Phulkari is a detailed embroidery folk art originating from the state of Punjab. ‘Phul’ means flower and ‘kari’ means work. It is created using bright colours such as red, orange, hues of yellow, green, and golden. Phulkari is generally done for dupattas (long scarves), odhnis (long scarves used for head and shoulders) and shawls.
Traditionally, it was hand embroidered on yards of cloth and was a part of the wedding paraphernalia. The original idea behind Phulkari was never to gain commercial profit. It was made as a gift for the bride by her mother or grandmother, to be worn during her wedding ceremonies. Therefore, Phulkari became more than an article of clothing as it symbolised the love and emotions of a mother and grandmother for their daughter. As a part of the ethos which is deeply rooted in the Punjabi culture, Phulkari thus became an interwoven expression of the ritualistic traditions of the Punjabi community.
A handwoven fabric, Phulkari’s history is embedded in the culture of rural Punjab and its people. The thread work of Phulkari was done by women on Khaddar (coarse cotton) since cotton was harvested throughout Punjab. After various sequential processes, cotton was spun into yarn by the women on the Charkha (spinning wheel) creating cotton threads. Traditionally, women embroidered using both cotton threads as well as 'pat da dhaga' (untwisted silken threads) on Khaddar. Pat was considered as a suchha dhaga or a pure thread.
The main characteristic of this embroidery is the use of darn stitch on the wrong side of cloth with colored silken threads called ‘pat da dhaga’.
The inspiration for creating phulkari designs was mostly taken from nature such as flowers, birds, animals, vegetables and fruits.
Researchers believe that this type of craft emerged from a domestic environment where it became a necessity among rural women to spend their free time knitting or embroidering. It has also been suggested that rural women also took orders and created hand-embroidered phulkaris for commercial purposes on wages or commission.
Traditionally, phulkaris were used as odhni by Punjabi women, that is, a covering for their heads and shoulders. It was typically worn with a set of a kurta (loosely fitted knee-length garment) and Ghagra (ankle-length skirt). Rural women of Punjab were trained in activities like knitting, sewing, spinning, weaving and embroidery. During their leisure time, women took up Phulkari embroidery as a community activity where they sit together in groups and embroidered while talking to each other. This activity brought out the imagination of women and simultaneously highlighted their skills. It also led to a feeling of caring and sharing, and created a platform to exchange ideas.
For generations, women from the villages of Punjab have woven khes as part of the bridal trousseau which they take to their in-law’s home after marriage. Traditionally, made of cotton, khes were also used as a floor spread and bed covering. Khes can be both thin and thick, the former ones are used as bed coverings in the winter season and the latter ones are used in place of shawls during winters.
Khes originally was practiced as a home-based art. Traditionally, it was woven by the womenfolk as part of the trousseau for their daughters. It is a piece of textile which is commonly found in Punjabi households but has lost its cultural significance.
Khes can be categorized into three categories:
Majnu Khes: A very prominent type of khes used in the pre-partition era was majnu. It was woven in Sindh and western Punjab (now in Pakistan). It is a fabric made in a double weave structure employing a highly intricate design.
Gumti Khes: These are simpler compared to majnu khes and are based on colour and twill weave structure. The most famous motif used in this type of khes is “muchh marod” (twisted moustache) also known as ‘pinwheel.’
Sada Khes: Sada means simple. These types of khes are simple in design and are based on plain weave. The most common are simple stripes, plaids, and checks.
According to historians, weaving is traditionally thought to have developed from mat making which has simple geometric patterns, sometimes braided and sometimes just coiled.
These recurring designs give fresh evidence of the remarkable survival of cultural patterns in Punjab. Khes evolved centuries ago during the Mughal period to meet the demand for a cotton blanket.
Before the import of machine-made goods from Britain and Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, small-scale cotton industries in Gambat, Hala, Nasarpur, Thatta and Karachi (in Pakistan now), were known for their handlooms. The most popular colours used to create khes are deep yellow, red, black, blue, white, and green.