The main characteristic of phulkariembroidery is the use of the yarn stitch. The base material for the embroidery is traditionally hand-spun, natural dyed (khaddar) fabric. Imported floss silk yarn from Afghanistan or China was used after local dyeing with organic vegetable dyes.
The embroidering is done from the reverse side of the fabric with the silk yarn, which gives a shaded effect to the fabric. The smoothness on the reverse of the fabric speaks volumes of the quality of workmanship and embroider’s skill.
The demand for traditional art like phulkari has grown manifold but the ones who truly understand this skillful art may be down but not yet out.
This ancient craft form was an integral warp and weft of village life, be it birth, marriage or festivals. Not being typically religion-specific, it reflects in its secular thread, people’s life and times; a classic case of art inspired by life. Different patterns and motifs of phulkari were specifically used for different purposes. Phulkari, a rural tradition of handmade embroidery, literally meaning “flower work “, was perpetuated by the women of Punjab (North-west India & Pakistan) during the 19th century and till the beginning of the 20th century.
Even though the textile industry today, is imitating this art with the help of machines, phulkari work has almost disappeared in its original form, due to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, which had a dramatic impact on the divided Punjab, as well as the obvious socio-economical reasons (schooling, lack of interest for manual work, profitability, industrialization…).
Techniques and patterns were not documented but transmitted by word of mouth. Hence, each regional group was identifiable by its unique embroidery work.
Embroidery work was invariably made on a plain cotton fabric (khaddar) whose thread was manually spinned, loomed and dyed with natural pigments.
Its quality was evaluated according to the fineness and regularity of its surface.
Khaddar could be of four colors, white being given to mature women or widows while red was associated with youth and was by far the most widespread tone.
It is noteworthy that the most ancient fragments of red dyed (using madder) cotton fabric were found in Punjab and would date back to Harappa Civilization (Age of Bronze).
Black and blue colors were kept for everyday worn shawls as they prevented from revealing stains and dirt.
The complete khaddar was always made of two or three stripes which were approximately 50cm wide. Depending on the region, these stripes were sewed before or after the embroidery work.
It seems that, in West Punjab (Pakistan), the joining was done afterwards. This explains the slightly distorted designs that can be found at times on some pieces of this origin.
It is important to notice that Punjab, known for its cotton cultivations, was a very appropriate area for a local production of khaddar.
Pat was red-colored to symbolize passion, white for purity, golden or yellow for desire and abundance, green for nature and fertility, blue for serenity, purple for a symbiosis between red’s energy and blue’s calm, orange for a mix of desire and divine energy.
However, even if symbolism was playing an important role, these colorful harmonies were also composed according to the embroiderer’s taste.
Modern Day Phulkari Design
As said earlier today’s phulkari designs donot match up the phulkari works that were done in the earlier times. Today textile industries have tried to incorporate phulkari motifs on fabrics, bags, and even on shoes. IdeasGuild also hand painted a khusa on this particular theme. So phulkari is now taken as an inspiration for design rather than maintain its originality in the form it was first perceived.