Phulkari is a form of embroidery which originated in Punjab in the early years of Nineteenth century. The term ‘Phulkari Embroidery’ literally means ‘Flower Work.’ Phulkari was a part of every major occasion of local life like weddings, birth of a child, religious festivities etc. Generally fabricated by a family for its own use, the fact of having successfully completed a Phulkari, was considered to be an important and necessary step for a girl on her way to becoming a woman. Techniques and patterns of Phulkari embroidery designs were not documented but transmitted by word of mouth. Hence each regional group was identified by its own unique embroidery work. The term Phulkari specifically describes shawls, dupattas and head scarfs (odhinis), whereas garments that cover entire body, made for special and ceremonial occasions like birth of a child or weddings, are called ‘bagh’ which means garden. The garments with scattered or partial embroidery work are called ‘aadha bagh’ (half garden).
The embroidery work is done on plain cotton fabric (khaddar), whose thread was manually spun, loomed and dyed with natural pigments. The quality was evaluated on the basis of the fineness and regularity of its surface. Black and blue colors were generally used for shawls which were worn on an everyday basis. Phulkari derives its richness from the use of darn stitch in different directions (horizontal, vertical, and diagonal). Unlike others, embroidery on Phulkari was done from the wrong side of the khaddar with a floss silk thread called pat. Darning stitch was the most commonly used technique to make Phulkari and the quality of a piece could be measured according to size of the Phulkari embroidery stitches. The smaller the stitch, the finer was the piece. In order to create an unusual design or the border of khaddar, some other stitches like the herringbone stitch, running stitch, Holbein stich or a button-hole stitch were occasionally used. Nowadays even French knot work, stem stitch, mirror work and many other forms of embroideries are added to the category of Phulkari. Sometimes the fabric was dyed after the required embroidery work was achieved as it is easier to count the threads of a light colored khaddar than of a dark one.
The motifs particularly used in Phulkari embroidery are karela bagh, gobhi bagh, dhaniya bagh and mirchi bagh; these are all based on designs inspired by vegetables whereas Shalimar charbagh and chaurasia bagh are motifs grounded on famed gardens. Satrangas represent seven colored motifs whereas the most common and beautiful motifs is grounded on the wheat and barley stalks growing all over the state of Punjab.
There are various types of Phulkari embroidery. With time, Phulkari became more elaborate and decorative, leading to the evolution of a more detailed form of Phulkari, which is known as ‘bagh.’ Apart from Bagh and Phulkari, another kind of embroidery work which is in the same league is ‘chope.’ Chope is embroidered straight with two sided line stitch. Unlike Phulkari and bagh where a variety of colors are used, Chope is embroidered while using only a single color.
Styles and Trends of Phulkari Embroidery
Traditionally Phulkari was a component of a girl’s wedding trousseau and Phulkari embroidery patterns were supposed to be expressive of her emotions. With the passage of time Phulkari embroidery was no longer restricted to weddings and ceremonial occasions. Phulkari embroidery patterns have made a mark on Indian fashion industry and many modern fashion designers are incorporating this embroidery into their garments. Phulkari embroidery suits, salwar kameez and duppatas are finding their way into the everyday wardrobe of women, and they look extremely elegant and beautiful. Phulkari has become trendier than ever before; both men and women can find Phulkari jackets that can be teamed up with pencil fit skirts or classy jodhpuri pants. There are a number of sensuous Phulkari sarees that can be sported with a skimpy blouse. Phulkari duppatas or stoles look absolutely stunning on plain kurtas. Celebrated designers have been making models walk the ramp wearing stoles that have finer and delicate motifs done using the Phulkari style of embroidery. Phulkari cushion covers look extremely elegant and give a rich and positive vibe to a house. Phulkari embroidery has also found its way into men’s clothing and accessories as well. For instance, Rajasthani jootis, adorned with Phulkari patterns lend a traditional and royal look to men. Phulkari embroidered jootis are a perfect accessory for weddings, religious occasions or other kinds of traditional ceremonies. The use of Phulkari has spread to varied objects and garments in the 21st century like trendy jackets, floral bags, table mats, shoes, slippers and kids’ garments.