There is a rich legacy of traditional designs in the
Orient which when adapted to the Indian salwar kameez gives the
outfits a unique look. An experiment by Indian designers in
transferring these ancient designs from Turkeys, China and Russia has
opened new vistas for the Indian fashion world.
The year 1947 not only
marked the division of India, but also the division of cultures,
traditions, dress codes and ways of life. After partition, the saree
became the national dress of India, whereas the salwar kameez that of
Pakistan. Between 1947 to 1989, the salwar kameez had a
magnanimously fluctuating graph, reaching the epitome of popularity
in India in the late 50s and early 60s, then vanishing out of the
fashion scenario for the major part of the 70s just to come back with
a never like before bang in the 80s.
Today the salwar kameez
stands as the second most popular dress in most parts of India. The
popularity and comfort of the dress has reached such stupendous
heights that most of the new breed designers have started
channelising a major portion of their creative abilities to give this
ensemble a new look. Varying from the ethnic touch to the cocktail
look, the salwar kameez has come to suit all occasions and what could
be better and more creative than adaptation of embroideries of
various countries on this dress each country lending its own
flavour to this dignified ensemble. Indian designers have borrowed
extensively from the ancient traditions of China, Russia and Turkey
giving the salwar kameez a different look.
In China, the art of
embroidery dates back to the Qin dynasty where embroidered robes, and
even undergarments made with fine needlework, have been found. This
art was popularly known as Ziuhua or Zhahua
meaning making ornamental designs with a needle. Even though the
earlier specimens found were not exquisite pieces of art, embroidery
gradually attained perfection, a fact borne out by the previous
relics excavated in recent decades. The techniques involved in
embroidery attained a very high level through which the artist
incorporated ornamental as well as utilitarian features.
Among the various
stitches used by the artists in China, chain stitch became very
popular especially for the lower echelons of society. This was
mainly credited to the durability of the stitch compared to satin
stitch which mainly adorned the robes of the rich. Chain stitch
reached new heights in popularity and development mainly between the
Shang dynasty and the last years of the eastern Han dynasty. Designs
were coloured lines or patches universally embroidered with chain
stitch with rare exceptions of satin stitch. The varieties of chain
stitch were open ring stitch, the close ring s stitch, the braid
stitch, the loop stitch, the daisy stitch, the fly stitch and
consecutive stitch, (split stitch), the last being easier to do but
producing almost the same effect as the chain stitch itself. The
loop and daisy stitch were usually used to form dots and strokes,
while consecutive stitch was employed to delineate the thin end of a
adorned with gold showed a particular development during the Yuan
reign. As by this time, there was a government run embroidery
factory employing women to make a variety of items for daily use,
much progress was made in use of gold.
Inspired by the
experiences of Song and Yuan artists the GU family living at
Luxiangyuan Jiangsu province in the last years of Ming, specialized
in embroidering pictures after famous artists and succeeded in
leading the fashion and taste of the time. Influenced by the use of
extremely fine lines to outline human figures by the painter You Qiu,
they initiated hair embroidery in which new born babies
hair was used.
The art of Chinese
embroidery when adapted to Indian salwar kameezes, gives the attire a
very delicate touch due to the fine needlework. An original Chinese
piece was a colour in the shape of ruyi with designs of
Two Phoenixes Worshipping the Sun and butterflies amid
flowers embroidered in pulling stitch. The motif was based on verse
from the book of songs. It signified a period of peace and
prosperity when the able and virtuous were given full scope. The
picture shows the original piece and its Indian adaptation.
In Turkey, the earliest
embroidery work can be traced to the middle of the 16th
century. The embroidery which has come down the generations can be
thought of as heavy category are nearly all military
The main items in military artefacts are saddles
and saddle cloths heavily embroidered in gold and silver thread.
Even the tents used by the Turkish army commanders were made of heavy
linen decorated on the inner walls with applied shapes of linen, wool
or even leather in basic colours of red, blue, green and cream in the
floral pattern which the Turks found so pleasing.
Heavy metal thread
embroidery was also used in a religious connection for mosque
hangings and prayer carpets. Every year the Sultan dispatched a
caravan bearing treasure and valuable cloth to the shrine of Mecca.
The huge cloth worked with quotations from the Koran and was used to
cover the Shrine during the period pilgrimage. Other articles
embroidered were wallets and document cases.
However, embroidery on
dresses came only during the early years of the 19th
century with the change of the Turkish traditional dress. Now the
long skirted kaftans were replaced by the upper classes with the West
European frock coat and trousers. Though the fashion for elaborate
gold embroidery on jackets and waistcoats and on the pockets and
seams of trousers seems to have been started by the Turkish navy,
soon they were worn with great charm by civilians. The gold
embroidery on most of the army and leather articles and garments worn
by men made by male artisans in professional work rooms.
Embroideries in the
light category existed in far greater quantity, mostly
worked in coloured silk on linen, fine cotton or silk cloth. The
background cloth was mostly left in its unbleached state.
The Turks being mostly
Sunni Muslims interpreted the Koranic prohibition on the
representation in decoration of the human figure. This was however
relaxed to allow the use of flowers. The most popular flowers being
rose, carnation, hyacinth and sprays of fruit blossom. These flowers
were sometimes endowed with symbolic meaning or expression of mood.
Though the fine and
beautiful embroidery was made by Turkish women in the harem
womens quarters in a royal household-there is evidence of
existence of professional workshops as early as 1628. by the middle
of the 19th century, commercial workrooms were producing
embroidered lengths of fine muslin or silk for womens trousers
and pieces for ladies overdresses. Slowly work was being produced
for the bazaars. Gradually, embroidered pieces were being exported
to central Europe and Germany.
Indian designers have
experimented with this embroidery. The blend of rich Turkish
embroidery on the salwar kameez gives the ensemble a very exquisite
look as shown in the picture. The original piece could be the dress
of a carrier of messages or organizer of travel. The material used
is couched silver thread.
From the cloth used for
covering the Kaaba of Mecca a border was chosen and adapted to form
the front of the Indian kameez giving the piece an exquisitely
Russian needlework is
represented by ecclesiastical and secular embroideries of the 12th
century to the 17th century. Although there is indirect
evidence that a great deal of fine needlework was done in Russia in
pagan times, it was Byzantine influence that raised the craft of
embroidery to an art. Worked with silk with a flat stitch (as
opposed to the raised work), embroidery established itself rapidly.
Until the 15th century nuns were responsible for all
important religious panels embroidered in Russia. But in the 15th
and 16th centuries many fine panels were made in sewing
rooms which the ladies of the ruling families established in their
The Russian gold
embroidery is among the most sumptuous and delicate needlework ever
made. The surviving ecclesiastical vestments of this period are
worked with small figures or religious scenes. These designs were
worked with coloured silks in a fine regular split stitch, generally
on a background of couched gold thread.
First the design to be
embroidered was transferred onto the material. Such designs called
cartoons were either made by the embroiderer himself or commissioned
from an artist. The outlines of the cartoons were pricked onto the
sheet of paper, which was then laid on the fabric. Powdered charcoal
or other such substance, called pounce, was rubbed over
the paper so that it passed through the pricked holes and marked the
outline on the fabric. The outline design would then be traced with
Chinese white or Indian ink.
Many of the finest large
embroideries were produced in the late 15th and early 16th
centuries. Workshops developed a style in which grace and profound
piety were combined with stylistic restraints and economy of detail.
In the 16th century the background became more complex
and more use was made of gold and silver thread. As the metal was
apt to tear the stuff, it became customary to couch the thread along
the fabric, stitching it into place with coloured silks. Sometimes
gems and pearls added more glamour to the embroidery. However, in
the 18th century fabrics and materials had raised work
with gold and silver thread. This period also saw the popularity of
embroidered pictures for decoration.
An ideal example of 17th
century embroidery is where the composition usually includes a
central stylized motif flanked by subsidiary elements. The motif
represents pomegranate, a decorative device frequently found in
Islamic art, symbolising fertility. It has many petalled flowers
with scrolling tendrils bearing leaves and fruits. This traditional
pattern has been adapted the Indian ensemble and gives it a rich
A classic example of gold
embroidery complimented with pearls, jewels, coloured glass beads,
gold studs, spangles and heavy bullion which is being experimented on
the salwar kameez. The outcome is rich, royal retro.
While on the one hand
there are designers looking to the West and creating haute couture a
la Paris fashion houses there are others who are looking to Central
Asia and the East, discovering a treasure-house of designs. Their
experimentation in the transference of designs has produced Oriental
fantasies giving the Indian outfits a uniquely glamorous look.