Aari embroidery is one of the premier handicrafts of Gujarat, produced using a special type of needle that is today termed the aari needle. This form of embroidery originated sometime in the 12TH century A.D. in India, around the time the Mughals arrived here; it was the Mughal kings and nobility who ended up popularizing this form of art work. Though today the art of aari embroidery is practiced across north India, at one point it was the mainstay of selected Mughal artisanal communities who perfected the designs and methods of stitching. Consequently one can see a lot of Persian and Mughal influence in the aesthetic look of aari embroidery designs; but in fact they are today considered uniquely Indian. It is one of the most popular and commonly used forms of embroidery across India and even has an international customer base.
A sharp edged, pen shaped needle is used to create the exquisite aari embroidery designs. The process of creation, though simple, requires a skilled hand familiar with the aesthetics and techniques of aari embroidery. First, the fabric is stretched and fastened to four wooden posts to ensure there are no loose ends; then, the designs are traced on to the fabric with a lead pencil; holes are created along the lines of the design, which are then used as a base for embroidering the fabric with threads. Aari embroidery designs are created using chain stitches which give a very unique, detailed look. This delicate and fine form of embroidery is typically created with zari (metallic fibers), resham (silk) and colorful cotton threads. All types of nature and mythology inspired motifs can be used to create bright and vibrant patterns all over the fabric, from flowers like lotus and jasmine and birds like peacocks and parrots to religious themed landscapes and depictions of divine figures. Flowering vines and fruit shapes are some of the most popular motifs seen in aari embroidery. Many different types of stitches are used within the subset of chain stitching to create different kinds of patterns and designs.
Many times, aari embroidery designs are accentuated with other materials such as beads, crystals or sequins; however, the traditional and most popular additions to these designs, which are frequently seen in the traditional clothes of Gujarat, are mirrors. When mirrors are added on to the designs, it is termed shisha embroidery. Shisha literally means mirror in Persian and Urdu. Shisha embroidery is also called mirror work and is an extremely common and popular addition to Gujarati dresses, for men as well as women. Earlier, highly polished lac pieces were used to create the unique twinkling effect but nowadays, tiny decorative mirrors are used much more frequently when creating shisha embroidery designs. Craftsmen ensure the mirrors used have a polished edge which does not create cuts and is safe to wear. The mirrors can be in different shapes, from round or square to pentagonal, octagonal etc. They add an inimitable sparkle to the aari embroidery designs and can be used in a number of ways to enhance the look of the outfit and the designs. Shisha embroidery can be used to emphasize a certain part of an existing design, such as the eye of a peacock or the center of a kaleidoscopic geometric pattern; alternatively, the mirrors can simply be scattered alongside the existing designs or they can be arranged in differed patterns to create a shape of their own.
There are many different types and varieties of aari and shisha embroidery dresses. Of course the most traditional and classic choices are the Gujarati dresses such as ghagra cholis and Gujarati sarees which utilize a lot of bright, beautiful floral embroidery work and mirror work patterns. However this type of work is no longer bound to its geographical origin and has been imitated across the country and even the world in different types of clothing, from vibrant cotton sarees to attractive silk lehenga cholis, from stylish anarkalis to comfortable printed kurtas.
Vibrant Shisha and Aari Embroidery
Mirror or shisha embroidery has been heavily featured in designer collections and Bollywood movies, in the traditional context as well as the modern one. This is why it has become a highly in demand form of embellishment, especially for festive wear or wedding wear outfits. The dazzling yet traditional look of shisha embroidery, as well as the vibrant, ethnic aari embroidery creates a stunning look for any outfit, be it a ghagra choli, saree or salwar kameez.
Traditionally, shisha embroidery dresses were accessorized with classic Gujarati jewelry such as antique silver necklaces, oxidized earrings, chunky mang-tikkas and lac bangles. These off-set the colorful look of the designs and the subtle sparkle of the mirrors beautifully. Today, women can experiment a bit by pairing up shisha work dresses with colorful beaded necklaces and stone studded pendants in a matching color.