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Just as its beauty, Kashmir’s history is unique. The handicrafts of Kashmir are as breathtaking as the lush green valleys it hosts. The beautiful art of Kashmiri embroidery is as old as the modern Muslim culture of the place.

The first thing that comes to our minds when we think of Kashmiri garments is the intricate embroidery that adorns them. Whether it is pashmina shawls, dress materials, kaftans, kurtas/ kurtis, sarees or even bags, the signature Kashmiri embroidery is what sets all Kashmiri apparel apart.

It is also popularly known as ‘Kashida’ embroidery, kashidkari in full. That’s for the Kashmiris though. The embroidery seeks inspiration from nature all around. Popular designs include flowers, leaves, trees, blossoms, creepers etc.

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If this ancient art intrigues you as well, then read on. In this article, I will give you deeper insights into the Kashidakari, or Kashmiri embroidery and answer all your questions related to it.

History of Kashmiri Embroidery

The Kashida is one of the oldest forms of embroidery in India. It is a centuries’ old art. The history of embroidery in Kashmir can be traced back to as early as the 15th century. However, it was during the Mughal rule (around 16th century) that the textile industry in Kashmir saw a major surge. 

The Mughal emperors are known to have patronized it. It was during this time that Kashmiri shawls and other Kashmiri garments started becoming popular around the world. Similarly, the Kashmiri embroidery too started shaping up and became an important part of various Kashmiri textiles. And since then, its demand has grown multifolds.

Types of Kashmiri Embroidery

History tells us that Art came to Kashmir from Central Asia. It traveled with Muslim traders who entered the valley through the Silk route. It evolved with time and artisans were able to mix and match various art forms they had learned from the traders from abroad. 

So, today there are many types of embroidery in Kashmir. But, the most popular ones include: 

The Aari or Crewel Embroidery

Even though its origin is unknown, it can be traced back to as early as the medieval period. This kind of embroidery is locally known as Zalakdozi. It is a very old technique but also very popular. The crewel embroidery makes use of a pointed crochet or an ‘aari’ as the needle. 

This form of embroidery can be done on cotton, wool, silk, velvet as well as other fabrics. This embroidery can be commonly seen on curtains, drapes and other upholstery, bedding, dress materials etc. Woolen or art silk thread is used for this particular embroidery. Mostly, the chain stitch is used for the crewel embroidery. 

Popular designs for this embroidery include flowers, blossoms, leaves, creepers etc. It has two types:

  • 1-ply embroidery: It makes use of 1-ply woolen thread. It is cheaper but less durable.
  • 2-ply embroidery: It makes use of 2-ply woolen thread. This is more expensive than 1-ply but is more durable.

The 2-ply woolen thread is more commonly used.

The Process: First, the design is drawn on a perforated sheet by an expert tracer. Then, this sheet is laid on the fabric and either chalk or charcoal powder is applied to it to trace the design. After that, in order to make the tracing more visible, some oil is added to it. After the design gets traced onto the fabric, the outlines of the design are drawn with the use of a wooden pen. 

The skilled embroiderer, also known as zalakdoz in Kashmir then proceeds to embroider the fabric. The time taken to finish the product depends upon the fabric and the size of embroidery to be done. It usually takes a few days. This is how the crewel or Aari Kashmiri embroidery is done.

The Sozni Embroidery 

This form of embroidery is quite different from the aari embroidery. A needle is used in sozni embroidery. The Sozni embroidery can commonly be found on shawls, jackets, dress materials etc. The work that goes into this embroidery is very intricate. 

Popular motifs for this embroidery are abstract geometric designs, paisley patterns. The Sozni embroidery is exclusive only to Kashmir and cannot be found anywhere else. The satin-stitch is used for making this type of embroidery.

The Process: The designer (or Naqash) first begins by drawing a design on a paper. The second step involved in the procedure is a very important step. A specialist wood carver then carves the design out of a wooden block. 

With the use of the wood that has been carved, the design is then stamped onto the shawl. After this, an expert embroiderer embroiders the design. This is how the Sozni Kashmiri embroidery is made. 

The Tilla Embroidery

Another type of Kashmiri embroidery is the ‘Tilla embroidery’. This kind of embroidery is done with golden or silver threads. It is mostly done on the Kashmiri traditional garment called Phiran. But now, it can also be commonly seen on shawls and sarees. The beautiful tilla embroidery adorns ethnic wear and gives it a royal touch. 

This classic type of embroidery is a true epitome of grace and class. Initially, real gold and silver were used for the embroidery. Only the rich could afford this luxury back in the day; making it super popular among the royals. However, now, just gold and silver-colored threads are used. 

The Process: First, the designer makes a design on a tracing paper. After the design is made, the trace paper is carefully kept on the fabric. A duster is then dipped in either blue or white ink (blue ink for lighter fabrics and white ink for darker fabrics) is moved all over the fabric. The design, thus, gets transferred to the fabric. 

An expert Tilla artist then works his magic on the fabric. The tilla thread is used to make the embroidery and then a cotton thread is used to fasten it. All of this is done with a special needle. This is how the Tilla Kashmiri embroidery is made. 

The Amli Embroidery

The Amli embroidery makes use of multicolored threads. It is relatively a new type of embroidery. This embroidery is mostly seen on the kani and jamevar shawls.

The Process: First, the design is drawn on a paper. Before the design is transferred, the shawl is first nicely smoothened out. Then it is transferred onto the shawl with the help of charcoal or other colored powder. The design is then embroidered using multicolored threads.

Now that we know about the types of embroidery commonly used in Kashmir, let us get into more specifics.

Which stitches are used in Kashmiri embroidery?

Many different stitches are used in the Kashmiri embroidery. The Kashmiri embroidery stitches are as follows:

  • The Chain Stitch: This technique involves creating a loop of stitches which ends up looking like a chain and hence the name, chain stitch.
  • The Satin Stitch: Another one of the Kashmiri embroidery stitches is the Satin Stitch. This kind of stitch is usually used to cover large surfaces.
  • The Stem Stitch: This type of stitch is mostly used to embroider the boundaries of a design/ motif.
  • The Darning Stitch: This method involves making rows of straight stitches which are placed next to each other.
  • The buttonhole or vata chikan stitch: This form of stitching is used to cover or fill larger areas.
  • The Herringbone Stitch: This stitch is used for making borders.

What are the different Kashmiri embroidery motifs?

Mostly, nature forms the basis for Kashmiri embroidery motifs. Since Kashmir is so beautifully blessed with abundant natural beauty, the embroidery artists need not look anywhere else for inspiration. 

Popular motifs include flowers like lilies, tulips, saffron and lotuses, leaves, twigs, fruits like grapes, apples, mangoes, almonds and cherries and various birds like parrots, woodpeckers and kingfishers. Geometric designs and paisley patterns are also quite common. These elements together form the base for Kashmiri embroidery designs. 

What are the different Kashmiri embroidery designs?

Various Kashmiri embroidery designs include floral designs, animal designs, hunting designs etc.

Some interesting facts on Kashmiri Embroidery:

  • All embroiderers use ‘nyath’ which acts as protection to their fingers. They are leather finger caps or thimbles. Without the use of these, the artists can develop holes in their fingers.
  • Men in Kashmir are known to do the finest embroidery.
  • Every piece after its embroidered gets washed.

Over to You 

Thus, it can be said that Kashmiri embroidery is an art that requires utmost dedication, patience and precision. Initially, only men are involved in the embroidery process in Kashmir. A son inherited this art from his father. But now, since the last few years, women have started participating too. 

It takes years and years’ worth of practice to master this art. Most men who are involved in this profession usually begin practising early, around the age of 9 or 10 and then work up their way to expertise. It is due to their hard work that this traditional art form is still so well-preserved and recognized all around the world.

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