Traditional phulkari embroidery is done on coarse cotton fabric called ‘khaddar’ which is manually spun and naturally dyed. The coarse weave makes it easy to run the thread to it in order to make the intricate designs. The thread that is used for the embroidery is called ‘pat’ in Punjabi. It is untwisted floss silk yarn that is sourced from Afghanistan or China. The thread is glossy and adds a brilliant sheen to the finished work.
Bagh Stitching used in Phulkari Embroidery
The technique used to make the embroidered motifs is unique in that it is executed by embroidering the back face of the cloth. The only tools that are used in this technique are embroidery frame and needles. The stitch is nothing but short and long darning stitches that are made without any tracing or drawing. To achieve effects of shading, rather than using threads of multiple colours, the same thread is used in a vertical, horizontal and diagonal manner in a pattern. The play of light on these stitches gave an appearance of shading. The narrower and closer the stitches, the more meticulous the work is. Other than the darning stitch, some women used running stitch, herringbone stitch or even satin stitches to bring in some variations in the patterns.
Stitching Technique used in Phulkari Embroidery
Since phulkari work is guided by symmetry of designs, the embroiderer has to count the number of stitches on each side before proceeding with the design - this makes the process tedious. Counting stitches on a light fabric is easier than doing it on a dark one. So in many households, the embroidery is done on a light coloured fabric which is dyed after the entire design is completed, using a dye that will only colour the fabric and not the silk yarn.
The passage of time and the subsequent change in tastes has however dictated many changes to phulkari embroidery. For starters, women now use chiffon, georgette, silk as well as regular cotton to make phulkari designs. The embroidery work itself has moved from households to smaller units and factories where the real essence of phulkari is somehow lost.
Since Phulkari was a household activity, the techniques and patterns involved in making it have not been documented properly. Whatever knowledge about the craft is known today is what has been passed on from one generation to another. In order to revive the ancient craft of handmade phulkari, efforts have to be made to first rightly document all the techniques and then to train skilled workers in the craft so that phulkari can continue its vibrant journey.
Image credit: Globalfabrichub, dsource