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.

Apparel - - Contents -

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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.

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