Phulkari - Phulon ki Kari - Handwork of Flowers

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Well most of the articles around phulkari start with this so let me do the same for many of the readers might be unaware about the existence of this craft. Phulkari is a derivative of Persian word Gulkari that translates to flower-work i.e. flowers made by hand. It draws its uniqueness with two aspects, one is that the more prominent darn stitch, along with other complementing stitches, gives a clean backside to the embroidered surface, while the technique was developed to save the very expensive silk thread being used for embroidery. It was expensive as sericulture isn’t happening in Punjab, and given the history of silk route, silk started to be brought in by traders from China and Mongolia and other places further east.

Phulkari, as most other handcrafted products from the past, in its most authentic form, is not just aesthetically beautiful, but is a testimony to the mindfulness, focus and imagination that were the underrated luxuries of pre-digital, pre-automation and pre-industrial world.

This ancient embroidery form is really close to my heart for Naani (maternal grandmother) gifted a phulkari to mumma (mother) at her wedding. Although it wasn’t the super heavy Bagh variant it still holds dear to me nonetheless for the symbolism of it.

Phulkari hails from Persia. My father told me our ancestors migrated from there too but I’m yet to decipher all the family history to gather that. Only if I had a Persian translator. But that’s a research and story for another time. But this drew me closer to the craft as it somehow, even if romantically, felt it has some ties to my family history.

While pursuing design I was never into embroidery much. I was always more into structured silhouettes and prints. But it was during the graduation project that I felt like working on something that was endangered, indigenous and also meaningful. Hence with  my fluency in Punjabi and proximity to the Indian part of Punjab, I decided to work with Phulkari. Now, 11 years later, it still is one of the key crafts that I am engaged with.

The second unique aspect is more emotional for phulkaris, along with other crafts, became synonymous with grandmother, mother-daughter relationship as one or more phulkaris, embroidered by the women of the house, would accompany the bride on her muklawa (farewell to the bride after the wedding ceremony) to her husband’s home. These phulkaris were considered carrying blessings from the elderly women of the family who embroidered them to the new bride for prosperity, fertility and a blessed matrimony. It has also been the case that the bride herself embroiders a few phulkaris and makes other handicrafts to display the skills at her new house.

Sadly, or maybe progressively for some, what is being offered these days in the name of phulkari and what is being accepted and identified as phulkari by the large consumer base is either very crude or a very industrial version of it. The key to a great quality phulkari is following the intersections of warp and weft of the grid weave of the fabric to embroider each stitch. It not only gives an exquisite aesthetic but also requires more attention of the embroiderer, aiding mindfulness. The supporting pictures here can validate the fineness of it. Will elaborate on this in a separate story. For Starters, it is important to note some key varieties of Phulkari: Bagh Phulkari Thirma Darshan Dwar Chope Will discuss these types and more in the future. Stay tuned!

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