The Beauty of Intricacy
Asif Shaikh,S the Ahmedabad-based master embroiderer,emb has specialised in miniature hand embroideryemb that is worked on one-of-a-kind textilestextil and garments. Brinda Gill reports.
Throwing light on Ahmedabad-based master embroiderer Asif Shaikh specialises in miniature hand embroidery
“I know embroidery with a difference because I never learnt it mechmechanically. I thought of it as an art within me and made all the eefforts to nurture it. Gradually, with passing years, my encounencounter with the beautiful world of embroidery became strongestronger and my insight got deeper,” says master embroiderer Asif ShShaikh of his immensely fulfilling personal journey into the world oof Indian embroidery. Asif practises different traditional Indian embroidery techniques and focuses on aari, zardozi and chikankari. chikank He has taken his artistic abilities to another level by practispractising miniature embroidery, thus making each garment like a work of art with the fineness and the details of the stitches and momotifs.
With practice, Asif has been able to capture the beauty of different embroidery techniques in very fine stitches, and trained the team of artisans at his studio to do the same. Asif was awarded the World Crafts Council Award of Excellence by the international jury of the World Crafts Council in Jakarta in 2014 for a natural indigo dyed silk fabric scarf embellished with miniature chain stitch embroidery, worked using very fine handspun and natural-dyed cotton thread.
Asif predominantly uses the aari stitch and its variations on sari borders, garments, scarves and shawls. The embroidery is worked on a range of fabrics, namely khadi, cotton, Jamdani, linen, tanchoi, eri, muga, mulberry silk, raw silk, ahimsa silk, maheshwari and chanderi, each of which has its individual beauty. He selects a smooth weave for his miniature embroidery, as slubs make it difficult to work on miniature stitches. The yarn used for the embroidery also varies from fine cotton, silk, pashmina (on the pashmina shawl) and metallic yarn. The master embroiderer has also enhanced the beauty of miniature embroidery by using beetle wings, sourced from Thailand, on a few garments.
“The foundation for my delicate and fine embroidery is a guideline shared by an old master embroiderer. He said the language of fine embroidery meant keeping three words–‘ tod’ (that is break the embroidery/motif), ‘ mod’ (that is twist or turn the embroidery/motif) and ‘ jod’ (that is join the embroidery/motif)–in mind when creating a design. He said the tod, mod and jod of a motif should be absolutely smooth, so that it looks like a fluid motif when seen by the eye. As the embroiderer simply follows the drawn motif, if a drawn motif is perfect in terms of this principle, and the embroiderer is skilled, then the embroidered motif will also be perfect.”
Asif and his artisans create aari embroidery using the aar, a fine awl akin to the European tambour hook. “Chain stitch is the most popular stitch worked with the aari needle. Basic chain stitch can be worked with single, double, three and four ply threads which make stitches of varying fineness. For miniature embroidery, I use very fine yarn and a very fine aari needle.” Asif’s preferred choice of yarn to work on miniature aari embroidery is silk yarn from Thailand. As the yarn is half the thickness of a regular embroidery yarn, it allows for the miniature stitches to be worked on and infuses them with delicacy. The aari needle is also used to secure small beads and other elements such as small sequins onto fabric using minute stitches.
VARIATIONS OF CHAIN STITCH
Asif develops different stitches and looks from the basic chain stitch created with the aari needle, all of which are worked in miniature stitches. The bal tanka is the twisted chain stitch that creates the effect of a knot. This stitch creates a raised effect, which gives texture to the embroidery. Furthermore, this stitch, when worked with silk yarn, shines because of the twist of the stitch, and thus gives the motif visual beauty. The second variation of the aari stitch is the batt, that is the chain stitch worked in very close lines to fill the motifs.
Palti tanka is the third variation, where after every second stitch the embroiderer takes a stitch back, and works a stitch on top of the second stitch, thus creating a knotted effect on the second (every alternate stitch). The fourth variation is lot, which is a closely worked long chain stitch that looks similar to a satin stitch. This stitch is especially used for motifs like leaves, where a part of the motif is padded to create a curve. The lot thus helps in creating a raised surface and giving shape to a motif.
The most delicate of all stitches is the jali, worked by neatly separating the threads of the fabric with the aari needle and making small stitches that tighten the threads to hold them apart for a lace-like effect. Another expression is pitta work, that is aari embroidery with metal yarn. Very fine metal yarn is used for the embroidery, which gives the garment a formal, festive appearance. After the embroidery is completed, it is gently tapped with a small wooden hammer in order to smoothen it.
CREATING CR TEXTURES THROUGH COLOUR CO
Apart from using the aari stitch and its variations to create texture, Asif also uses colour to create texture. “In a miniature painting, one can get a particular colour, colour tint, shade or tone, by mixing colours, by adding a little white, black or black and white, respectively, to tthe base colour. This technique is not possible in embroidery. So the solution fofor this is to embroider different colours next to each other so that the eye sees the colour you are looking for.”
Asif plans the use of colours to give motifs softness and to bring them alive. “If you embroider a motif only in one colour, then it tends to look flat, heavy and at times, bold. If you use multiple colours, the motif gets delicacy and softness. Ideally, three to five colours should be used for a motif to give it softness. However, the
use of colours has to be planned, especially for miniature embroidery, as the motifs are so small that any misjudgment will spoil their beauty. For example, in a flower that has layers of petals, I outline floral motifs in a white chain stitch, make the outermost petals in the lightest pink and gradually increase the intensity of the colour with the centre red. By this approach, the motif instantly pops up.”
RECREATING ANTIQUE AARI EMBROIDERIES
Having mastered the aari technique, Asif studied antique Kutchi aari embroidery that is characterised by motifs of flowers, leaves, birds that are rendered with colourful yarns on a coloured background. Inspired by these textiles, Asif condensed the size of the motifs, patterns and compositions to present miniature Kutchi aari embroideries. Further, through the creative use of colour and shading, he gives a new look and introduces new colour palettes in traditional Kutchi embroidery.
Asif also creates miniature Parsi gara style embroidery that features motifs evocative of Chinese embroidery (traditionally worked on Parsi gara saris and other Parsi attire for women). The work is done in fine satin stitch as well as aari embroidery in silk thread. For a slight variation, he makes a slightly loose French knot and then works another knot on top of this knot, with the regular (not aari) needle. Asif also works Mughalstyle floral and geometric motifs in miniature stitches of zardozi embroidery, that is embroidery worked with metal yarn and metal elements.
MINIATURE EMBROIDERY IN GARMENTS
Asif has worked miniature embroidery on a range of women’s and men’s garments, where plain textiles are adorned with motifs of miniature embroidery. In addition, he has worked miniature embroidery on textiles that already bear motifs through other traditional textile techniques such as hand-weaving, resist-dyeing, hand-block printing, and hand painting (kalamkari). In these latter garments, he creates fine stitches that enhance the beauty of the existing motifs. In this way, Asif fuses the beauty of multiple traditional techniques, adds to the beauty of the existing garment, and creates a one-of-a-kind garment. Reflecting on his much sought-after miniature embroideries, Asif says he will always immerse himself in this mesmerising world because it gives him utmost fulfilment and happiness.