Amidst the barren desert landscape of the western border towns of India, smatterings of color are a representation of life, appearing as adornments on the bodies of the beautiful tribes. Embroidery, here, is not a glorious vocation but part of the daily fabric of how a day is spent.
It isn’t uncommon to walk among the dusty hamlets here in the afternoons and see women of the house gather around to embroider clothes for the family, textiles for the cattle or, depending on their age, prepare the riches they will carry to their marital home as dowry. Embroidery introduces the bride to her new home and her relocation to her husband’s village will serve as a cultural transference of styles. Even her all-embroidered kanchali blouse worn at the wedding would be deftly combined with a brilliantly colored mashru silk and cotton skirt.
Within the region referred to homogeneously as Kutch, the patterns and embroidery styles differ enough for each tribe to recognise that of the other, even if an untrained eye simply refers to all chain-stitch and mirror-work craft as ‘Kutch’ embroidery.
Among the several distinct forms are delicate, floral patterns inspired by Mughal designs that belong to Aari work done predominantly by the Mochi (cobbler) community, with the hook used for this chain stitch form being an adaptation of the cobbler’s awl.
The Rabari embroidery by contrast is a bold representation of motifs from mythology and the desert surroundings. Mirrors find their way on the textiles of this tribe in many unique shapes.
Another style, practiced by the Sadho Rajput and Megwar communities, is Pakko embroidery, a style characterised by tight square chain and double buttonhole stitches used to create dense patterns. Pakko, meaning “solid”, embroidery gets its name from the legendary notion that this style of embroidery is long-lasting. Even if the background cloth wears away, artisans believe, the stitching will remain. The motifs of pakko, geometric and floral, sometimes supplemented by stylized figures such as peacocks and scorpions, are drawn first with mud, then worked predominantly in maroon or red, dark green, white, and gold or yellow, with characteristic black, and sometimes yellow or white outlining. Threads may be silk but are often cotton.
The style muka, solely worked in couched metal thread, or in Sind, combined with a variation of pakko embroidery, seems to have historically been concentrated in Sind and Dhat, as well as in urban areas of Kutch.
Here in these desert lands, traveling from one region to another throws up styles that may define cultural regions and the phenomenon of a style shared by different communities usually indicates interdependence.
The embroideries of Kutch continue to evolve, with each generation of women bringing forth their fresh experiences onto the fabric. Their lives are embroidered with love in the colors they pick, the patterns they imagine and the way the needle follows their everyday thoughts.
Image Courtesy: Breakaway
References: Elements of Style: The Artisan reflected in Embroideries of Western India by Judy Frater