Monday, November 2, 2009

Phulkari - the embroidery of Punjab

Folk embroidery is one of the most enriching part of the craft heritage of India. Some time back I had written about Kantha, the needle craft of Bengal. This post, I will show case the Phulkari, which literally means the flower craft, of Punjab, one of our most vibrant states.

The origin of Phulkari can be traced to 15th century A.D. The women of Punjab, stitched beautiful dupattas or head scarves for their daughters or the brides of their sons. The cloth primarily used for these shawls or head scarves was home-spun and dyed locally. This strong and long lasting material was cheap and also kept the wearer warm during the bitter cold winters. As the embroidery required counting of threads while doing the straight darn stitches, the coarse weave of the fabric made the task easier.

As these scarves were meant for brides, the base material was generally maroon, scarlet and other red toned   bright colours. The thread, which was silk, were yellow, golden or green.These threads, also called pat were brought from Bengal or Kashmir. Motifs were taken from every day life. Flowers were  the most common pattern. But so were stars, birds, specially peacocks, animals, and scenes from everyday  village life. Intricate geometric patterns were also rather popular.

The Phulkari embroidery is done by straight darn stitches. The stitches are actually worked on the wrong side of the cloth. The pattern takes shape on the right side. The main surface of the stitches are about a quarter or half centimetre long while they are very minute on the reverse. Using long and short darn stitches, women create innumerable designs. Shading and variation are achieved by expertly using horizontal, vertical or diagonal stitches. This gives the illusion of more than one shade when viewed from different angles.

Earlier, the women never traced any patterns on the cloth. They just carefully counted the stitches to create a design. In the absence of a traced pattern, the designs generally passed on from mothers to daughters. Along with the daily chores, a daughter learned phulkari from her mother and contributed to her wedding trousseau.This embroidery was such an integral part of the women of Punjab that one reads or hears of many folklores and songs describe the joys, dreams and yearnings of young girls while embroidering Phulkari.

This craft was never meant for commercial purpose. A Phulkari embroidered shawl was considered to be a gift for young brides. But now this art thrives as cottage industry. There is a decline in Phulkaris embroidered at home. Now, many men have learned this craft and sell Phulkari embroidered bedspreads and curtains, cushion covers and wall hangings. Now Phulkaris are also done on sarees and kurtas and machine embroidered Phulkari dupattas are readily available in the markets at cheaper prices. This obviously has harmed the skilled Phulkari workers. But most importantly, a mother's love for her daughter, which was so painstakingly expressed in the hand crafted designs, has gone completely.

Bride Photograph courtesy:

Posted By Aparna


  1. beautiful, so interesting. I've done some weaving and embroidery so I can appreciate all that goes into this craft. In earlier times in America, every young girl had a hope chest for her marriage and it included many homemade items, like a quilt, etc.

  2. a very detailed report on a disappearing art, it doesn't seem to enjoy the same place like "kantha" and "lucknowi-chicken-embroidery"; but it is equally beautiful work which needs to be rejuvenated like you have done in this article.

  3. Absolutely gorgeous!!! I would love to have such a wall hanging for my home -- even if it is done by machine. But I hope it is not a lost art by skilled craftsmen. And it is too bad that the sentiment of the craft from mother to daughter is fading away.

  4. Wow.. awesome. the hand work or the so called 'Kasuthi' is indeed rich in art and I could only wish the designers use such artisans to lighten up the lives of so many in india :)

  5. Wow! This is absolutely gorgeous! I can just imagine the amount of hours it would take to create these works of art.

  6. Hi Lin,for all young girls, weddings symbolize hope and love. Naturally they would want to carry the best things with them to their new homes.

    Anonymous, Phulkari is also quite popular, but it also very expensive. Like all art,it requires patrons.

    Gigihawaii, even the machine embroidered phulkari looks gorgeous. If you ever come to India, there are selected stores that have the wall hangings.

    Thanks Cloudia

    Thanks Mohan, a lot of designers are using phulkari these days.

    Hi Kay, one phulkari embroidered head scarf takes about 5 months to complete. It is indeed a very time consuming work.

  7. Aparna thanks for such detailed and informative post.I am a big fan of Phulkari .I had many duppattas ,some of which are adorning the walls of my sister's home.Because so much of hard work and time is spent on this work ..its item are little expensive..but again who cares ,if i want one i buy one(two).

    I want to know how many Phulkaris you bought on your recent trip to Punjab ?Am i seeing few of those here?

  8. What a beautiful handicraft..

    This is a very informative post and very well written and composed.

  9. I must have seen the embroidery in some exhibition, but never knew about the name 'phulkaari' and how it is stitched, Kavita. You have explained it so elaborately and clearly. I know some embroidery and I was able to visualize it. They look really beautiful. Thanks for sharing this information, kavita.

  10. lovely pictures, am in love with the green phulkari right on top.. I had lots of cushion covers and bed spreads once all done in vibrant colours and phulkari work, but have never really seen a good saree in phulkari, I want to see what all you bought!!

  11. I am loving this blog more and more with each post, never heard about Phulkari before. and you are right, today machine might make much better designed Phulkari, but the love of a mother for her daughter will surely be missing there :(

  12. All I can is: TRUE TALENT. I can see all the details and the time put on this. Once again, I salute this amazing culture

  13. wonderfully informative thank you

  14. Hi Kavita,some of the stuff that you see are mine.Some pics were taken at the shop. I bought 2 sarees for myself and some dupattas for my cousins. They all looked so fabulous that I wanted to buy everything in the shop!

    Thank you Suman,that was a great compliment coming from a design guy.

    Hi Sandhya, unlike Lucknowi Chikan and Kantha, not many are aware of Phulkari. May be because it was not meant for commercial purposes. Not many outside the north India know of Phulkari.

    Sujata, I will show you my treasure when you are in Bombay!

    Mustaf, thanks. I love writing for this blog as I can share some precious things about Indian culture with all my readers.

    sm, thank you very much.

    Lazyking, thank you for your appreciation.

    Magiceye, thank you very much.

  15. Loved the way the post was presented- informative and attractive at the same time.

  16. we long to see your next post, Kavita!

  17. Wow! Beautiful handwork, beautiful cloth, wonderfully informative post. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  18. Have seen Phulkari work but dint knew about the history and facts.Thanks for sharing .

  19. The Holy Lama,thank you.

    Cloudia, thank you very much.

    Kathy, phulkari is a very beautiful form of embroidery. I am glad you liked it.

    Clytie, thank you. I appreciate your comment.

    Bhavya, thank you. There are lot of folk craft in India and every thing has a story behind it.

    Nituscorner, thank you.

  20. Gorgeous. Bet you can't get this material at your basic American Walmart outlet.

  21. आपका ब्लॉग देखा ...
    सुन्दर रचना ........
    कृपया मानवता को समर्पित मेरी कविताओं का आनंद लेने के लिए निम्नांकित लिंक को क्लिक कीजिये :

  22. This is absolutely wonderful, beautiful embroidery.

  23. Hey Aparna!!! I am myself a fashion designing student,and recently we did a project called craft documentation, in which we had a choose any handicraft from all over India, and help in reviving it!! We chose Phulkari! We went to Patiala and stayed there for 10 days, working with the women who did Phulkari! We designed a lot of articles with phulkari like a tie, a statement neckpiece, a clutch, pairs of earings, a jumpsuit, fedora hat, a maangtika, an evening gown and so on! Its really sad that some people think machine embroidered phulkari looks better, because believe me, it cant even be compared to the original!!! The machine one looks like some print without any charm!! It doesnt even look like phulkari! Hand phulkari is what phulkari actually is! Its not even that costly by the way! We bought dupattas for 300- 750 each!! The bagh phulkari is a little costly, because it is fully embroidered without the base fabric being visible! Hence the name Bagh, which means a garden. It costs around 1500. Its all because of these shopkeepers who price these pieces too high, not paying the artisans enough! We directly met the artisans, who barely earn 5 rupees per day!I would say try and get directly in touch with the artisans, if want to get something made! Hand phulkari is dying, so please try to revive it if you can! I am trying my best! Its time we do something to preserve our beautiful heritage!!

    1. Hi,
      Even I appreciate this beautiful art a lot. BUt nowadays you generally get machine phulkari which as you said is not that great... How did you get a chance to meet the artists themselves? Can you provide me some details of whom to contact so that I can also have some fresh piece of art from the artist themselves. Appreciate your help.

    2. HI,
      Even I appreciate this art work a lot. But its difficult to find hand made Phulkari nowadays. Showrooms generally have machine made, and its not that great!!!.
      Was wondering how did you manage to meet the artists in person? Can you please share some details of where and whom to contact so that I can also have it from the fresh hands and appreciate the beauty.

  24. hi
    If you are really interested in buying the phulkari hand made, then i can help you in getting these stuffs. We are the manufacturers for phulkari stuff and other dress material. It dosen't matter how much is the quantity.If u want any particular design you can send the picture or else We can send the design.My mail ID is