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Dr. Afrose Fathima Farid
Department of Post Graduate Studies and Research in Home Science – Textile Science and Fashion Designing,
Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women,
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India – 600017.
Email: [email protected]
Once adorned by the royalties of the country, on silk and velvet, the aari designs would stand out like a peacock on a rainy day. This method of creating a luster of luxury and elegance, by the art of aari embroidery, zari and zardozi has come a long way, since its royalty days.
Definition of Aari and Zardozi:
The word aari is derived from the word ‘aar’ or the needle used for this work. Aari work is done by stretching the fabric on a frame and stitching with a long needle ending with a hook. The other hand feeds the thread underside, and the hook brings it up, making a chain stitch, but it is much quicker than chain stitch done in the usual way. It looks like machine-made and can also be embellished with cut pieces of Zardozi strings, sequins and beads – which are kept on the right side, and the needle goes inside their holes before plunging aari. This work is popular for its delicate and fine thread work which enhances the essence of hand embroidery.
Origin and History:
This embroidery work is said to have originated in China and then travelled throughout Asia via India, Persia and Turkey and eventually reaching Europe in the eighteenth century. The technique in Europe was referred to as ‘tambouring’ from the French word ‘tambour’ named after the drum shaped frame which originally came from the East.
Aari work in India traces out its emergence way back to the 12th century, which marked the rule of the Mughal emperors. Floral motifs and traditional designs fascinated the Mughal royals during that period. They popularized it and brought Aari work into the limelight. With time, places like Kutch, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Delhi started recognizing the speciality of Aari embroidery, which marked its gradual popularity.
Other Names of Aari – Worldwide:
Faces behind the fabric:
Aari work initially was said to have been executed by the Muslim communities residing in India. Mochi embroiderers from Kutch also formed the original faces behind this fabric, as they used the ‘Aari’ needle to redefine the essence of traditional beauty.
Aari work involves the implementation of Zari, Zardozi, Sequins, a galore of Beads, sometimes Stone work, Salma, Gota, Nakshi, Dabka, Aara Katori, Sitara and Tikena are some of the other elements that are used in this embroidery form. All of them help in creating more intricate and innovative designs.
Traditional Styles of Aari:
Aari is practiced throughout India with regional influence. In Kashmir, Kashida kari essentially involves naturalistic and intricate motifs executed using colourful woollen yarns without any other embellishments. Aari Bharath of Rajasthan and Gujarat uses colourful cotton/ silk pat threads combined with a wide variety of embellishments in geometric, floral or sometimes in religious pattern. Mochi Barath from the same region is worked on leather footwear. The stylised Aari of Uttar pradesh and Haryana are very rich work, executed using Zari threads, zardozi, stone works and many elaborate embellishments. The aari of south is very fine and delicate work, usually worked on fine silk fabrics using silk yarns or zari yarns in combination with kundan works or sequins and beads.
Zardozi (also spelled as Zardosi and Zardouzi) is a form of fabric embroidery which uses silver coated thread or silver wire, whereas the outfit may or may not be embellished with assorted elements like sequins & beads. Zardozi is often mistaken with Zari however the two are different. There are various types of Zardozi threads that help to create intricate designs: thicker and thinner varieties; spirally twisted; dull or lustrous. Since Zardozi has different hubs in India, the motifs and nature of designs also varies from place to place. For example, designs from Lucknow have Mughal influences, while Zardozi work done by artisans in Chennai have Tamil influences.
Origin & History of Zardozi:
With origins going as far back as the Rig Vedic times, Zardozi flourished as an art form under the patronage of Mughals in the 16th century. Zardozi has its roots in the Irani, Ottoman, Mongolian and Persian culture. The Mughal era brought leaf and floral patterns into prominence. Banned by Aurangzeb, Zardozi declined in popularity and was finally brought into the limelight again post independence.
Earlier, pure silver was used along with the threads to create Zardozi embroidery. Nowadays, copper wires plated with gold and silver are used instead. In some cases, even colored plastic wires coated in gold or silver color are used. Today, Zardozi work has spread out to major centers like Lucknow, Delhi, Agra, Jammu & Kashmir, Kolkata, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Farrukabad and other states.
Materials & Tools:
1. Zari/Treads: Zari or metallic threads are commonly used for Aari work. Threads of various colours are also used. Amongst the coloured threads available in the market.
2. Embellishments: Aari work involves the use of Zardozi, Sequin, beads and other adornments like Kallavattu, Moti, or Salma, Dabka, Nakshi, Aara, and Gota.
3. Aar/Karchop (Needle): A hooked needle called aari is used, hence the name to the craft. It is similar to the one used in crochet.
4. Frame/Adda/ Karga: This is a wooden or metal frame over which the cloth is pulled tightly to prevent it from moving while artisans work on it. The frame enables faster work and clear vision at constant tension.
The Aari Process:
a) Setting the Adda:
It is wooden frame on which the cloth to be embroidered is stretched tightly making it suitable for working. This frame has adjustable knockdown bars resting on four stools or post at four corners. The frames can be adjusted according to the width of the cloth. These frames are large and mainly made up of sheesham as it is strong, but sometimes bamboo is also used as a substitute. One frame can accommodate 4-6 artisans sitting on both the sides. The height of the frame is 1.5-2 feet above the ground. The artisans sit either on floor or cushions. If the design is small, then a smaller metal frame can also be used instead of the wooden planks.
b) Tracing the Design:
The process of embroidery starts with tracing the motifs on the plain cloth. The motifs are first sketched on a tracing paper or butter paper and small holes are made on the outlines of the designs using a needle. Thereafter the cloth is placed on a flat surface and the tracing sheet is placed on the position the motif is required. Artisans either use a mixture of neel and kerosene or chalk power and kerosene. A cloth dipped in either of the two solutions is rubbed on the khaakha (tracing sheet) so that the solution seeps through the holes and reaches the cloth. Thus the designs get traced on the cloth. This process is called as Chapaai and is done by either men or women who are referred as Chapaiwale/wali.
Now the actual embroidery starts. A needle with a hooked end and Zari (gold or silver) or cotton or silk thread are used. Aari looks like a fine chain stitch. The needle is pushed through the fabric. From behind, thread is pushed into the hook. When the needle is pulled up again, it comes up with a loop. The next time, the needle goes through the loop and comes up with another loop through the previous loop. The same process is repeated. The stitches are very fine and small. This method of embroidery is highly time consuming and therefore expensive too. Several men may work on a single piece together. This relieves the tedium of a big piece of work. Depending on the intricacy it may take a day or a month to complete a design.
d) Flatenning Zari:
After the embroidery, the thread is beaten (flattened) down using a wooden mallet from the top on a handheld wooden anvil placed under the fabric. This settles the thread and gives the work a fuller and finished look. This process is only for zari work.
Once the embroidery is done extra threads are cut and the cloth is taken out from the adda. It then goes for washing and finally gets ironed and packed and then sold in the market.
Present Day Scenario of Aari and Zardozi Work:
Aari work has always been considered one of the most tedious forms of needle work. Today, with the help of advanced stitching procedures, and the role of more artisans, it takes lesser time to complete the embroidery work on an outfit. Zardozi work would earlier be done on Sarees, Salwar Kameez, Lehengas, and home decor items. In the recent decades, fashion accessories like Clutches, Bags, Footwear and even handmade jewelry have been embroidered.
As Aari work can now be seen in many types of garments, occasions like parties, religious ceremonies, weddings, and other formal occasions. Apart from these occasions, this fabric can even be worn in all seasons, irrespective of any time of the year. Zardozi clothing in all their regal glory has historically been preferred for formal occasions and weddings.
Crediting its ‘all seasonal’ convenience, these fabrics have increased the demand meter across the globe. Even western countries are attracted to this fabric which has made it a global outfit suiting every occasion. Aari and Zardozi have been a prominent presence in international fashion events, both in creations by Indian as well as international designers. Over the years, at the Cannes festival, Aari work has been showcased in the attires worn by leading Indian film luminaries.
Maintenance of Aari and Zardozi Fabrics:
Dry cleaning washes and soft ironing are recommended for these fabrics. Also, to ensure the zari work does not lose its metallic sheen with time, it is advisable to keep the outfits or items wrapped in paper or plastic to reduce exposure to air.
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Founder & Editor of Textile Learner. He is a Textile Consultant, Blogger & Entrepreneur. He is working as a textile consultant in several local and international companies. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.