Growing Flowers

Phulkari, Punjab’s colorful embroidery

Pakistan, a land-locked country, has a rich history of handicrafts; all the regions have a wide variety of traditional art, craft and culture where one is always mesmerized by the beauty of the handicrafts. Phulkari embroidery falls under that category and is considered as one of the ancient textile arts of Punjab.

Phulkari translates to growing flowers. The embroidery includes floral motifs in bright colors. The flowers are beautifully arranged in rows. The more elaborated ones floral patterns is called bagh, meaning garden.

The origins of Phulkari are difficult to trace, but it is embroidered by women for their own and other family’s personal use. Phulkari was not sold or purchased in earlier times, but was worn on ceremonies or were given exclusively as gift items on propitious events such as a wedding gift for the bride or for a newborn.

The embroidery is done on a coarse local cotton fabric called khadder, a handspun khaddi cloth with simple darning stitches using pat—unspun silk floss yarn—which oftentimes was brought from Afghanistan, Bengal or China by nomadic dealers who would sell it by weight. This silk was costly and for this reason the Punjabi women only embellished the fabric on its visible side in order to save as much silk as possible.

Pat was available in different colors that symbolize various meanings and emotions. For example, red color symbolizes passion; white for purity; yellow or gold for desire and wealth; blue for calmness, green for nature and productivity; purple for energy and calmness; and orange for energy. Colorful harmonies were also composed according to the embroiderer's taste.

The quality of the khadder cloth was based on its surface regularity and fineness. Four colors were often used: white, red, blue and black. White was given to matrons or widows, while red the most widespread tone was associated with youth; blue and black were kept for daily use because neither color revealed stains and dirt.

The most remarkable feature of phulkari is that it is embroidered on the reverse side, using brightly colored threads that have been dyed from natural pigments. Several types of stitches are used and include ithe darning stitch, the most common one to make phulkari. The quality of a piece is measured according to the width of this stitch—the narrower the stitch, the finer the piece. In order to create a complex design or to make the border on the khaddar, other stitches are also employed such as the herringbone stitch, running stitch or the button hole stitch.

The tradition on phulkari has almost disappeared from it original form in part because of modern textile industries, which the turnaround in producing the textiles is faster and cheaper. A handful of organizations have been trying hard to keep this art alive; however, the majority are phulkari available to consumers are machine-made and can be easily found in the cloth markets of Punjab's big cities or via the Internet at inexpensive prices unlike their hand-made counterparts that are becoming costlier and rarer to find.

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