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Aari Embroidery

Exquisite needlework of repeated fine chain stitches, worked in multi-coloured silk on a satin or cotton ground, is a timeless craftsmanship of 12th Century India. Flourishing in the states of Gujarat and Sindh under the patronage of the Mughal court, it is a series of unbroken stitches that take the shape of abstract nature and wildlife motifs. The uniqueness of the ”Aar” holed needle that is used to create these stitches, gave the name of what is known as Aari Embroidery.

Colourful Aari Embroidery

Its original essence is from Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh.  Aari embroidery was first seen practised by the mochi (cobbler) community, they worked with a hook-like needle without any pre-decided design or drawing and conceptualized the designs as they worked on leather. The mochi left their caste trade and became embroiderers for the Mughal Empire. Hence this style of embroidery is also known as Mochi Embroidery.

What is interesting about the Aari is that it is a style that has surpassed change. The art form had so much success that it was not only produced professionally for court use, but it gradually took over the commodity market and also at amateur level became part of folk or tribal tradition. The method of aari work however, varies from state to state.

Lady wearing tribal aari embroidery

Coloured thread is applied to make the designs and motifs highly representational.This technique creates precise definition from a fine regular chain stitch contributing a delicacy to the silk on silk embroidery. The method requires a hook needle plied from the top, but fed by silk thread from below, with the material spread out on a frame. This movement creates loops and is repeated, leading to a line of chain stitches.

Artisan working aari technique into fabric colourful aari embroidery close up

During the late 18th Century, the Portuguese had taken the Aari to the West. The technique, alongside beaded embroidery, began appearing in couture fashion houses, where it took the name of Tambour Embroidery. Tambour, meaning drum in French, draws a parallel to stretching the fabric like a drum. While aari is an Eastern term and uses a very fine hook needle, the tambour is a western term for the hook that is placed into an interchangeable wooden holder. Although the end result of chain stitching is almost identical, the method used for beading is different.

aari needle tambour needle

In Tambour, the beads are loaded onto the thread first.  Guides are applied only to the reverse, as the embroidery is worked wrong side up. This makes the stitching very quick, avoiding any unnecessary pausing, as a continuous thread is used until the embroidery is complete. In Aari the beads are loaded onto the hook itself. Loading up as many as required onto the hook, releasing the thread, reloading the hook and again. This process can be worked from the right side of the fabric.

tambour beeding close up artisan working tambour thread embroidery

Aari embroidery is of exuding beauty for the beholder and aesthetic elegance of the creator. Intricate chain stitches flow in the most poetic fashion, to form complex to simple patterns.  The paint-like qualities of the medium are significantly favoured and admired by all, in the world.


Image Sources: craftsvilla, D'Source, artisticfingers, wildehunt, Flickr: Jennstumpf