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Origins Of The Timeless Chain Stitch

The art of embroidery has a long tradition in India. Each style of this technique has characteristics that describe its origin or journey.  For Aari embroidery, its origins lead from Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh to Kutch, Gujarat where the cobbler or mochi community gave fame to the chain stitch by applying the technique to cloth. Delicacy in detail and the aari needle are what aari is known for.

mughal map  aari embroidery

There is little information on people who practiced aari embroidery in Barabanki. However, when the embroidery technique travelled to Gujarat, it became very popular among the royals. As mentioned in the Gazetteer of Bombay Presidency, it was the Mughals who embraced the embroidery style and that made Gujarat part of Central Asia’s trade route to the Far East.

The ‘aar’ holed needle is a popular tool used for a variety of handicrafts. The mochis initially used the needle to work on leather.  Under the rule of the Mughals, the mochi trade was suffering. It was at this time the mochis adopted the textile trade. The transition from leather to silk proved to be easy, having used the aari needle beforehand. Floral motifs and wildlife patterns fascinated Mughal royals. The 16th century marked the rule of Mughal emperors. Gujarat became, and still is, the richest area for embroidered textiles.

Cobbler using aari needle  Artisan working with aari needle

Aari embroidery was used to form a variety of opulent motifs and patterns, this embroidery style stood the test of time, making it much more admired today.

Tambour embroidery, the western name for aari, emerged in Europe in the 18th century.  The exotic stitch swiftly became a common pastime for ladies. Many of its finest examples were brought to Britain and France from India. The only change that was made in the process of technique was the introduction of Tambour, a frame. The fabric held taut between two round fitted hoops resembling the face of a drum, provided support and made it much faster to work the embroidery into the fabric.

European lady practising tambour  Tambour embroidery with multicoloured thread

Image Sources: Swaen:edited to show location, needlenthread, Two Nerdy History Girls, The Islamic Monthly, travelsintextiles, istockimg,