Gara is a needlepoint technique that involves creating a riot of colours on fabric with nature inspired motifs like flowers, creepers and birds. Buyers who understand the meticulous work that goes into gara embroidery have called it a lyrical expression of nature on fabric.
The story of gara is centuries old, with influences from a number of regions. Gara found its way to India in the 8th century when Parsis migrated from Persia to settle in Gujarat and other parts of western India. They ventured into sea trade with China after which Parsi men brought back embroidered fabric for their women from China.
Inspired by the embroidery, their women started embroidering patterns on their sarees by themselves. The silk fabric and the technique from China, in combination with Parsi and Indian motifs is what lead to the evolution of gara embroidery. Being an amalgamation of various styles that has metamorphosed over years, gara embroidery is not just rare but also treasure worthy. As a result, clothes with gara embroidery are prized possessions, likened to jewellery and are passed from one generation to another.
Gara embroidery is typically done with white or pastel threads on vibrant coloured fabrics. The motifs comprise of satin stitches, French knots and long and short stitches and painstakingly small Chinese knots, also known as the kha kha stitch. Since the stitches are dangerously close to each other, the shading in the motifs appear to be seamless, almost like a painting. Like we said, gara is an amalgamation of various influences which can be seen in the motifs that make up the embroidery. Pagodas, dragons and human figurines from China, paisleys and peacocks from India, roosters, peonies and the 100-petal rose from Iran.
Under Parsi patronage, sarees with gara embroidery have come to be known as the Parsi saree. The technique was passed on from generation to generation within a family and both the embroidery and the sarees they owned became family heirloom. A saree with gara embroidery can take anywhere from three to nine months to complete. As a result, they are comparatively costlier but an avid buyer who knows the effort that goes into making one always overlooks the price tag.
However, with the advent of cheaper, machine made clothes and with the dwindling Parsi numbers, gara embroidery is under the threat of fading into oblivion. Add to it the fact that the Chinese fabrics and the fine silk threads used for the embroidery are hard to come by, gara would have vanished but for a handful of Parsis and organisations that are passionate about the craft.
In order to revive the craft, not only are they adapting gara embroidery into more contemporary designs, they are also creating the embroidery on kurtas, jackets and dresses - something purists wouldn’t agree with! Collaborations with Benarasi weaves to create a Benarasi-Oriental narrative has also helped put a fair amount of spotlight on the craft.
A saree with gara embroidery is a labour of love. What makes it worth it is the intricate work put in by the seamstresses to create the dense, resplendent designs. If you are a connoisseur of rare crafts, then a gara saree is a must have in your wardrobe!
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