India’s Exotic Textiles

The Puja Dukan features…

India’s Exotic Textiles

As everyone who has made a pilgrimage to India knows, the experience can be like a swim in the sea of the senses-sights, smells, tastes and textures passing in waves over us as we float through holding our breath….  We are often humbled by the incredible craftsmanship and long hours of work involved in creating masterpieces to wear, offer and enjoy.

Join us on a little trip around the subcontinent as we explore some of the textiles of India available in the Puja Dukan.

Lucknow Chikan


Chikan Kirtas – 4 colors     Chikan Salwar Kameez      Ladies White Kurta

Chikan is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow in North India.  There are references to Indian chikan work as early as the 3rd century BC by Megasthenes, who mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians.  There are several tales about the origin of chikan work in Lucknow-it is said to have been introduced by Nur Jehan, the wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir; there is also a tale of a traveler teaching chikan to a peasant in return for a drink of water.

The technique of creation of a chikan work is known as chikankari.  White thread is delicately embroidered on white or cool pastel shades of light muslin or cotton garments.  In order for the embroidery needle to pierce it, the fabric cannot be too thick or hard.
The first step in Chikankari is to block-print a pattern onto the fabric.  The pattern is then stitched over and the finished piece is carefully washed to remove all traces of the printing.

Front view of Chikan embroidery being done over temporary block printed pattern
& Chikan embroidery from the back


Chikan is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow in North India.  There are references to Indian chikan work as early as the 3rd century BC by Megasthenes, who mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians.  There are several tales about the origin of chikan work in Lucknow-it is

The patterns and effects created depend on the stitches and the thicknesses of the threads used.

There are 32 types of chikan stitches. Below are the names and descriptions of a few:

•    Tepchi is a long running or darning stitch worked with six strands on the right side of the fabric taken over four threads and picking up one. Thus, a line is formed. It is used principally as a basis for further stitchery and occasionally to form a simple shape.
•    Bakhiya or ‘Shadow work’ is so named because that the embroidery is done on the wrong side and we see its shadow on the right side.
•    Hool is a fine detached eyelet stitch. A hole is punched in the fabric and the threads are teased apart. It is then held by small straight stitches all around and worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. It can be worked with six threads and often forms the center of a flower.
•    Murri is the form of stitch used to embroider the centre of the flowers in chikan work motifs. They are typically French knots that are rice-shaped. Murri is the oldest and most sought-after form of chikankari. The use of this stitch is depleting due to a decrease in the artisans doing this embroidery.
•    Jali stitch is one where the thread is never drawn through the fabric, ensuring that the back portion of the garment looks as impeccable as the front. The warp and weft threads are carefully drawn apart and minute buttonhole stitches are inserted into the cloth.

Block Printing

Block printing is a very popular technique in northern and western India.  Any number of items can be block printed and one finds block printed saris, kurtas, bedsheets, scarves and other household and clothing pieces.

Check out this great video about block printing in Rajasthan:

Here is another video about the block printing process and the block printing industry:

Block printed dupattas at the Puja Dukan


A torana (Sanskrit) or toran (Hindi) is a type of gateway seen in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain architecture of India and other parts of East and Southeast Asia.

Both Chinese paifang gateways and Japanese torii gateways are derived from the Indian torana.  The functions of all three are similar, but they differ in their respective architectural styles.

In the Kalinga architecture of Orissa in eastern India we can see the torana in many temples built from the 7th to 12th centuries. The Jagannath Temple at Puri and the Rajarani and  Mukteswar temples in Bhubaneswar are exquisite examples.

Related Styles of Toranas

A toran is also the name for a hand-embroidered and embellished door hanging, traditionally made in Gujarat, on the coast of Northwestern India.  It is easy to see the connection between the embroidery of the fabric hangings and the detailed stone carvings, as well as in their function to welcome both the gods and people. Decorative torans also play a role in holidays like Diwali and Holi or at weddings and celebrations as they are believed to be auspicious and lucky. The doorway blesses every person that walks under it, showering them with an abundance of love, prosperity, health and happiness. While the heavily embroidered ones tend to be regional to Gujarat, torans in other forms are popular throughout India. In the south, green mango tree leaves are threaded together and hung across the door. In Northern India, marigold flowers are strung together and used the same way. The small flaps that hang from the fabric versions are meant to represent dangling leaves and flowers.

Fabric torans can be made from different materials and in in different styles with different motifs, depending on their region of origin.  Several types are pictured below:


While glass beads are used today in necklaces and bangles in many parts of India, glass seed beads seem to have been introduced only after 1700 and only in one small area – the Kingdom of Saurashtra in what is today southern Gujarat.

The shapes and forms of the beadwork echo those used in the embroidered and appliquéd torans made in the area.  The beadwork displays motifs of animals, people, gods, flowers and trees, usually scattered on a white background.

Several unique beaded torans and a type of wall hanging called a chakla are all available at the Puja Dukan:

Beaded Torans from Kutch

Krishna Beaded Toran

Ganesh Beaded Toran

Beaded Chakla

Embroidery and Mirror Work

Hand-embroidered bags from Rajasthan


                        Rajasthani Bag                                Mirror Work Purse

Abhla Bharat or Shisheh Embroidery (Mirror Work)

Shisheh embroidery was introduced from Muslim lands during the Mughal Empire in the 17th centurey.  However shisheh embroidery was not used on Mughal clothing but rather found only on traditional folk clothes of South and Central Asia. The term shisheh means glass in Persian, from where the word transferred to Urdu/Hindi and other related languages.

Traditionally, shisheh or abhla bharat work was done using mica but beetle, tin, silver or coins were not uncommon depending on the region. This was replaced by glass blown into large thin bubbles and broken into small pieces for this use which is why traditional shisheh mirrors have a convex curve. The tradition of making circular shisheh was extensively done by women in South Asia, who use special scissors that are repeatedly dampened to prevent flying shards.  The small mirrors are held in place by a framework of overlaid embroidery stitches.  No glue is used and the mirror is not threaded through or attached in any other way.   While many of the other decorative stitches, such as the chain stitch, are universal, shisheh work is unique to the Indian subcontinent. Women are solely responsible for these creations and motifs and patterns are not copied or written down, but instead passed along orally.

Among Hindus, Muslims and Jains in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana it is believed that the mirrors have the power to ward off evil spirits by trapping or confusing the evil eye.  Shisheh toranas are often hung over doorways for protection for that reason.

Shisheh Belts

Long Tribal Belt

Short Tribal Belt

Kathi Embroidery

Kathi Toran

Kathi embroidery also hails from the state of Gujarat and is another vibrant style.

These gorgeous pieces beautify the simple village surroundings of the Kathi people.  The woman create any number of different types of embroidered items including door panels, door hangings, seat covers, baby crib covers, items of clothing like the “ghagra” a traditionsl women’s skirt, canopies and decorations for camels, cows, bullocks and carts.  Taking inspiration from their surroundings, the women choose themes for their embroidery from everyday life like peacocks, parrots, elephants, camels, flowering plants, women filling water, women churning butter, wedding processions, folk dances like the Raas Lila and hunting scenes as well as Hindu gods like Ganesh, Surya (the sun), Radha Krishna and even Hanuman!

The embroidery is done with Silk floss called Heer in bold colours.  Purple, magenta, electric blue, parrot green, lemon yellow, golden yellow and red fill the large areas while white or black are sometimes used to add an outline in  motifs.

Two predominant design styles are geometric patterns such as the eight pointed star and boxed panels filled with embroidery and the motifs are drawn free-hand usually depicting flora, fauna and human figures.

Rabari Embroidery

There are distinct different variations in Rabari embroidery across the different Rabari sub groups. The three groups in Kutch are the Kutchi, Dhebaria and Vagharia. All trace their ancestry to the mythical Sambal, created by Lord Shiva to look after camels. Rabaris in Northwest India migrated from the Thar desert in Rajasthan in search of good camel grazing lands.  Embroidery is an important part of a Rabari woman’s life, evident in the unwavering work put into her embroidery on a daily basis and visible in various garments such as the choli or blouse, shawl and skirt, most elaborately embroidered for ceremonial wear at important functions like weddings. Mirrors are used in various shapes and sizes and abstracted forms of scorpions, peacocks and parrots as well as flowers and geometric patterns are embroidered in chain stitch and accent stitches in bold colours. Back stitch bakhiya is also used to decorate the seams of women’s blouses and men’s kediyun jackets.

Traditionally, Rabari women practiced embroidery as an integrated part of their nomadic existence. Embroidery was an affordable aesthetic expression of community, sub-community and status within that community. Embroidery was portable, created wealth. A woman adorned herself and her household with her own efforts, utilizing time between more essential chores. The glittering pieces that a girl embroidered for her dowry were considered a contribution to the marriage exchange. Women worked as artists, without thought of time, concentrating on making the most beautiful contributions they could, knowing that their work would be appreciated by community members who shared their aesthetics and values. Not only would Rabaris not think of dowry pieces and personal adornment in terms of commercial value; they feared showing them lest outsiders would try to purchase them.

Now Rabari embroidery pieces are available for sale and Rabari women are earning wages from their art.  These unique pieces remind us to take time to integrate beauty and aesthetics into our daily lives.

Toran from the Rabari tribe in Kutch, Gujarat

Rabari Toran


Winter Farm Video Tour

Join us for a tour of the winter farm. This is the first in a series of seasonal farm walks where we talk about the ways that we experience the land in the different seasons. In this first walk of the year we discuss some of the projects and visions for 2017 and get acquainted with the lay of the land.


To learn more about our permaculture farm, visit: