Kutchi costumes are very unique and very heavily embroidered. The embroidery and mirror work, forms an integral part of Kutchi costumes and handicrafts irrespective of the community or ethnic group to which they belong, however the workmanship differs completely. The communities can be identified by the patterns of the embroidery, they use on their garments and other handicrafts. For instance, Garasia Jat women wear only red or black odanis while Rabari women wear black open cholis with odhanis to cover their heads.
In rural areas, women wear Chaniyas cholis, the typical Kutchi costume. This is incomplete without ‘Abha’ or ‘Kanchali’. Abha is the name of the typical half choli worn by women folk and Kanchali is a beautiful long blouse heavily embroidered with mirrors.
Hand embroideries have been practiced in Kutch as a form of self-expression and identity of the various ethnic communities, that have migrated and settled in Kutch from adjoining countries, since centuries now. As said, each community has its own style(s) of embroidery.
In earlier days, women used to do embroidery for personal consumption only, the embroidered clothes were part of the bride’s trousseau that she would painstakingly make for years to carry with her and also as gifts for the bridegroom’s family and cattle. Every garment had a purpose and tradition associated with it, apart from embellishing it. They used to take immense pride in their thread work and clothes and would not sell any to outside people for money. With changing times and especially after devastating earthquake of 2001, the embroidery skills of these communities, were noticed and identified as a way of sustaining livelihoods and generate opportunities, for them to earn money without the need for them to leave their homes. It is a common sight to see women gather together in the afternoons to sit and embroider garments for their families and also for selling now.
Each embroidery style of Kutch has distinct combination of stitches, patterns, colors. motifs and rules for using them, shaped by historical, socio economic, cultural factors. There are a large number of stitches like double buttonhole, square chain, running, straight & satin, are used on these fabrics to form beautiful patterns. The work becomes all the more magnificent when a sparkling effect gets added due to embroidery with small mirrors called ‘abhla’.
Rabaris are the nomadic community that are believed to have migrated from Sindh region in 14th century and brought their traditional style of embroidery and developed a composite style using other regional styles of Kutch mainly mochi embroidery. Use of mirrors of different shapes is essential to Rabari embroidery. They use very fine chain stitch and cording and then decorate these with mirrors(abhlas) and accent stitches. Rabaris are also known to use ‘bakhiya’, a type of decorative back stitching used to make men’s jacket (kediya) & seams of women’s blouses. Other variants where such embroidery is employed are Kanchali (backless blouse), paheranu(wrapped skirts), ghaghrao(stitched skirt) & ludi(woolen veil).
This community is believed to have migrated from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh and consider themselves to be the descendants of Lord Krishna. Ardent followers of Lord Krishna to date, their conversations are filled with references to Lord Krishna, as if he is around them. Ahir embroidery is quite intricate, they use chain stitch to design the pattern and ‘herringbone’ stitch is used for packing the pattern. Generally, the patterns will be of peacocks, elephants, parrots and flowers. However, the use of mirrors is an essential part of this pattern motif. Patterns are constructed around the mirrors. There is an outline stitch, filling & pattern stitches that are used in this embroidery. With the usage of vibrant colours, mirrors & intricate needlework, this kind of embroidery adorns the fabric splendidly. It forms one of the most sought-after styles of Gujarat & also is a supported handicraft textile of India.
Artisans using this type of embroidery, directly stitch the design on the fabric employing a detail filling in of symmetrical patterns with tiny triangles. It is a type of counted embroidery that is worked from the back. This kind of embroidery was usually used to design a bride’s attire & a part of the gifts to her husband’s family. With the rich detailing designs, it renders the fabric with perfect embellishment required for a wedding occasion.
Geometric patterns are created by women in counted work based on cross stitch fabric studded with small mirrors. The women of Garasia Jats use this embroidery to decorate the yokes of their long dresses.
Paako, Kharek, Mutava, Mochi, Bharat are few other very popular embroideries of Kutch.
The Kutch embroideries weave magic on the fabric by its sheer beauty, intricacy, finesse and variety of stitches that completely transform the fabric to something different. These are used to create garments, torans, bags, table runners, mats, napkins, coasters, bedcovers and many more products for modern consumption.
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