What is Phulkari Handmade Embroidery – 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. It literally means flower working, which was at one time used as the word for embroidery, but in time the word “Phulkari” became restricted to embroidered shawls and head scarfs. Simple and sparsely embroidered odini (head scarfs), dupatta and shawls, made for everyday use, are called Phulkaris, whereas garments that cover the entire body, made for special and ceremonial occasions, are known as Baghs (“garden”).
The word phulkari usually indicates the shawl that was loomed and embroidered to cover women’s heads or to be displayed in a gurudwara (Sikh temple). This tradition was often associated with the Sikh heritage but as it was also shared with Hindus and Muslims. Phulkaris and Baghs were worn by women all over Punjab during marriage festivals and other joyous occasions.
Traditionally, Phulkari was made of thick fabrics especially a thick cotton fabric known as khaddar. Four colors of khaddar were generally used where each color had its own significance– white used by old women or widows, red used by young girls and brides-to-be, blue and black were kept for daily use. The khaddar fabric was then covered all over with striking floral patterns. Most of the time, patterns to be embroidered were not drawn on the fabric beforehand, the embroiderer had to count each thread of the khaddar with meticulous care to build her designs.
The main characteristics of Phulkari embroidery are use of darn stitch on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth with coloured silken thread and the quality of a piece could be measured according to the width of this stitch. The narrowest was the stitch, the finest was the piece. In order to create an unusual design or to border the khaddar, some other stitches like the herringbone stitch, running stitch, Holbein stitch or button hole stitch were occasionally used.
When the embroidery work was covering the whole surface of the khaddar the phulkari was called a bagh (“garden”). The phulkari that is covered all over with the embroidery is known as bagh and it came into existence in the second half of the 19th century when people became passionate about phulkari work. It needs a lots of patience to create a bagh design.
This phulkari from the north of Punjab, shared by Hindu and Sikh traditions and very appreciated by collectors is identified by its white khaddar called thirma, symbol of purity.It is of white colour so it was often worn by elderly women and widows. The color of threads used for embroidery range from red to pink.
Darshan Dwar, that can be translated as “the gate through which God can be seen”.It is special phulkari created to be offered at gurudwaras. This type of phulkari was made in East Punjab. Along with floral patterns, figures of human and animals were also made on this.
Village life of Punjab was depicted in sainchi phulkari and this style was restricted to very few areas of Punjab such as Firozpur and Bhatinda districts. The pattern used to range from local animals, farmers, wrestlers, weaver to trains and other means of transport.
Vari-da-bagh was given as a gift to the bride by her in-laws upon entering her new home. It was always made on orange-reddish khaddar and, for embroidery, only a single golden- or orange-colored pat was used all over the khaddar except for borders. There is another phulkari called bawan Bagh or bawan phulkari. In Punjabi, bawan means 52. This means that 52 different patterns were made to complete this phulkari.
Chope phulkari is made by the bride’s maternal grandmother (naani). She starts making chope at the time of her grand-daughter’s birth. Both sides of chope phulkari contain the same design that was created by using the holbein stitch. Chope . Panchranga means five colors. This bagh used to be embroidered with five different colors. On the same pattern, ‘satranga bagh’ was also created that consists of seven colors.
Nowadays, Handmade phulkari has almost disappeared in Punjab and so only industrially-made phulkaris can be seen in the market.