Wednesday, April 27, 2011


{Punjabi Embroidery as Family History}

P. and I were visiting friends in Agra recently (we just realized I haven't spent more than two and a half weeks at a time at home in Jaipur without traveling since December!). Our wonderful hosts, who I'll do a full post on soon, had the most incredible heirloom textile collection, and I've been dying to share this unusual phulkari with you. It was embroidered by our friend's grandmother at the beginning of the 20th century, in what is now Lahore, Pakistan. She made it in preparation for her wedding, at the age of 13.

Indigenous to the region of Punjab, phulkari (pronounced pull-kahr-ee or full-kahr-ee, depending on accent) means "flower-working" in Hindi, and is famous for its all-over geometric silk-on-cotton embroidery in riotous oranges, hot pinks, and golds. This particular phulkari is unusual in that it also features the mirror-work common to the textiles of Rajasthan. It's an exquisite hybrid of traditional regional textile designs from pre-Independence, pre-Partition India.

When Pakistan and India split in 1947, establishing a bloody religious boundary through the Punjab, our friend's Hindu family fled from Lahore across the new border and settled in Agra. Miraculously, the wedding phulkari made it through all those years of upheaval intact, and thinking of all that history -of a thirteen-year-old child-bride making every stitch in anticipation of her unknown future- gives me goosebumps. I think that's the most intoxicating thing about old textiles: the story of the author is so intrinsically a part of the physical article.

For a tour-de-force of eclectic South Asian textiles (and jewelry!) see Jeana Sohn's studio visit with my friend, textile maven Joanna Williams, here.


  1. I'm amazed at what indian hands can do. This is so beautiful.

  2. This is seriously one of the most beautiful pieces of embroidery...okay, THE most beautiful piece of embroidery I've ever seen! Amazing! And that story behind it really brings the past to life.

  3. i...could stare at that piece for hours. the stitches and dye have held up so beautifully; i rather wish i'd spent my preteen years making a phulkari.

    in only vaguely related news, lily, and speaking of rajasthan, does this seem reasonable to you? i am sort of interested in deploying it to punch up a bridesmaid dress in june (and, you know, also wearing it every day), but i know little about subcontinental silver.

  4. That is amazing. And the story going with it is amazing, too. I think of myself at 13 and I don't know that I would have ever put that much energy into something at that age. And the fact that it has survived is wonderful.

  5. So glad you guys appreciate it. I know. Can you believe she was 13 when she made it? Amazing.

    And Lauren, you could kill a camel with that cuff. BUY IT. NOW. Although in all likelihood it's plated silver, or even a zinc-silver plate. But who cares. It's off the hook.

  6. you're the bomb diggity, and so is this GORGEOUS piece of work. wow.
    i kind of want to cry -- the history and the beauty and the time spent to create this work of art is just mind blowing.


  7. that piece is just gorgeous. the embroidery is so intricate, you could get lost in it. amazing that it's been in the family for so long.

  8. This textile is amazing! Colors and design are fabulous. I collect the embroidery, so thank you for the pleasure to see this one. I am looking forward for the next post.

  9. that is so fan-friggin-tastic. like, golly gee. i can't even... unph.

  10. There aren't words for it.

    I secretly long for the days of hope chests and hand embroidered linens. (I actually have a gorgeous hope chest, rescued from a garage sale, but it is full of random bits and pieces and not layered with hopes and dreams)

  11. This is stunning, in theory and visually, and immediately brings to mind the word 'splendor.' Yes.

    Similarly, that silver spike cuff on ebay is SPLENDID. Yes.

    Miss you and adore your crazy NYC plans. Another Yes.

    I send all my love across a thousand oceans to you.


  12. goosebumps, indeed! the history of the piece and just imagining a 13 year old making it. I hardly have the patience and focus to embroider my work (I blame the internet for shorting my attention span). It's definitely a labor of love and I need to step up my embroidery game!!


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