual chic, bo­hemian, fes­tive and wed­ding. For in­stance, for sum­mer wear, an ar­ti­san or de­signer can rely on chikan work. De­signed with light, semi-trans­par­ent fab­ric, this tech­nique lends it­self to a spec­trum of stitches that can be worked on the sur­face of the fab­ric, on the re­verse of the fab­ric cast­ing their ef­fect on the main sur­face and also by ma­nip­u­lat­ing the very threads of the fab­ric. Tra­di­tion­ally, chikan was done us­ing white threads on white cot­ton, but it is now worked on dif­fer­ent fab­rics (chif­fons and geor­gettes), us­ing white as well as coloured threads on coloured fab­rics, thus ex­pand­ing the reper­toire of the tech­nique. The in­te­gra­tion of mir­rors and se­quins has added fur­ther beauty to the ex­pres­sion.

Once the mak­ing of a stitch and its move­ment has been un­der­stood, a va­ri­ety of ef­fects can be achieved by it. Mor­rell con­cludes, “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, I have ob­served that by prac­tic­ing a stitch in both reg­u­lar and ir­reg­u­lar ways, with dif­fer­ent threads and on dif­fer­ent fab­rics, an em­broi­derer can cre­ate a va­ri­ety of ef­fects. The run­ning stitch, an ap­par­ently sim­ple mark and move­ment, is one of the most ver­sa­tile of stitches. It is de­vel­oped into a long and short stitch by chang­ing the length of the stitch; a French knot when a twist of the thread is made around the nee­dle be­fore en­ter­ing the fab­ric; and it is used to ap­ply beads and metal el­e­ments. By mas­ter­ing the sim­ple run­ning stitch, one can work its many vari­a­tions, namely, whipped run­ning stitch, laced run­ning stitch, in­ter­laced run­ning stitch, in­ter­laced dou­ble run­ning stitch, laced stepped dou­ble stitch, tre­ble run­ning stitch, darn­ing stitch, line dou­ble run­ning stitch, dou­ble run­ning stitch, dou­ble run­ning steps, dog-tooth edge, and bat­tle­ment line stitch. The pat­tern po­ten­tial of a stich is ex­cit­ing to ex­plore.”

With such a diver­sity of tra­di­tional as well as newer stitches in In­dia, ar­ti­sans and de­sign­ers have an ocean of in­spi­ra­tion to draw from to cre­ate at­trac­tive, el­e­gant and beau­ti­ful em­broi­dered ap­parel.

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