Punjab, is one of the most vibrant, dynamic and culturally rich north western states of India, where people especially village women use their time productively by engaging themselves with various crafts.In the land of the five rivers - Punjab, the colourful traditional embroidery work phulkari, represents a living tradition that can be traced back to hundreds of years and it continues to this day.
Phulkari is brought to the Indian Subcontinent by the migrant Jat people of Central Asia in ancient times. Techniques and patterns were not documented but transmitted by word of mouth. The tradition was associated with the Sikh heritage but was also shared with Hindus & Muslims. It has its origins in the famous love story of Heer & Ranjha (a love tale) by Waris Shah. It’s a present form and popularity goes back to 15th century. The embroideries were a mere reflection of a woman’s life and every woman had her way of representing.
“PHUL” means “flower “and “KARI” means work. Also known as “Gulkari” a very intricate needle work, along with bright coloured threads mainly red, orange, blue, green, etc.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 stitch. The smaller the stitch, the finest was the piece. In order to create an unusual design or to border the khaddar, some other stitches like the herringbone stitch, running stitch, Holbein stitch or button hole stitch were occasionally used.
Inspiration was drawn from the vegetables, flowers, animals that they had. Some of them are karela bagh (bitter gourd), gobhi bagh (cauliflower), dhaniya bagh (coriander) and mirchi bagh (chilli). Some as lehriya bagh (wave) some as satrangas meaning seven-coloured and panchrangas meaning five-coloured motifs while the most common and beautiful motifs are based on the wheat and barley stalks that grow all over Punjab. Amongst animals the most common were the mor (Peacock) Designs. Recently new motifs have been developed known as Parantha (originally with eight colours), Kanchan Design, Butti Design etc.
In the process of phulkari, the motif is first carved onto the block and then printed onto the fabric. The block is made in such a way that its only the outline of the motif and guides the embroider in which direction the stitch should follow. After printing the fabric is given to a lady who starts the embroidery, it uses a variety of stitch but phulkari is distinguished by the used of the darning stitch.
There are many types of phulkari namely, Bagh, Thirma, Drashan Dwar, Saichini, Vari Da Bagh, Bawan Bagh, Chope, Surajmukhi, Kaundi, Panchranja, Satranga and Meenakari.