TheEnvisioned for the Royals of Persia and gradually making its way to the Indian subcontinent, the very name ‘Zardozi’ means gold embroidery and conjures up Arabian Night like scenes of opulence and grandeur.
The true history of Zardozi is lost in the sands of time. Some claim that this form of embellishment has been practised by Indian artisans since the time of the Rig Veda, while others insist that the art form entered India along with the invaders from the north. While both arguments have their share of supporting evidence, one point that all historians agree on is that Akbar the Great was a true patron of this form of embroidery.
Akbar’s love for the beauty of Zardozi created an opportunity for this centuries old art form to permeate the Indian market. He placed hundreds of orders for Zardozi work to adorn the scabbards of swords, royal tents, wall hangings and the decorative gear adorning the royal elephants and horses in his stables, apart from the royal robes and other dress material.
Under Akbar’s patronage craftsman created fantastical works of art on cloth using pure gold and silver thread, pearls and precious stones. This period during the 17th century was the pinnacle of glory for this ancient art form. Given the cost of the material used in producing authentic Zardozi – precious metal thread and rich gemstones - Akbar’s demise meant a steep decline in the fortunes of Zardozi artisans, along with a host of other expensive arts and crafts. Aurangzeb dealt the death blow with his focus on austerity and his reservation of royal capital for defence spending.
Though a number of Zardozi artisans left the Mughal courts and tried their luck at the royal palaces of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, they were unable to gain adequate traction with the spread of industrialization in the 18th and 19th century.
Today Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh, is said to be home to the best Zardozi embroidery in India, though certain other cities such as Chennai, Farrukhabad and Bhopal also produce high quality pieces. Similar to Champagne from the Champagne region in France, Zardozi worked fabric from Lucknow, Barabanki, Unnao, Sitapur, Rae Bareli, Hardoi and Amethi carry a registered Zardozi logo which confirms the authenticity of the work.
The process of creating a piece of Zardozi embroidery is done in four steps – tracing, stretching the fabric on the Adda, embroidery and finishing. These steps also afford clues for an educated and experienced buyer to distinguish between a handcrafted Zardozi product and a machine made one.
Traditional motifs, or the artisan’s original designs, are drawn on butter paper by hand and small holes are punched along the outline of the design using a needle. Next, the paper is laid flat on the cloth and the artisan rubs a special mixture of chalk and kerosene (or neel) onto the cloth. The mixture seeps through the tiny holes and the design is transferred onto the fabric. This transfer process is known as Chapaai.
The wooden embroidery frame, made of sheesham or bamboo wood, called Adda, is used to stretch and prepare the fabric for embroidery. Frames are usually 1.5 to 2 feet high and are wide enough to allow 4-6 craftsmen to be seated on either side. For smaller designs a metal frame for that can accommodate 1-2 artisans is used. A thick cloth called the Patti is attached to the Adda.
The fabric to be embroidery is attached to the Patti using light running stiches. Once the fabric is secured, the artisans use a hooked needle called an Aari to work the metallic threads through the cloth, similar to the way a sewing machine works.
Once the embroidery work is completed, the craftsmen cut off extra threads and tie-up loose ends. The Zardozi embellished fabric is detached from the Adda, washed and ironed before being shipped off to be sold.
Most handcrafted, Zardozi pieces are expensive and time consuming to create and may take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months to complete. Here at Jullaaha, we have a few beautiful handworked Zardozi sarees that will add a dash f glamour to any cocktail evening or festive event. Check out our beautiful Zardozi Kundan collection for some elegant style or take a peek at our Kalamkari Saree with heavily worked Zardosi borders.
Check out the rest of our Talk Like A Textile Expert series:
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